You Have To Die Of Something…

Each weekday I write about a lesson I have learned in life and share it with you, so you don’t have to.

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“Well, you have to die of something,” or “When it’s my time to go then it’s my time to go,” or “You never know when your time is up,” and other variations are all ways of making excuses for poor decisions.

It is true that we do not know exactly when or how we might die, but hiding behind that fact as justification for being an alcoholic, or smoker, or junk food addict, or (insert bad life decision here) is tantamount to saying you want to kill yourself but you want to do it slowly and torture everyone you love before you go.

There are anecdotal stories (stories, mind you) of some distant relative who smoked their whole life and died when they were a hundred twenty. Or somebody who followed the perfect diet every day and died of a heart attack when they were twenty. Aside from those stories almost certainly not being true (or at least not accurate in the loosest sense of the word), if those people existed then they were clearly the exceptions, not the rule.

When my friends or family offer poorly constructed rationalizations for bad life choices, I think, “Why tempt fate to prove you are unexceptional?”

Instead, live exceptionally and make exceptional the rule instead of being ruled by your exceptions.

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These Are The Most Important Things In The World

Know your priorities.

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Here are four things I never worry about:

1. What might happen to me after I die.

2. Why Lime-flavored candy does not taste anything like a lime.

3. How molecules feel about global warming.

4. When the word “boogie” will make a comeback.

I am not saying none of those things are important. I am just saying they are not important to me. Now here are 4 things that are more important than nearly anything else to me (in order of importance):

1. Philosophy. Without philosophy, I have no sense of values, ethics, moral character, or what it actually means to be human. In other words, without knowing how to think, I am of no value to myself or anyone else. This is paramount in my life–it is, to me, the essential element of being alive, of living.

2. Physical Health. After learning to be human, the next most important thing to me is to protect and value my life as a human. Understanding that my body is a bioelectrical machine means understanding it requires care and maintenance like any machine. If I am neglectful of that, I can not enjoy my life fully and, worse, I rob others of theirs by forcing them to have to care for me and worry about me.

3. Family. If know I am a decent human being and I have taken care of myself, then I know I can take care of Family and be of value to others. “Family”, to me, is not just people with the same bloodline. My family are the very close circle of people who contribute value to me, align with my goals, challenge my shortcomings, and make me want to be a better person according to my ethics and standards. My family, bloodline or not, are the people I know I can trust with the most important thing I have… my life.

4. Freedom. Once Philosophy, Physical Health, and Family are taken care of, I can turn my attention to personal freedom. Who owns my life? If it is not me, then am I okay with whoever is behind the wheel, making decisions on my behalf over the relationships, finances, and beliefs in my life? More importantly, why is it not me in any of those areas?

 

Knowing my priorities are important. These are always my priorities, by the way. I never “finish” one. They are all in flux, progressing at different speeds at different times. The point is these are the things I worry about before all else.

If I am strong in these four areas, then maybe I can start worrying why turtles try to cross highways. Don’t they know how slow they are?!?

 

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The Footrest

Today’s Lesson: Take care of the foundation upon which you stand.

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I have really been getting into the work of biomechanist Katy Bowman and her knowledge of movement, and how we load and stack the components of our bodies. We are reading her first book, “Every Woman’s Guide To Foot Pain Relief” (it’s for men, too, and she has lots of books and a podcast called “Katy Says”–just click on her name for a link to her stuff) and she taught me a few things about feet I had never considered. Think about this:

Your feet have to support the entire structure of your body (whatever shape your body is in), yet most of us know hardly anything about how they work, or how they should work.

Aching feet can contribute to weight problems. When your feet hurt, you do not do the most obvious thing you can do to lose weight–walk! You might even avoid moving altogether because your body is telling you to let your feet rest. The problem is, many people have perpetual foot pain.

The muscles in our feet and legs have basically atrophied into adulthood. Consider how much you time you sit with your legs bent as an adult (in your chair at work, on your couch, in your car, on your patio swing, etc.). Compare that to how much time you spend with your legs moving, stretched out, and flexing (running, climbing, swimming, jumping, kicking, etc.). No contest, right? Probably 12-15 hours of sitting versus 1-3 hours of active movement. For extra fun, watch your pre-schoolers. They even watch television with their legs stretched out, lying on the floor. They can not stop moving. No wonder they are so limber!

Until recently, I absolutely abused my feet. That’s actually not fair. In truth, I was not even really aware of them (except when they were aching). If you take care of your feet, they will take care of the rest of you. They will allow you to move, stand, be active, and explore.

Your feet are both literally and figuratively your foundation, and any structure that lasts a long time starts with a strong foundation.

 

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There Is No Goal

Today’s Lesson: You will never reach your health goals, but keep trying.

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I have been enjoying my Garmin Vivosmart fitness tracker. Well, mostly enjoying. Okay, maybe “enjoying” is too strong. “Hating”, I think, is the right word. I hate it. It is like having JK Simmons from Whiplash as a fitness coach.

Every time I meet a goal, it sets it higher. There is no end. I walk SO much, now. I walk to the fridge, to my desk, to my car, to the bathroom, to the fridge… sometimes I will just walk randomly, like around the block, without any expectation of food at the end of the walk! I know. Crazy, right? That’s what the stupid Vivosmart does to you. It lets you know you can never walk enough.

I am beginning to get the point, though. Even if I set a weight goal and reached it (which I have not done), I would not be satisfied. I will always want to maintain or walk off that nagging last inch of waistband, or… lift some weights or some other insanity.

I am doomed to walk for the rest of my life.

We all are, because health, unfortunately, does not stop at the fridge. Health is an ongoing cycle, a motor that requires regular maintenance (walking and eating well) to keep running (figuratively and literally). Health is a never-ending quest for self-improvement and self-care. It is clearly one of the primary goals of living well and feeling good.

Stupid health.

I’m going for a walk.

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Who Is Taking Care of You?

If you do not prioritize taking care of yourself, no one else will either

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While chatting with a peer, he lamented what a busy week it has been and how he has been sick but has had no time to rest and care for himself. I laughed, and shared that I was also sick, losing my voice, but also had no time to rest this week.

The irony is, I coach my team that if they are sick, they should please stay home! I do not want them making their coworkers sick and suddenly missing half our team to illness (not to mention I do not want them to make me sick either!).

There will always be people asking you for more, even when you are sick. There will always be times when you demand more of yourself, even when you are not feeling your best. There will always be goals to chase, pressure to reach them, and stress from making the attempt. No one will ever stop you from pushing yourself too hard.

Just like a marathon runner will eventually run himself to severe injury or collapse if he never acknowledges the need to rest at some point, we each have to check our pulse occasionally and make the tough call, if needed, to stop and catch our breath. The race is not worth winning if the victor breaks the finish line but keeps running, never knowing to stop.

 

Today’s Lesson: Hey, that guy didn’t even get his trophy! He won but ran right out of the stadium and just kept running. Wonder if we will see him again?

(…Remember to stop and smell the roses sometimes, even if it is just to catch your breath.)

 

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4 Ways To Live Better: Aren’t You Curious?

This week, there is a theme: my 5 favorite tips that help me live better. I hope one of these tips help you live better, too…

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I have covered the importance of eating more plantsbeing active, and having great integrity.  There is no disputing the myriad benefits of a plant-based lifestyle for your health, the environment, and kindness to other animals. Eating vegan helps your body run more efficiently, being active helps the machine of your body continue running, and having great integrity (keeping your word, even to yourself) ensures the other habits will stick and helps you be someone others look up to. Figuring out 5 ways to live better was not something that happened by accident for me, which brings us to today’s post.

4. Be Curious. Living an experimental life is important to me. Having profound curiosity about why things work and how is, I think, at the core of all great discoveries. It is embracing an ever-evolving love of wonder. I have learned more about myself and the world by wondering about and experimenting with ideas, thoughts, and physical actions than I could ever hope to learn from four years of academia followed by forty years of sedentary thinking and living.

If anything, I have learned to be cautious of my assumptions (like, “the only way to learn to be good at something is to pursue a degree”). There are some things that are socially trained into us that are not always good or even factual. Any neuroscientist, for example, will tell you that you clearly and obviously use close to 100% of your brain, though many people believe we only use 10% of our brain. We have read it in popular culture, there are movies about it, the myth is so pervasive I just assumed it was true for most of my life. However, giving it even the slightest test of logic makes the myth crumble… No active part of our body only uses 10% of itself. It’s ludicrous. It would be like using our ten fingers the way we do now… but having 100 fingers. How could the body possibly operate with that much inefficiency?

Being weary of assumptions is at the core of curiosity. I assumed, for example, I needed a lot of sleep, so I experimented with my sleep patterns for a year. Growing up in a split-religion home, I became curious about theism, so I attended a different church every week for more than a year and read both the Bible and the Qur’an. I was curious about my diet so I learned about being vegan and food production, and then I tried going vegan… three times. It finally stuck but of course, it required three different experiments to figure out what worked for me.

I can not help but wonder about everything, including people, which is why I share about what I have learned regarding leadership on my blog. Some things, like leadership, are a life-long curiosity experiment. I am always learning, adapting, and trying new things to be a better, more effective leader. I do not know if anyone will ever figure out all there is to know about leadership (you can tell by seeing how many books are written about leadership each year). I will likely experiment and be curious about leading throughout the rest of my life.

I have described three elements of curiosity: embracing wonder, being cautious of assumptions, and creating experiments. Experiment with these three elements of curiosity rather than just assume I know what I am talking about and see what wonders you can find.

 

Today’s Lesson: Being curious leads to discovery, keeps life interesting, and fights off stagnation. Ask questions about everything. Try new things, including new thoughts and ideas (you don’t have to stick with them–try them on and see if they stick with you), and most of all, live an experimental life. It’s just more fun.

 

 

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3 Ways To Live Better: Eat More Plants.

This week, there is a theme: my 5 favorite tips that have worked for me in living a better life. Maybe one will help you, too…

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Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of being active. A rock is a machine that is designed to sit. A rock has one function–not to move. It has no parts that can contract like a muscle or bend like an elbow. The human body, by comparison, is a cleverly designed machine built to move. It is meant to walk, run, crawl, lift, jump, squat, bend, twist, stretch, and more. Our bodies are dynamic and not meant to sit for long periods like rocks or trees. As with any machine, though, they wear down over time and require proper maintenance to last long and perform their essential functions well. That brings us to today’s post.

3. Eat more plants and less animal stuff. I am vegan but I am not necessarily advocating being vegan here. I’m not going to preach to you in this post. I am just telling what has worked for me. If you have ever tried to lose weight or get fit, then you know there are many diets, cleanses, and meal plans out there. You can do Atkins, Paleo, South Beach, Bulletproof, and about a thousand others. The science on all of them is almost always filled with bad information, misleading propaganda, or just plain ignorance of actual data. Unsurprisingly, almost every diet that has a catchy name also has a product for sale.

Health is not something to buy, if you ask me. It is our default setting. As a cultured, sedentary society (that embraces propaganda), however, we have strayed away from our prima facie baseline for health. One fact no legitimate scientific study has ever disputed, though, is this: eating more plants is good for you.

There are lots of reasons why and I won’t bore you with an explanation of evolution and the human body–you can look that up on your own if you want (start with finding out why we have useless organs like wisdom teeth and your appendix).

Instead, I will offer the simple, obvious logic that catching meat was not easy for our ancestors. They lived almost entirely off fruits, roots, nuts, beans, and berries… because that was what was almost always available. Chasing big, wild animals with little pointy sticks was both difficult and dangerous despite the Hollywood depictions or artist renditions of super-soldier cavemen with expertly designed spears.

Regardless of how much you might enjoy over-indulging in meat, dairy, and cheese (which is also dairy but for some reason we tend to sub-categorize one or the other), too much of a good (tasting) thing can be bad for you.

Being vegan was one of the hardest, smartest, and most fulfilling choices I have made in life (asking Nicole for our first date falls in that same category!). You do not have to go full-on vegan. I get it. It looks like a bizarre, incredibly difficult, pompous way to eat a bunch of weird stuff. Sometimes it is.

Nonetheless, there is no disputing that eating more plants, fruits, nuts, berries, beans (legumes, if you prefer), vegetables, grasses, and unprocessed foods is better for maintaining your body. Just like your lawnmower, car, or computer need regular maintenance, care, and upkeep, so does your body. Keep your machine running like a race-car by feeding it high-octane fuel instead of heavy leaded regular gasoline and taking it out for a spin each day.

 

Today’s  Lesson: Be vegan if you don’t have commitment issues. If you just can not fathom never eating another dead animal or its waste products, that’s fine. Just try to be more vegan than not. Every other night, trade your steak for an extra helping of green beans and have an apple. It won’t kill you. Actually, it might help you live longer, and definitely better. But don’t take my word for it. 

 

 

 

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2 Ways To Live Better: Be Active.

There is a theme this week: I am sharing my 5 favorite tips that have worked for me in living a better life. Maybe one will contribute to you, too…

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Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of having great integrity. Accept it as a personal mission to always keep your word… even to yourself. You have probably heard the Latin phrase, “Mens sana in corpore sano”, which means “A sound mind in a sound body”. That brings us to today’s post.

2. Be Active. Notice I did not say, “Exercise”. That is a four-letter word in my world. I can barely stand the thought of running in place for an hour or just lifting something heavy and putting it back over and over. Some people love working out, but I find it challenging to think of anything more mind-numbingly boring than exercise for the sake of exercise. It’s just me. I would literally rather sit and do nothing, watching Netflix for an hour instead of actually doing something good for my body (but terribly uninteresting). So, for me, being active is the goal, not exercise.

Fitness, I have learned, does not have to come from lifting weights and running on treadmills. It can come from exploring your city by foot or bicycle. Or just moving from one room to the next in funny ways, like instead of walking from room to room, run like a bear or monkey with your hands and feet on the floor. Whatever will make you or your partner laugh. Do crab-walks to the kitchen. Hop. When you are sitting, fidget a lot. Tap your foot. Wiggle. Anything.

The point is to only rest when you are sleeping.

 

Today’s Lesson: Exercising sucks (if you are like me, anyway). Being active is simple: Just keep moving.

 

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Bottoms Up!

Sometimes you have to start at the bottom.
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I had my annual physical exam (which happens about every five years if I remember). Being vegan and getting at least moderate exercise keeps me pretty healthy so my physicals are more like random “check-ins” with my doctor (so I can be sure to remember his name if I really need him one day), but I am a man in my forties so you know what that means…

Prostate exam.

Today’s lesson: There are, unfortunately, times in life when all you can do is bend over and take it. Luckily, they don’t happen that often.

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