Sunday, September 16, 2012

Serendipity and CNN's Sunjay Gupta for Breakfast!

Serendipity is great because it's almost always good, and it comes when you're least expecting - like a gift from the university as new agers might say.

I'd been up less than 5 minutes this morning when Sunjay Gupta of CNN's Fit Nation reached out through my tv screen with a dose of high powered serendipity

He was interviewing Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, whose latest claim to fame is getting the city to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces - take that you Big Gulps!

Bloomberg says very matter of factly that this year for the first time more people might die from obesity, having too much food, than from having too little.

I've been wanting to write about healthy eating, and how our sugar driven, meat laden diets not only are unhealthy and death dealing for us as individuals, but are also a threat to the sustainability of world agriculture. And here, at 6:30 am is Bloomberg giving me the lead-in to what will be a series of articles here over the coming months.

And I hadn't seen it coming - which is what makes it serendipity of course.

To his credit, CNN's resident doc and neurosurgeon, Sunjay Gupta, has become an advocate of all the good things we can do to make ourselves healthier, and isn't afraid to talk about such things as vegan diets, triathlons and daring to live a lot differently than most of your neighbours.

And that's when he zapped me the second time with a shot of serendipity.

As I was pouring my freshly made coffee, and enjoying my multi-grain porridge with bananas and blueberries - no added sugar or dairy, Sunjay describes his next guest as one of the world's top athleletes.

"This will be good," I thought, not realizing just how good.

When he mentioned his next guest's book, Finding Ultra, I almost sprayed my nearest cat with a mouthfull of coffee. (Sometimes serendipity leads to that kind of response.)

This serendipity was also a coincidence as it so happens I am in the middle of reading Rich Roll's book Finding Ultra. It's subtitled Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World's Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself. As chance would have it, I hadn't gone looking for Finding Ultra; it just happened to be on the new arrivals cart at my public library.
Roll told Sunjay Gupta how he had been overweight from over-eating, too much junk food, and a couch-based after-hours life style. When he couldn't get up the stairs in his house one night without pausing, breathing hard, and wondering if a coronary was on the way, he knew something had to change.

From reading the book, I know what changed was that he reached back into the memory of school years when he had been an avid, driven athlete on land and water, and began running again. Not only that, he soon changed his diet to a concentrated nutrient, plant based cornucopia of thoughtfully prepared, tastey ingridients. No more meat, dairy, or anything else which had come from the animal kingdom.

The serendipity, besides reading Roll's book, was that I had been going to write about it when the opportunity arose. And now it had been served up with my breakfat.

Also, serendipity because, after yeterday's post on Free Money Day, which was sponsored by Post Growth, an organization concerned about world financial issues and sustainability, I had been wondering how to start writing more intentionally about sustainability.

Diet, ecology, sustainability were all great interests of mine when I became a vegetarian 18 years ago, as was running. Time, poor choices, burnout had all conspired to dull those interests - although I have faithfully maintained my vegetarian diet.

Recently, I've become something of a foody, a devotee of the Food Network which often causes me to cringe because of the obscene amounts of butter and meat which are so often used in their recipes. But those negatives didn't stop me from becoming more interested in better ways of preparing the food I eat.

Over the summer I've read some recipe books, tried to learn good knife technique, and ways to prepare more dishes. The other night I made my own pancake mix from scratch, following the maxim of Canadian chef Michael Smith who says you don't have to be tied to a recipe.

So yesterday, my first step toward writing about these various interests and how they're inter-connected came from Australiam doctor Donnie Maclurcan, who wondered if I wanted to write about Free Money Day. I did, and you can find that article here.

And less than 24 hours later it came from Sunjay Gupta's one-two serendipity.

I urge people who are interested in health and fitness to see that show.

Likewise, Finding Ultra is a positive, joyous book about the amazing changes we can make when we decide that the time for life-altering, major transformation is at hand.

These changes aren't easy, and they require the ability to do certain things on a regular basis whether you feel like doing them or not. But as Roll points out in his book, one gets used to new ways of living, and they become a habit. Especially when you find yourself feeling greater health and increased happiness and well-being.

(To that end, I'll note my modest achievement toward change this week: This is the fourth day in a row which I have got up before 6:45 am, and after breakfast, immediately sat down to write. Though unplanned the serendipities have been most encouraging, so I thank Donnie, Sunjay, Mayor Blumberg, and Rich for their unknowing roles in the process.)

As former interests related to ecology, sustainability, individual health, well being, mindfulness, diet, etc became a greater part of my awareness in the last few months, I realized two things: These interests from one perspective could be viewed as an Exuberant Eclectic's grab bag of this, that, and the other thing.

Though that has a somewhat cynical sound to it, I wouldn't disagree.

But thanks to the passage of time, and what we've learned in the last 40 years, all of these interests are more interconnected  than we thought back then or than may be readily apparent today. In the context of what we know now, rather than being a grab bag so much, these interests are the warp and woof of a great human tapestry on living well on Earth, and treating our planet with the same love and compassion with which we would hope others would treat us. 

And, ideally, with which we should treat our own self.

If this post seems unfinished, with loose ends, and assertions made but not backed up, it's because it is. This, like each of our lives, is a work in progress.
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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Celebrating Free Money Day

Dr. Donnie Maclurcan plans to spend part of this afternoon giving away a total of $500 to complete stranger in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. 

"Free Money Day is a global invitation for people to explore, in a liberating and fun way, what it might be like if our relationships to money were a little better," says Donnie in a news release.

Which explains why this Australian doctor, who is a co-founder of Post Growth Institute, the sponsoring organization, will be giving away money this afternoon.

And he isn't the only one, according to the news release: "One hundred and twenty-two Free Money Day events are scheduled across 6 continents and 23 countries, from India to Nigeria, Colombia, Australia and the U.S. More than US $3,600 has been pledged."

People who receive money on this, the second annual Free Money Day, are being asked to give half of it away to someone else.

Today's activities are a way for people to explore the dynamics of sharing. In the process, Post Growth hopes people will reflect on ways of creating prosperity and well being in a world plagued with financial problems, and poverty on an individual level. The organization recognizes there are limits and costs to growth, an idea many of us were first introduced to back in the 70s by the Club of Rome's book Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind

The notions in that book have developed over the years, and are often expressed in terms of sustainability and the need for public policies to make that possible.

A powerful voice for sustainability today is the Worldwatch Institute which each year publishes a book called State of the World devoted to an aspect of sustainable development. Last year's State of the World, subtitled Innovations that Nourish the Planet, focused on food. State of the World 2012 focuses on Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity.

Post Growth shares similar concerns about sustainability, but seems to place more emphasis on involving ordinary people at the local level who would form a global community. From the Post Growth web site:
Our aim is to create a movement of 10 million people who are convinced of the need for futures beyond economic growth, believe they are possible and feel inspired and supported enough to play a role in their emergence. Post Growth members work to create thought-provoking and reasoned information and initiatives, opportunities for meaningful action and connect like-minded individuals and groups working towards post growth futures.
Currently Post Growth is a virtual community, with collaborators spread across many countries and our core team hailing from Australia, the United States, Canada, Greece and (occasionally) Sweden. We come from a wide range of backgrounds each committed to making a better world for everyone.

Donnie explains, "Free Money Day is a global invitation for people to explore, in a liberating and fun way, what it might be like if our relationships to money were a little different....

"As living becomes progressively harder for many individuals, sharing becomes more obvious as a path to sustainability.... 

"With world debt at over US $190 trillion, and debt connected to growth economics by necessity, now is the time to explore how we might thrive in futures beyond economic growth."

The timing of Free Money Day is no accident, as it coincides with a pivotal event in the 2008 financial crisis: the fourth anniversary of Lehman Brothers investment bank collapse.

I'm thankful to Donnie Maclurcan for informing me about Free Money Day. Before starting my morning writing I made a quick check of Tweetdeck, and he had sent me a direct message asking me to write about it.

That invitation neatly answered the question I was struggling with: what will I write about this morning?

And it raises another questions also: Who might I give money to this fine day?

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Making a Comeback

Thomas Magnum on the 80s tv hit series, Magnum PI, often spoke of "my little voice."

I think we all have such a voice. Over the summer mine continually repeated the same message:

"What do writers do? Writers write."

My little voice was trying to tell me something. Somewhere back last winter I stopped writing, and wasn't sure why.

And then at the end of February, due to recurring knee problems, I stopped my karate training which, I love and miss. 

The background depression with which I live gradually deepened, but it took me until spring to realize it. The coming of spring with warmer days and more hours of sunlight lifted my spirits, but the depression persisted. As did my issues with ADHD and executive function.

I was in a mess. At the beginning of June I turned 64; the long term disability which began four years ago as a result of a major life crisis, and the related burnout, would stop in a year's time. And here I was, not yet able to return to work, and very much stuck on any of the projects which might over time help to generate some income.

Over the summer I alternated between anxiety and panic on the one hand, and what I hoped was some realistic thinking on the other. But the problem was, I didn't know what to do.

I tried to meditate regularly. While striking out on the regular part, what meditation I did was helpful. Mindfulness is everything it's cracked up to be.

But I remained stuck. I knew I needed to restart The Exuberant Eclectic, and move ahead. Yet, I had lost confidence, though I continually tryed to put the pieces together, to create a plan which would work.

Twice in the past few years I have tried to work with friends who would be my "external brain," with the hope that being accountable to someone with whom I discussed my plans, would help me to get unstuck and actually working on my ideas and projects.

And twice I had unintentionally managed to sabotage the process. Not intentionally. 

I needed to do something different. Bottom line - I am responsible, and it is up to me to make the choices and pursue the alternatives which will overcome my stuckness.

My ideas for the future, including developing this blog, involve various activities. That's where executive function comes in - EF is the part of the mind/brain which enables people to make choices, maintain a sense of time, attend to their tasks, transition from one task to the next, and all the other juggling which results in completed projects. My executive functioning more often than not is in dysfunctional mode.

Many times this summer I looked at notes I'd made for what I wanted to do - so many things, so little time, and where to start? I could see writing was a common factor in most of what I wanted to do. But how to find time to write, and do all the other things. Everything seemed important. 

Interestingly, I felt help was at hand - I just didn't know where or how to find it.

Then, this week, I was reading the daily internet newsletter EarlyToRise, which is edited by Craig Ballantyne.

How to Get Back on Track was the top headline, followed by: "Summer is over. School is in. It's time to get back on track. Today, be inspired to return to those habits that might have been slip sliding away from you. It's time to re-take control of your success."

I knew, having read Early to Rise over the years, that Ballantyne was one of those guys who liked to get up at 5 in the morning, and plunge into work. My own preference for getting a later start has kept me from giving serious consideration to his ideas, and maybe that was part of the reason why I didn't start at all. 

Now I was desperate. Besides, I had this little voice which kept saying, "Writers write." And for Ballantyne, writing was his top priority, what he did when he did at the top of his day before many people have even got up.

I had to take Ballantyne seriously.

Later in the day I was using my Kindle desktop app, and saw that I had Ballantyne's  Time Management: How to Get More Done in Less Time

I had bought it back in May, and barely looked at it. This week I read it in one sitting. For Ballantyne, the top priority is his writing. He does that first thing in the morning for a couple of hours. He doesn't even look at email until at least 10 am. He wrote about how hard it is for some people to transition from one activity to another (an executive function issue), and I was saying to myself, "Yeah, that's me." He suggested everything else in one's day is more likely to fall into place when a person gets up early and focuses on his top priority for a couple of hours.

Reading all of this on Monday, I decided I'd get up at 5:30 am Tuesday, and I set my BlackBerry's alarm accordingly. When I got up in the middle of the night, having had a poor sleep, I turned off the alarm. I got up about 7:30 am, my usual time. I felt crappy all day. But I read Ballantyne's words again. I decided to set my alarm for 6:45 am, and be working by 7:30 am. Here I am now, writing for the last hour and a half. I hope to gradually set my alarm earlier and earlier so that I can become comfortable getting up at 5:30 am. 

So, I'm back.

During the summer, I was aware of coming back to interests and concerns which had once been very important to me. Fortunately, they provide much to write about. I have now the challenge of maintaining my writing while doing the reading and research which will lead to a continual flow of blog posts.

I can hardly wait to see what happens!  :)
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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Celebrate World Happy Day!

A positive, inspiring film called Happy will have more than 500 screenings in 40 countries on Saturday, Febrauary 11 - a day that has been designated World Happy Day!

Happy was made by Rod Belic, whose film Genghis Blues was nominated for an Academy Award. Belic spent six years traveling around the world, asking ordinary folk and experts questions about what makes us happy.

The Happy website proclaims "a happy world begins with you!"
Does money make you HAPPY? Kids and family? Your work? Do you live in a world that values and promotes happiness and well-being? Are we in the midst of a happiness revolution?
Roko Belic, director of the Academy Award® nominated “Genghis Blues” now brings us HAPPY, a film that sets out to answer these questions and more. Taking us from the bayous of Louisiana to the deserts of Namibia, from the beaches of Brazil to the villages of Okinawa, HAPPY explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion.
 This is a film I very much want to see. As a chaplain and therapist, I've met many unhappy people, enough to know that unhappiness can be very different from being depressed, though depressed people by definition are seldom happy. I think of unhappy people as being people who are unfulfilled. So what is it that makes us happy?

According to a story about Happy in The Winnipeg Free Press, "One of the qualities happy people have in common, he discovered, is a sense of connectedness to their community. So rather than distribute the film through traditional channels, he (Belic) turned its release into a grassroots group activity."

This notion of happy people feeling connected to community makes a great deal of sense. Human beings are social, relational beings. We are also a species which, regardless of culture, takes delight in story telling, and almost always those stories are about our interactions with other people. 

Happiness has been a major topic of human consideration for thousands of years.

Apart from Belic;s initiatives in making and promoting Happy, the 21st century has seen ground-breaking efforts by Bhutan, which has resulted in thousands of people in countries around the world looking at happiness in a new way.

You've heard of gross national product. Well, Bhutan, one of the world's most isolated and poor countries, has come up with the idea of "gross national happiness (GNH)"

Bhutan's Gross National Happiness site provides a fascinating overview of the concept, and of how it's been implemented in that Himalayan kingdom. There's nine domains which are considered in the nation-wide survey to determine the level of GNH:
"The nine domains are: psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. The domains represents each of the components of wellbeing of the Bhutanese people, and the term ‘wellbeing’ here refers to fulfilling conditions of a ‘good life’ as per the values and principles laid down by the concept of Gross National Happiness."

Throughout history people have pondered about happiness, and how we can become - and stay - happy. One of the first people to make a major inquiry about happiness was Greek philosopher Aristotle, more than 2,300 years ago.

Aristotle was concerned with the question of happiness. From his studies and reflections, he came to believe that happiness is  central to a meaningful and worthy life. According to a site called The Pursuit of Happiness, Aristotle linked happiness to "the ultimate purpose of human existence."
"The main trouble is that happiness (especially in modern America) is often conceived of as a subjective state of mind, as when one says one is happy when one is enjoying a cool beer on a hot day, or is out “having fun” with one’s friends. For Aristotle, however, happiness is a final end or goal that encompasses the totality of one’s life. It is not something that can be gained or lost in a few hours, like pleasurable sensations. It is more like the ultimate value of your life as lived up to this moment, measuring how well you have lived up to your full potential as a human being."
Of course, Aristotle was a philosopher, so it's probably not surprising he took a deep and serious view of what happiness is. Perhaps today, we might use the terms joy, or abiding joy, to describe what Aristotle considered happiness.

Nonetheless, Aristotle's work provides a helpful corrective for modern notions of happiness, which are often superficial. Frequently, those who have started off equating happiness with the party circuit, or being able to buy whatever they want, or being the center of attention, have learned such happiness fades after a while. One's reminded of the old song which had as its refrain words to the effect of "is that all there is?"

The saying that "money can't buy happiness" captures this idea, although a comedian in the 60s quipped that if you have enough money "you can rent happiness for awhile."

Back to the present - the film Happy is more than just a movie. It's meant to bring people together, reflecting on the lives of people whose stories are told in the film, and on their own lives. Involvement is key to the kind of grassroots response Belic is hoping Happy will elicit.

And from involvement comes a greater sense of connection and community participation. Here's information on how you and those you know can become involved in the ongoing Happy movement.

Here's the link to the Happy blog. Check it out!

This coming Saturday - February 11 - let's celebrate World Happy Day!

Monday, January 23, 2012

You'll Never Guess What Helps Weight Loss!

 I'm as skeptical as anyone else when it comes to "new" ways to lose weight - often they come with a hefty price tag, require strange twists in your diet, and may not even work.

And this is the season the legitimate weight loss industry as well as all the hucksters crank up their efforts to make sales. This is weight loss time, folks - the heavy eating season is less than a month past, and spring beckons us to shed pounds so we'll look good on the beach, at the gym, or on the tennis court.

So you'd expect me to be skeptical about a way of losing weight that doesn't require any physical exercise, costs virtually nothing, doesn't make you do funny things to your diet, and is safe for people of all ages, regardless of their health.
But I'm not. It makes sense to me. And this miraculous way of dropping pounds is...
Are you ready....?

Keeping a journal. Yes, that's right. Keeping a journal.

Turns out a little introspection and time spent with pen and paper encourages weight loss.

According to this story in Cosmo on-line "women who wrote about things that were important to them lost an average of 3.4 pounds. The women who wrote about things that weren't important to them actually gained 2.7 pounds."

 I was flabbergasted by this data. But more to the point, this wasn't from an advertising agency, or someone trying to sell something.

It's based on research conducted at Stanford University and Renison University College at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Who would have thought that journaling could have such a beneficial effect.

Just some paper and a pen. Color co-ordinated Moleskines are optional.

Check out the Cosmo story for why scientists believe journaling about what's important to you may help with weight loss.

Or just start writing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Time for Sanity About Men's Mental Health

The Guardian today raises some interesting and life-impacting questions about men's mental health. Here's the headline:
We tell boys not to cry, then wonder about male suicide
This story is timely. In the last year we've heard reports of hockey players, with a history of depression, who have taken their lives. Also, many of us have male friends and acquaintences who have killed themselves. The Guardian article, by Ally Fogg, is based on the weekend disclosures by former English footballer Dean Windass that he twice tried to take his own life.

Fogg, correctly noting the horrid teaching that many of us men had as boys, that we shouldn't cry, that tears are a sign of weakness, and not appropriate for a real man, writes: 
With such beliefs (literally) beaten into us from an early age, it is easy to be shocked by the candour of the former footballer Dean Windass. In a heartbreaking interview on Sunday he described two suicide attempts in the past few days. "Everyone thinks that Dean Windass is a laugh and a joke and a kid blah blah blah, and got loads of money and his wife and kids are lovely," he told the People. "But that's all a mask. I was in pieces, I couldn't stop drinking or crying. I've cried every day for the last two years."
 Windass is suffering from depression. Interesting, at 42, he is the same age as the Wales manager Gary Speed who committed suicide in November.

From the Sunday story on Windass: "The former Hull City striker admitted to The People this week he is battling booze and depression after retiring from the game he adored.... He said: 'I have cried every day for the last two years since retiring.'

Whether men are taught to repress emotion and tears, or not, we still have emotions. And many men, who won't admit it in public, cry in private. We suffer from depression, but often are reluctant to seek help, or to become so weak as to accept the stigma (often self-imposed and only in our own minds) of having to take anti-depressants. Many men instead self-medicate. For years, as I coped with chronic depression, the local bar was a favorite place to self-medicate.

It stuns me when I hear boys are still told that men don't cry, to wipe up the tears and don't carry on as a sissy. Such ill-founded advice can become the words which help drive some of them to a self-inflicted death as men, or even when they're teenagers.

Retirement is a horrendous experience for many men, especially for top footballers such as Windass and other athletes who, due to the relentless process of aging, have to retire from what they love so much at relatively young ages. Why should anyone be surprised that depression and suicidal thoughts often follows such retirements?

For any of us who have work for which we feel passion and are good at, depression ramps up when we can no longer do what we love. It's that work which provides meaning and purpose for many men (and women), and when we can't do that work the meaning leaks out of our lives, to be replaced with feelings of desolation. With the desolation it's common for thoughts of suicide to arise. I'm on disability, unable to do the work I love (spiritual care and therapy), and so I speak from experience. In the last year, for the first time in my life, I have faced thoughts of taking my own life. It's scary as hell.

But unlike some of the people we read about, and all too many of those who actually take their own lives, I am fortunate. I have an excellent psychiatrist who I see weekly. I have my mindfulness practice. I began taking karate in fall 2010. I take my medication - and yes, though often I still feel the incredible pain of depression, the medication helps. It shifts the balance of forces in my favour. Anything that helps is good. And, I live with the growing hope that by the end of this year, I can again be a working chaplain and therapist - everything I do in the meantime is aimed at that, and that's the point. I am fortunate enough to have a plan and a strategy, and all the professional help I need. All too many men do not. The same goes for women, and youth of both sexes.

Also, during more than a decade of providing spiritual care and therapy to others, I relearned the valuable lesson that there's a place for tears. Tears help. They may not solve a problem, but they provide a valuable release. I feel no shame about my tears, even though I grew up with the "men don't cry" teaching.

The Guardian story notes men often don't do a good job of accessing mental health services. When they do, they may also have alcohol or drug problems. Traditionally, both the mental health and addictions services have not worked well together, and that means increasing the chances of patients falling through the cracks created by professionals who should know better.

(Dr Ken Minkoff, a Harvard psychiatrist, has developed what's known as a co-occurring disorders initiative, so that any person with both a substance abuse problem and a mental health issue can receive timely, integrated care. He's created what he calls a "Comprehensive, Continuous, Integrated System of Care (CCISC) Model." I urge people to check out his site; it reflects an ideal which in most places doesn't exist, yet it provides a strategy for how care can be provided for people with alcohol/drug and mental health issues. Minkoff is doing some of the most important work in the field today.)

Another aspect to men and mental health has to do with the somber reality that men, as well as women, are sexually abused as children. Some estimates say as many as 20 percent of men may have experienced childhood sexual abuse (compared with 30 to 35 percent for women). Yet, men are much less likely than women to disclose their sexual traumas. That's changing, and some courageous men in professional sports have set a good example by disclosing. The point, though, is that undisclosed, untreated childhood sexual trauma becomes one more suicide risk factor for men later in life.

From my perspective, we need to do much more for both men and women to ensure the availability and utilization of good mental health care. It's time to deal with stigma, and to ensure health care systems and professionals provide the care we deserve so we can heal, and so suicide statistics decline.

I'll give the last word to Ally Fogg, using the last words of his fine article in The Guardian today:
There is no single, simple solution to the suicide epidemic. The first stage must be to acknowledge the problems, at both an individual and societal level. It takes immense courage and strength for men to speak about their own mental health, flouting our deepest conditioning. For that reason, we should not only wish Windass a full recovery from his current illness, but recognise that in speaking up and seeking help he did something more courageous, more important and, perhaps, more truly manly than anything in his distinguished career on the pitch.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Neat Approaches to New Year's Resolutions

At the front end of 2011 I wrote at length about new year's resolutions, the three main reasons they fail, otherwise known as myths 1, 2, and 3, and some ideas about how to keep resolutions by avoiding procrastination.

If your problem keeping new year's resolutions is procrastination, or if you're curious about the three  myths check out last year's post.

What I have to offer this year, and I've deliberately timed it well into January so it can be the "just-in-time" help for anyone floundering at keeping their 2012 resolutions, is a few ideas.

The first comes from a friend, and it's wonderful in its simplicity.

Rather than make a list of the all the things she hopes to do differently, she reflects on words that surface in her mind as she reflects on how her life is.

For example, the word "connection," may arise. And so she thinks of all the ways she is connected with people and life around her, and whether there are some different, perhaps better ways, to create connections. Connection becomes a theme to be lived out in the new year.

Someone else could choose, say, the word "learning," and think of all the different ways new knowledge could come into their life.

While this approach doesn't require the traditional list of resolutions, nonetheless one needs to be aware through the year, of the words and themes which have come to mind, and have been chosen to characterize one's thoughts and actions. Journaling could be a good adjunct to this approach.

People use all kinds of tools to create their resolutions. From pens and paper to computer software, everyone has their preferred way to craft their resolutions. Mind maps are a favorite for many because they're more visual and dramatic than a mere list, and thus can have more impact.

One of the neatest examples of using software for resolutions is this one from The Brain, a unique information management program which is said to emulate the way our brains organize and connect information.

In The Brain blog, this graphic example is given of one way of organizing resolutions:

2012 Goals Visualized

The resolution is to live to be a 100, and the offshoots all relate to actions and lifestyle choices which, at least in theory, enable that to happen. Attached to some of the items displayed are links to web sites and relevant documents. This graphic from The Brain Blog does not begin to give any idea as to the program's power to handle information or to move quickly - seemingly at the speed of thought - from one piece of information to another. Some people's Brains have tens of thousands of items!

Shelley Hayduk of The Brain writes that "the news media reports that yesterday (January 9th), nine days after people make their resolution, is the day when most people give it up. So clearly without the right backup system for your goals things can slip away."

Oops! And here it is January 17th already!

Luckily there's still time to get over to Shelley's great blog post Seven Steps to Make Your Creative Vision a Reality. This post, though written in June 2010, is at its most timely right now. Anyone seeking ways to be more successful at realizing their dreams should follow Shelley's advice: "With PersonalBrain you can leverage the power of visual thinking to make your goals a reality. Here are seven essential steps to making your creative vision a reality. Be sure to download the template Brain and watch the recorded webinar at the end of this blog entry." Check it out.

There are many web-based, desktop, and paper programs for tracking the projects and next actions which flow from resolutions. One of the best web/desktop based programs is NOZBE, which is based on David Allen's Getting Things Done approach. NOZBE has recently undergone some major upgrades, works across various platforms, is compatible with Evernote, and to my mind is better than ever.  (Disclosure: I am part of NOZBE's affiliate program.)

Here's the Amazon link for Allen's best-seilling Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Also good reading is Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done. If you want to pursue Getting Things Done, or GTD as it's known, take a look at my 7,000 member Yahoo GTD group - feel free to join and to share your experiences or ask questions.

I appreciate NOZBE for tracking projects and next actions. However, as some readers are aware from other posts I've written, I struggle with ADHD and executive function issues. In plain English that means I find it hard, if not impossible, to start work, or to carry it through to completion. So I combine Getting Things Done with the Pomodoro technique. Here's a link to a free 40 page PDF booklet on how to use Pomodoro.

This technique focuses on how time is structured, and relies on a Pomodoro (Italian for tomato, and the shape of many kitchen timers in Italy) to provide work periods of 25 minutes broken up with brief breaks of 5 minutes or so. The site explains in detail how the system works. I've been experimenting with it the last few days, and have been amazed at two things:
  • How easily I start my work
  • How much I am actually accomplishing
A 25 minute unit of time is called a Pomodoro, and I have a kitchen timer which I set for 25 minutes - even its ticking in the background seems to help keep me focused. Why does it work? In part, I think because I know that after 25 minutes I can take a break - there is little to no anxiety about getting into something long and involved. Complex tasks may require five, six or more Pomodoros - one 25 minute Pomodoro at a time.

One other reason why it's working is that I have a friend with whom I've discussed my plans for the year, and for this month. We've worked out a protocol for me to be accountable to my friend as to what I intend to do, and what is actually accomplished. I keep a running log of intention and actualities on a shared Google document. From past experience, I know that if I am not accountable to someone, I'm at risk of losing track of what needs to be done, even forgetting important tasks from day to day.

For people with ADHD and/or executive function issues, more external support and structure can make the difference between success or failure. I think of my friend as my "external brain."

Because of commitment to Pomodoro and the ongoing dialogue with my friend, aka external brain, I feel more optimistic than ever that my resolutions for 2012 will be actualized.

One of my resolutions is very simple: Complete and bring to fruition those ideas and projects which are important to me, and to those around me.

Whatever ways you, the reader, choose to set up and structure your resolutions, I wish you success beyond anything you can imagine!