Monday, March 28, 2016

Accountability: Goal Checkup after 3 months

When I wrote my goals in the beginning of the year, I wrote “…if you will allow me to have you as an accountability partner, I plan to provide updates during the year.”  We are almost a quarter of the way through 2016 and it is an appropriate time to provide an update.  My goal for the year was to lose weight and exercise.  Basically, I wanted to spend this year focusing on putting myself onto a healthier track.  Let’s face it, if done correctly, this process should start within me and radiate out to other aspects of my life.

Here are some of the statistics since I started – I have lost 8.6 pounds, reduced my waist by 4 inches, and 2 inches have gone from my hips.  In terms of body fat percentage, I have gone from 18.5% to 14.4%.  I exercise at home 15-20 minutes 4 days during the week and go to the gym with Debbie on the weekend.
What are the differences between last year and this year?  January 2015, I set the weight and exercise goal to achieve by the end of the year.  Making the decision to take action was good.  While I did set attainable goals, unknowingly, there were some, what I would call, significant Failure Factors:

  1. The timeline was too far into the future - I gave myself 1 year, or 12 months, or 52 weeks, or 365 days to achieve my goals.  I set the horizon for achievement too far into the future and provided more than enough time to wait to start.  I know some planning thought leaders advise you to break down our goals into smaller units; 10 pounds and 10-15 minutes of exercise would be fractional numbers per month. 
  2. No measurability – I had set down no criteria for success and measuring that success throughout the year.  When I run a project, there are milestone, tasks with due dates and status meetings to ensure we are making progress.  If there is no progress, those check points provide a chance to adjust so that we can have the successes we desire.  I did none of that.
  3. Exemplified procrastination – Based on the above two points, I waited until 3/4 through the year to even think about addressing the two goals.  By that point, not doing anything became the norm, so I just continued what I was doing.

January 2016, I set the weight and exercise goal to achieve by my doctor’s visit in April.   The success seen so far, I can attribute to what I would call Success Factors:

  1. The decision to act – It was not enough that I had a goal, but I also went into 2016 with a plan in mind, a vision for what the results would look like and a means for measuring progress.  I was able to hit the ground running on January 1st, instead of procrastinating until I “felt like it.”
  2. I made the commitment – Changing pieces of our lifestyle, in terms of what we eat and how we make healthy choices has to be a commitment, especially when we exist in an environment where doing something different will make us stand out from everyone else.  My commitment meant having to say no to certain foods, decide to taste vegetables I passed on in the past, waking up earlier to exercise and agreeing to set aside the time to go the gym.  "Commitment is doing the thing you said you would do, long after the mood you said it in has left you." ~ George R. Zalucki
  3. Diligence – It is not enough to accept a healthier lifestyle on January 1st.  Nor is it enough to agree to it on January 2nd.  I have to maintain the choices every day.  Are there “cheat” days…yes.  I am no angel, but cheating is limited and I return to my commitment.  Is this easy…no.  Easy is seeing that candy bar calling my name and answering it.  Easy is eating those rolls before the meal comes at a restaurant.  Easy is noshing on those fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.  Diligence is remaining consistent on my commitment.

Creating new habits is difficult and it takes time until the new routine becomes a habit.  It has only been just shy on 3 months, so while I have been “on track” so far, I need to be on guard that I do not slip back into my old habits.  Bottom line is that I feel great and happy with what I have done so far.  How have you done with your New Year’s Goals?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Witnessing a Stroke

We sat there around the table at a local Italian restaurant, Gab, Debbie, her mother and myself.  Gab had come home from school on her break, making it a good reason to go out for dinner.  My mother-in-law, the day before heard that she was well enough to graduate from rehab and go home.  Hungrily, we ordered our food and then talked over appetizers; everything was going well and everyone was happy.  Then, like a scene out of the Twilight Zone, time seemed to slow and focus became narrow, as we / I looked across the table and noticed my mother-in-law twisted and leaning to her left, away from Debbie whom she was talking to moments before.  “Barbara,” I yelled.  Her eyes had become unresponsive and, though she tried, could not talk.  “Grandma, are you OK?” Gab asked.  I stood up and called her again, she looked over then went back to the same position.  Gab was immediately up and tending to her.  I asked a passing waiter to call an ambulance – she was having a stroke.

A stroke, this would be her second one.  As with the first stroke that she had, they labeled this a mini-stroke, or a TIA (Transient ischemic attack), that should not have any lingering effects.  My grandfather, 30 years ago, suffered a massive, debilitating stroke, which left him wheel chair bound and needing 24 hour nursing care.  He lived that way until he died of unrelated causes about 9 years later.  My father, almost three years ago, had a stroke while recovering from neck surgery that left him mobile, but needing a cane and sometimes a walker to get around.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists three main types of stroke:

  • Ischemic stroke (caused by blood clots) – This is what my grandfather had
  • Hemorrhagic stroke (caused by ruptured blood vessels that cause brain bleeding) – This is what my father had
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) (a “mini-stroke,” caused by a temporary blood clot) – This is what my mother-in-law had

After my father had his stroke, someone recommended that I read the book, “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey,” written by Jill Bolte Taylor.  In the book, Taylor describes, in detail, her experience in being home alone, having a massive stroke and the years of recovery that followed.  While the human mind is great at protecting us from remembering trauma, as a brain scientist (neuroanatomist), she was able to observe and remember her own experience.  In my mother-in-law’s case, once the episode passes, within a day, there was no lasting impact (except fear of re-occurrence).  In reading the book, it helped me with my dad in that I was able to ask questions based on some understanding of what happened to him in the weeks that followed.

Unfortunately, when a stroke happens, it is unexpected, can leave the “victim” confused and potentially unable to communicate.  Time is of the essence to get treatment to the patient.  On the Stroke Foundation’s website, they state that “…Recognising the signs of a stroke and getting to hospital quickly for early treatment after a stroke is important to minimise the effects of a stroke.”  In addition, posted on the American Stroke Association’s site, “If you’re having a stroke, it’s critical that you get medical attention right away. Immediate treatment may minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death. Thanks to recent medical advances, stroke treatments and survival rates have improved greatly over the last decade.”

A police officer showed up quickly, followed by the ambulance.  They asked us a few short questions to help evaluate the situation while the EMT quickly went to work.  After about 30 seconds, they had brought a gurney into the tight quarters and moved my mother-in-law out and into the ambulance.  Debbie told them the hospital that provides her mother’s care, at which the person in charge said they are taking her to the hospital across the street.  Time was important and to not move further than necessary.  As it ends up, the hospital we went to was one of two New Jersey state-certified Stroke Centers in the area.  A few hours later, her functions were returning to normal.  She had dodged a bullet and the hospital stay would be short.

It is sometimes hard to maintain a level head when trauma of this nature occurs in front of us.  It is important to know how to properly react in a given situation and, in this case, know the signs to look for.  We were lucky this time, in being together to spot the situation, in reacting quickly and in taking action instead of waiting to see what happens.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Pizza Tour

Last weekend, for Bec’s birthday, we went on a pizza tour, where we walked about a mile and a half and sampled three different types of pizza from three different, well-known New York City pizzerias.  Why go on a pizza tour?  Simply, because it is a food that we both enjoy.  The working definition for the tour was that pizza is dough, sauce and cheese (and a cooking source).  Instead of just stuffing slices in our mouths, this ended up being an educational tour.  While we all have our favorite pizza joints, we did not realize that this simple food, in its basic format (no toppings) came in so many varieties.

Like many things in life, pizza provides us with the analogy of something that is simple, but not easy.  Dough can have different varieties of flour, time of letting the dough rest / rise, letting the dough rise, flattening out the dough (no bubbles), and can be made thin crust, thick crust, Sicilian-style, or deep dish.  Sauce can either come as a simple crush tomato (uncooked) to complex precooked sauces.  The cheese, while in the basic form is mozzarella, can be freshly made, aged, hand pulled, low moisture, sliced or shredded. Some pizzas have the sauce, then the cheese on top; some have the cheese on the bottom and the sauce on top, and one sample we ate had a little sauce on the bottom and a little sauce on top. This is all before analyzing the important measurement of the cheese to sauce ratio.  Whew!  And, how about cooking methods?  You have your coal burning ovens (originally 20 foot by 20 foot), wood burning oven, gas ovens, cooking over lower heat, high heat or very high heat.  The heat, while determining the speed of cooking, has different effects on the dough in terms of crispiness, consistency of dough texture, potential “gum line”, and tip sag. 

What?!? I thought pizza was just dough, sauce and cheese (and a cooking source). 

The modern pizza, as we know it, comes from Naples, Italy.  Believe it or not, there is a governing body there that dictates what you must do to create a “Neapolitan” style pizza, called Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, or AVPN (The True Neapolitan Pizza Association), which is a non-profit organization that was founded in June 1984.  According to their regulations, Neapolitan pizza must conform to “Vera Pizza Napoletana“.  The official website states “…the Association is also involved in the promotion and protection of the affiliated pizzerias and products related to the production filer of “true Neapolitan pizza” and in the professionalization of pizza makers.”

This is no different from Reinheitsgebot: German Beer Purity Law. In Bavaria, beer can have only three ingredients - water, barley and hops, defined in 1516.  At that point, yeast was not know about, but was, and still is an important factor in turning sugar into alcohol.  In 1516, yeast entered the process as an airborne organism.  These rules, like the Vera Pizza Napoletana, are still observed today.

In both the pizza and beer example (which do go well together), while the base ingredients are simple, there are enough options that a single product can provide almost infinite variations.  In life, we have many things before us that are simple, but not easy.  To have a child, on paper, is simple as there are three basic steps – conceive, gestation and delivery.  Reality is that it is not easy when you factor in time, timing, and health (of parents) like all things that seem mechanical in nature, it is important that all of the functions be in working order, including, emotions, potential for complications, health (of child to be) and delivery.  Again, there are infinite variations.  While I appreciate the lessons from the day; most importantly, it was a great day, learning about something we both enjoy and, even more importantly, spending the time doing it together.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Everyone Wants a Piece of Me!

With a show of hands, who can honestly say they have never experienced stress?  I cannot see if you are raising your hands, but chances are no one did.  The fact is that, at some point, we experience stress.  At times, there is more than one form of stress pulling at us from different points making us feel like the picture above.  Stress can come from many areas in our, family, friends, and certain situations.  We all have stress to some degree, and some of it can be positive.  Some examples of stress include:

  • Public Speaking – They say that for some people, they would rather be stabbed, drowned and bludgeoned before speaking in front of a group of people.  When I speak or play in front of people, I do get nervous and feel stress over forgetting something.  For me, I turn that feeling into a positive energy.
  • Parental illness – As our parents get older, we worry about how to take care of them, make sure they are safe and, at the same time, do not derail our lives.  We reach a time where they need us and we need to be there for them.
  • Work Delivery Dates – This date can be given (i.e., financial close) or self-imposed through setting expectations to management (i.e., project deliverable dates).  I stress over finishing a project on time, because it reflects the commitment that I made to someone, the impact on upcoming commitments and all tasks fully completed. 
  • Attention of Others (humans or pets) – Time is at a premium and all parts of your life are demanding of your time.  I want to spend time with Debbie, see Gab and Bec when they are home, the dogs are around my feet wanting attention, being social, volunteer VP activities, etc., etc.  How much of us is there to give?

In a recent video, Darren Hardy talked about one way to address stress is not to focus over things in the future.  While we only have the ability to live in the now, the advice given is good when things are yet to happen.  What about the stress happening right now, at this very moment?

What are some ways to deal with Stress?

  • Drinking – Tossing back a few tasty beverages is good to help forget for the moment and might lessen some of the knots in ones back and shoulders.  One should never ever make decisions while drinking and / or directly after drinking.  However, when the cloud of alcohol lifts, nothing has changed and there is a chance that you might have a hangover, i.e. more stress.
  • Taking a nap – A chance to shut down for a short time, if you are able to, and have an opportunity to re-energize, to face what is ahead of you with a more relaxed mind.  While, like the example above, the situation still exists, but it is sometimes easier to address with a clear head.  Rumor had it that Thomas Edison would nap in his lab when he faced an issue and had the solution when he woke up.
  • Taking a walk – I know some people that opt for this option.  By stepping out of the stressful situation and getting a change of scenery, gives you a chance to think / reassess the situation.  Upon returning, you have had the chance to prioritize and plan what you need to do…

I cannot tell you how to best deal with stress, as each solution is beneficial to different people.  I have tried all of the above at some point in my life.  Unfortunately, the things that cause stress in our lives cannot disappear with a wave of a magic wand.  That leaves us with facing, addressing and dealing with the cause or running away, hiding our head in the sand or ignoring the cause.  In the latter case, if we choose to desensitize ourselves to the problems, someone else will have to deal with it.  Unfortunately, this option can become a constant solution and we are forever running from something.  I personally prefer taking a deep breath, thinking about / meditating on the situation, and then address it.  Relieving the cause (at work, at home, at play, etc.) means that I can continue with what I set out to do without fear (or stress) of the cause repeating itself.

How do you deal with stress?