Pilar Gerasimo, Experience Life Founding Editor

Revolutionary Acts

Experience Life founding editor Pilar Gerasimo shares her renegade perspectives for thriving in a mixed-up world.

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Experience Life Magazine

1. Defy Convention

Disruptive innovation is all the rage in business circles these days, but until recently, it wasn’t so popular in the health and fitness world.

That’s changing now, and thank goodness for that.

For far too long, we’ve been fed a steady stream of not-so-great advice. (“Eat low-fat and low-calorie! More grains and dairy! More cardio sessions! More willpower!”)

We’ve been offered a lot of not-so-great medical counsel. (“Er, we don’t actually know what’s causing that chronic problem, so here, just take this prescription.”)

We’ve sensed that these approaches weren’t working for us, and yet we’ve been a little afraid to strike out on our own. We weren’t sure where to go, or how.

The Renegade Path

For me, defying convention has never been about wanting to be different. It has been about wanting to have a snowball’s chance in hell of staying healthy in a world that has often seemed intent on making me sick, fat, and depressed.

That’s why we created Experience Life back in 2001. It’s why I later penned my little 10-point chapbook, Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act: A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World, and came up with the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy. (Now an interactive Web feature, a poster, and a mobile app, all available at RevolutionaryAct.com.)

We launched RevolutionaryAct.com and the 101 Ways because we realized that a whole lot of us needed more meaningful inspiration and support than we’ve been getting.

We need help with daily choices and perspectives, and in seeing what we’re up against. But we also need support in feeling less like weird, isolated outliers and more like part of a healthy movement that’s gaining steam. Which, I am happy to say, ours is.

Thanks in part to the rise of Web-based and social media, the call for a healthy revolution has spread quickly over the past decade — into forward-thinking food and fitness communities around the globe; into progressive healthcare circles; and, slowly but surely, even into the mainstream media.

But we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Because right now, the best, most helpful information still isn’t getting out to a broad enough audience (for a sense of why, see “Decoding Health Media”. ) And the results aren’t pretty:

  • Today, two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese (and our kids are catching up fast).
  • More than 50 percent of U.S. adults are chronically ill; one in three of us has metabolic syndrome (prediabetes), and 90 percent don’t know it.
  • About 70 percent of us regularly take at least one prescription drug. More than 50 percent take at least two.
  • The top-selling prescription drugs are meds for blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, and heartburn — all lifestyle-related conditions that can be greatly improved or healed through lifestyle changes.
  • Seventy-five percent of the money we currently spend on healthcare is used to treat (ineffectively) chronic lifestyle-related diseases.

It’s not just our bodies that are suffering. It’s our minds and spirits. Depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and eating disorders are rampant.

Epidemiological data suggest that fewer than 20 percent of us are mentally and emotionally thriving. The remaining 80 percent, according to psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, are languishing or “living lives of quiet despair.”

The Need for a New Normal

OK, so let’s just stop and mull over those facts for a moment:

  • The majority of the U.S. population is sick, overweight, mentally or emotionally disrupted, or all of the above.
  • Only a relatively tiny minority is healthy, happy, and thriving.

What does it mean that our society reliably produces more unhealthy, unhappy, vulnerable people than healthy, happy, resilient ones?

It means, quite plainly, that our society is sick.

That sickness shows up everywhere. In our bodies, yes, but also in our families and communities, our healthcare system, our food supply, our government, our schools, our religious institutions, our economy, our ecological systems, and especially in our relationships to ourselves and each other.

Fortunately, this is something we can change.

How? By rejecting the unhealthy conventions that are producing all this misery and embracing more promising strategies with fresh hope and enthusiasm. By diligently mastering the renegade healthy choices and healthy skills that matter — and ceasing to waste our time, energy, and resources on things than don’t. By seeing that choosing to be healthy in an unhealthy world isn’t some odious, obligatory chore or a hopeless battle. It’s a transformative hero’s journey. It’s a revolutionary act. It’s a sacred art. And it can be done.

That, in essence, is what this new column of mine is going to be about. In each issue, I’ll explore one of the 101 Ways. And the renegade fun starts right here, with the mother of all Revolutionary Acts: Defy Convention.

So how do you do that? Start by simply noticing how many unhealthy things have become the convenient, default choices in our culture, including giant-size portions, checkout-aisle junk-food displays, and elevators made easier to find than the stairs.

Notice what’s presented (and pushed) as “normal” — in the media, at restaurants, at work, at the doctor’s office, everywhere you go. Realize a lot of it is crazy-making and sickness-producing, and very much in need of some disruptive innovation.

Next, start disrupting and innovating. Push back where you can. Take pride and satisfaction in the ways you are rejecting our society’s mixed-up version of normal in order to reclaim your well-being and your own healthier, happier version of reality.

When that makes you seem weird or different, pat yourself on the back and just keep going. Remember, given where the conventional majority is headed, different is a preferable destination.

That’s where we’re starting, anyway. I hope you’ll dig into the rest of the 101 Revolutionary Ways, both here and online, to see where our convention-defying journey goes next.

Revolutionary Reading

Grab links to this month’s recommended articles (and opt to have future “Revolutionary Acts” columns delivered to your inbox) at ExperienceLife.com/revolutionary-acts

Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act: Renegade Perspectives for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World” — You want to be healthy? Well, hey, that’s wonderful. This article is designed to help you succeed.

A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World Pilar Gerasimo’s 10-point handbook for the healthy revolution.

Fitness Redefined” — Baby boomers, a generation of convention busters, are reshaping expectations when it comes to their personal health and fitness, too.

The Way of the Healthy Person” — If there is any clear path toward the promised land of healthy living, it begins on the fertile ground of our own assumptions, beliefs, and daily choices.

Pilar Gerasimo is a nationally recognized healthy-living expert, author of A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World, and the creative force behind the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy. She is currently working on a book about the art of being healthy in an unhealthy world. Learn more about Pilar’s work and connect with her via social media at PilarGerasimo.com.

Experience Life Magazine

Revolutionary Act 5: Question Authority

When it comes to health and fitness information, authoritative organizations may not be your best source of advice.

As a health journalist, I rely a great deal on expert opinions and authoritative resources. But I’ve also learned to get second and third opinions, to do my own research, to follow the money and to consult my own common sense and experience.

Basically, I’ve learned to question authority (which is No. 50 of the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy). Because what I’ve discovered is that experts and authorities of all kinds are often mistaken — sometimes about important stuff. And in my experience, they are wrong more often than they will admit to being in doubt.

This is particularly true in the domain of health. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve gotten lousy health advice from “beyond-reproach” sources like the American Medical Association, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration (to say nothing of the media outlets and health experts that rely on them for information and insight), I’d be a wealthy woman indeed.

But all those dollars would not be worth it — not by far — because if I had followed their advice, I suspect I’d also be sick, overweight and unhappy. I’d be worried about all the wrong things (saturated fats, calories, dietary cholesterol), and I’d be fairly clueless about the things with the greatest chance of slowly killing me (refined flours, undiagnosed gluten and dairy intolerances, sugars, toxic industrial fats, chemical additives and prescription drugs).

I’d be vigilantly counting calories instead of thoughtfully evaluating the quality, character and origin of my food. So I’d be poorly nourished and hungry all the time. I’d be struggling to exercise — and doing it joylessly, mostly to burn calories, instead of challenging my body to build strength, energy, resilience and vitality. And I’d be frustrated that no matter how hard I tried to follow all that dreadful advice, my health and fitness would continue to worsen.

Nutritionally deficient, inflamed and imbalanced, I’d go to the doctor looking for relief. I’d probably be prescribed a slew of medications — for my cholesterol, my stomach acid, my blood pressure, my back pain and my depression — all of which would cost me a fortune and have side effects of their own.

Before long, I’d no longer be the rich woman I’d become by accepting all those dollar bills in exchange for my gullibility. Instead, I’d be a bankrupt, prematurely aged, chronically ill, foggy-brained woman trying to figure out what in the heck went wrong.

I realize this may all sound a little dramatic, but it is precisely what is happening to millions of Americans each and every day. Why? Because a lot of the advice we are getting from the voices of authority is bad, corrupted, half-baked, outdated — and a lot of what we most need to hear (about what really works) just isn’t getting through.

Check out the dietary and lifestyle recommendations at the American Heart Association’s website. Or the American Dietetic Association’s site, or in the literature of any one of a dozen other official-sounding organizations. You’ll see a big emphasis on counting and burning calories, avoiding saturated fats and dietary cholesterol, reducing salt, eating a lot of low-fat or fat-free dairy and eating more so-called whole grains (mostly in the guise of whole-wheat flour products, which are not whole at all).

You’ll see comparatively little emphasis, meanwhile, on reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates (like flours, starches and sugars), industrial vegetable oils and artificial ingredients — the primary ingredients in processed foods.

You’ll also see little on why eating phytonutrient-rich, fiber-rich and whole foods is so important to building vitality and reducing inflammation.

In other words, you’ll get totally backward advice. And when you do get decent advice (like “eat more vegetables”), you’ll get it wrapped in a fat-free, whole-wheat tortilla and served with three side dishes of low-fat dairy.

There are many reasons for this, and plenty of blame for the ag-food-pharma industry, policymakers and the media to share. But the most pernicious dynamic is this: The food industry heavily influences the ADA’s nutritional recommendations. (For more on this dynamic, read Justin Stoneman’s excellent rant). They contribute vast sums of money to the ADA. They sponsor a lot of research, and they determine how and if the results of that research get reported. Then they leverage their preferred study results (along with a whole lot of lobbying money and power) to convince experts and policymakers to support official positions and recommendations that just happen to be advantageous (or at least not damaging) to their most profitable product lines.

By the time those official recommendations and guidelines come out, they often make no sense at all. Still, they get reported en mass by conventional media outlets — many of which have those same industry research-funders and lobbying interests as major advertisers. All this undermined, incomplete advice gets rolled out to the newsstand and airwaves, to public-health resources and to doctors’ offices. And suddenly, that’s “the truth” that everybody knows is true and right. Even if it’s not.

We recently did a piece in Experience Life magazine called “Digesting the New USDA Dietary Guidelines” (September 2011) that offers a nice overview of just how confused and undermined official recommendations like these often are.

We’ve done many other pieces over the years– on saturated fats (“A Big Fat Mistake“); on low-fat dairy (“Skimming the Truth“); on cholesterol (“Cholesterol Myths“); on artificial sweeteners (“Poor Substitutes“); on pharmaceuticals (“The Other Drug Problem“); and on weight loss (“Weight Loss Rules to Rethink“) — that illustrate why failing to question authoritative truths can be so dangerous to your health.

Whenever we are doing the background research for articles like these, I’m amazed at how much decent information is actually out there, but just not breaking through to major media outlets.

Why on earth, I wonder? And then I remember: Follow the money.

A couple of weeks ago I had a really great heart-to-heart conversation with a fellow journalist, an editor at a major lifestyle publication. Over drinks, this editor told me in hushed tones that their editorial staff couldn’t even use the phrase “processed food” in their copy. Their advertisers (processed-food companies) would go nuts. It makes you wonder what else our “authoritative” major media outlets can’t comfortably write or talk about.

So my advice is this: Don’t assume that the “authoritative” sources are necessarily the best sources — particularly when it comes to healthy lifestyle advice. Look for second and third opinions. And be willing to thumb your nose at authority now and then, particularly when your health is at stake. Which it is.
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For an ad-free, convention-busting collection of revolutionary healthy-living resources, including “A Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed-Up World,” and the “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy,” visit www.RevolutionaryAct.com.

Experience Life Magazine

Revolutionary Act 4: Monitor Your Media Intake

On a recent Sunday night, as I was wrapping up the next day’s work preparations and shutting down my electronics for the evening, I noticed a new email in my inbox.

It was a New York Times News Alert informing me that Osama bin Laden had been killed. The brief email offered few details but informed me that President Obama would be appearing on TV imminently with an announcement.

Compelled, I clicked the link to the promised live-video stream and waited, looking at a placeholder screen and this message:

The White House has announced that President Barack Obama will address the American people in the next few minutes. When Mr. Obama begins speaking, his remarks will appear in this live video stream from the White House Web site.

Wow, I thought. Historic moment. I should watch this.

A minute ticked by. As I waited, I began reading the headlines of related articles. I perused the page’s unrelated live Twitter feed about Syria. I reread the placeholder message to see if anything had changed. I started thinking about hitting social media or turning on the radio to see what else was being said about the breaking news of bin Laden’s demise.

And then, I thought better of it.

I reminded myself of a commitment that I’d made almost a decade ago in the wake of another major news event — 9/11. My commitment: to become a more discerning and conscious consumer of media.

To me, that means making thoughtful choices about what I watch, read and listen to. It means noticing how I wind up giving my attention to various media streams, and why. It means being aware of the impact my media habits are having on me, and on those around me.

It especially means noticing when I am getting sucked in by something I hadn’t planned to. And it often means turning off or tuning out media — from TV and radio to books, magazines, Web and social-media content — that I find irrelevant, unhelpful, or inconsistent with what I deem to be the best use of my focus and time.

It does not necessarily mean always looking away from things that I find disturbing, surprising or provocative, but it does mean evaluating whether I am being catalyzed to grow and respond constructively, or merely being bombarded in a way that leaves me feeling helpless, hopeless and disempowered.

Over the course of the past decade, I’ve found that this approach to monitoring my media intake has served me well, and it has saved me countless hours of frustration and distraction.

Contrary to some of my early fears, I have not ceased to be a reasonably well-informed individual. Nor have I lost all touch with civilized society. What I’ve done instead is reserve my media time and bandwidth for information that matters to me; experiences that sync with my values and priorities; amusements that entertain, inspire and delight me; inquiries that inform my perspectives; and explorations that empower me to better understand and contribute to my world.

In the scheme of everything else I want to do and experience in my lifetime, I have limited time and focus even for media that meets these high standards. And so it happened that on this particular evening, presented with this particular media option, I considered my commitment and made my decision: I turned off the computer and went to bed.

Here are some of the factors that influenced my choice that night — and that figure into a lot of my media decisions these days:

1. Triggers and appetite: What is enticing or tempting me to tune in to this particular stream of media now, and how do I feel about that?

Although I initially felt that I “should” watch (presumably so that I’d be up to date on a matter of national importance), in truth, I think the offer of the televised announcement mostly appealed to my prurient curiosity and reflexive instincts. It was the media equivalent of an unconscious, impulsive food binge. Did I really want or need to watch this? Would any good likely come of my watching it now? No.

2. Timing and flow: What is going on in my world that makes this an appropriate, potentially rewarding media choice — or conversely, a conflicted and potentially disruptive one?

I was on my way to bed when I got the News Alert email, and I was glad to have received it. I realized a few moments into my investigation, though, that if I chose to wait up for the president’s live address, I might wind up waiting for quite a while — and that every moment I spent on the edge of my seat would only enhance my sense of keyed-up investment in needing to know as much as possible as quickly as possible. That vibe would likely interfere with my other real-life priorities and intentions — like spending time with my husband and getting some much-needed rest.

3. Consequences/alternatives: What is the likely outcome of my decision to tune in to — or out of — this media option at this time? How is it affecting me?

Although this was certainly a unique, once-in-a-lifetime media event, I surmised that I was unlikely to learn much of great importance from the late-night televised address that I wouldn’t just as quickly learn the next morning (when I’d probably also get more complete, thoughtful reporting, and a more layered sense of background). If I chose to wait and watch, there was also a good chance that I’d be sucked into all kinds of pre- and post-event media chatter that I hadn’t planned on consuming and that really wasn’t terribly relevant to me at this moment. Getting wrapped up in it would not likely provoke me to do anything helpful and would probably leave me feeling overstimulated, distracted and upset.

4. Significance/value: Does this material have real importance, relevance or value to me personally?

Although I certainly considered the information to be significant, I already knew the most essential and relevant piece of it, which was that bin Laden was dead. Part of me was already struggling to digest and make sense of that bit of data. Piling more data on top of it — presumably things like circumstances, nature and timing of the raid — was not likely to help me integrate my thoughts and feelings, only to distract me from them.

Ultimately, based on all these factors and more, I decided that rather than waiting for the streaming video or surfing the Web in search of more info, I was better off observing a moment of silence, taking stock of my own internal reaction to the news I already had, and then getting some sleep so that I could wake up ready to process the next day’s inevitable media onslaught from a more centered place.

If this sounds like an awful lot of thought to put into a single media decision, well, it is. Learning to consume media this way does not necessarily come naturally, particularly in this culture, where media, like food, is everywhere, all the time.

That’s why learning to be conscious of one’s media consumption is a valuable skill, a personal practice that — much like learning how to eat consciously and healthfully — is essential to living well. (It’s also why “Consume Media Wisely” is honored as No. 74 of my 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy.)

The good news: With time and practice, the process of making conscious decisions about media becomes increasingly quick and instinctive.

Just to clarify, I am not suggesting that the specific reflections and choices I made in this case were the only good or right ones. Nor am I recommending them to everybody in every situation. But I do think we can all benefit from being more discerning about our media intake — particularly if we value our physical, emotional and mental health, to say nothing of our time.

Why? Because as many health-and-happiness experts have pointed out, just like the food we eat, the media we consume have a direct impact on our energy, attitude and well-being. Whether or not we are aware of it, what we watch, read and listen to can profoundly affect the way we think, feel and respond to people and situations in our own lives.

For more on this body of research and the value of rethinking your own media intake, check out the article “Media Diet Makeover,” which originally appeared in Experience Life magazine in 2006.

Meanwhile, if you’ve never embarked on a “media diet” before, it’s the one kind of diet I’d encourage you to think about trying. A period of consciously limiting one’s media intake, or just being especially thoughtful about the TV/video/film, radio/audio, Internet/Web and reading one chooses to partake of can be incredibly insight-provoking.

Be forewarned, though: The choices are not always simple. On the evening in question, there was a part of me that felt disoriented by the news of bin Laden’s death, and I felt what I imagine is a natural urge to re-tether to a common reality by hooking into the mass-media stream.

There was another part of me, though — I think a wiser part — that was urging me to just sit with my own thoughts and feelings and then go to bed as I had planned.

As I noted, I began reconsidering my media habits during the aftermath of 9/11 — a time during which, out of our sense of helplessness, outrage and horror, millions of us were glued continuously to the television for days at a time.

We watched an endless, repeating barrage of appalling images and listening to disjointed, almost content-less reporting — as if somehow, by sheer repetition and our willingness to take it in, we could glean a fuller understanding of what had befallen our country.

We did this, I think, in part out of some sense of civic duty — a well-meaning desire to show solidarity by willingly co-experiencing the disaster and sharing in the collective dismay. But instead, I think a great many of us wound up overwhelmed, freaked out and mired in dramatic details — to the point that we were no good to anyone, including our own families, friends, neighbors and children, much less community causes and charity.

And meanwhile, even as millions of media hours were being compulsively consumed, an alarming percentage of our citizenry somehow missed the news that the 9/11 attacks had nothing at all to do with Iraq or Saddam Hussein. Even a media decade later, a great many of us aren’t much better informed about the political, social and economic issues that gave rise to those tragic events, much less to ongoing wars that have followed.

It’s with all this in mind that, ever since 9/11, I’ve taken the opportunity to put conscious media choices into practice for myself.

I now follow these same general principles not only in times of high-drama news, but whenever I’m presented with media that’s just “there” — streaming from the omnipresent TVs in waiting rooms, diners, bars and airports; flashing across digital billboards; beckoning from magazine racks and newsstands; and blaring from media-equipped fuel pumps, bathroom stalls and taxi cabs.

In all these situations, I make it my goal not to allow random media streams to wash over me, but, rather, to choose — to really decide — what, when and how much I watch, read and listen to, and to remember that my choices have a real influence not just on my knowledge base, but also on my health, happiness and quality of life.

For better or worse, just as the foods we put into our bodies become the raw materials from which our energy is generated and our bodily tissues are repaired, the media we consume become part of the neurological substrate that informs our mindset, moods, belief systems, relationships — our very sense of identity.

A body of emerging neurological, psychological and immunity-focused research suggests that our media intake can powerfully affect both our mental priming (see Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D.’s work on positivity and its response to media intake) and our physical vitality (see David C. McClelland, Ph.D. and Carol Kirshnit, Ph.D.’s work on immune changes in response to watching two different films).

That’s a little scary, because if we gave even a little attention to the quality of television, movies, video, radio, reading, gaming and Internet fodder that we take in on any given day, I suspect a lot of us would find that we are mindlessly munching on the equivalent of junk food, or worse.

So if you haven’t reflected on your media choices lately, I hope you will. And if you’ve already decided to upgrade your media diet, I congratulate you. You’ll be getting a whole body-mind-life upgrade in the bargain.

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Experience Life Magazine

Revolutionary Act 3: Reclaim Your Mornings

Start the day on your own terms, and change your life for the better.

Every day, millions wake with a sense of urgency. Jerked from sleep by an alarm, we lurch directly to the coffeemaker, to our e-mail, to the day’s news headlines, or some other up-and-at-’em directive.

One way or another, we abruptly press the day’s “on” switch, and before we’re entirely conscious, long before our brains and bodies have nudged themselves into first gear, we’ve thrown them into overdrive.

As a result, we may wind up feeling frenzied, reactive — and taking that energy into the rest of our day, infusing it into all our interactions and projects.

We also miss out on a lot of insights and creative impulses available to us during the brief “twilight state” of theta brainwave activity that exists almost exclusively between sleep and waking awareness. What a waste!

So I’m making a case for reclaiming our mornings — or even some small part of our mornings — as an act of defiance against the less-than-satisfying status quo, and as a delightful and potentially transformative act of self-care.

My sister, Andrea, has this down to a sacred science. She gets up before anyone else in her house, lights a candle and a stick of incense, then puts on relaxing music. She unrolls her yoga mat, sits, and — at minimum — takes three long, centering breaths.

Generally, those three deep breaths lead her into a gentle yoga practice that may last anywhere from five to 30 minutes. At the end of her practice, she meditates for a few moments, sending loving thoughts to her friends and family, and setting some key intentions for the day.

When her mat-based practice is complete, she makes tea, has breakfast, and only then does she turn on her phone, consult her calendar and begin the active portion of her day.

Understand, this is not some idealized nice-when-it-happens thing for my sister. It’s a rock solid deal. She’s missed maybe half a dozen days in the past several years. That’s because she has a very simple, default-minimum commitment: Unroll the mat, sit, take three breaths. That’s it. The rest is negotiable.

Sometimes, things come up, of course, and when a longer practice isn’t possible, Andrea adjusts the program accordingly. But she never gives up on unrolling her mat, centering and taking those three deep breaths.

If she can get that far, she says, she almost always finds the time and willingness to do a little more. And she says these few high-value moments she devotes entirely to herself help establish a conscious tone and rhythm that carries through her entire day — and by extension, her life in general.

Then there’s my friend Brian Johnson, founder of PhilosophersNotes (insightful six-page summaries of books on optimal living, the reading of which make for a great morning practice in and of themselves). Brian starts his day with a whole series of what he calls “blissiplines” — daily disciplines he’s found to be fundamental in creating the conditions for his best, most blissful life.

Brian’s blissiplines (which he describes at about 6:50 in this fun video) include about a half an hour of meditation and movement, followed by time spent journaling and reading. Like my sister, Brian says he’s found these practices so essential for optimizing his productivity, creativity and happiness that he can no longer imagine going without them.

Of course, it does take a certain amount of willingness and discipline to establish a morning ritual, particularly if your current a.m. routine is so dull and drudging that you’ve never paused to consider it.

Happily, you don’t have to devote hours to a morning ritual in order to benefit. You just have to have a ritual and do it consistently — ideally, even (and perhaps especially) when you don’t feel like it.

I suggest keeping your ritual short, easy and very doable to start with, knowing that you can always expand it if and when you like.

When I first started doing my own morning practice (about eight years ago) it simply consisted of having a cup of coffee out on the porch, listening to the birds chirp, and pulling a wisdom card to help me start the day on a calm, conscious note. Total time: five minutes, max.

I’ve had more leisurely rituals, too. They’ve involved everything from candlelight journaling and guided visualizations to guitar playing.

Every year or so, I like to tinker with my ritual, working in various meditations and creative practices, gentle exercise, music, time outdoors, wisdom literature, poetry, or whatever appeals to me at the time.

Lately, I’ve gotten into following my sister’s example and doing morning yoga. My current minimum commitment is five minutes, but like her, I often wind up doing a bit more.

Maybe it’s the track of the Tibetan meditation music I play during my practice (it runs for about seven minutes, and it’s so mesmerizing, I can’t bear to pull away from my reverie before it ends). Or maybe it’s just that I really dig the mellow vibe I’ve created for myself by choosing to be before I do.

Whatever the case, I’ve come to love this Revolutionary Act (“Maintain a Morning Practice” is No. 52 of “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy“) and I highly recommend it to anyone hungry for a little more centering and a little less stress in his or her life.

You can learn more about why the very first (and last) moments of our days count for so much, and get ideas for how to develop calming rituals in your own life by reading these articles:

Bookends

The Things We Remember

The Morning Rush

Meanwhile, is there a small step you can take toward reclaiming your own mornings, starting now?

Do you already have a favorite morning practice of your own? If so, please share your ideas in the comments section below.

The more of us who choose to start our days on our own terms, the less frenzied this world of ours will feel. And the more opportunity we’ll all have to make the best and most conscious use of the waking hours at our disposal.

Experience Life Magazine

Revolutionary Act 2: Want to Reduce Stress? Eliminate Annoyances

This January, in honor of my 44th birthday, I resolved to fix, change, organize, replace or otherwise deal with anything that had been driving me bonkers.

This is what the late Thomas J. Leonard (widely considered the father of life coaching) referred to as “eliminating tolerations.” And let me tell you, when it comes to life-changing revolutionary acts, this practice is a doozie.

I consider tackling tolerations a revolutionary act because at any given time, most of us are putting up with hundreds of these energy-drainers — everything from niggling little distractions to sources of frustration so oppressive and so entrenched that we’ve become practically inured to them.

Lugging the burden of our tolerations everywhere we go affects our attitude, our self-perception, the way we interact, our physical well-being — practically everything.

That’s why I included No. 77, “Eliminate Annoyances,” in the “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy” at RevolutionaryAct.com.” Irritations aren’t just crazy-making; the stress they produce also leads to inflammation, and inflammation leads to illness and misery.

The tricky thing about tolerations, though, is that they tend to accumulate over time. Gradually, insidiously, like a slew of tiny leeches clinging to your backside, they suck away at your lifeblood — or, at the very least, your pleasure in living.

Still, as Leonard noted, tolerations aren’t all bad. Often, they have a lot to teach us. If handled properly, they can act as “a grain of sand in your oyster” — the kind that creates a pearl.

Indeed, the irritations that tolerations produce eventually become so maddening that they trigger us to face our areas of challenge or unconsciousness, to create positive change, and thus, to grow. We can achieve this if we pause to notice how a particular toleration got there in the first place and why we’ve been agreeing to endure it until now.

Tolerations can include people, places, things, situations, feelings — just about anything. Once you start looking, you will probably find them everywhere. And I promise you, if you first carefully explore and then uproot a single toleration, you’ll get excited about the possibility of eliminating many more.

So, back to my list. About a week before my birthday, I began jotting down my tolerations as they occurred to me — mostly small, niggling annoyances. They included, among other things:

  • Broken coffee grinder
  • Slow kitchen faucet
  • Dried up pens
  • Clutter pile on counter
  • Cordless phones that say, “Reconnect to Base,” and then go dead when you answer them

Seeing as the broken coffee grinder was something I was having to deal with first thing every day (prior to my first cup of coffee), I decided to tackle it straight away.

The switch on that grinder had been broken for a long time — since I’d dropped it and broken off a tiny plastic part that, when depressed, turned the grinder on. Because the grinder worked fine otherwise, I couldn’t justify tossing it, so for more than five years, I’d been using the sharp end of a chopstick to depress the little mechanism while holding the cap on.

Of course, this clever maneuver involved finding said chopstick, which was usually in one of three spots — depending on whether it was my husband or me who had made the coffee the previous morning and depending on who had cleaned up (or not) afterward.

If the prior day’s coffee duty had fallen to me, the chopstick would most likely be in the urn that holds frequently used utensils. If it had fallen to my husband, the chopstick might be in the urn — or it might be in the drawer. Anywhere in the drawer. Then again, if neither one of us had cleaned up, the chopstick might still be sitting on the counter, in which case it might also have rolled out of sight somewhere on the surface. And thus, chances were good as not that on a given morning, the making of coffee would involve a groping, clattering, bleary-eyed chopstick hunt.

I tell you all this because it illustrates something characteristic about tolerations: One small vexation very often leads to a bigger vexation, so that a whole series of tolerations wind up nested or linked in some way.

And so it would happen that before I’d even managed to make coffee each morning, I’d typically encountered a cluster of minor annoyances — with the grinder, the chopstick, myself, my husband or all of the above — annoyances that ever so slightly dampened my mood, and ever so slightly increased the chances of my feeling inadvertently exasperated with my otherwise wonderful life.

So, why had I tolerated that busted grinder for five long years, and why did I not get around to replacing it until a few weeks ago? Well, initially I thought it was the right and low-impact thing to do. After all, it was just a tiny bit of plastic that had broken off; the rest of the grinder was perfectly good, so I didn’t want to send it to the landfill and then run to the store to purchase another one if I didn’t have to.

And interestingly, while I was living alone (until I got married a couple of years ago), the whole ritual with the chopstick hadn’t bothered me; in fact, it gave me a virtuous feeling of thrift, eco-friendliness and ingenuity. I always knew where the chopstick would be, and so it wasn’t a toleration, it was just a puttering little Zen practice.

Which is another interesting thing about tolerations: Whether or not they qualify as tolerations is all in how you perceive and react to them. And that, of course, is largely up to you.

When I investigated my coffee-grinder toleration, for example, I had a whole slew of interesting insights — about the nature of my adjustment to co-habitation, about the tension my eco-friendly values and my convenience-seeking priorities, about my tendency to argue with reality (Thank you, Byron Katie) and so on.

This process of self-inquiry is an essential component of the toleration-elimination process. Unless you perceive the growth opportunities it represents for you, the tolerations you’re banishing tend to return with a vengeance.

So I did some personal exploration. I had some big insights. And then, with a peaceful heart, I replaced the grinder.

The best part? I didn’t have to toss the old one after all. It’s been dedicated to grinding flax and sesame seeds (which I do only occasionally), so now every time I reach for the chopstick, I have an opportunity to reflect with gratitude on how happy I am not to need it every morning.

Having similarly dispatched the rest of my tolerations list (I had some broken stuff repaired, established a clutter-reduction system for the kitchen counter and so on), I must say, the result has been a series of revelations. My mornings have been transformed, and my mood and energy are much improved.

So, what’s on your tolerations list? What are you energized to tackle first? How long have you been tolerating these things, and with what effect? And what insights might your tolerations have to impart before they go?

If you want to read a little deeper on the subject, check out “Tolerate Less,” an article we featured in Experience Life magazine a while back. Or, read Thomas J. Leonard’s terrific book, The Portable Coach: 28 Surefire Strategies for Business and Personal Success (Scribner, 1998).”

In the meantime, happy toleration-tackling, and may you do wonderful, gratifying things with the energy you reclaim!

Experience Life Magazine

Revolutionary Act No. 1: Exchange Willpower for Willingness

We’ve been taught that following through on new year’s resolutions is all about willpower. But it turns out that willingness may be a far more valuable ally.

One popular characterization of insanity describes it as “doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result.” And at no time of the year is that particular brand of insanity more evident than right now — the dreaded resolutions season.

Every January, there’s a lot of talk about the right and wrong ways to go about making change. Techniques and strategies abound (another serving of S.M.A.R.T. goals, anyone?), but most of them share a common underlying assumption: That changing your life is an act of will.

We Americans love the idea of willpower. It’s forceful, bold, intrepid. It reeks of individual determination, and it suggests just enough stalwart endurance to satisfy our stoic sensibilities.

The will speaks in a commanding voice: Go forth! Make it so! And there’s some kick-start value in that. But I would argue that the real key to creating positive change over time is not so much will as it is willingness.

Unlike the will, which is all the rage this time of year, willingness doesn’t get a lot of airtime in our culture. It comes across as too passive, perhaps, too cooperative, too eager to please, too… feminine. But I’d argue that when it comes to shifting personal behavior and establishing new habits, willingness is actually a much better and more reliable partner.

The problem with the will is that it’s one hard-driving taskmaster — but it tends to cement itself to a static idea of success and, thus, to constant reminders of the potential for failure.

The will tends to think it has all the answers and it doesn’t relish asking for directions.

Willingness, on the other hand, is full of open-minded inquiries, like: How might I go about getting started on this project? What would happen if I tried this? What would be most helpful now?

Where the will never says die, willingness is continually reborn — and it gets smarter and stronger each time around.

That’s why, this year, as my first official Revolutionary Act (a series of convention-busting experiments in changing my life for the better, and the basis for this blog), I’m putting willingness in charge of my new year’s resolutions. Currently, these include: 1) being on time more often; 2) getting outside daily; and 3) never sitting for more than two hours at a stretch. (For a busy magazine editor, all three are tougher than they sound.)

Effectively, my revolutionary shift here is asking, “What I’m willing to do differently in the service of these goals?” — rather than insisting, “I am going to do these things, no matter what it takes.”

I’m also cultivating my willingness to notice when I do and don’t succeed in these endeavors, and to pay attention to how I do or do not go about accomplishing them on a day-to-day basis. Because as Zen teacher Cheri Huber likes to remind us: “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

The great thing about seeing my resolutions as an experiment in willingness is that even if I “fail” at something on any given day, I still “succeed” in learning something valuable that empowers me to succeed the next day.

One thing I’ve already noticed, for example, is that my tendency toward chronic lateness (15 minutes, notoriously) has a lot to do with my believing I should/must/need to always do “just one more thing” before I leave the house.

Am I willing to change that? Yes, and: I’m also aware that it yanks at a stubborn, semi-conscious belief I hold about my value coming from what I accomplish, rather than who I am.

That’s a belief worth examining more closely, because it’s probably at the core of some other self-sabotaging tendencies, too. (For deeper insights on the value of challenging limiting beliefs, check out the terrific book, Immunity to Change [Harvard Business School Press, Feb. 2009] by Robert Kegan, Ph.D., and Lisa Lahey, Ph.D.)

So, am I willing to challenge that belief about my value being tied to my frenzied (and often counterproductive) productivity? Yes.

Does the idea of moving beyond my chronic lateness become more energizing and potentially powerful when I think of it in this context? And does it make me more willing to experiment with not doing one more thing? Yes, indeed! Thank you, willingness.

I am choosing to engage willingness because, in my experience, my will has not always been my best ally in creating positive change. In fact, leaning too heavily on my will often brings out the most negative and self-critical in me. And research suggests that this is true for many of us (for more on that, read this fascinating article from Scientific American on “The Willpower Paradox.”

It turns out that the will talks a tough game, but it hates losing — so much so that it is prone to walking away in a huff just as things are getting interesting. Willingness, meanwhile, sees every lost round as an opportunity to sharpen skills, strategy and awareness.

Willingness, in short, is all about learning and growing. And that’s why I’m making it the centerpiece of my Revolutionary Acts project, which is all about experiments in creating a healthier, happier, more satisfying life by doing things a little (or a lot) differently. Differently than we’ve been taught. Differently than we’ve been told. Differently than “that’s just the way things are done.”

Many of my experiments will involve challenging the dominant norms, patterns and assumptions of our society. Others will involve challenging my own comfort zones and beliefs.

I’ll be sharing my experiences in this blog and also in my regular column at Experience Life, the healthy-living magazine I’ve been editing for the past decade.

My goal with this blog, as with the magazine, is to share insights and resources that can help more of us make the most of our time and energy, enhance our well-being, and increase our satisfaction in living. Because I believe that for us to address the biggest challenges we are facing — individually and collectively — we are going to need to be at our strongest, most energized and resilient best.

I hope you’ll share your own revolutionary experiences — of challenging limiting norms and assumptions, of rejecting stale conventions, and of reinventing yourself and your life however you see fit.

Which reminds me: If you’re working on any healthy-living goals this year, you might enjoy visiting www.RevolutionaryAct.com, a site powered by Experience Life and stocked with wisdom from some of our favorite experts. You’ll find a variety of Revolutionary Resources there, including my “Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed Up World” and “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy.”

Here’s to an all-new 2011! And may we all summon the willingness to make it great.