I’m currently reading a book called “The Slight Edge,” by Jeff Olson. The basic message is that significant change is made quite easily if taken one small and consistent step at a time. As a wellness coach, I have read quite a bit about change psychology, and the directness and simplicity of this author’s approach is very appealing to me. I’ve decided to take it on a test drive, and am trying to revive my blog with this approach. When I first started blogging, I loved doing it and felt like it was an awesome way to get my message(s) out about living well despite having ongoing and serious health concerns. Then, life got in the way, and blogging took a back seat to just about everything else that I could think of. Enter the Slight Edge. I will be posting more.
It seems to me that life is somewhat unfair in that good habits seem to require effort to develop, while bad habits form quite easily simply by being unconscious about choices we make. The Slight Edge basically refutes this, by making the very obvious point that over time, simply taking one small action each day will compound into huge and lasting change. On the other hand, not taking that one action will also compound. Unfortunately, compounding in this negative sense can be disastrous.
A very clear example for the cystic fibrosis peeps out there is doing your daily aerosol treatments. These are very easy to do (note that I didn’t say “convenient” or “pleasant”). Seriously…you just sit and inhale stuff. It’s not like you aren’t going to inhale anyway! And sitting in a chair holding a nebulizer is not exactly manual labor. So it’s easy to do treatments.
But it is also very easy to blow them off. There are a myriad of things that, in the moment, seem way more important than that hypertonic saline, right? Sleeping in, stopping for coffee before work, playing with your cat, browsing favorite websites, cleaning your closets, plucking your eyebrows…you name it. Who wants to sit and cough?
But now imagine what happens if that decision to blow off your treatments is compounded, day after day. Then compare that image to what it looks like if you make that simple decision to do the treatments every day. Stretch your imagination out to a month or two (here is where I wish you were a pathologist, because my mental image is a slide of healthy, pristine lung tissue vs. nastiness on a slide). Two very, very different images as a result of two sides of a decisional coin, compounded over time.
Of course, this relates to just about any area of life…not just medical treatments. Decisions about fitness habits, what you eat or drink, how you relate to people, how you work, and how you deal with stress all compound over time this way. On a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t matter in a huge way whether you take your daily walk or sit for your meditation. Not doing them ONE day is easy, and it won’t make a dent in your overall fitness or stress level. Alternately, actually doing these things probably aren’t going to matter a huge amount on that particular day. But compound these decisions over time and see what happens.
What one life-enhancing thing, something that is both very easy to do but also very easy to blow off, can you to do, today and every day? Gotta go do my saline now.
Well, it has been a very long time, hasn’t it? You may wonder where I’ve been…why no words of wisdom from the now 50-YEAR-OLD Julie?
The reason is that it has been a winter from Hell, and I will just leave it at that because my mother (RIP) always told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I should just say nothing.
But, here I am, ready to begin this strange past-time of blogging again, wondering if anything will fall out of my brain. I decided while on my walk today that I will begin by doing what is easy: posting what I have already written. Lame, I know, but let me explain.
Two years ago, I decided I knew exactly what would be helpful to other adults with CF, and I set out to write it up. I fondly titled this project my “CF Wellness Boot Camp.” The idea stemmed from the fact that most people with CF, and certainly all adults with CF, are increasingly thrust into what I like to term “exacerbation exasperation.” Say that five times as fast as you can. You know the game: you go about, living your life, doing what you do, feeling as good as you feel, and then WHAM, you are sick, need IV antibiotics, and essentially life must go on hold. Your body-your master- revolts, and you are its slave.
Three weeks later (and can I just get a hand here for Western medicine?) you are better. Your lungs are clear-or as clear as they get. You now have enough energy to shower. You look at your desk, your kids, your spouse/parter, your dog(s), your list of everything you were supposed to do back on the day before the aforementioned body revolt, the scale now reports that you are five lbs lighter… You take this all in, and the only thing you want to do is crawl back under the covers. Does this happen to you? It’s all so overwhelming, this re-immersion into your life. Whatever fitness progress you made before your illness is gone. The stress of being completely knocked down is replaced with the stress of getting up. At least, this has been my experience.
So, the plan for the Boot Camp was to outline a three-week plan (everything seems to come in blocks of three weeks) to begin anew and re-enter the world with some new, healthy habits to accompany those pristine (?) lungs. So I put on my wellness coach hat and began to write.
This was quite a project for me. I wrote for a couple of months until I was happy with the content. I then began to research how to make it into an e-book, put it on the website, and, generally, do all of the technical stuff that one must do in such a project. Roadblock. Big time. Julie is not “tech-y.”
Thank God for David Mahoney, though, because he really tried to help me. I was just not able to keep the ball rolling, and the project sat for two years, lost but not forgotten, on my hard drive.
So that brings me to my walk this morning. I want to blog again, so why not start by posting my 21-day plan? Maybe when it’s all up, I’ll figure out how to bundle it into a pdf and send it out instead of the fizzled out newsletter promise in the opt in box? Who knows?
So, as my favorite email come-on’s say, watch your inbox (for those who have opted in)! Tomorrow we begin the CF WELLNESS BOOT CAMP!
To your health….
If you are interested in the class, more information can be found, as well as a direct registration page, here:
Engage Fully In Life
What do I mean by “engage” fully?
I mean two things, actually. Both are ways of connecting with life in a particular way. Both of these concepts are discussed more and more frequently in the last few years. Just about every course I take, or book I read about happiness discuss these ideas. I discuss them together because, to me, they seem very related.
The first way to better engage in life is with “mindfulness.” Jon Kabat-Zinn is a big name in the world of mindfulness. He very successfully introduced mindfulness (an Westernized offshoot of Vipassana meditation) in a Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and his course has since been taught in hospitals, schools, churches and community centers throughout the country. He defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment.”
Have you ever looked back on a day (or, in my case, a week or even a month) and not really remember any specific thing that happened? I don’t mean this in a memory impairment kind of way, but more like everything sort of takes on a shade of gray…nothing stands out. When this happens to me, it is as if I am on autopilot…either from boredom, or from overwhelm trying to fit way too much to do into a short amount of time, with the result that it seems I don’t have time to pay attention.
Does this sound familiar? Lately, I’ve been suffering the consequences of taking on way too much. I am not good at realizing my limits and knowing when to say no… to requests, opportunities, self-imposed challenges, etc… The result is that my kids start school tomorrow, and I don’t remember much of summer. It’s gone…and I don’t know where it went. It’s not that we didn’t do fun things. We did. But I had so much else on my mind––the deadline for an editing project, the appointments to fit in for a project I should never have taken on, the appointments and calls for another project, the blog project, the video project, the e-book project, my aging and ailing dog, my own health care, my own fitness goals…it really goes on and on. I get tired thinking of it. Sadly, I can’t say that I am completely enjoying and engaging in any one thing, because too much else is always on my mind.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to one thing only…the breath…the feeling of your heartbeat…the taste of a grape…the feel of your dog’s nose. You get the picture. It’s about focusing, and not being carried away by the incessant thinking that is always trying to get attention. When you are able to be more mindful, even for a few moments at a time, you begin to see what you are missing by listening and being carried away by that voice in your head.
So I’m not doing so well at mindfulness right now, except that I am now mindful of my mindlessness. As they say, admitting there is a problem is the first step toward fixing it.
The second approach to becoming more engaged in life is by finding “flow,” or being “in the zone.” This occurs when you are so immersed and focused on what you are doing, that time disappears…indeed…you disappear. An athlete can easily relate to this concept; but in truth, we all have the ability to find flow. Flow occurs when your skill doing something you love is equally matched by the challenge in front of you. If you love to play chess and you are very good at it, the chances are not great that you will experience flow until you play someone of equal caliber. Then again, if you love chess, but you are horrible, you won’t be in flow when you challenge a pro and are thoroughly trounced.
I’ve experienced flow reading pathology slides, reading something challenging, studying for exams and sometimes even taking exams! These days, I mostly find it when I write…and sometimes when I am lifting weights. You know you are in flow when the sense of time disappears, and when you are completely energized by what you are doing.
My goal is to experience mindful flow. Now that would be a kick!