One of my favorite songs is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy” and nothing makes me feel groovier than taking a slow walk Saturday around Lady Bird Lake in Austin. The song goes something like this with apologies for some modifications:
“Slow down you move to fast,
Got to make the Saturday last,
Just kicking down Lady Bird Lake,
Austin is great and feeling groovy.”
Here is a picture I snapped last weekend during my weekly trek. These turtles sure know how to Slow Down, bask in the sun, and feel groovy.
While the word Groovy may have been out of vogue since the Seventies, slowing down to regroup is still key to a better life. Even more so in this time of constant noise and nuisance. Nothing restores the soul and the spirit then a good podcast, a crisp wind and nature all around.
Slowing down is the key to the healthy and happy life. I seldom miss a Slow Walk Saturday for the following three reasons:
1. Time to reflect and adjust. When we are running from one task to the other, there is seldom time to reflect, learn from experiences, and adjust. I find that when I slow down and quiet my mind that I come up with the answer that I need. Proof point? I have been so busy with work and life that I have been having writer’s block. A few minutes and miles and I had ten new ideas when I had been stuck for at least a week. Sometimes the best thing when you are struggling for a solution is slow down, quiet your mind and be thankful for the nature all around you.
2. Destress and feel blessed. Nothing stokes compassion and soothes the soul than to experience nature. It is hard to feel hassled when you see 20 turtles sunning on a log or see a bird take flight. It is a wonder this world! Our role is to revel and reflect the love of God in his creation. Not to strive and stifle. Slowing down makes us thankful for the pauses and pleasures that are in each day!
3. Listen and learn. When you are alone with your thoughts and those of a good book, you learn new things about yourself and your place in the world. I recommend to everyone the library application Libby which provides audio books for free if you have a library card. I have learned so much while walking and listening from how Changing your Habit can Change Your Life to How to be 10% Happier. Truly my Slowdown Saturdays have made me a better person!
Life is not a sprint. It a slow walk to the better angels of our nature. So, take the time to slow down and feel groovy.
A few nights ago, I had one of those dreams. You know the ones that I am talking about. A dream so vivid, so poignant that it seems more than real. A dream that wakes you up at 4 AM with a smile on your face and thoughts rushing so fast that you can barely keep up as you type on your cell phone in the bathroom with door shut so as not to disturb your wife. A dream of important messages heaven sent to shape your life and to pass on to others.
In this dream, I was again in my Grandpop’s house on Melrose
Avenue in Trenton, NJ. And there was my
Grandpop rocking on the porch. The
picture below is of that very same house that my sister Lori texted me today
while she was visiting Jersey, reinforcing the dream’s importance! As we walked together and talked in each of
the rooms, the memories of times shared together came flooding back. And there was an underlying message tying all
those memories together. My Grandpop –
John William Henry – was a good man.
I say a good man, not great man for a reason. The best men are good men not great men. They dole out love instead of striving for
power or money. They love their country
and their God. They care more about
friends and less about prestige. They
take time for fun, the Phillies, and to sing Irish songs. They look like Fred McMurray on My Three Sons
and remind you of Jimmy Stewart on It’s A Wonderful Life. That
was my Grandpop! And here are the four
lessons that I learned from that dream, his life and my Grandpop’s home and
Take time for Family
and Friends (The Porch) – Grandpop loved to rock on his porch and look out
on Melrose Avenue. Two memories came
back to me as I again sat on the porch. I
remembered how he would spend hours on the porch during the evening and
weekends talking to and visiting with his neighbors down the street. Some 50 years later, I can remember their
names, their faces and believe it or not their homes. During that dream, I visited with them again. Mrs. Curr a widower who gave us tea and
cookies in her home as she talked about her garden. Mrs. Heipel who lived on the end house on
Melrose talking about her daughter who had recently moved. The Toronto’s telling stories of my mother
when they were young. I was happy for
the friendship again and a little sad since my porch faces the back yard and I
so seldom visit with my neighbors (or remember their names).
The other thing I remember is how gentle and good my
Grandpop was. He was no wimp having
boxed when he was younger. But he knew
how to calm his Grandkids when they were cranky and tired. I again saw him rocking my brother David as
he sang “Little Man Your Crying” in a voice not as resonant as Bing’s but close
to perfect due to its love. And as I saw
this image again in my mind’s eye, I thought back that although I spent quality
time with my kids, I was not as calm or soothing as that gentle man who rocked
my brother asleep
Unconditionally and For Eternity (the Living Room) – We came in from the
porch and into the living room with its furniture entrenched in the fifties. We sat on the couch watching the Phillies
like so many times before. We both loved
the Phillies, especially Mike Schmidt (Schmidty as we called him). In walked my Uncle who had gone missing for several
months on another binge as he had done so many times before. He was the ultimate prodigal son. He asked to come back to the home and
Grandpop with tears in his eyes took him back.
And I thought to the times when I turned my back on others in need
because I was too busy and vowed to do better.
The dream changed again to a different moment. This one happened outside my other Uncle’s
house in Morrisville, PA but in the dream, it was in the living room. My family was visiting, and my Grandpop
walked in with a bag of donuts as he did on most Sundays. But this time it was different. It was several weeks after my Grand mom’s
passing and Grandpop had returned to the donut tradition for the first time
without Grand mom. I again saw the tear
from my Grandpop’s eye when my brother asked where is Grand mom? I was again a bit mad at my younger brother
since I was older. And I thought on how
my Grandpop who was still a young man of 50 when Grand mom passed, yet he never
dated seriously or married again. He
would visit his wife’s grave several times a week keeping the love of her in
his heart for the rest of life. And I
imagined them again holding hands throughout eternity and I vowed to love my
wife like Grandpop.
Be Frugal with Yourself,
Lavish with Others (the Phone room). I wanted to stay with both my Grandparents again,
but my dream switched to the phone room.
I was not sure if the room was a formal dining room or a second living
room, but I remember it as the phone room due to the rotary phone that rested
at the end of a long hutch. Another
thing that rested on the long hutch was hundreds of coupons. Having lived in the Depression, my Grandpop
and his brothers were frugal in saving money.
I again saw my Grandpop and Great Uncle Don talking about the latest
coupon that they found for Acme. My
Grandpop would drive to 5 or 6 stores to use the coupons to save a few
bucks. Besides being frugal on the
groceries, he did not spend much on himself.
He seldom traveled or bought expensive clothes or items but reveled in
the simple pleasures such as the occasional Phillies games. He was frugal with himself but lavish with
others. As my dream progressed, I
thought back on the time he bought my brothers and I a complete Lionel Train
set on Christmas. And how happy he was
when our eyes lighted up. Then I thought
back on the many times I had splurged on the latest iPhone or Uber Eats instead
of focusing on the ones around me. I
seldom use a coupon even though they are digital now and can easily be obtained
on the cell phone I have. I vowed to
spend less on myself and more on others.
Be Thankful for the
Simple Pleasures and Family (the Kitchen).
The dream now moved into the
kitchen and I saw the big yellow wooden kitchen table where we often sat. As I sat down at the table, I looked across
to a little stand when my Grandpop kept one of his prized possessions – a Hot
Dog Zapper! I do not know if they have
them anymore, but my Grandpop sure did take pleasure in it. He would invite us to sit down and put each
of the six hot dogs on two prongs at either end of the hot dog. He would turn on the machine and after a few
minutes of zapping they were cooked (and most often split open a bit!). He again laughed as he took them off and gave
one to each of us around the table.
As we ate, more of my extended family gathered around and I
realized the time had shifted to St. Patrick’s Day. I again saw my Great Uncles (both cops), my
Uncle John and his family, Uncle Gary and my family. Each of the men had a Schlitz beer or two (I
told you Henrys are frugal!) as we went through a chorus of Irish Songs – Mrs.
Murphy’s Chowder, Come Meet a Donovan, The Same Old Shillelagh, and of course
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. And I
thought. We often take for granted the
simple pleasure of singing with family and friends. We forget the expensive items we bought after
a few years. But I can sing verbatim
every one of those songs to this day and see the hot dog zapper in my mind’s
eye. Just before I left this part of the
dream, one more simple, glorious pleasure occurred. My Dad did not know the Irish songs of his
wife’s family but wanted to participate.
I again heard him sing “The Old Rugged Cross”, his favorite song and the
one we played at his funeral. As I wept,
I vowed to spend more time with family and the simple pleasure of life.
And as I woke, one thought ran through my head. Be good, not great! Strive for friendship not fame. Make memories not money to live on through
The key to improving your health and losing weight is your environment. We in the 21st century live in a toxic environment. Artificial food, false friends, and feelings of discontent lead to stress, weight gain and self-medication. To embark on a journey toward health, we need to put away the fast food, vitriol and anxiety of everyday living to embrace real food, real experiences, mindfulness and thankfulness.
I know I lived in that environment up until a few years back
and experienced its negative consequences.
With ready access to Quarter Pounders, Diet Cokes, and M&Ms, I doubled
my size and diminished my disposition.
These unhealthy eating practices were exacerbated by too much face time at
work and Facebook for leisure. The
result was an unhealthy, grumpy middle-aged man who could not walk around the
block. Something had to change! Only when I started to change my environment
did I change my life!
There were three aspects to my environment that I decided to
change in January 2015. Weighing more
than all but three of the heaviest players in the NFL with a goods deal less muscle
tone and height, I had to take the following actions to change my environment
and restore my hearth:
Changed my food environment. The first aspect that I set out to change was
my pantry. There were several nemeses
that I had to swap out. The first was
Ice Cream. I was an absolute ice cream
fanatic. So much so that I created an
acronym for my Ice Cream addiction – ICR.
This is how it is used. Once my
kids could drive, I would call out – “Hey, Kyle can you go on an ICR. Get me a large M&M blizzard and get
something for everyone else.” ICR if
you have not figured out yet is Ice Cream Run and it supplemented the ice cream
I already had in the freezer. In
addition to Ice Cream, I kept a pantry well stocked of chips, peanut M&Ms,
and a big 1-gallon plastic container of mixed nuts. All available for ready access whenever I
became stressed. This had to change so I
sought out alternatives.
I initially replaced my DQ Blizzard with Skinny Cow Ice Cream sandwiches and eventually Non-Fat Greek yogurt with Banana’s (I still stay away from Ice Cream totally since it is a trigger food). I replaced peanut M&M’s overtime with WW Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie flavored bars that are individually wrapped, the same calories of a two peanut M&M’s and less likely to gouge on by the cupful! I replaced chips with a crunchy, healthy alternative that absorbs Salsa just as well – Broccoli. I dealt with my Mixed Nut affliction in a similar way that I did Peanut M&Ms. I swapped out the tub full of Mixed Nuts from Costco with individual packets of smaller size that are less likely to gouge on in fits of stress eating. These and other food changes got me one third of the way to a better environment.
2. Changed my social and work environment. The next thing I needed to do was change up how I spent my time. During the day and into the early evening I was spending time locked to a desk in conference calls or directing my team. At night, I read the latest political debates late into the night on Facebook. Both resulted in too much work time and not enough downtime. Additionally, the constant diatribe of uncivility on social media was stressing me out. I could feel the cortisol racing through my veins as I dealt with the next work issue or latest political debate.
I decided to take two measures to change my
social and work environment. First, I vowed
to get up and move for 10 minutes each hour and to block out 1 hour for working
out in the morning. Additionally, I
vowed to leave no later than 7 PM unless the world was ending. At first, I thought these actions would
detract from my work effort, but I was wrong.
Instead, it fostered communication between my team and I and provided me
with the respite to come up with better actions.
The second thing I did was make a determined effort to spend less time on social media and to spend that time on positive feeds. I accomplished this in two ways. I monitored and reduced my time reading social media. When I could not reduce it as much as I hoped, I decided to change my feeds and to listen to mindful podcasts. I actively sought out positive Facebook groups such as Spreading Positivity and liked their content. Over time, my Facebook feeds have changed because of this determined effort from politics to positive messages. Many of these serve as inspirations to my blogs! I have switched my environment from Trump to Tranquility!
3. Changed my internal environment. The most important environment to change to get healthy is the internal dialogue running through your head. The change in the social and work environment helped a lot in this endeavor, but I was still having negative thoughts. To counter them, I took up meditation and mindfulness. I have used the Headspace application as well as the Christian Meditation blog to get mind off the problems running in my head to the progress I am making in my heart!
Changing your environment is the first step to changing to
the new you! I did it and so can you!
Several, seemingly unrelated events conspired to inspire this latest blog. About eight months back, I listened to the audiobook the Power of Habit while doing my Saturday long walk. I mentioned this book in previous blogs that you find here. Fat to Fit Again! The Power of Habit
In the book, the author provides insights on how to change habits in individuals, companies and lastly cultures. After hearing the last part on cultures, I had an inspiration about how we all can change our current social media culture. Immediately upon returning home, I got the idea “Let’s make Kindness viral! Let’s infect the culture with love! Think before you speak or write! Click like for love. Hide posts that discourage.”
So immediately upon coming home, I started clicking like on every inspirational quote I could find in Facebook. Also, I wrote a whole bunch and joined inspirational Facebook pages such as Spreading Positivity. Over the next few weeks, I kept it up until my Facebook feed was flooded with positive messages! You really can make the algorithm work for you! And if enough of us do it, like the Ice bucket challenge did to raise money for a worthy cause, we can collectively help change the culture from one of sarcasm and discord to kindness and positivity.
So, Saturday, because of my positive Facebook feed, I received the following image related to an acronym on thoughtful communication – THINK. In addition, our Saturday Weight Watcher’s class was on self-kindness. Lastly, Facebook declared Saturday “Pay it Forward” day asking us to show random acts of kindness. All three of these together, made me think that I should explain how I used the THINK acronym to help guide both my external dialogue but more importantly my internal one.
By using the THINK process, you can shape the running dialogue in your mind to inspire self-kindness and in so doing drive weight loss.
So, let’s impact the acronym with some examples.
T – Is It Truthful? Here is one of the thoughts that ran though my head when I was 358 lbs. “I do not have any will power and I am too tired to break out of this rut!” That statement was not truthful and on second thought I realized it. I had jumped out of planes at Airborne school and passed the tough discipline of the black hats. Heck, I even passed West Point’s Indoor Obstacle course despite not having natural coordination and brought to successful closure many projects both in school, the Army, and my current employment. I definitely had the will power so it was not a truthful statement. And by dwelling on it, I had gone away from the truth – I was depressed, had a medical condition, and was overworked/overstressed. If you focus on falsehood, instead of the truth, you attack yourself, others, and the wrong problem.
H – Is it Helpful? Do not dwell on the mistakes of the past. It is not helpful to dwell on the Quarter Pounder that you just ate. Instead, it is helpful to think about what triggered the momentary lapse (or not if you planned it as a treat) and plan on how you will do better.
I – Is it Inspiring? I cannot tell you how much reading inspiring books and quotes have changed my inner dialogue and fashioned my outer dialogue. Don’t preach to the choir, Be Inspired both when you communicate to yourself and others!
N – Is it Needed? Both in our inner and outer dialogue, too many random, negative thoughts clutter the message: Each day I am getting healthier and happier! Do not cloud your thoughts with unneeded worries or fears, focus on what’s now and needed!
K – Is it Kind? This is the most important part of the acronym, Be conspicuously kind to yourself and others. A kind act to yourself will allow you to drive to greater health when you have a momentary setback. Being kind to others will have a double whammy. It will bring you joy, lower stress. But more importantly, it will bring joy to others. Above all else – Mentor do not mangle!
So, there you have it! THINK your way to weight loss and health! THINK yourself to a new you and a new society!
I want to close with a quick end-note. Most of my blog ideas come from Saturday morning walks from 5 – 7:30 AM while listening to audiobooks or podcasts. If you are ever at Austin North Lifetime Fitness, you will see me on the treadmill lost in thought walking and listening to my iPhone. Then all of sudden you will see me talk to Siri and say take Note and ask her to transcribe a blog idea. It often gives the person on the treadmill near me a shock to hear a guy suddenly talk to his phone out of the blue. It doesn’t help that Siri sometimes mangles my most profound thoughts! Example: “Sheer was not taken away, Kurt was given” for an upcoming blog called “Fear was not taken away, Courage was Given”. (Siri really needs a grammar checker!).
Two key ingredients to sustained and maintained weight loss are family and friends. They are just as important to your weight loss journey as healthy food, careful tracking, water, and exercise. I wrote about the first of these ingredients – family – in Part One of this blog here Two Essential Ingredients to Weight Loss – Family and Friends (Part One). On this one, I tackle Part Two – friends – in this blog.
There have been three categories of friends that have helped me as I lost 170 plus pounds and kept it off. Here is how Work Friends, Facebook Friends, and Fitness Friends at Weight Watchers and Lifetime Fitness have helped me along the way.
1.Work Friends – My friends and colleagues at Accenture have encouraged me on and challenged me over these last two years. First, my company has a program called Accenture Active where I had the good fortune to be one of 30 selected Journeyers when we initiated the program. As a Journeyer, we had bi-weekly meetings to touch base and learn from each other. We also had access to special lectures to inspire. One particular one was given by Diana Nyad who told us how she trained to be the first person to swim from Florida to Cuba. She accomplished it at 64, after several previous tries. Her story a long with the Accenture Active group inspired and made it easier to keep on plan. If someone can swim to Cuba, I can lose a 100 lbs. Here is a link to Diana’s wiki page if you want to learn more.
Second, my office friends and colleagues formed a Fitbit group. I cannot tell you how the many contests drove me to exercise more! I actually walked the halls of the Columbus Sheraton to pull ahead of my colleagues. My friends also helped me accomplish a long-term goal of walking 50 miles in one day. My friends from our sales team that walked 10 miles with me with their kids, partly in the rain! That is what I call support! Below is a the Fitbit badge to prove it.
2.Facebook Friends – My friends on Facebook were also a great help in my Weight Loss. First, they gave me Likes to my corny workout rhymes (Example: Today I did the typical, 5 miles strong on the elliptical!). They also gave me Likes and a few Loves as I hit my weight loss milestones. Along, with individual friends on Facebook, I was helped immensely by some of the Facebook groups. Four groups in particular, Weight Watchers Saturday Round Rock Group, Sheri’s FIT (my sister-in-laws great workout group), Spreading Positivity, and the West Point Class of 85 site. Each site gave me helpful hints and encouragement. For example, yesterday I learned that I could get Center Cut bacon which was only 2 Weight Watcher’s Smart Points for 3 pieces!. That made my day and helped me get my bacon fix while reducing calories and keeping the pounds off.
3.Fitness Friends – I already discussed my fellow Journeyers at Accenture Active. There are two other fitness and weight loss friends I want to give a shout out to. First is Weight Watchers in Round Rock Texas. This group literally changed my life. I love meeting with them every Saturday to trade tips, words of encouragement, and recognition. I also found out for me as a guy it was a good fit, so do not let anyone discourage you guys out there. I found that it had the accountability and recognition of the scale while it taught me to be more empathetic and listen more. Here is a link to the meeting if you decide to join us!
The second group is my exercise groups at Lifetime Fitness. As I got more fit, my fitness classes changed from Water Aerobics to the Spinning AMP course. I even have done Zumba and Yoga! In all the classes I loved the friendship, exhilaration and fun! I want to give a special shout out to Corey’s Saturday EDG class at Life Time Austin North. I now know as many hip-hop songs than some of my kids (although I will never beat my son!). I also know I can get over 130 RPMs (wait till I get my cycling shoes this Tuesday). Spinning is Winning! Here is the link to Life Time North Austin location.
Two key ingredients to sustained and maintained weight loss are family and friends. They are just as important to your weight loss journey as healthy food, careful tracking, water, and exercise. Family and friends inspire you to be healthy, console you when you go off plan, and applaud you as you meet milestones. It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes your family and friends to take off the pounds and keep them off.
This has certainly been the case as I lost 170 plus pounds and kept it off over the last two + years. Here are just a few of the ways that my family have helped with my weight loss. Part two will focus on friends.
1.My wife has provided great support and companionship. She has listened patiently as I droned on about how many more Weight Watcher points a chicken thigh had compared to a chicken breast! She has kept the cabinets and fridge stocked with healthy food and has hidden away any indulgences that she likes so I can’t find them. She has asked each week how I did with my battle with the scale. Most important, she has gone on numerous hikes with me. Last year when I did my first Kennedy Walk (50 miles in one day), she walked with me for the first 10 miles at O dark thirty and finished the last 10 miles with me at 10:30 PM. Here is a picture of us before walking the Bix 7.
2.My kids encouraged me and listened to all my Dad anecdotes about my latest struggles as I turned away from my Peanut M&M addiction. They showed their support by giving me Likes on my countless Facebook posts (especially my son-in-law). They also did not gripe when our family outings changed from pizza to Brussel sprouts. Lastly, they turned me on to the latest self-help gurus like Tim Ferris that inspired me (thanks Kyle).
3.Family Pets – Boots the dog joined the weight loss journey with me. I remember that initial walk when he and I were at peak weight as we trudged up a hill on what I called our last chance workout! We both made it thankfully for Colette since she did not have to carry us up the hill (although Boots stopped for 10 minutes mid-way through)! As we lost weight together on the trails of Turkey Creek, he shared my victories and my steak. You can read more about Boots and me in this blog. The two cats have been helpful because they wake me up at 4:30 AM to let them out, thus making sure I get to the morning work out on time!
4.Extended Family – My siblings and my in-laws have been companions and inspired me on my weight loss journey. My brother also took on the weight loss challenge and has lost over a 100 lbs. We really should have gone on the biggest loser and won the cash (but our health is way more important). My other brother and sister have also encouraged me with Facebook likes and encouragement. As for my wife’s family, they have been key to establishing an exercise regimen. One of my sisters in law established a monthly challenge group on Facebook. Together our team walked across Texas and challenged ourselves in fitness. One of my nieces made a group called Spreading Positivity which was a key to keeping me up when I was down!