Crying is good for you

Some of the best memories from my childhood in Wilmington, Delaware are of my dad rocking me in our black rocking chair while I cried. I guess I was about 5 years old and, being the youngest and only girl, I may have caused a few of the outbursts by pushing my brother Rick or driving him to crazyland. Or, I may have just been plain melodramatic, which sent me to that magical rocking chair with my dad quietly soothing me. Until recently, I feel like he was the only one who let me cry. It’s taboo in our culture to cry. I think we all have those moments where we stifled down the tears and kept a stiff upper lip. I remember the first time I was terminated from a job, as I focused solely on holding back the tears. I have no idea what was said in that meeting, I just remember valiantly “holding it together.”

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Crying is frowned upon for either gender, although it seems boys are pressured to not cry more than girls (I don’t remember seeing my brothers in that magical rocking chair). Crying is a sign that you can’t control your emotions, that you are weak or, perhaps, a loose cannon. Well, it turns out that crying is actually good for you.

Here are the reasons it is good to cry:

Toxins. Crying is a toxin removal system. It’s like a dump truck taking the garbage out. According to neuroscientist Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, “Crying actually removes toxins from the body. Tears help humans eliminate chemicals like cortisol that build up during emotional stress and can wreak havoc on the body.” Who doesn’t want to do a cortisol dump occasionally? You don’t need a medication or self-medication (in the form of alcohol or drugs) to eliminate the toxins. Just sit down and have a good cry. It’s a natural body cleanse without the side effects, except for puffy eyes.

Blood pressure. It lowers your blood pressure. I think of it like a release valve on a pressure cooker. Let the steam go. Release it by having a good cry. As cited by Marlo Sollitto, “Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and vented. High blood pressure can damage your heart and blood vessels and contribute to stroke, heart failure and even dementia.” Crying can be good for your health.

Stress. It’s no surprise that since it can remove toxins and lower blood pressure that crying can reduce stress. “Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart attack, damage certain areas of the brain, contribute to digestive issues like ulcers, and cause tension headaches and migraines, among other health issues. Humans ability to cry has survival value,” Frey emphasizes. Since I gave up alcohol over a year ago, it’s been easier for me to cry and I have to say my blood pressure has never been better. I know this is anecdotal but any means to reduce your stress is important.

Relationships. It can help your relationships. This seems counter intuitive. How can crying help your relationships? As Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD wrote for WebMD, “Remember, the ability to feel comforted by others is wired into us from birth. So why not turn to it when you are struggling? Your loved ones can be a wonderful source of strength when you are feeling overwhelmed. They can help calm and comfort you, renewing your ability to think clearly and fully engage in life.” When I received some bad news a few weeks ago, my boyfriend Roy offered for me to cry on his shoulder. This is the first time in decades that someone offered for me to cry on their shoulder. It not only strengthened our relationship but it helped build trust. Crying can build relationships.

ThroughRichie Norton said, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around it.” I can remember in my Neuroleadership Coaching training that most of us are just skimming through life and not actually allowing feeling. Coaching, therapy or just a close relationship, can set up a safe place to feel. It’s difficult to get past pain or fear without feeling it. We end up numbing out pain through food, alcohol and drugs instead of being in the moment of hurt. Think about labeling the feeling to really accept it. Like tightness in my throat, clenching in my belly and tears running down my face…this is what rejection feels like. Acknowledge your pain or fear. Label it. Understand what it is doing to your body and where you are feeling it. Go through it and not around. Crying does that for me.

It’s amazing that we all seem to try and hold back one of our bodies natural reactions to alleviate our pain. Crying is cathartic and helpful. Be present with it and let it happen. Maybe you need a good cry.

The R.A.I.N. Technique

If you want a great introduction to meditation, read Dan Harris’ book, 10% Happier. If you want a book on how to incorporate meditation into your life, then read Harris’ book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. Both books talk about the R.A.I.N technique and its uses. I find this technique to be an easy way to overcome suffering and to separate from the outcome. It’s an easy acronym to remember when you come up with struggle during your day or when sitting down for meditation.

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Mindfulness is not just found when you are seated on a meditation cushion. Mindfulness is a practice that helps you detach from suffering. Your boss is yelling at you for being late with the report or that car cutting you off on the highway is not going to happen when you are seated on the cushion. It’s nice to have a handy acronym to help you remember to detach from the suffering.

Here is the R.A.I.N. Technique:

Recognize

I’m sure you have felt it. You suddenly start feeling heat rising up you neck when someone has angered you whether it be something with your partner running late, the TiVo not recording your favorite show or something more life altering like you parent in the hospital and you can’t affect an outcome. Your stomach drops. Your foot starts to shake from impatience. It shows up in all kinds of ways. The Recognize is the noticing of the emotion. As CRR Global calls it, “the emotional field” or the weather pattern in the room. My kids know when I am “hangry.” They recognize it instantly. “Mommy, when was the last time you ate something?” The key is to recognize that you are triggered. Pema Chodron refers to it as Shenpa or being caught. Something is grabbing you and your emotions. The first step is to recognize that you are feeling emotion.

Allow

I was guilty for the longest time of just ignoring my emotions or trying to numb out the pain associated with them. Allowing is about actually leaning into the pain. It’s being present with the pain and not running away from it. So, if you didn’t get the promotion, or your child isn’t going to grad school or the mediation didn’t work out, allow yourself to feel the pain. Don’t go running to the bar for a drink, to Amazon for a shopping bender, or eating your way through a half gallon of Rocky Road. This is just a form of escape, non-allowance. It’s all about stuffing down our emotions. Allowing is to be present with whatever perceived pain and emotions exists. This is no time for a stiff upper lip. You may need to duck into an office or bathroom or your car, but find a safe space to lean in and allow.

Investigate

My experience with investigation is understanding how your emotional state is affecting your body. Come up with labels for the pain. This is what rejection feels like – tightness in the middle of my chest. This is what anger feels like – tightness in my shoulders and throat. This is what abandonment feels like – swirling in the pit of my stomach. Investigating helps you fully feel and understand how it is impacting your body. This can be scary. To some degree, it’s like going on a roller coaster as it ticks up the steep incline of the hill before the big drop off. To let go and feel your stomach drop as you glide down the hill. Most of us, including me, will try and tighten up and try and ignore the pain of the stomach drop. This is about investigating and labeling the feeling. More like a scientist and less like the lab rat. The observer versus being observed. Investigate the feeling.

Non-identification

This is the crust of the whole thing. Part of why we don’t want to actually feel emotions is that we end up making value judgements. I was telling someone about the first time I was laid off from a job and how I was not going to let the guy who was laying me off see me cry. I can guarantee you that he would not remember if I cried but it’s the main thing I focused on; the wimpy, boohooing woman crying in front of a man I barely knew. Feeling the emotion doesn’t make you less of a person; it actually makes you more of one. Granted, I understand if you want to be in private when you feel the feels as they say. Just make sure that you are not judging yourself, as I did some 30 plus years ago. You are not your anger, your tears, your anxiety. Practice non-identification.

I cried a lot after my husband left, mostly in the privacy of my own home. I called trusted friends to work through my emotions. I have wept over my father being in the hospital yet again. I have felt the anger and anxiety of not getting a plum assignment. The important thing for me is to actually feel it, instead of stuffing the feeling. It’s made all the difference of being able to experience what is happening and not getting caught up in it. What do you need to feel and go through?

The Second Arrow (how to avoid it)

I recently finished Dan Harris’ book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, wherein the concept of the second arrow came up. This Buddhist parable is explained by Phillip Perry: “In the parable of the arrow, sometimes called the second arrow, you picture yourself walking through a forest. Suddenly, you’re hit by an arrow. This causes you great pain. But the archer isn’t done. Can you avoid the second one? That’s the arrow of emotional reaction. Dodge the second by consciously choosing contemplation. It will help you avoid a lot of suffering.” I’ve been struck by second arrows my whole life. Wow. Wouldn’t it be great to avoid all that suffering?

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Here are some ideas on how to avoid that second arrow:

Own it

The first is to realize that it is within you to control the second arrow. You never need to even release the bow. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of should-haves and could-haves. I think of my friend Angie who experienced a horrific car accident several months back. I can imagine that if it was me, I would have beat myself up for not leaving 5 minutes earlier, or working from home that day, or driving in the right lane instead of the left. Acceptance that something bad has happened and not trying to recreate history is the first step. I think of regrets about my now two ex-husbands, all the what if I had never married them? I would, of course, be living in Paris right now writing poetry and living next to the Seine. These day dreams are merely fantasy and have no reality. Getting caught up in the pain of regret is something you can control. Own it and accept it.

Blame Game

The second arrow shows up as self-recrimination for most of us. Our self-talk is far worse than anyone would ever say to your face. What are you telling yourself? I get on the scale and beat myself up for that brownie yesterday and only walking one mile. Can you imagine telling your child, your friend, your co-worker, heck even your enemy, the same thing? “Hey fatso, why did you have the brownie yesterday and only walk a mile?” I didn’t think so. Stop blaming yourself for everything that befalls you. This suffering is not helping you in anyway. It’s not going to change the trajectory you are on. Beating yourself up for losing your job, getting a divorce or losing money on bitcoin isn’t going to change a thing and it will engulf you in suffering. Get off of the blame game.

Contemplation

There are many ways to get to contemplation. I like the fact that Dan Harris espouses that even one minute of meditation can be helpful. Most people are so afraid they won’t achieve perfection with meditation, yoga, or prayer; that they give up before they even start. There is an expectation that you will be able to empty your mind and sit peacefully for hours without a care in the world. That is unreasonable. That is perfection. I’ve been meditating for years and my head has yet to be empty of thought. So why do it? Because I have been able to control my response. I can discern. When I endure pain of the first arrow, I can respond instead of reacting. Contemplation brings discernment.

Feel the feels

I have learned this in coaching. We need to feel the feeling. We must experience it. Essentially, we must feel the pain of that first arrow fully. Name it (such as rejection, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.). Experience it fully (such as tightness in my throat, tension in my shoulders, upset stomach, etc.). Don’t numb it out (such as online shopping, drinking, gaming, etc.) or hope it goes away. Phone or grab coffee with a friend. Reflect on the emotion with someone you trust. When you try to go around the feeling, that second arrow takes over. The suffering takes over as you try and escape from the pain of the first arrow. You must go through and feel the feels, instead of trying to go around.

Gratitude

I wrote about my father’s recent medical issues and how he feels so fortunate because he is not as bad off as others. He told me to be grateful that I am in good health. This is the same take away from my friend Angie and her car crash that could have (and was so drastic, it should have) killed her. She is focused on the other driver and grateful that she was not in ICU. Counting your blessings helps you be grateful for what you have instead of looking and comparing what you don’t have (the second arrow). I might want a new car with Bluetooth and defrosting rearview mirrors, but I am grateful for not having a car payment and that my car is running just fine. I don’t need to suffer from the comparison I make with my co-worker and their brand-new ride. Gratitude stops the second arrow from launching.

The second arrow is a choice. I don’t have to experience the second arrow. Realizing that helps diminish the worry and catastrophizing, as I would have done years ago. I’m not perfect and I have been guilty of jumping ahead towards suffering, but it has subsided over time. How can you avoid the second arrow?

The Amazing Grand Canyon

Pictures can never do it justice. There is nothing in life to compare to standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. The shear size of it all. The depth of it all. The colors. The other worldliness of it all. It must be experienced. My boyfriend Roy and I were able to visit it recently, mostly because the weather permitted it. This was my fourth visit, but Roy’s first. It never disappoints but it’s almost too much to comprehend. I can imagine that the only way to truly take it all in is by looking down on it from outer space or standing at the bottom of it looking up. It can only be experienced in pieces. From overlooks. From different angles.

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It is sheer happenstance that I was in the middle of reading a book on the Grand Canyon at the time. A client had read The Emerald Mile, an incongruent name for a history of the Grand Canyon and a record-breaking boat trip down the Colorado River (the creator of the canyon). It gave context to this awe-inspiring spot.

Here is why the Grand Canyon is so amazing:

The Colorado River

According to most geologists, the river that carved the Grand Canyon over a billion years ago starts up in Wyoming, some 7 states away. The amazing thing is that Roy and I tried in vain to actually see the river from countless overlooks around the rim. The canyon is so deep that you cannot see the river because of all the erosion and the narrow river. We did glimpse the Little Colorado, however, from most vantage points, you cannot see the river. The river is what first brought humans to live around the canyon some 10,000 years ago, although they did not start living year-round in the area until about 4,000 years ago. The first European to see the canyon was Garcia Lopes de Cardenas in 1540, but they had to leave after three days because of lack of water. There is a river down there. It’s just completely out of reach when you’re above it.

One Mile Deep

The Grand Canyon is a giant hole in the ground. It is over 6,000 feet deep. This is why the floor of the canyon (including any rivers within it) are so difficult to see from the rim. There is so much that is visible, but it begs to be explored; to be experienced. We wanted to explore. I saw that the Bright Angel Trail could be hiked for a mile and a half into the canyon. When I asked about hiking it upon entering the park, the ranger said, “Yeah, you could but you will be on your hands and knees.” Sure enough, when we arrived at the overlook next to the trail head, all we could see was a snake of white snow and ice descending into the canyon. We were going to experience the rim, but not the canyon.

Long Canyon

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. That’s longer than the state of Delaware (90 miles) and bigger than the state of Rhode Island. Even though it’s up to 18 miles wide, it takes 5 hours to drive the 220 miles from the South Rim to the North Rim. The Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869, led by American naturalist John Wesley Powell, was a ten-month river exploration down the Green and Colorado Rivers, which became known as the first documented passage through the Grand Canyon. Powell left with nine men, four boats and food for 10 months. Two men from the expedition made it all the way to Mexico and the Sea of Cortez where the river finally ends. I am struck by the bravery of entering a long voyage with untold obstacles and unknowns.

Little Colorado River

The Little Colorado River Overlook is outside of the Grand Canyon National Park, but is a must see along Highway 64. It’s managed by the Navajo nation, but it has a fantastic view of the canyon. It feels like the “younger” section of the canyon since it’s much more narrow, and you can actually see the Little Colorado River at the bottom. It would be like letting the air out of the Grand Canyon and reducing it by 10 times. This view gives the depth and width of it all, after a short gravel pathway down to the overlook. There are no crowds or entrance fees here; it doesn’t make it unworthy of your time. It pairs down the Grand Canyon experience to a comprehensible view.

The trip has inspired me to want to return to take a deeper dive. I want to return to hike from rim to rim during the fall. The canyon begs you to enter it, whether it be by mule, hiking or river rafting. It begs to be experienced.

Ninety-Three Years and Counting

My father is ninety-three years old and counting. This is an amazing feat, considering he has had diabetes for over 60 years and survived both the Merchant Marines in WWII and Korea. My boyfriend Roy, my son Benson and my daughter Natalie had a reunion of sorts with my parents, my brother Rick and his girlfriend Sarina in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February. It was a great opportunity to reminisce, reconnect and compare various iterations of sopapillas.

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My mother, daughter and father.

This was Roy’s first time meeting my parents and it’s always enlightening to see other’s perceptions of folks that I have know all my life. It’s also fun to reflect on what comes up in the form of stories and songs when generations come together.

Here are my observations:

The Adventure

What an appropriate name for the sailboat my parents met on some sixty plus years ago. It had been many years since I had heard the telling of it, as only my mother can do it best. My father was crew on a tall ship called The Adventure. My mother had just graduated from college and was taking a cruise on the boat as a post-graduation vacation. She saw my father talking to a woman with a wedding ring on and, incorrectly, assumed that he was married. A man on shore had asked her on a date and she was on deck drying her hair in preparation for the date. My father pushed her overboard. When my mother climbed out of the water, she asked the captain why that man had pushed her and he said, “I guess he’s interested.” The rest is history.

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My mother and father on The Adventure.

Let the adventure begin. My father always looks quite unrepentant during the telling of the story. Sort of like, “Well, I pushed her and now look at all that I have,” as he admires his beloved wife, children and grandchildren. Thank goodness he pushed her.

The Lecturer

My father spent most of his career as a middle school history teacher. I have always admired him for teaching the least glamorous topic to the most incorrigible group of students (namely 8th graders). My father has always been a lecturer. You can imagine that if you taught 7 classes a day on the same topic, that everything from Gettysburg to the Kensington Stone is on auto-play. My dad has many life adventures on auto-play. His trip to Korea and visiting a village off-the-grid. His guiding 10 teenagers on a canoe trip in aluminum boats in northern Quebec during a lightening storm. Him surviving a hurricane on the schooner The Adventure, where the captain told him to lash himself to the mast. My siblings, my mom and my kids have all heard these stories many times. This past trip made me pay attention to the facts. I want to get it right. While I was a teenager, I would roll my eyes at what I dubbed “Lecture 223.” Now, I want every word. Every fact. Who knows when or if I will hear this lecture again?

The Stoic

Part of what prompted the cross-country trip were some recent set backs to my dad’s health. As I write this, my dad is back in the hospital trying to get his medications dialed in. I’m thankful that my brother Rick is a retired nurse and my mother, a retired medical technologist. I don’t understand most of what is going on but I do know that my dad has always been a stoic. Whether is was a triple bypass or pace maker, he’s always taken everything as it comes. I’ve never seen him panic or worry. Even as he sat in his recliner surrounded by loved ones, with a new scooter and oxygen tank, he said, “I don’t feel any pain.” Did I mention he’s had kidney stones for over 5 years? He was still looking forward to his next move with my mom to Washington State. I have always admired my father’s patience but I think what I really admire is his ability to not get caught up in a cycle of worry and rumination. My stomach dropped when my brother texted this morning that Dad was back in the hospital but I know that he is probably sharing a lecture on Napoleon or his trip to Russia with some unsuspecting nurse. If he’s not worried, why should I be?

The Ballast

Every family has a certain homeostasis. There is a balance that keeps the whole thing moving forward, regardless of the current and wind. I feel like my dad has been the ballast of the whole Noice family boat. He rarely gets angry. Nothing seems to exasperate him. I can still remember my seventy-year-old father carrying my two-year-old son and a tricycle during one of his tantrums with nary a frown. I see him now surrounded by new contraptions like an oxygen meter and he is unfazed. He’s just glad to be here. He is constantly comparing himself to other residents who have it far worse than he and he is thankful. His mantra is “I am so fortunate.” He’s writing his fifth volume (FIFTH) of his science fiction novel. He hopes someone reads it someday. This is not a man who is down for the count. He’s planning his next adventure for his novel’s main character Lors, for heaven’s sake. Eventually, my father will be gone, but in the meantime, he is the ballast.

There was a magical moment in our trip to Albuquerque when my parents broke into song. It was an old sea shanty. As my parents sang in unison and with strong voice, I was able to record it for prosperity. I was struck by their voice’s strength and clarity, as they both sang and helped each other with the words. It’s been decades since I heard them sing. A little piece of history from their Adventure. I was happy to experience it again and that I’ve been part of the Adventure.

You Are Enough

Have you been waiting to hear those words since say…kindergarten? I have. I generally have stayed uber-focused on my penmanship (horrible), my height (too tall) and my value as a human being (a work-in-progress). This happens to the distraction from my more valuable traits like writing, coaching and being present. I am more worried about the illusive atta-boy (-girl) from my sixth-grade math teacher or my parents finally being happy with the career I have chosen.

Unfortunately, if you go looking for someone to say: “Cathy, you are good enough,” you will be waiting a long time. Your value is not determined by those outside of yourself. It’s an inside job. It’s between your ears. You need to decide you are good enough. No one is going to do it for you. Decide today. You are worthy. You are good enough. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.

These might be the reasons holding you back from being enough:

The yardstick of perfection. Anne Lamott wrote brilliantly in Bird by Bird, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life… I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” It’s OK if my handwriting isn’t that legible. It’s OK if I am taller than the rest. It’s OK if I have honestly wasted half a Saturday getting over vertigo and not writing. I just spent part of the morning criticizing myself for not going to the gym first thing or writing a post. Really? Like the exercise and blog gods are sitting around judging me for recovering from half a day spent getting to the bottom of my vertigo? So what? As Lamott says, you will die anyway. Spending time trying to be perfect is empty and completely unrewarding. You are good enough right now.

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A gold medal won’t change a thing. Lamott famously quotes a 400 pound has-been coach, “If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.” Interesting. If you are not enough before you lose 30 pounds, you won’t be enough after. If you are not enough before the big promotion, you won’t be after. If you are not enough before the divorce, you won’t be after. Worthiness is not a line in the sand. It’s not a point in time. It’s not after the big achievement or disappointment. You are worthy right now. And now. And now. Sit in that. Let it sink in. A gold medal will not make a difference.

You are uniquely you. The mold is busted and there is only one of you and your individual view on life. As Dr. Seuss famously said, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Even you and your identical twin would have different shortcuts on your desktop. One of you was picked last or first on the soccer team. It has made all the difference. You now fight for the downtrodden or represent soccer player’s rights. Neither is better or worse. Just unique. Be you. Own it. Embody it. Be the unique you that you are.

Comparison is futile. Lamott said, “Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.” You have no idea what your neighbor is going through or your coworker or your dog for that matter. You may be jealous of that new car but don’t realize they had to take over payments for their daughter. Your coworker is battling stage 4 colon cancer. Your dog has been barking at that neighbor dog for the last ten years and has yet to get the last word. We really have no idea what is going on for someone else and comparing it to your current situation is a recipe for disaster. Comparing does not make you feel worthy or enough. So stop comparing.

What other people think of me is none of my business. This is a Wayne Dyer quote that stops me cold. You have absolutely no control over what other people think of you. Let it go. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not. We’ve spent so much time on worrying about what others think. I remember having 11 different pairs of colored corduroy Levis in high school. It did not increase the number of friends I had. AND I was probably the only one who noticed. If you cannot move the needle on it, don’t bother worrying about it. Besides, you are perfectly good enough right now.

I was the last pick a lot in elementary school. My mother was upset with how I held a pencil in my hand. I didn’t have a ton of friends in high school. It’s OK. Let the past go and move on. It has no impact on my worthiness right now. Let go of the judgments from the past and be enough. You are good enough. And so am I.

Making a Fresh Start

I recently read Daniel Pink’s book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, and it had lots of useful information about timing. Interestingly, a fresh start can occur more often than just on New Year’s Day. So, for all of you who missed setting or initiating your New Year’s Resolution, there is still hope. There is a whole, brand new fresh start. In fact, by Pink’s count, there are 86 days available for a fresh start. Well, that is, about 1 in 4 days, so that means you can get a fresh start right around the corner, if not today.

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His theory is that there are eighty-six days that are especially effective for making a fresh start:

  • The first day of the month (twelve)
  • Mondays (fifty-two)
  • The first day of spring, summer, fall, and winter (four)
  • Your country’s Independence Day or the equivalent (one)
  • The day of an important religious holiday—for example, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Eid al-Fitr (one)
  • The first day of school or the first day of a semester (two)
  • The first day back from vacation (two)
  • The anniversary of your wedding, first date, or divorce (three)
  • The anniversary of the day you started your job, the day you became a citizen, the day you adopted your dog or cat, the day you graduated from school or university (four)
  • The day you finish this book (one)

It’s ironic, but some of my fresh starts were not on Mondays, not at the beginning of the month, and not around a holiday. The most significant for me was getting sober. It was a Saturday, four days after July 4th. But I made that fresh start stick. I can’t remember the day I gave up animal products, but I do remember the last time I had meat was at the DFW airport, and I didn’t end up finishing some sausage links on my breakfast plate. That was the last of my meat eating. It wasn’t a Monday or on an important anniversary.

The thing is that fresh starts can start right now. If you want to give up sugar, alcohol, chicken, or smoking, throw all that mess out right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here. It’s amazing how fast you can get rid of whatever is tempting you. I was kind of surprised how easy it can be if you can let go of the guilt tied to whatever is in the garbage can and the waste of money it has been. I’m pretty sure I threw out 7 bottles of wine when I embraced sobriety. I didn’t give it to a good home. I threw it in the garbage can. I can sort of visualize that I am not a garbage can. Why do I think that chocolate cake should go into my stomach instead of the garbage can? Yes, please donate what you want to give up if it’s feasible. If it’s not, then throw it out.

So, I decided to look up famous birthdays on July 8th: John D. Rockefeller and Kevin Bacon. Now I know that I got sober on their birthday. It’s not why I chose that date, but it’s auspicious none-the-less. It might work to go backwards to make your fresh start more memorable.

The key to it all is to get started. Pick what you want: whether it be exercising, napping (highly recommended by Pink), writing, playing the guitar, dancing, singing, walking the dog, or saving money. If you need more ideas, check out my 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits. What do you need a start?

Return to Yosemite

I’ve been to Yosemite National Park several times in my life. The first trip was on an eight-week cross-country trailer trip with my family when I was eight years old. I remember Yosemite being a magical place. There was even a free bus that would take my eight-year-old self anywhere in the valley. And, of course, there was listening to story time around a big campfire. I remember the tall waterfalls and the stories of folks falling to their death for a photo op. These are the faded memory remnants some half century later.

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Fast forward to the holiday season and to my last full day in Northern California. Roy and I had a fantastic Christmas holiday at my oldest brother’s house and both of my children with their significant others were able to attend. We did the whirlwind must-stops of Twin Peaks, Haight-Ashbury, Goat Rock Beach and stood near ancient Redwoods. My kids were both on their way home and, my boyfriend Roy and I had an extra unplanned day. I mapped a drive to Yosemite and it turned out to only be 3 hours away. This was Roy’s first trip to California and I felt like Yosemite was a must-see, if possible. Six-hour round trip on the road through the San Joaquin Valley — let’s get this checked off the list.

Observations on the return to Yosemite:

Traffic

Part of the reason for heading to Yosemite was that we were dropping my daughter, Natalie, and her boyfriend Kevin off at the San Francisco Airport at 6 AM. If we were going to be on the road at 6 in the morning, why not head out? Being on the road during a holiday week (between Christmas and New Year’s) made for easy driving, which is not the norm during that particular week in the Bay Area. We didn’t run into any bumper-to-bumper traffic until our return over the Pacheco Pass. So if you are going to run off to Yosemite, make sure you do it on an off-week to avoid the frustration of traffic.

Valley

The only way to Yosemite from the Bay Area is through the San Joaquin Valley. Roy was excited to see some of the richest agricultural land in the world. Our drive did not disappoint. We saw miles and miles and miles of orchards on our way to Yosemite. And miles and miles and miles of crops and cattle on our way back. It’s amazing to see how immense the agricultural machine is. I think it’s what Roy was most impressed with on the trip that day; perhaps the biggest surprise. Especially when you read labels at the grocery store almost daily that say it was produced in California, and there it all is as far as the eye can see. It was impressive seeing it through Roy’s eyes. I was much more impressed by the size of it all. Appreciate what surrounds you.

Remote

The GPS on my phone mapped the trip. At one point, when we were driving through the foothills up to Yosemite, the GPS directed us to take a right onto a very narrow road. When you leave a larger road to take a very narrow road, and you have some 90 miles to go to your destination, it’s a bit scary. There is faith that the GPS knows what it is doing but there is also the fear that technology might fail us. We might get stuck. Roy and I talked about turning around. This was impossible, based on the hairpin turns and width of the road. Yosemite is in the middle of nowhere. We went for 60 or more miles without a gas station or restaurant. It is remote. West Coast remote is a lot more remote than East Coast remote. If you are driving to the Smokey Mountains National Park, you will be able to find a bathroom, French fries and a tank of gas if need be, within 20 miles of the park. Not so at Yosemite. The GPS got us safely to the park, but it was a leap of faith. Don’t expect to stop at a gas station for directions.

Worthwhile

We drove through about thirty miles of road that warned that you needed chains or snow tires. We were in a rental car. Who knew what tires were on that thing. We approached via route 120, which I would not recommend in winter, as the elevation was over 4,000 feet and the road was icy with temperatures reaching 28 degrees outside. After traveling for some 3 hours, we thought about turning around as the elevation continued to climb. I told Roy that it was worth it (so long as we didn’t have an accident). Sure enough, we came around the bend and there was Half Dome standing mightily in the valley floor. It was breathtaking. Don’t have an accident getting there and be safe; the payoff is worthwhile.

Yosemite

I think we spent about an hour or so driving through Yosemite Valley. There were remnants from the fires in August. I realize now that the trees are not what make Yosemite special and unique, as much as all that granite. El Capitan stands regally in the center of the valley. It is immense. Pictures do not do it justice. The waterfalls are beautiful, regardless of the time of the year. In fact, the valley is timeless, regardless of fire, government shut down, or drought. Yes, it is commercialized to some degree, despite its remoteness, but it’s an inconsequential part of the experience. It’s rather nice to have good food available at restaurants or a decent hotel room after a day of hiking. After all, you can pull off to the side of the road anywhere and there you are in the heart of the valley that was carved out by glaciers over 87 million years before. Every vista is jaw-dropping. It truly is a transformative experience.

Getting outside is restorative. Heading to parts unknown by a path less traveled is life affirming. The journey to Yosemite was as transformative as the park itself. Get outside, take the unknown route, and lean into your fear. You might be surprised and, perhaps, even changed.

Taking Stock

According to Merriam-Webster: “Definition of take stock: to carefully think about something in order to make a decision about what to do next. We need to take stock and formulate a plan.” A very close friend, Angie, was in a serious car accident this week. One minute she was on her hour-long commute to work and the next she was pinned in her car waiting to be cut out. Fast forward 48 hours and she’s had surgery on her knee cap and is thankful she didn’t lose her leg. Or her life. This has caused me to pause and take stock.

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This all happened on a Monday morning. 99% of the world continued with business as usual. My life, for the most part, continued as usual. I started to extrapolate forward on behalf of my friend. Where was her master bedroom, first floor or second floor? Can you drive a car without the use of a right leg? Will she ever want to return to her job and her hour-long commute? How will this affect her in the long term? What would I do if I was in her shoes? There are no correct answers. There are only a lot of questions.

This is what I have taken stock of:

Can do

I have an iWatch that tracks my steps. Ever since I completed my short section hike on the Appalachian Trail (15 miles), I haven’t been walking that much. I recently found out I have a torn meniscus in my left knee and I have been apprehensive about injuring it more. But in the last week? Post-accident? I have tripled my steps. It prompted me to look at what I can do. I have two working legs and who knows if and when that might be taken away from me. I have a strength workout that my boyfriend designed for me that involves lunges, air squats, planks, and pushups. Yep. I can do that as well. I almost feel like I am doing the workouts for Angie. I’ve taken stock in what I can do.

Assessment

I have a small step between my sunroom and my kitchen. There are three steps up to my front door. I don’t think I could get a wheelchair into my bathroom. Closet doors open into a narrow hallway. There is no easy path from my driveway to my front door. I never noticed these things before. What if I was suddenly in a wheelchair and unable to go up small steps? What would I do in the interim until ramps could be built? I’m sure these are things that an ergonomics expert or physical therapist sees without a second thought. It’s been all I see since Monday. I’ve taken stock of close surroundings and in what’s available.

Uncertainty

I am writing this on a Saturday, just five days after the accident. Angie has at least three surgeries in her future and who knows what else. I’m sure on Monday morning, as she prepared to head to work, she had no idea that her life would be so full of uncertainty only a few short hours later. I have a new appreciation that everything is uncertain for us all. You may think you are going to take that business trip or buy that car or scratch your dog when you get home. But we just don’t know. Nothing is guaranteed. Sure, most of it will happen and unfold as expected, but life is uncertain. I’ve taken stock in the uncertainty of it all.

Forgiveness

The man who crossed the center line and hit Angie head-on is on the same hospital floor as Angie. His injuries are worse. It’s difficult for me to be sympathetic to his situation. I immediately decided that he was drunk, texting or exhibiting road rage as he plowed into my friend’s car. Not Angie. There were many of us who decided he was not worth our sympathy in the midst of Angie suffering. Not Angie. In an email she wrote, she asked for all us to pray for the other driver. This is the Angie I know. She has the spirituality and forgiveness to be worried about the other driver. It makes me take stock in who I need to forgive, as well as what I no longer need to hold onto.

Love

Angie has always been a kind and generous person. It didn’t take an accident to make her that way. In the email where she asked for everyone to pray for the other driver, she said, “I love each and every one of you.” It’s such a powerful statement. How often do I tell the people I love that I do love them? There is connection in acknowledging love. I don’t say it enough to enough people in my life. It seems to cure all ills and set things right. Regardless of where Angie is in six months, she will have love. I’ve taken stock in love.

Angie’s husband sent me a picture of the car post-accident. She’s lucky to be alive. I have taken stock in the reality that we are all lucky to be alive. Make the most of it. What do you need to take stock in?

 

Saying Yes

I recently finished Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit. He presented a great question that I have been pondering over the last few weeks. Bungay Stanier wrote, “Let’s be clear: What exactly are you saying yes to?” The converse of that is: “What are you saying no to?” I have been weighing out committing to some type of self-development program since the start of the year. I am weighing out what will have to change or what I will have to say “no” to in order to fit a new program into my life. Because saying yes will be saying no to something else. That or the yes will end up being something to bail out on two weeks into the program, since I am unwilling to say no to what is already in my life.

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When I say yes, I want it to be a firm, clear yes. Not a yes and then I never show up for the monthly meeting or do the homework or give only partial effort. It’s a hell yes or a hell no. I’m all in or all out.

This is what to consider when saying yes:

Be very clear

For me, being very clear is understanding the full ramifications of saying yes. How much time out of my day, week, or month will be committed if I say yes? Where will I fit this into my schedule? If I am on the road traveling, can I still remain committed? Is my physical presence needed or could this be possible virtually? Do I need to show up at meetings at a specific time or can I complete something at 1 AM on my smartphone? What is the investment in money, time and, most importantly, energy? This takes digging unless you’ve committed to something easy like buying cupcakes for the soccer game or offering to collect your neighbor’s mail. Unless it’s straight forward, make sure that you are clear on what you are saying yes to.

Have defined boundaries

We all have people (or animals) in our lives that test our boundaries. The person who is consistently late, the dog who scratches at the bedroom door at 4 in the morning or the co-worker who never turns the project in as prescribed. They are all just testing your boundaries. Be clear that you will be leaving at 8 AM, no exceptions. Don’t open the door for your dog unless there is thunder or fireworks. Only accept the project in PowerPoint and never in Excel. When you have defined boundaries, it makes saying yes (and no) a lot easier.

Know your priorities

For me personally, this has changed dramatically over the last two years. I am no longer married, I no longer drink and I eat a plant-based diet. What I said yes to two years ago wouldn’t work now. I traveled to Peru with a friend instead of a husband. My rotary club’s biggest fund raiser is a beer festival, so I opted out. I need to find new uses for my sous vide and outdoor grill. As I weigh out these two self-development programs, one is focused on writing and the other is about aligning with abundance. Is writing my focus or aligning with abundance? I think that aligning with abundance will help fund the writing down the road. My priority is abundance.

Nope. You cannot do it all.

I feel like I coach a lot more women who suffer from this than men. I coach some folks with StrengthsFinder and I find that if someone has Responsibility (take psychological ownership of what they say they will do) in their top 5 strengths, they have a REAL hard time saying no. Or letting go. Heck, I don’t have Responsibility in my top 10 strengths, but I had a real hard time letting go that I was not sending Christmas Cards out this year (so as not to feel like I overlooked my friends when they didn’t get one). Acknowledging that you can’t do it all can be powerful. Instead of planning and worrying and losing sleep on what you can’t possibly accomplish, let go and don’t say yes. If you say yes, make sure it doesn’t tip the scale towards overwhelm.

Pleasing others

I love the Wayne Dwyer quote: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” So, don’t say yes purely in the hope of impressing others. I thought about this with my Christmas cards this year. I didn’t have a recent family photo, I didn’t have much to report, and I feel like sending cards has been diminishing over the last few years. I felt the need to send cards was about pleasing others. I believe it’s a nice gesture and I appreciate the cards sent to me, but with a busy travel schedule around the holidays, it was a point that overwhelmed me rather than filled me with holiday warmth. I found other ways to share holiday warmth and stopped worrying about pleasing others. Say yes for yourself.

Everything is a trade-off. If I say yes to one thing, it means no to something else. It also works in reverse; if I say no to something, it means yes to something else. It’s all an act of discernment and being choosy about what you engage with. What are you saying no to that really should be a yes?