“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul—and sings the tunes without words and never stops at all.” — Emily Dickinson
This is a beautiful message that I wanted to share with alll of you. (Reprinted with permission from Whitney Johnson – WLJAdvisors.)
I was twenty-one years old and freshly arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay, from the United States.
For the next 18 months I wasn’t going to see my family or friends––,we would communicate via letter only, except for a phone call home on Christmas and Mother’s Day. I’d chosen to come to this far-flung place as a missionary, but reality was setting in. Jet-lagged and homesick, I opted for a nap.
I was roused from my slumber sooner than I would’ve liked to discover something wonderful was happening outside my bedroom window. Birds were chirping—not just one or two, but dozens—a grand welcoming chorus. I’d left winter at home; in Uruguay it was spring.
“Hope is the thing…that perches in the soul.”
Over the past few months, I’ve had to make choices. We’re all having to make choices about what future world we want to build out of the rubble of the present.
Will we choose to give up, give in to existential despair, or will we choose hope that in the end all will be well. That spring will come again?
To be clear, there are different kinds of hope. And some ‘hopes’, we would do well to relinquish. Hope that present circumstances would suddenly be different, that bad things that have happened hadn’t happened. These are really wishes, and unfulfillable. As Beverly Flanigan said, “Forgiveness is giving up hope of ever having a better past.”
The past can’t be changed, only our perspective of it. And some of our proximate hopes, things we anticipated rolling our way in the near future, need to be abandoned as well, in favor of longer term, ultimate hopes.
Because as much as we need hope, we don’t need false hope. Which is the subject of this week’s podcast, an interview with Kelly Goldsmith (yes, daughter of one of my wonderful mentors!). I find the conclusions of her research refreshing and helpful during a time of limited resources, and pronounced feelings of scarcity.
Kelly suggests that scarcity itself isn’t the issue, but the absence of hope. When we know that something is truly gone—the boyfriend isn’t coming back, the money is lost, life as we’ve known it has permanently changed—we can mourn the loss and then lean into the constraint that has been created to grow in a different direction. Ironically, it’s when we’re still clinging to unrealizable hopes, uncertain, that we feel scarcity and those feelings become problematic.
People crave certainty, which is hard to come by, but if it’s certain that something is gone and not coming back, it’s better to face it. That’s loss, not scarcity, and when we know something is truly lost we can move on, rather than compensating in ultimately self-defeating ways. If there is hope, let people feel hope. If there isn’t, don’t string people along, inadvertently creating scarcity, thinking it’s kinder. It’s not.
Are you allowing people to feel hope about something that you shouldn’t?
Are you trapped in futile hope for a better past that you need to free yourself from?
What are you willing/able to choose to do to help build a more hopeful future?
Maybe it’s continuing to social (physical) distance when you’ve grown weary of distancing. Or thinking about not only the financial implications, but the long-term public health implications of the virus? Is it extending yourself, providing work for others, when you’d rather save your money for you and yours? Or even finding ways to serve, not necessarily where you want to serve, but where you’re needed?
Then there are the small things you can do. The delicate, little live things. Picking mint from the garden, putting it in a Mason jar with water and lots of ice. Washing dishes with your family after a home-cooked meal. Pushing open the window to listen to the birdsong. Whenever I hear the song of a bird, my heart sings with hope.
In your moments when you want to give up—even just a little—what can you do to rekindle hope? What gives you hope?
I am not looking forward to another month of social distancing (quarantine), or even another day.
How about you? How are you doing?
Are you sad, worried, afraid, or all of that, and more?
The whole idea of social distancing goes against human nature. We are wired to be touched from birth until the day we die. There is even a condition known as touch deprivation that can have serious and long-lasting negative effects on health.
But . . . for now . . . we must practice social distancing to protect ourselves and others from the virus, regardless of how much we hate it .
The lucky ones are people with families who have each other to fill the need for human touch, but many are alone and isolated. I happen to be one of those.
I’m surviving, but forced isolation is not fun!
I’m stuck on an emotional roller coaster ride from which I cannot escape. The uncertainty of how long the isolation will last intensifies my anxiety.
Sometimes I’m OK and can accept that this is a situation over which I have no control. I use my time productively to research and write; then, suddenly – I’m not OK. The walls close in and I wander through a quagmire of fear and doubt, wishing this would all go away. I question if I will make it through unscathed and worry about catching the virus and dying alone.
It’s a relief when I can shake the depression, pull myself together, and become productive again but, I know it’s only a matter of time until I fall into the worry pit for the umpteenth time.
Up and down – up and down – It is not a fun ride.
Have You Discovered the Gift?
During these long, uncertain days and possibly weeks or months ahead, I hope that all of you who are lucky enough to be confined with loved ones will realize that you have been given a wonderful gift – extended time with the most important people in your life.
I encourage you to use the time wisely.
It is the perfect opportunity to do things together that make everyone smile, to get to know each other in ways that your previously busy lives didn’t allow, to enjoy long quiet talks about hopes and dreams, to hold them close, and to let them know how grateful you are that you are together.
What About the Not so Fortunate?
Let’s get out of our heads by helping people who are alone. They may be family members (mom/dad, grandmother/grandfather, aunt/uncle, cousin), friend or work colleague, or neighbor.
We can’t visit physically, so it will require some creativity to findways to lessen their feelings of being cut off from the world. One thing we can do is to check-in every few days; let them know we are thinking about them.
Texting is better than no contact but, let’s be more personal – use facetime, or have a group gathering via ZOOM or SKYPE. Spend quality virtual time. Talk about anything and everything – laugh and have fun.
If they are on the same emotional roller coaster I am on, knowing that someone is there for them can be a critical factor in how they deal with this horrific challenge.
Social Distancing Is Not New!
As I thought about what to say in this post, it occurred to me that we have been practicing social distancing for some time without realizing it. The busyness epidemic, our obsession with technology, and the practice of communicating primarily through texting have separated us by choice. We have lost sight of the fact that we need human touch to remain mentally and physically at our best. Man (or woman) was not meant to be alone.
Realizing the deep-seated need for regular human connection and physical contact may be the silver lining in this terrible dark cloud that has descended on the world. It is a chance to open our eyes, minds, and hearts to each other again – to reach out physically – to hug and hold those we love – to get back in the habit of talking face-to-face with family, friends, and neighbors – to be kind, caring, and respectful toward others, and to come out of this darkness into a better world.
We can start today by holding close the loved ones in our homes and supporting those who are alone.
Social distancing may be required, but emotional distancing is not!
We have the power to make a difference in many lives by holding each other close.
Uncertainty, isolation (social distancing), working from home, fear of illness, etc. etc. It’s all too much!
Living in a world that changed overnight and having no idea what is coming is terrifying and stressful – at least it has been for me. My emotions are all over the place. I just want it to be over, so we can go back to some sense of normalcy.
But – what do we do in the meantime?
We take care of our minds and bodies so we can stay healthy. That is more important NOW than ever!
Take Care of Your Body and Mind with a Healthy Diet
In this world of convenience and flavor-enhanced foods, it is very easy to indulge in foods that taste great but provide little nutrition.
When we get stressed or worried, that tendency increases and we fill our bodies with “treats” that make us feel better for a minute or two.
As difficult as it is – when things get tough, we must double down and focus on eating good nutritious foods that will keep our minds and bodies strong to face whatever challenges lie ahead.
Worry and stress take a terrible toll on the body. The two things that are most important to minimize the toll are exercise and a healthy diet filled with nutritious food.
There is no reason not to exercise since the majority of us are restricted to our homes – indoors or outdoor – just do it! At least 30 minutes each day and in the fresh air is preferable.
The Link Between Diet and Depression
We are living in a strange new world of isolation – or social distancing in the current vernacular – but, we haven’t lost the ability to be smart about what we eat – unless we let our worry rule our senses.
Your daily food choices directly affect the way you feel mentally and physically. If you are using fear and discouragement as justification for stress eating – stuffing yourself with sweets with little thought about nutrition, you are hurting yourself far more than you think you are.
Many ongoing studies are finding the link between diet and mental health.
People who eat a steady diet of processed foods, added sugars and white flour/sugar products are more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression.
Those who consume natural foods including lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – limiting their intake of red meat enjoy stable moods and are not as likely to suffer from depression.
It is difficult to stay positive, keep yourself busy, and take care of your loved ones when you are feeling down.
A new study by the NIH (National Institute of Health) released May 16, 2019, finds that ultra-processed foods cause overeating, weight gain and an increased risk of depression. Don’t let any of that happen to you.
First and foremost . . .
Pay Attention to What You Are Eating
Nutrient-rich foods are necessary for good health and must be the bulk of your diet. Focus on eating foods that are as close to their natural state as possible!
Junk foods, fast foods, and packaged processed foods are filled with added sugars and empty calories (little or no nutrient value). They may taste good, but when eaten as part of your regular diet, they cause weight gain and damage your body. They should be eliminated or eaten rarely in very small quantities.
Healthy Eating Guidelines
PROTEIN – Be sure you eat enough protein. Eggs, beef, fish/shellfish, chicken, pork (including nitrate-free bacon, sausage, ham), lentils, beans, nuts, and some grains, i.e. quinoa.
DAIRY (Another good source of protein) – Milk, cottage cheese, all varieties of cheese, and non-fat Greek yogurt.
FRUITS & VEGETABLES – You can eat unlimited amounts of vegetables and a generous amount of fruits every day – but be aware that some fruits are higher in calories than others.
CARBOHYDRATES – Provide necessary fuel for critical processes in your body – especially the central nervous system and brain; they also lower your risk for disease. It is never a good idea to stop eating healthy carbs. Healthy Carbs – whole grains such as whole-wheat flour, quinoa, oatmeal; popcorn; nuts and seeds; beans and lentils; and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables such as berries, bananas, apples, pears, avocado, carrots, broccoli, artichokes, kale, sweet potatoes, and beets. Bad Carbs (avoid) –All processed and refined foods such as white flour, rice, pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, and refined sugars like table sugar and added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, etc.
FATS are necessary for vitamin and mineral absorption, blood clotting, building cells, and muscle movement. Healthy Fats (unsaturated) – These can be found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and vegetable oils (olive, avocado, and flaxseed). Unhealthy Fats (trans-fats – AVOID Completely)
Foods to Avoid (or Eliminate)
SUGAR AND SUGAR PRODUCTS – These are empty calories; the refining process essentially removes all nutrients. Includes most sweets, ice cream, candy, doughnuts, cookies, cake, pie, desserts. Anything made with white flour, processed sugar, added sugars of any kind, and high fructose corn syrup, etc. If you enjoy desserts – make your own from scratch so you control the ingredients and avoid the additives.
FAST FOODS – Avoid or. . . indulge RARELY and choose carefully from the menu.
JUNK FOOD – Snack foods made of white flour, added sugars, and high sodium content such as Pop-Tarts, chips, crackers, pretzels, Cheetos, Packaged Fruit Pies, Snack Cakes, donuts, chocolate, candy bars, etc.
FLAVORED BEVERAGES – (AVOID or consume rarely) – Sodas, coffee, tea, energy drinks, processed fruit juice, hot chocolate, specialty beverages like lattes and Frappuccinos, etc. Sugary drinks and energy drinks (high caffeine content) should be avoided completely. An occasional cup of coffee or herbal tea is acceptable, just don’t fall into the habit of drinking many cups of fully caffeinated coffee every day.
PREPACKAGED/PROCESSED FOODS – (AVOID COMPLETELY) These are loaded with poison additives and added sugars. Don’t eat them. More and more studies are finding that consumption of heavily processed foods contributes to heart disease and early death.
Be Sure to Get Enough of the Following:
WATER – Keep your body hydrated. Listen to your body, if you are thirsty – DRINK water!
FIBER – Vital for a healthy digestive tract and helps with weight loss (makes you feel full). Fiber can be found in all types of fresh whole berries; dried fruits; fresh whole pears, apples, grapes; vegetables such as corn, sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and zucchini; whole-grain bread, cereals, and pasta; seeds, all nuts (especially almonds), and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, peas, and all types of beans).
MINERALS – Necessary for regulating metabolism, staying hydrated, and building strong bones and teeth. If you eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, in most cases you will get all the minerals you need.
Eat Well and Stay Healthy!
The grocery stores are open! Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, chicken, etc. are available – so shop for the good stuff and eat right.
If you don’t want to go to the store – have it delivered, or order and pick up.
If we take care of ourselves and each other, we will get through this!
Now that you are an empty nester, what would you do without Gimley, your ‘fur baby’ – man’s best friend?
You may even be living alone, trying to figure out what comes next and Gimley keeps you sane.
You are one of the 76 million Baby Boom Generation, born between 1944 and 1964 – a generation that loves dogs.
Dogs have been called ‘man’s best friend’ since they were first domesticated, thousands of years ago. But, Baby Boomers seem to have taken it to heart more than other generations.
They make up 37% of all dog owners – a sizeable chunk of the dog-owning population.
If you are a ‘boomer’ or are related to a ‘boomer, you know their dogs are more than just a friend to keep them company as the years pile up and retirement is looming. They are part of the family.
Why Boomers Relate Differently to Dogs
Baby Boomers were welcomed into a world that was enjoying a new level of comfort. Life was different and possibilities unknown to prior generations were everywhere. This included dog companionship on a different level.
They grew up with their dogs in the home and developed strong bonds with their furry friends at an early age. The connection to pets was intense and those relationships were carried into adulthood.
The Shift from Outside to Inside
Before the Baby Boomers, dogs were primarily outside pets. You may remember the backyard dog houses. But with the Boomer Generation things changed.
Pups were kept inside and integrated into the family, which created a companionship dynamic that had never before existed.
The strong bond Boomers have with their dogs goes a long way in keeping them feeling fulfilled and sociable.
Coping with Change
The companionship and unconditional love that dogs provide helps owners adjust more easily to life changes.
The empty nest – filling the gap when children leave.
Physical well-being (staying active) – dogs must be walked, so owners get more exercise.
Mental health – there are issues that can arise as a person moves into different stages of life. The loving companionship of a dog reduces loneliness and lessens the risk of depression and anxiety
Dogs Are Social Facilitators
Boomers know that dog owners reap social benefits that do not come with other types of pets.
Dogs love to be outside, they love to run and play, and they have to be “walked” for exercise and relief. The result is dog owners tend to get out of the house several times a day and enjoy the side benefit of easily connecting with other dog owners.
A few activities that Boomers enjoy with their furry best friends:
Getting to know the neighborhood and the neighbors
Being part of a dog-walking group
Attending dog-focused events
Regular visits to the dog park
Dogs Are Good for the Heart
When it comes to heart health issues, dogs have your back. According to a nationwide study, dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease.
The researchers also found there is a link between the breed and the relative risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Hunting breeds were related to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than any other breed of dog.
So, if you are in the market for a dog, you may want to consider a Labrador, beagle, Weimaraner, golden retriever, or bloodhound.
And . . . That’s Not all
There are many health benefits of living with man’s best friend.
The companionship and higher levels of exercise that come with having a furry friend lowers the risk of high blood pressure.
It is hard to stay stressed when you feel the unconditional love that dogs provide. Studies have found that the simple scratching of your dog’s head can improve your mood significantly.
To sum it up – dogs are still man’s best friend, just ask any Boomer dog-owner.
In spite of the fact that people brag about being able to multi-task, the reality is that the human mind can only focus on one thing at a time. When you pay attention to one thing the mind automatically blocks out all other stimuli. Multi-tasking is simply jumping from focal point to focal point; but, you are still only focusing on one thing at a time.
The payoff from trying to multi-task is not worth the toll it takes on the individual making the effort.
David Meyer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan states the following:
Doing several tasks simultaneously may seem like the height of efficiency – and it would be, if a person had more than one brain. In the real world, multitasking actually wastes time and reduces work quality.
Many studies have shown that multitasking slows down the mind and makes it less effective. Dividing and distracting the mind causes rapid mental course changes, the inability to effectively focus, and creates stress – which increases with every additional task that is added to the mix.
Imagine a dog who is trying to chase three different balls thrown in different directions. He runs two steps in one direction, three steps in another, and one step in the third. He ends up running in circles.
The mind is the same.
The more time you spend changing mental direction the less time you have to actually focus on a single task.
The more directions or mental tasks you add, the less effective you become.
But . . . that is not the whole story. Another facet of multi-tasking is worrying about events, projects, or situations that have nothing to do with where your focus should be at the moment. Worrying about what has happened, or may happen changes nothing. All it does is drain your mental and emotional resources, making you less effective at the task at hand.
Let your subconscious handle it. The subconscious mind is one of the most powerful tools that we possess. It is unnecessary to make an effort to keep everything at the “top-of-mind” because everything that happens is stored in your sub-conscious.
If someone asks what you did last Monday evening, you do not have to consciously go back and examine every minute of that day to find the answer. The subconscious mind takes over; it instantly searching the brain’s archives, retrieves the memory and quickly delivers it to the conscious mind.
It works the same way with any task that involves memorized actions and facts. Like conscious thoughts, these subconscious processes also utilize brain energy and processing capacity that can go on overload if pushed too far, which can take a toll on your emotions.
The Human Computer
If you compare the brain to parts of a computer, the conscious mind is somewhat like the user interface, the part that becomes visible on screen that can be directed by the click of a mouse to execute a command.
The subconscious on the other hand is like the processor. While invisible, it actually does most of the work, executing on every command within milliseconds after the user initiates it.
Also, like a computer, if you ask it to execute too many commands simultaneously, or give a command that is far too large and complex, it will freeze and lock up.
Let’s look at an example:
You are under pressure to finish an urgent project at work. But, before you left for work this morning you had a fight with your spouse. You have consciously put the fight out of your mind, but your subconscious mind has not stopped running through the words spoken in anger and the emotions that flared.
After a hour or two at work, you realize you are not giving your full attention to the project; plus, you are extremely irritable, which is not typically your nature.
Even though you are not actively thinking about the fight itself, while you are trying to keep you conscious mind focused on the work, your subconscious continues to ruminate on the fight and react emotionally to it.
The emotional response of your brain is creating a physiological and psychological effect that is absorbing all your processing capacity and coloring every other thought you have, even those that have nothing to do with the fight at all.
Essentially, the mind has locked up! The past is controlling the present, making it almost impossible to function effectively and take care of what needs to be done at this moment.
Developing the ability to let go of the past, and stay in the present moment is critical to a high level of productivity and effectiveness.
Then . . . there is the challenge of the future. Some object to the philosophy of “living in the moment” by saying that the present is not the only important time frame – that the future is equally important. I agree the future is important, but there is a caveat that must be added.
Plan, but Do Not Dwell on the Future
We need to plan for the future, short-term and long-term. Setting goals and having a clear picture of where you want to go during the next few months and years will help pull you into the life that you want to create.
But . . . thinking about the future should not be something that consumes a large percentage of your mental time.
Like the past (which is gone and cannot be changed), the future, which has not yet arrived, also cannot be changed by your thoughts. It can only be changed as you live in each present moment – thereby creating the future.
Dwelling on the future is dangerous for another reason – it allows you to stack-up multiple possible scenarios that become stressors. Worry overloads the mind, causing an emotional crash (going back to the computer analogy) followed by mental paralysis.
There is no need to put yourself through that kind of mental anguish when your imagined scenarios may never happen. It is a total waste of time and energy to stress about all the things that may or may not happen. Live in the moment and deal with what actually happens – when it happens!
The brain tends to look at the size of the task involved – rather than stretch it out over time. That is why it is important to break down tasks and challenges into bite-sized pieces, so the mind does not stress out and go into resistance mode. It is also an excellent way to overcome procrastination tendencies.
Now that we have covered the negative aspects of focusing on too many things at once, let’s look at something that can be powerful and useful.
Get in the Zone
There is definitely something therapeutic about focusing on one all-consuming task. The majority of us probably have at least one experience of focusing completely on a specific task and found that it pulled us into “the zone,” blocking everything else from our awareness.
This “zone” is a maximal state of attention, which can also include a maximal state of enjoyment, or a maximal state of pain, depending on the nature of the activity. The more you focus on a stimuli, the more you feel it.
The opposite is also true, the less you focus on it, the less you can feel or perceive it.
The body uses this principle to help reduce pain. When a person suffers from a cut, burn, or other painful injury, the pain can be diminished by massaging the area around the wound. The sensory nerves that react to the massage send pulses to the spinal cord.
At the same time it is also sending inhibitory pulses to the nerves nearby, which lessens the pain coming from nerves in the damaged area of the body. Scientists have even developed devices that can stimulate the nerves so much that they can negate a large portion of pain from severe injuries.
The psychological effect in the brain works the same way. We can effectually block out stressful thoughts by occupying our mental channels with ONLY what is going on in the moment. This is known as “diversion.” In Spanish divertido means fun, entertaining, or funny.
Diversion is the core of using the present moment to find peace of mind and create high levels of productivity.
Live in the Moment
When life is full of chaotic elements that threaten to overwhelm, it is simple to forget them all by focusing solely on what you are doing in the present (the here and now).
Although pleasurable activities are great for this purpose, they do not have to be pleasurable for this to work.
Scrubbing the bath tub can work just as well as binge-watching your favorite TV series. In fact, scrubbing the tub may be even more effective since it requires the involvement of all five of your senses, instead of just sight and sound.
This is why many people find activities such as gardening, jogging, sports, listening to music, painting, and crafts to be very therapeutic. They are great stress relievers. Even workplace activities, when not tied to urgent deadlines, can be relaxing.
This principle of living in the moment is also fundamental to meditation, which is meant to absorb your mind completely – to bring you fully present by focusing on one thing – like your breath going in and out.
Find diversions that work for you – that bring you into the moment – the give you peace of mind and improved performance in anything you endeavor.