Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Art of Savoring the Moment

Today, I'm the birthday girl, and yes, I am one of those people who celebrates her birthday for like three weeks. I think this is from my past life in corporate marketing... you need an ample promotional period leading up to the big day to hype the crowd and then you need appropriate wind down time afterward to collect the delayed responders. I'm kidding. Sort of. Not really.

It's not that I need big fanfare. I don't. It's that I love to throw a theme party, get others jazzed and find a reason to savor the moment. Birthdays - mine or anyone else's for that matter provide the perfect platform to do all of those things. So today I had all kinds of buzzing energy and couldn't sleep - so why bother! I got up at 2:45 a.m. since it seemed like the perfect opportunity to accomplish the baking experiment that didn't get ticked off my to do list yesterday. In the wee hours of the dark, rainy (but fairly balmy!) morning, I drove to two 24-hour grocery stores to pick up my ingredients. Now normally, if a grocery store doesn't have everything I'm looking for, my head begins to rotate and I turn in to my evil twin "Michelle." Today? No ma'am. Today I took the opportunity to savor the drive to the other grocery store and listened to some new tunes in the car.

It was glorious. I cracked the windows and let some fresh chilly air in and I sang as I drove. Not my usual loud, crazy, maniacal singing, this was different. It was pure contentment. I perused the aisles at grocery store numero two and still didn't find what I was looking for. Oh well. This gave me the perfect opportunity to stray from the recipe I had earmarked and develop my own creation. See what I did there? Managed to take adversity and turn it in to an opportunity to roll with it and get creative. And the magic muffins I came up with, while they aren't going to win any awards, I wouldn't kick them out of bed, either. Not to mention, those little muffins provided the perfect chance to drop some goodies off to friends throughout the day.

After coming home and making the world's strongest french press - which I inhaled deeply upon plunging and let roll on my palate as I sipped - (see that? I savored again.) - I began my baking experiment. I threw a load of laundry in. And before I knew it, it was time for my 6 a.m. Pure Barre class. Now normally I do a pretty damn good job of enjoying my exercise regimen. As with anything, some days are easier than others, but today I dialed the 'eff in and had the world's best work out. I felt long, lean, flexible, happy, strong. I felt strong even when I was shaking. I savored the shake. I savored the stretch. I savored the sweat on my brow. I ate it all up with a giant-sized-pink-birthday-Shelley spoon (think one of those cute Baskin Robbins spoons, but not nearly as likely to cut your tongue on a rogue, unfinished edge). Marvelous.

As I drove home from class one of my favorite jams at the moment popped up on my playlist. It was "The" perfect soundtrack to my day, to the moment, to the art of the savor. With lyrics like "hold on when you get love and let go when you give it," it embodied exactly what it means to savor. To live gracefully. To live in the moment. To be at one with the world around you. And to just generally kick ass as a human being making happiness where you find it. If you think about that idea: holding on to the love you are given (in other words the good stuff) and to be sure you let go completely when you give love (in other words, giving with no strings attached or a sense of expectation) you could probably rule your own little world pretty awesomely.

Alright, I'm off to savor some more. Breakfast with my bro, his wife, my nephew and my mom. This birthday already is blowing this crazy mop top back. And on this my 32nd birthday, I am holding on to all the love everyone is sending my way and you bet your tight, toned buns I'm letting go cheerfully as I beam it back out in to the universe to you all! Cheers babes and dudes!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Choosing Your "Top Ten"

This week, lessons, messages and reminders about change are absolutely everywhere around me. Or maybe I'm just a bit more sensitive to them than usual. My "departure from corporate America" odometer is about to tick over the one month marker. I am a week out from celebrating another year of life on this big, bad earth. I am garnering new friends and clients and I am serving witness to what seems like a hell of a lot of changes going on in the lives of the people around me. A self-professed "lover of change," I'll admit, even I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. But the truth is, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Change is growth. And if there's one topic that I'm a dog with a bone, it's growth and self-actualization. As far as change goes, there are two kinds: proactive change and reactive, happen-stance, "so that happened," change. The kind of change I'm busy concerning myself with is the proactive kind. The other kind is going to happen regardless, so I don't bother wasting too much time on it. Instead I try to roll with it and make the best of it. Case in point: someone cuts you off in traffic... I need to change my speed and I'll use this time to practice some meditative breathing. The more interesting and challenging kind of change, is the kind where I turn my car in a different direction and chart off on a new course. That self-inflicted change, now that's the juicy stuff.

Yesterday I read the following from a study out of the New England Journal of Medicine, "you are the average of the 10 people you spend your most time with when it comes to your physical health and happiness."

Read that again. I did. Let that sink in. I mean really sink in.

Think about the ten people you surround yourself with most regularly. Are they good eggs? Are they bad influences? Or worse, are they toxic? I am all about taking responsibility for one's life and a part of that means knowing when you need to cut bait. It doesn't mean you need to disown your family, break it off with your main squeeze, quit your job or go off and live like a monk, but if we become the company we keep, then evaluating that crew is a pretty important "to do" on the list.

If you look at your current "Top Ten" and they don't look very tops, then let me encourage you to let your mind wander and imagine how different things could be if you freed up some space for a few winners. Some people who can serve as catalysts, motivators, inspiration, etc. I'm guessing that all of us have a few Debbie Downers in our circle that we feel inclined to keep. The good news is, this isn't a fantasy sports draft where you're locked in with a couple of keepers that then go on to have a season ending injury. Nope. This is your dream world baby and you're the Commissioner. Trade up!

Now, I know what you may be thinking... "but Shelley, this sounds so callous and judgmental... and how would I even start this process?" Don't worry, I'll take the blame for it sounding bitchy and I've even outlined a handy-dandy five-step process to get you going:

  1. Make the list -- write out the 10 people you surround yourself with / interact with most regularly (both willingly and unwillingly - e.g., you are around co-workers because of circumstance, etc.)
  2. Pick your keepers -- categorize, yes, categorize, the people on your list. Give the keepers a cute little "K" next to them and the trades a "T" or if you prefer to call them drops, give them a "D." Don't worry, we're not showing this list to any of them, anyway. 
  3. Start -- that's right, get started. From this point forward make the conscious decision to prioritize more of your time for your keepers and less for your trades. 
  4. Find some "W's" -- go after a few additional winners. We all need a strong bench in case someone gets injured or decides to go to a different city. Don't know where you might find some of these winners? Easy enough: go to where you think they'll be. Want to become a world class bowler? Sweet... I guess. Go to the bowling alley. Get curious and talk to people. Better yet, join a bowling league. Surf some bowling sites (do those, exist?) You get my drift.  
  5. Honor your decision and ditch the guilt -- I once heard the analogy that we should evaluate relationships like a bank account. If you have someone that is always putting in deposits and building you up, this is good. But if you have someone that empties your account and racks up a boat load of overdraft fees, this is obviously no good. It may sound crass to evaluate other human beings in such black and white terms, but at the end of the day it's about you taking ownership and choosing the environment and all the little creatures in it, that you want to not just coexist with, but flourish alongside. If someone isn't adding value to your life (or you to theirs, for that matter) it is likely a dysfunctional relationship that needs the boot. 

Now, enough talking. Go forth and build your dream team. And as one of my all time favorite movie scenes says, "choose wisely..." it's the only way to the holy grail. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Saving the Plain Dealer... and One Chic's Dream

Lying in bed last night with my mind racing about all the goals I want to accomplish in the coming, oh… 40 years or so, I kept circling around one in particular: to write more. But not just to write more, to get published for my own original thoughts and musings. And if I’m being totally candid, perhaps one day live out my wild, Carrie Bradshaw-Brett (like that pen name, the love child of Sex and the City and our very own Regina Brett?) fantasy of having my own column.

This whole brainstorm started around 4:45 a.m. and culminated at 5:50 a.m., when I realized sleep would not come - despite having gone to bed at 2 a.m. That’s how you know you’re really jazzed about whatever it is you’re thinking about. So I put on a pot of coffee and here I am in front of the glow of the computer screen, with some very shadowy, phantom light just creeping up the horizon of the Cleveland sky, replete with a great blanket of snow beneath it.
What’s got me up isn’t just my bucket list goal of writing more and being published; it’s much more than that. If you’ve got the time to give your coffee a warm-up and stay awhile here with me, I’d love to tell you about it. I’ve always been at my best in the written word. And, perhaps, if I can connect with enough of you, we all might be changed for the better and might also do some good as a result of it.
So I told you I want to write more, and I do. But I want to write more with a specific publication in my sights: The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Here’s the rub: how do I write more for a publication that’s in jeopardy of being diminished at best and phased out at worst? Now THAT is what has got me out from underneath my down comforter on a frigid winter morning before first light.
Some people like yourself, 7,314 to be exact, have signed the petition to save the Plain Dealer. Many others have written letters and gone to community events to speak out. As is so often said, every little bit helps. And if I’ve learned one thing in my life, the squeaky wheel truly does get the grease. Much has been written about why the cuts facing the Plain Dealer are devastating: the journalists (and likely, editors, reporters and photographers) whose jobs are on the chopping block; the fact that our city could become the largest in the United States without a daily paper; watered down, digitized content that doesn’t adequately reflect the breadth, depth and vibrancy of what is really going on in Cleveland. But here’s what I haven’t seen written, spoken or tweeted yet: the dreams – like mine – that fall flat before they’ve even had the chance to produce anything. How can I aspire to share great content and connect with people through my cherished newspaper if it “isn’t interested in new talent” because its parent company is too busy cutting corners and looking for ad revenue? The short, somewhat crappy, bleak answer is: I can’t.
But for those of you that know me personally, you know very well, that just isn’t good enough for a gal like me. For those of you that don’t know me, let me fill you in, I’m an “if they tell you no, then just put on your best smile – and your best outfit doesn’t hurt either – and show them what YES looks like.” In my case, it’s usual smart, tenacious, and a little kooky with a killer fashion sense.
So, I’m getting noisy from my corner of our awesome city – which happens to be in Tremont, by the way – and I’m ready to lend my voice, my thoughts, my keystrokes, to save the PD and keep my dream of one day being a columnist for it, alive. Because if there is one thing this city, my city, your city – OUR CITY – stands for, it’s standing up despite adversity, “oh so close” moments, and keeping faith alive when others would have us believe it’s just not meant for us to win. This time, I’m hell bent we win this one. Taking my talents elsewhere is not an option, and it shouldn’t be forced upon the talent at the Plain Dealer (current and future), either.
Well, my coffee cup is now empty. And yours probably is too. The chat, as enlightening as it’s been, is over. Now it’s time to take some action: pass this blog post along, join the Facebook community to save the PD, sign the petition. Remember, when I mentioned that 7,314 have signed? We are a city of 390,000-plus. I have 541 Facebook friends, as of today anyway, and if you’re reading this, you’re likely one of them. How many Facebook friends, Twitter followers, email contacts, colleagues past and present, college, high school, middle school, kindergarten acquaintances, ex boyfriends or girlfriends, babysitters, dog walkers, etc., etc. (you get the drift), do YOU have? Imagine what impact we might have together. One small choice, when amplified by many, is not so very small, and I for one believe we, Cleveland, are mighty and worthy of being treated and represented like the major, kick ass city we are. Morning coffee, paper and all.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ass Kicking: The Emotional Element

"Goal setting." I read those words and I get heart palpitations. It sounds so... serious. And incredily un-fun. It's the equivalent to someone calling me "Michelle." Like I'm about to prepare tax documents or have the wooden spoon broken on my buns. So I'm going to flip the script so that I can get around to what I want to talk about without having constriction in my chest: how about this, for the purpose of this post, goal setting will heretofore be referred to as "ass kicking." There. I feel better already, don't you?

Lately, I've been doing a boat load of reading about goal setting "ass kicking" and how one goes about doing it; what stands in our way of doing more of it, better, and ultimately, how most of us end up kicking our own in the process instead of actually getting out there and kicking some. Still following me? Good.

One of the things I recently read, was this blog from the incomparable Mark Sisson. The skinny of the blog got at how important the role of emotional work is to health goals (and I'd take that a step further and say any goal in general, not just health). Afterall, what we think we ultimately become. So if you're running some craptastic track in your head, while wearing horribly unsupportive and unfashionable shoes, it isn't so far a stretch that our physical goals will run amuk and/or that even if we achieve those physical goals we still won't be satisfied if we haven't taken care of the ghosts in the attic.

The emotional element is exactly like The Force. Your emotions and resulting thoughts can either make you feel strong, secure and capable of literally raising a spaceship from a swamp with your mental powers or they can be used for self-imposed evil sending you spiraling out of balance. Most of us forego really looking at and taking care of the emotional piece and just figure if we hit it harder in one area (let's say working out like a crazy person but not taking a look at our destructive thinking and habits) that somehow we'll get to where we want to go. Well, take it from an expert with that pattern, here's what happens when you deploy that approach: you don't see the results you're hoping for, so you get more pissed at yourself and give yourself a proper emotional lashing, then you engage in some sort of self-sabotaging behavior. In my case, this would be negative self talk chased with a Taco Bell party pack washed down with a bottle of red. And I don't care what they say on those commercials, you definitely do not feel like you've been "living mas" afterward. Truly, it's awful.

And it's not just me. Just about every client I have, and countless other workout buddies I've had over the years, struggle with this exact same thing. I can't tell you how many times I've seen the emotional element rear its head during a workout leaving a person breaking down or crying mid push-up. Is it because they can't do the workout? Hell no. Is it because some crazy coach or trainer is berating them? Nope. 100% of the time it is because of something going on in their head space and the physical act of busting their ass in the gym literally beats the emotional stuff out of them.

So what needs to be done? It's actually pretty simple: you've got to get busy taking a look inside if you're going to get to where you want to go on the outside. How you decide to do this is up to you and can only be decided by you, but don't mistake it is your responsibility to do so. Find a trusted advisor to talk to, journal regularly and keep track of your thinking patterns, identify thoughts and activities that derail you so you can learn and modify in the future, schedule regular sessions with a counselor or therapist -- whatever it takes, DO IT. Most people don't abandon a physical health goal because it's physically too demanding, it's because they've emotionally and mentally been derailed or temporarily defeated. Why bust your ass physically only to let yourself be defeated by yourself mentally. There's no way around it: there is no way to your ass kicking goal without a dive in to the internal, emotional work. After all, if you want to get to the castle, you've got to swim the moat. Emotional crocodiles and all.