Friendsourcing Motivation

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Sunrise, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anne Dixon

Greetings, friends!  How goes it, halfway through January of the New Year?  How are you doing with those resolutions?  I always feel conflicted about announcing such commitments, preferring to call them ‘intentions’ (see here, here, here, and here!).  I’ve read too many articles dismissing resolutions as mindless, unhelpful, and ultimately a waste of energy.  And yet, the start of a new year naturally prompts reflection and renewed motivation for self-improvement, which are good things.

Once again, taking a more nuanced view helps here.  It’s not that resolutions are bad.  It’s that we need to be thoughtful and realistic about them, as the linked article above suggests.  Whatever we call them, commitments to behavior change can lead us to transformation.  But it’s anything but simple or easy!

My post on experimental questions got a boost in views this past week.  I wonder what prompted that?  I wish I knew who was reading it and why, what they think, and what it means to them?  Since that post was published, I have continued to ask my 4 newest questions, of both patients and myself.  The recent traffic on that post parallels the evolution in my own reflections and answers:

In the coming year, what do you see as the biggest threat to your health?

My hedonist impulses, no question:  Ice cream and office sweets, mostly, but also online washi tape sales and paper, clothing, and shoe stores.

What is the biggest asset?

My friends, also no question, my pit crew.  They encourage me, keep me honest, and lend perspective.  They teach me and inspire me.  They hold me up.

One year from now, what do you want to look back and be able to say about what’s important to you?

In January 2021, I want to look back and say that I got fit again, that I regained the exercise discipline I lost in 2019.  I got control of my eating, decreased my sugar intake by at least half.  I put my phone down and was more present with my kids.  I was more intentional and executed better on how I spend my time and energy overall.  I exercised agency over my life better than ever before.

What support (external to yourself) do you already have and/or may still need to recruit, in order to make that vision a reality?

On November 10 when I posted these questions, I honestly had not answered this one yet.  It was harder than I had anticipated.  Since then, as I continue to ask patients, I see that I’m not the only one stymied.  My first response resembled my patients’, something akin to, “Well, I just have to do it.”  We type-A, independent peeps often rely first and foremost on ourselves.  We don’t ask for help.  And even though I have written and spoken ad nauseum about the importance of support, I found it difficult to identify my own need for it.  This is why I have added the ‘external to yourself’ clarification to the question.  Support comes from somewhere or someone else.  And we all do better when we have it.

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Friendsourcing Motivation

The whole time, the answer was right there in front of me.  The biggest asset to my health is my friends.  We know that social support (sometimes in the form of peer pressure) can be the key to success in behavior change.  Why else would people attend Weight Watchers meetings, or to go AA?  I need a workout buddy and a healthy eating buddy, I realized—I can tap my assets!  Eureka!

Easier said than done, however.  Who should I ask?  What should it look like?  Over a month or so, I worked out my specifications:

  • I need support from friends, not strangers (thus fitness classes will probably not be my jam)
  • I don’t want to be constrained by schedules with my buddies—flexibility is key
  • I need a two-way arrangement—someone who also has a goal that I can support them in
  • The arrangement must be concrete and accountable, but not feel oppressive

Tadaaaaah—Habit Share*!

On our sunrise walks in Loveland last weekend, two friends from LOH and I agreed to be one another’s buddies.  It was perfect—we all wanted the same things; we just needed an easy way to connect.  One of us, the youngest, most tech-savvy one, found the Habit Share app.  It’s free and perfect.  We each define our own goals, and simply share them with each other online.  We receive notifications when our friends check in, and we send messages of encouragement and solidarity.  It’s perfect!  I have already shared the app with patients and other friends, and am now connected to two more friends.  Our habits range from exercise to reading, to flossing.

Holy COW, what a difference!  Just knowing that I’m tracking my goals, and that my friends are seeing and supporting me, it’s been exponentially easier to motivate and execute these seven days than the entire past year.  It’s easy, aesthetically pleasing, costs no money, and connects me with people I love.  It is–wait for it–PERFECT!

I know, I know, it’s only been a week.  Who knows what all of our app screens will look like in another week, a month, or three months from now?  Will we all still be connected and holding each other up in a year?  Who can say?  But what’s the utility of thinking that far ahead?  Yesterday I set the new goal of getting up early once a week to write.  Today I can check it off.  I still have a chance to say no to ice cream, work out, turn off my phone apps by 10pm, and floss!  My friends will know when I do it, and they won’t judge me if I don’t.  It’s all good, and we can all take it one day at a time.

So, what support (external to yourself) do you have, or may still need to recruit, to make your best-self vision a reality?

*I have no financial or other interests in this business.  In fact, I want to contact them to give them feedback about how to make it better, but I cannot find a ‘contact’ page on their website…

Onward from 2019: Learnings and Intentions

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Friends!  WHAT a year, no?  How are you feeling here at the end?

In this post:  3 key learnings, 3 high intentions, and my 6 recommended life readings.

What resonates with you?

What would you add?

For a thoughtful and inspiring look on the coming year, check out Donna Cameron’s post from yesterday.

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3 Key Learnings of 2019

Complexity

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”  –John Muir

“All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you.” –Octavia Butler

We all live in inextricable connection, like it or not, know it or not, want it or not.  Every interaction has potential for benefit and harm, and the scale is exponential.  Some may find this idea daunting, overwhelming, or untenable.  I find it reassuring.  The idea that some cosmic life thread connects us all, that we are made of the same stuff today as that which existed at the dawn of the universe—this gives me peace.  It encourages me that everything I do in good faith could make a difference.  You really never know how far a small gesture or sharing will reach for good.

The 3 Tenets of Relationship-Centered Leadership

Not so much learnings as a synthesis from LOH training, these are the current foundation statements of my personal and aspirational leadership tenets (iterations likely to evolve over time):

  1. Founded on curiosity, connection, and fidelity to a people-centered mission
  2. Attendant to the relational impacts of all decisions, local and global
  3. Respectful of norms and also agile and adaptive to the changing needs of the system

Having defined these ideals for myself, I am now fully accountable to them.  And I hold them as a standard for those who lead me.

Being >> Saying or Doing

Saying and doing compassionate, empathic, and kind things are necessary and noble.  And they are not enough.  These actions ring hollow without honest sincerity behind them.  People feel us before they hear our words.  Our authentic presence, positive or negative, originates from within.  It manifests in posture, facial expression (overt and subtle, intentional and subconscious), movement, and tone and cadence of voice.  Fake it ‘til you make it—saying and doing things because we know we ‘should’—only gets us so far.  We humans possess a keen sense of genuineness—it’s a survival instinct.  If we accept that a meaningful, productive life and effective leadership in particular, require strong, trusting relationships, then we must cultivate true compassion, empathy, and kindness.  That means suspending judgment, managing assumptions, and holding openness to having our perspective changed by all that we encounter (see first key learning above), among other things.  This may be life’s penultimate challenge—our role models include Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama.

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3 High Intentions for 2020

  1. Continue to ask more and listen better for people’s personal and unique meaning making—not just patients but all people—attend to souls
  2. Let go perfection
    1. All relationships are not great, and it’s not all my fault
    2. Some people/relationships and circumstances challenge my best self and skills more than others
    3. It’s the honest, sincere, good faith effort, and the learning from imperfection and failed attempts that matter
    4. Some relationships are better ended
  3. Guard against judgment, arrogance, and cynicism

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6 Recommended Life Readings—the 6 most personally impactful books I have read in the last decade:

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.  Scarcity thinking, competition, and looking out for number one hold us all back.  Stepping fully into our central selves, claiming our full collective agency for creativity and collaboration, and manifesting all the good we are capable of—that is the discovery of this book for me.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  In my opinion, the most eloquent and resonant writing on the purpose-driven life.  The freedom and creativity that flows forth therefrom—it all just gives me goosebumps.  Sinek’s The Infinite Game may eventually make this list too, once I have integrated its content and learnings more fully.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown.  Strength and vulnerability, confidence and shame, individuality and belonging—these are the essential human paradoxes that Sister Brené reconciles with gritty aplomb through real life stories as well as grounded theory research.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Be you, all you, all in.  Love thyself—flaws, failures, and falls all included.  Make things.  Because that is what we are put here to do, for ourselves and for one another.

Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute.  Perhaps no book explains the profound importance of being better in order to do better, better than this.  And it took me almost all year to really comprehend, and then begin to apprehend, the concept.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD.  I started and finished this one on vacation this past week.  Dr. Gawande is my favorite physician writer.  I consider this book required reading for all physicians for sure, but really for all people .  “The death rate from life is 100%,” a wise patient once told me.  In modern western society and culture, multiple intertwined and complex forces hamstring our ability to live and die well and at peace.  This book is a brilliant compilation of heartrending personal and professional stories, neatly folded with history, research, and practical information for improving this sad state of things.  It is also a guide to the hard conversations that we all should really have—now.  It has both validated what I already do in my practice, and profoundly changed how I will do things hereafter.  Thank you, Dr. Gawande.

*****

Best wishes for Peace, Joy, Love, and Connection to all.

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A Holiday Break

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Happy Holidays, friends!

December flies, does it not??  What is it today, the 18th?  Holy cow!  The kids are off for winter break, holiday greetings have overtaken snail mail (Yippeeeee!!), and now that NaBloPoMo has concluded, I am back to scrounging for blog post topics again.  How fascinating…

2016, what a long, strange, CRAZY trip!  The moments (periods?) of shock and disdain stand out, but there were also times of profound inspiration, learning, and connection.  2015 did not see any holiday greetings from us, a lapse after at least 15 consecutive years of not only composed letters with photos and personal notes on every one, but also often a craft of some sort.  I was just overwhelmed with other stuff to do, though now I can’t recall what all that stuff was.  This year I contemplated the annual year-in-review letter.  I have also proofed a bookmark on vistaprint.com.  But the mass-produced, conveyor belt greeting feels unsatisfying right now.

We have all witnessed the escalating anger, division, and destruction of relationships, both individual and between groups, these last 12 months (really, much longer?).  The emotional hijacking took me over for a while, too.  After all we’ve been through, I feel an urgent need to connect with friends and loved ones more intentionally, personally, and directly.  Many on my ‘list’ have known me most of my life, and I want to take time to write to them.  I used to write them all the time–I went to college with 100 postage stamps freshman year, and used them all.  I feel a need to tell people one by one this year how much they mean to me, how they have shaped the person I am today, what I admire about them, how I see them contributing to our world.  I want to encourage them, hold up their optimism and hope.  Most of all, I mean to reinforce my connections with them, so we may all help one another soldier forth in a world of increasing uncertainty.

We cannot control what others say or do.  But we can call out the hatred, illuminate and inform the ignorance, and stand up for core values of love, connection, inclusion, equality, compassion, and justice.  We can do this all the better if we support one another in action.  That support must be cultivated, tended, and protected.

So I’ll take a break from regular blogging for a while, to write by hand (with fun-colored gel pens on cute cards, and lots of stickers).  We’ll see if I break my tardy record for holiday greetings, St. Patrick’s Day…  I think it’s okay–never too late to make a meaningful connection.

Please share your intentions for the new year here, if you like–the community I have found here lifts me every time I open the window or the app.  Thank you for your engagement and encouragement, and Best Wishes to you all this season!

 

 

Setting Intentions For 2016

Happy New Year, Friends! Was 2015 not a wild ride?  However you experienced it, we can safely call the past year eventful, if nothing else.  The violence and the tenderness, the destruction and the connections—how can we hold it all at once?  I used to think myself an optimist, but now I often wonder if the world will actually end in my lifetime—whether we humans will obliterate one another in a rapid succession of escalating violence, or somehow see the light and work harder toward mutual understanding.  Nature will go on, though, with or without us.  I’m still an optimist, then—for the Earth, not necessarily for people…

This year I realized my body’s inevitable march toward menopause, a stark and sudden awareness. It came to me sometime in the spring, and I felt a keen jolt of motivation to prepare.   After 13 years of practice, I recognize two characteristics of women who suffer the least through this dramatic hormonal transition.

First, they accept it. They have made peace with this phase of life, letting go their reproductive years and embracing their elder position in our human tribal order.  They see menopause as a rite of experience and advancement, rather than a loss.  They move with confidence through this segment of life, and make the best of whatever happens.

Second, these women almost always have well-established habits of good health long before their hormone levels start dropping. Nutrition and physical activity come to mind first, but the practice of  ‘being at peace’ must also be included among the ‘habits.’  They have, whether innate or learned, effective mechanisms for overcoming adversity and maintaining balance—physical, mental, emotional, and relational—they are resilient.  I aspire to be like them.

So, until such time as humanity actually annihilates itself, I pledge to persist on the journey toward my best self. The more I read and share with contemplative friends, teachers, students, patients and others, the more I see how we make our lives out of small, daily choices.  As such, I propose below my intentions for the coming year.  I will fail, over and again, I know.  But as Ben Zander would say, these are not expectations to live up to.  They are possibilities to live into.

 

Choose to Train

I started working with Melissa, my trainer, in January of 2014. It was slow going that first year, with only a vague goal of exercising for its own sake, because I knew I ‘should.’  Now, my pursuit of fitness has much more meaning.  I have a finite amount of time to get in the best possible shape before ‘The Change.’  It’s an exhilarating challenge now.  How fit could this body get?  Every week since July, except for one, I have managed to exercise at least three times.  I set this goal on January 1, 2014, and it’s only since my Menopause Epiphany that I have truly owned it.  I think of myself as an athlete again, training for the ultimate marathon of living well in old age, by getting off my butt and moving, each and every day.

 

Choose to Fuel

*sigh*

I need to manage better what I put in my mouth. Eating is one of the hardest things for me to control.  I know exactly how much my patients struggle to include more vegetables, avoid sugar and starches, and eat less overall, because I fight the same battle every day.  After my daughter was born, at age 35, I successfully lost 25 pounds in nine months by simply cutting my portions in half, getting down to my wedding weight.  I had neither the time nor the interest to exercise, nor the energy to police my food choices.  Though I have kept the weight off for the most part, 7 years later I find myself wondering if I’m pre-diabetic.  I see every day how insidiously a persons’ glucose metabolism changes, and it’s ever clearer to me that ‘trying to eat healthy’ is not enough.  I need to set goals for eating, just like for exercise.  Is it food, or is it junk?  If it’s junk, is it at least junk that I really, really enjoy?  Will it be worth the cost to my body after eating it?  Does it align with my highest goals for health and a sustainable ecosystem?  Will it help me age well?  A body in training needs appropriate fuel.  The training piece feels established by now.  In 2016 I will strive to discern and allocate my energy resources better.

 

Choose Curiosity

It always amazes me, and scares me a little, how easily I slip into assumptions and negative storytelling about the people around me. I play old scripts in my head about other people’s intentions, based on my own fears and insecurities.  These thought patterns reinforce themselves over time, creating perceptive realities that are hard to distinguish from objective truths.  This phenomenon is well-described in psychology research, and contributes to misunderstanding at least, disconnection and isolation at worst.  My heroes Rosamund Stone Zander, Brené Brown, and Elizabeth Gilbert, all propose curiosity as the core antidote to assumptions, judgment, and alienation.  First, I can get curious about my emotions, whenever I feel triggered or agitated. What am I feeling? Where did it come from?  Then I can ask myself, “What story am I telling about this person, and what assumptions do I make about their thinking or perspective?”  If I can get this far, I’m already doing pretty well, and on a good day, I can take the next step, asking, “What other story can I tell, one that could cause me to suffer less?”  Last, I can always engage the other person from a place of vulnerability.  I can ask questions, confess my inner stories, and clarify what’s happening between us.  I’ve been practicing this for the past year, too, and it is hard.  But I’m getting better at it, and the results are well worth the effort.  Mutual understanding and deeper connections are only the beginning.  Curiosity may well be the best approach to world peace.

 

Choose My Family, My Tribe

We are each born into a family, for better or worse. And throughout a lifetime, we can also choose our connections, both inside and outside of our genetics.  I wrote recently about my friend Yakini.  My son had been to her daycare for months, and morning drop-offs were happy and smooth.  Then we went on vacation for a week, and when we came back, he was suddenly distraught every time I left him.  Immediately, Yakini knew what to do.  “We need to come to your home for a meal,” she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.  “He needs to know that we are part of your family, that we will take care of him the same as you,” she continued.  Of course, it was a no-brainer.  We had to validate the sacred contract, as she called it.  Her whole family came over with their guitar.  We ate, we sang, we bonded.  After that the boy was happier than ever to see them every morning.  We had officially claimed Yakini’s family as our own.

My family of origin has its complexities. Culture, generation, and sibling rivalry have all contributed to my repeating scripts and stories.  I have learned with age that these patterns can and do change, and it serves all of us to hold space for the evolution.  I can practice curiosity, allow myself to be vulnerable, and choose deeper connections to the people I might otherwise take for granted or let drift away.  My siblings and I have also chosen our spouses.  We need also, then, to acknowledge each of their families of origin, their patterns, scripts, and stories.  I feel very lucky that my husband and my brothers-in-law all seem to accept our family’s quirks and dysfunctions—I can certainly learn from their example.

Lastly, in 2016, I intend to continue nurturing my ties to my tribe. These are the other family members I have chosen over the years, my friends.  They come from all stages and places of my life, and all offer unique perspective.  They accept my imbalances and love me anyway, and always challenge me to live in my integrity.  They hold me up on my quest for self-actualization.  They invite me to do the same for them, and together I honestly believe we make the world better.

2015 comes to a jumbled end for me, full of intensity, volume, texture, and possibility. I’m grateful for this blogging platform to explore and share ideas.  Thank you for reading to the end of this, I think my longest post yet.  I look forward to more growth and exploration in the coming year.  Nothing matters more than our relationships, first with ourselves and then with one another.  Let us cultivate connections that promote peace, love, and harmony, this year and beyond.