So where have I been? Transitioning to a new role and relocating again would probably be enough to take some time off and ease up on the extra-curricular activities right? No, higher levels of day-to-day stress or significant career / personal upheavals don’t require me to “slow down” or “take it easy”; I still have my nights and periodic, non-family, quiet times where I can reflect, meditate, and “ideate”. This latest hiatus was due to my body crapping out. And not the kind of oft-purported stress-induced shut down or mental breakdown; I find that those kinds of breakdowns are prevented with daily exercise, proper nutrition, sex with my lovely wife, and humor. I’m talking about my internal organs just deciding that they’re going to stop working, completely out of my control. This time it’s my gallbladder (my appendix decided it was time to exodus about a year ago).
In a nutshell, the entire month of March was spent in hospitals, Doctor’s office, specialist offices, testing offices, radiology departments, you name it. Nobody could figure out what was wrong with me. I didn’t have any classic indicators that normally accompany a failing gallbladder. It wasn’t until my wife talked about my condition with her best friend that we finally asked the Doctor about a HIDA scan; a long test that is used to determine if the gallbladder is functioning properly even if there are no gallstones. As it turns out, my gallbladder is not working and it must be taken out; so now I wait for the minimally invasive procedure.
Whilst all this was happening, I observed two things. One, I found it curious (and frustrating) the frequency to which friends and family kept proffering advice and defaulting to stress-induced causes despite me presenting overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Second, if life is a balance between mind, body, and soul - for me, body is the base. As I stated before, I actively manage the mind-body-soul interaction by exercising daily, eating ridiculously healthy, reading prolifically, ravaging the wife, entertaining the boys, and meditating as best as I can. But when the body, through no control of my own, decides it’s done, the whole equation goes. I have no surplus energy to put to my side projects; I have no personal desire or drive to keep creating instead of simply consuming. My entire focus falls on getting better, to getting the “host” back to working order.
I oft get upset when things don’t work as they should, especially when I follow all the prescribed preventative measures. I.e. if you get regular oil changes, you should get longer car life. Therefore, my reasoning goes, if you eat healthy & exercise regularly, you should get a longer, more consistent, body life and body performance. However, based on this latest episode, perhaps the equation isn’t that easy (especially when you think about George Burns). Perhaps some things truly are out of my control despite my best efforts to mitigate them. Better stated, instead of getting upset when things don’t operate as the “should”, more acceptance is the key. To be clear, however, I’m still not going to “slow down” Mom, sorry.
One of my favorite parts of the movie Monsters, Inc was when Sulley and Mike first discover that laughter is significantly more powerful than screams. The same applies, I believe, to positive versus corrective feedback. [For the purposes of this discussion, positive feedback means I like the behavior and corrective feedback means I don’t like the behavior].
I’m a big proponent of giving feedback as the situation is happening. If a restaurant includes a website on the receipt, I jot down a few notes on the back and log-on at night. If there’s a comment card available at the store, I’ll fill it out. I earnestly feel that feedback is the only thing anybody will ever give you for FREE and has the potential to improve your life. At the very least, all feedback, positive or corrective, has in some form allowed me to gain some new insight about myself or the person delivering the feedback. Even when the feedback was non-illuminating (I already knew via other sources) or wasteful (no value add, cruel, etc) I learned something about the feedback giver - regardless, I learned something and learning = gain. I feel that positive feedback, however, goes the furthest in improving a person’s countenance.
At times, we can get so focused on what we’re not getting, focused on providing corrective feedback (e.g. “Miss, my food is cold”; “Sir, this is not the service that I expected”; “Excuse me, why is this taking so long?”) that we fail to understand how much more powerful positive feedback is to achieving long term behavioral change. How often do we go out of our way to recognize the waiter when he did something RIGHT; even if he was just “doing his job”? How often do we ask to “speak to the manager” to publicly commend the grocery store check-out girl for her expedient processing of your groceries? Personally, I find it more invigorating to look for the good of the event versus the bad.
A simple token of appreciation or notice can profoundly energize (laughter vs. screams). A simple, “hey, you’re doing well” or “I noticed you how you handled this and you did good” and of course, “thank you” can fundamentally alter the mood of your and the receiver’s day.
Special thanks for Justin for taking time out of his day to say “good job”.
Thinking about the ends v. the means...
My wife and I recently implemented a scaled reward system for our kids in order to improve the morning and evening routine. I.e. we wanted (nay, needed) a way to motivate the boys to get ready to go to school in the morning - as well as getting to bed at the prescribed hour at night - without all the fuss and whining and, hopefully, with less stress. So we implemented a weekly tracking and end-of-week reward incentive-based system. The ROEs are simple: if at the end of the week they successfully navigated the morning or evening session all five days, they each get a $1 per session (max weekly benefit = $2 / child). The scaled portion of the incentive system comes into play at the end of the month: if at the end of the month they achieved at least 75% total success rate (30 / 40 combined sessions), the child gets a book of their choosing (fortunately, they both love books so still a valuable reward in their eyes). We scaled the reward system because, as a family, we don’t value perfection, just progress.
Before implementing, however, my wife and I debated whether the ends justify the means. Specifically, are we rewarding our kids for actions that they should inherently be doing selflessly themselves? Is this a bribe or an incentive? Are we getting ourselves, and our boys, on a slippery slope of strictly reward-based actions? Will they forever stop being good unless we pay their ransom? It doesn’t appear that way, at least so far. We both concluded that short of loss of life or limb (e.g. there is no reward for NOT jumping on your brother’s spine) small reward systems paired with heavy positive reinforcement and long term goals yield pretty consistent results.
While it is still too early to determine how long the boys will remain engaged in this little experiment, over the course of one month, the system has worked fantastically and the rewards are valued by each child. Nobody is stressed in the morning (or night) and they’re both excited to get themselves ready and track their accomplishments on the calendar. Moreover, they’re learning about money management and planning; both are budgeting for some “significant” purchase in the future.
The line between “bribe” and “incentive” is gray and my wife and I both agreed that we have to be judicious in linking reward systems to behavior. So, yes, they are still required to keep their rooms in order, put laundry away, help out around the house, eat their vegetables and get daily exercise...with no bartering. The rest, at least at this stage and age, is fair game. Bring it boys.
I don’t agree with the premise of Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin because the article assumes that all people who exercise rigorously reward themselves with non-nutritious food, thus negating the benefits of exercise, so why bother to exercise at all. That’s silly. Exercise is good for you, for a whole host of mental, physiological, and emotional reasons. Equally, if you find yourself rewarding your hard work with non-nutritious food, then yes, you’re taking 3 steps forward and 4 steps back. More to the point, while I will agree that exercise alone won’t necessarily help you lose and maintain weight (only proper nutrition can), I think a combination of vigorous exercise, proper nutrition AND (this is critical) MORE constant, daily motion are the key to better overall health. Constant motion? Let’s do the math.
24 hrs / day
7 days / week
60 mins / hr
10,080 Starting Mins Per Week
2,940 -- Sleep (7hrs / night)
3,600 -- Work (60 hrs / wk)
300 -- Travel (Commute, 30 mins * twice a day * 5 days); assumes automobile commute
420 -- 1 hr of TV every day (probably conservative)
1,260 -- 3 daily, 1 hr meals (Bkfst, Lunch, Dinner)
420 -- 1 hr daily on personal grooming / dressing (male + female average)
420 -- Misc (restroom, breaks, etc); 1 hr everyday
9,360 Subtotal Non-Exercise
420 -- 7 days of 1 hr fitness classes / gym / dedicated exercise (probably generous for some)
420 Subtotal Exercise
300 Surplus / (Deficit) Minutes
5.0 Surplus / (Deficit) Hrs
4% Minutes spent on exercise activities
93% Minutes spent on non-exercise activities
3% Surplus minutes
Based on the assumptions above, if you’re already spending roughly 90% of your weekly time on non-exercise (no motion at all) specific activities, nutrition aside, telling people to MOVE MORE makes more sense than telling them to not exercise at all. While your specific minute consumption times may vary, on average none of us are moving as much as we should, gym or not. Run your numbers and see where you shake out...I'm going for a walk.
Why is it so “un-cool” to be a Dad?
Alluding to Seth’s blog entry, I think it happened when it became “ok” to laugh at slovenly, impertinent, lazy Dads. It happened when it became “ok” for prime time TV sitcoms (and commercial advertisements) to depict most married Dads as non-thinking, bad-mannered ogres who are almost always insensitive, never help around the house – unless badgered by their significant other – and rarely have any ambition or drive to improve themselves or – even less so – their families, friends and communities.
Doubt it? Watch Married with Children, Everybody Loves Raymond, Rules of Engagement (this one is particularly painful for me because I like Patrick Warburton) sometime and pay careful attention to the commercial advertisements with Dads in them. You’ll spot the trend. They display the stereotypically “married suburbanite Dad” behavior. I don’t get it, the actors in these shows probably don’t behave like that in real life, so why is it ok on TV?
It makes sense to me now why in some circles whenever a new person (usually, younger, single, well-to-do) finds out about me being a Dad that lives in the “burbs”, the person gets this “oh, never mind” look on their face. Forget that only five minutes earlier we were both heavy into discussing the geo-political landscape of the Middle-East. Well, maybe not entirely, but you get the point. In that person’s mind I’m a suburbanite Dad, so I have no idea – nor care – about what’s going on the world besides mowing the lawn, belching and scratching myself.
So as an addendum to Seth’s entry I would add:
“…it’s an uphill battle, and until we get to the point where homophobia and racism [and all stereotypes] (even for laughs) is unheard of, we have a long way to go. Marketing is too powerful, imho, to be wasted diminishing someone’s humanity.”
Perhaps I’m more sensitive to the derision because I am a younger Dad that works hard, stays in shape, helps clean the house (without being told), tries to be well-read and seeks to improve the lives of my family and those around me. Perhaps comedy by definition requires the comedian to parody an element of society. Perhaps, like many things, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps I should simply turn the TV off and stop talking to people that aren’t exactly like me…lovely.
I very recently arrived at the conclusion that distractions are a good thing. I am aware that this statement conflicts with the latest prevailing wisdom which admonishes multi-tasking, I nevertheless suggest that focused distraction can be very productive.
Let's assume I'm working on some business analysis. Sometimes the analysis is in response to a specific question, meaning that the analysis already has clear assumptions, objectives and desired results. I call this Type1 analysis, I’m merely validating what the requestor already feels or knows to be true. Sometimes this analysis automatically bubbles up to Type 2 analysis when my analysis proves the requestor’s assumptions were wrong – ouch. According to my spectrum then Type 3 analysis is white space analysis, there is no pre-determined outcome, no reconciliation, no fact finding mission. Type3 analysis starts with a blank sheet of paper. It is here (Type 3) where creativity and energy play heavily. It is here, ironically, where distractions, focused distractions, are vital.
So here I am with a blinking cursor, no direction. Where do I start? What do I have? I have questions. What else? I have data. Great, now what? It is at this particulate juncture that I noticed something peculiar – my mind started wondering. “Wonder if the US won...?” “Let’s check the blogosphere.” “I really enjoy writing, but when do I have the time to write?” “I should watch less TV, I could probably be more productive.” Here is where the focused of focused distraction comes into play. Instead of feeling guilty and admonishing myself for checking the news reels or blogs, I’ve begun, lately, to open a separate blank document and start writing or journaling about a topic or issue that’s of interest. Then, at some point during the writing or journaling, my mind will start to wander back to the business analysis. It’s crazy, I’m actually distracted from my distraction! The next thing I know I’m linking my analysis questions with the data and starting to construct a valuable piece of analysis. Best of all, the analytical side feeds off the creative side and vice versa; i.e. you need a disciplined, analytical approach to put together a cohesive, structured piece of writing just as much as you need creativity to find the correlation and interdependence between multi-variable pieces of business-specific data.
Some life improvement hacks call this right-brain, left-brain optimization. Some folks like to listen to classical music to stimulate both hemispheres of the brain; some like to exercise, while others simply get up and go for a chat by the water-cooler. I say embrace whatever distraction it takes to keep the creative and analytical juices flowing in tandem, so long as the distraction is constructive and of mutual benefit. Finally, I’d recommend giving yourself a time limit, even white space analysis has a deliverable.
Just read this: "Every year, seemingly due to New Years' resolutions, sales of cigarettes drop by about 30 percent in January, but then regain half that in February, and are back to normal levels in March."
I say the same applies to gym memberships, diets, and any other "behavioral change" tied to a date. No need to tie life improvements to milestone dates like New Years (or Lent, etc). I postulate that enduring change doesn't occur overnight and doesn't care about the date -- so start now, keep at it, don't give up.
PS. The same applies to the other 1-day celebratory events: Valentines Day, Birthday, Mother's / Father's Day and even Christmas. Celebrate the moment and the person (as applicable) every day, space it out. It's less expensive than 1-time, all-out blowouts and - more importantly - the person (or persons) will appreciate the longer-term commitment. Space out the love and fellowship throughout the whole year!
By my last count, I've lived in 2 countries, 7 states, 15 different cities and have had 20+ address changes. Personally, I have never seen anything "wrong" with my personal statistics. Quite the contrary in fact, I relish - and if asked - will brag about them. Even so, the other night a student challenged my position by asking me, "what about your kids? Don't they want to grow up around the same friends?" I replied that they, nor I, know anything different. I've been on the move since I was kid, moving back and forth across the US and Mexico border and spending large swaths of time in Central Mexico as well.
So will all the relocating negatively affect my kids? Ben's bias is that "geographically rooted childhood tend to be more confident and happier, if less interesting." I lean more to what some of his readers comments: you can't change your childhood and it all comes back to parenting. My kids appear to get a great deal of joy from being able to send Christmas cards to 4 different continents and across 16 different states (when my wife pinned the addresses on a world map, their eyes lit up!). More so, whenever they start a new school, they seem to radiate when they are asked to present of picture collage of themselves. It's not too many elementary school kids that have experienced as much as they have in such a short time frame.
As I told my student, my kids grew up relocating with the military and now in Corporate America, the same stays true - they've only known this life. More importantly, my wife and I ultimately determine their relocating response: If our attitude radiates positivity, then so shall theirs.
What is the difference between being comfortable versus being complacent? I have no idea, so I challenge myself. Challenge my thinking, my parenting, my husband-ing; attempt to challenge my assumptions and my understanding of things. I won't get it right all the time so I welcome all constructive feedback. The goal? To "...be satisfied with life always but never with one's self." (George Jean Nathan)