Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Category: Pay attention to your health.

One Bite at a Time

top photo of ice cream in ice cream freezer

Stick with me. This post is NOT all about eating.

You may be tempted to think this blog post is all about eating, but it isn’t. We’ll get to the non-food, pay-attention points at the right juncture, so please hear me out as I tell you two seemingly unimportant stories from my childhood.

My parents weren’t much for pontificating, thank goodness. Rarely ever did they sit me down for a long and boring lecture. They opted for the easier way of teaching children: they modeled what they believed. I know; it’s a startling concept, isn’t it? But it’s quite effective. Trust me.

First Story:
Ice Cream!

I must’ve been ten or eleven when my ice-cream-loving father decided it was time to take advantage of the fact that we had a cow who produced A LOT of cream. I’m talking unpasteurized, unprocessed, unadulterated, un-homogenized, un-everything. If you’re a Millennial or a city kid of any age, you have absolutely NO frame of reference. You’ve probably never even seen such thick, faintly yellow, wickedly rich, fresh cream just minutes from a cow’s innards, let alone tasted it.

Once the ice-cream maker was ensconced under our roof one summer, Mother’s Saturday afternoon routine involved loading it up with the cream mixture, packing the whole mess in ice and rock salt, plugging it in, and letting that electric marvel work its magic on our luscious cream. If you’re an ice-cream lover, you’re already salivating, aren’t you? Even I thought the ice cream resulting from this incredibly rich stuff was to die for, and I didn’t even like ice cream all that much.

Each Saturday night, my father was in heaven.

But not for long. You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you? NO ONE, not even my slenderly built, very active, six-foot father, could keep up that kind of ice-cream bacchanalia. After about a month of this ice-cream revelry, my father quietly asked my mother to forego the ice-cream making ritual. Happy to oblige, since it meant less prep time in the dreaded kitchen, she asked why. His short response? “Maybe every so often – when we’re having guests – would be wiser.”

That’s it. Did I mention my father loved, loved, loved ice-cream and that, as a child of The Great Depression, he seldom got it? Can you think of a more powerful modeling lesson in self-discipline?

I can.

Second Story:
Green Beans

This story happened shortly after my father’s ice-cream adventure, and it’s a pretty short one. Again, you Millennials will have a hard time believing this but, once upon a time, there were no microwave ovens. Yes! Really. Just ask yourself how you would use leftovers if you couldn’t quickly nuke them in your microwave.

Effectively using leftovers was devilishly hard back in those Dark Ages. Most households (less frugal than ours, I’d like to point out) parked them in small, lidded glass containers in the fridge. As they were moved back and back and back, they became easier and easier to forget (translation: ignore). Naturally, once they were discovered with mold and who-knows-what growing in them, they could be discarded without guilt.

Not in our house. No sir. We ATE leftovers because, of course, of all those starving children in China. My father was our official, “last-dab,” cleaner-upper. Whenever there was a spoonful of green beans or a quarter-cup of mashed potatoes, Mother would say, “Oh, Bill, just eat that last dab.” And he would. End of problem. No bothersome containers of leftovers in our fridge.

But that came to a halt when he scooted back from table one day and said, “No thanks. I had to move my belt buckle prong over one notch this morning.”

This left my mother in a true quandary: “So what do I do with them?”

Throw them out.”

At this show-stopper response, I stopped playing in the mashed potatoes, jerked up my head, and starting paying very close attention. Did I hear what I think I just heard? Did my frugal father just tell my almost-as-frugal mother to THROW OUT PERFECTLY EDIBLE FOOD?? My mother, just as trout-mouthed as I, stood there in shock. But when he left the table without another word, we knew he wasn’t kidding.

Apparently, I reasoned, throwing away food is preferable to weight creep. Being a kid, I quickly recovered from the initial shock of that unbelievable bit of table drama. In fact, I never gave it another thought until I, too, reached that time of life when the old metabolism just wasn’t what it used to be and began to notice the same weight creep.

Okay, enough of the food stories. What’s the REAL point to this blog post? Oh, wow, there are so many. But I’ve chosen three of what I think are the most obvious pay-attention points from these two non-events from my childhood. Here they are, in no particular order.

Pay attention!
Life happens
in little bites.

Of course, as the title implies, this is the main point of this blog. Though I’ve harped on it in plenty of other blog posts, specifically in Process, Part 1, I’m harping again because it’s such a terribly important life lesson.

Obviously, the word “bites” is standing in for just about anything you can think of – not necessarily food. Wouldn’t it be great if “bites” happened in the TV-commercial-Hollywood-way – in one, great, stupendous action? But, as you know, they don’t. Just about everything in life is a slow process (the good and the bad), and we’d best get used to it. Even better, we’d best pay very close attention to it, in the same way that my father noticed he had to insert his belt buckle prong into a different hole.

red box with white text: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ­– Eleanor Roosevelt

Longest-serving USA First Lady (during Franklin’s 4 terms)

Here’s another vital
pay-attention lesson:
someone’s watching.

And they’re watching one little “bite” at a time. When my father explained why he was forfeiting his cleaner-upper role, I am absolutely certain – in that seconds-long interaction with my mother – that he wasn’t trying to teach my sister and me a lesson. We were not the focus of that decision-making process. He was simply acting on his conviction that whoever lives in the body is responsible for its care and feeding. He was being responsible by refusing extra food, knowing it would take awhile to undo the damage of performing his former role of family garbage disposal.

I’ve never forgotten that incontrovertible lesson that modeling – living – what you believe is usually far more effective than constantly telling others what you believe. You know this: I haven’t told you anything new. But though we all know this, it’s just too dang easy to forget that we’re each living life on a stage with an audience of one or two watching a few seconds of our lives or an audience of one or two hundred watching several minutes’ worth of our lives. Someone’s watching – in little sound bites. What are we teaching? What would we rather be teaching?

red box with white text: “If God has given you the world's goods in abundance, it is to help you gain those of Heaven and to be a good example of sound teaching to your sons, servants, and relatives.” – Ignatius

Tradition identifies Ignatius as the Apostle John’s disciple.

And the third
pay-attention point?
Too much of a good thing
is still too much.

When my father was functioning as the green-bean-and-potato disposal, he was eating good stuff in very small bites. But slowly, the little bites of good stuff piled up and became more than his aging metabolism could handle. They morphed into bad stuff in the guise of excess weight. When he finally noticed, he did what any reasonable person does, he started the process of saying, “No thank you” so that he could put a stop to the piling-up process.

The ice cream story makes this too-much-of-a-good-thing point even clearer. No matter how good something is, no matter how delicious, no matter how wholesome, no matter how right, no matter how healthy, no matter how _______ (fill in the blank with what you’re thinking), it is possible to get too much. When the little “bites” of good stuff pile up, they probably won’t still be good stuff. So I’ll just keep saying, as I did in the post titled, Moderation – Even in the Good Stuff, too much of anything, no matter how good, is still TOO MUCH.

One of the most outstanding figures of medical history

Clearly one of the most outstanding figures of medical history.

Your turn. Did I miss an in-your-face pay-attention point?

©2016, Teresa Bennett

Monitor your relationships to protect your self-worth.

painting of Napoleon Bonaparte on horse

Napoleon, The Arrogant, (aka, Bonaparte)

FYI: though a little like Magic Bullet #4 about relationships, this post takes off in a slightly different direction.

Lots of words have been written about the topic of self-worth. Here’s the deal: as I said when I began this blog, I’m not a psychiatrist, and I’m not a psychologist. I don’t even have an M.A. in counseling. Lacking all those credentials, this blog post will, of necessity, be short and to the point. (No intellectual crowbars needed.) I’m simply telling you what I’ve observed from 65-plus years of living among people.

Here’s more good news. If you’re reasonably well-adjusted, it isn’t as complicated as some would claim. In fact, it’s actually corner-of-the-eye stuff – stuff way out on those outer edges that you know and don’t realize you know.

The Point, in a Nutshell

Here’s the gist of my admittedly amateurish observations.

  • People who think too little of themselves (despite all their bravado and self-assertiveness), come across as arrogant – routinely belittling and tearing others down.
  • People who think too highly of themselves also come across as arrogant – routinely belittling and tearing others down.

Ironic, isn’t it? Two different problems, two very different reasons, resulting in the same Napoleonic behavior. Some mental health professionals might argue that almost all people who habitually tear down others really fit into the first group and that only a few, e.g., narcissists, can accurately fit into the second group.

Whatever.

I say we maintain good emotional health by observing emotionally healthy people – not the sick ones. The people I’ve known who are able to laud and acknowledge others and their accomplishments have a humble but healthy view of themselves and their own accomplishments. In fact, I think they’re able to appreciate others and others’ accomplishments precisely because they’re able to appreciate themselves and their own accomplishments.

So what’s
the pay-attention lesson here?
Hanging with
emotionally healthy people
helps you develop
your own healthy self-worth.

When you monitor your relationships, you’ll find you have some friends or family members who routinely tear you down. Regardless of how deftly they do it or how cleverly they disguise it, sit up and pay attention. If you know them well enough, you might be able to determine into which group they belong, but then what?

Trust me, I’ve spent hours trying to figure out why certain people in my life just could not give me credit for blowing my nose. Not until I was well into my fifties did it occur to me that this was not time well spent. That’s because even when I could pin down the most likely cause for their tearing-down tendencies, I couldn’t do much about it.

Regardless of the cause, this behavior is a character flaw that only the individual herself can work on. And have you noticed when we have in-your-face character flaws we don’t, as a rule, go ’round asking for help with our character flaws? Offering help when none is requested is usually a waste of perfectly good information, not to mention emotional energy. Those who will not help themselves cannot be helped by others. I’ve learned this little tidbit the hard way, too.

Besides, as I’ll keep saying, I’m not a trained mental health counselor. Even if a friend were to ask for help with an out-sized character flaw, I’m not sure I could be terribly helpful or effective. Unless you’re a trained mental health counselor, you probably can’t either. Just recognize you’re out of your depth and guide people like this to someone who can help them. Meanwhile, studiously avoid them whenever possible.*

Yikes. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Some of life’s realities are harsh. How about this one? People who routinely tear you down are NOT your friends. So pay attention to your relationships: determine which people you should avoid and which people you should keep in your life – the ones who will make up the central core of your life. Choose those humble, yet emotionally healthy, people who can laud themselves and others. You’ll learn a ton about how to like yourself and others just from hanging with them. And guess what? It’s a process. (See Process Three.)

* Have you also noticed that most of us keep hanging in there with the tear-downers way longer than we should? Give it up. Let the pros handle the carpers and harpers in your life. That responsibility is most likely waaay above your pay grade. It’s for sure above mine.

© 2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “He who is humble is confident and wise. He who brags is insecure and lacking.” –Lisa Edmonson

Arrogance produces bragging and belittling.

Resource Misconceptions

photo of dump truck at landfill

The I-never-have-enough lifestyle produces this.

Do you ever look around and ask yourself why there’s such a great big ole disconnect between what we know and how we act? Disconcerting, isn’t it, especially when – ick – you realize you’re part of it?

Here’s one example of that disconnect I’d like to harp on, and I’m certain you’ve already thought of it. We act as if we think our world’s natural resources are limitless but we never think we, personally, have enough of them.

Resource Misconception #1
We have PLENTY of natural resources.
They’re limitless.

We act as if we believe this, even though reams of research and talking heads tell us otherwise. We here in the U.S. are particularly myopic and greedy, accounting for a minuscule five percent of the world’s population but using a whopping 24 percent of its resources. We know better, but we’ve assumed the fingers-in-the-ears, hands-over-the-eyes stance. La, la, la, la; not listening, not listening.

Maybe it’s because we live in such a large country that’s bountifully blessed with natural resources. (Those of us out here in the West look around and ask, “What’s the problem? We’ve got plenty more to use up!”)

Maybe it’s our inherited national psyche resulting from the fact that our country is one of the few in the world purposefully settled

  • en masse
  • over a relatively short period of time
  • by people who were on a very serious quest for a better life.

From the beginning of our nation’s history, we’ve looked around with covetous eyes, seen all these delectable resources, and figured they were ours to take and use any way we pleased. Shucks, there were so many we’d never use them up. Bad news: we’re using them up but then, you already knew that.

So, when we’re paying attention and being honest with ourselves, we know the world’s resources are limited. Now we come to our second misconception.

Resource Misconception #2:
“I don’t have plenty of resources.
In fact, I never have enough.”

What a difference, eh? We act as if we believe our world will provide plenty of everything necessary and unnecessary for human life, on the one hand. On the other hand, we’re constantly and consistently grabbing whatever we can because, after all, we don’t believe we personally have plenty. We don’t have enough! We figure we:

  • don’t have a large enough home and need to “move up.”
  • need another _____ with four wheels.
  • really deserve to ditch the five-year-old TV and buy a newer, bigger, techi-er one.
  • have waited long enough to get that slick smartphone that “everyone else already has.”

Now let me say right now, I don’t know anyone in middle-class America who’s willing to say “I don’t have enough” aloud and in public. I’m not sure I know anyone who would say this privately to herself. It’s just so pitiful, and plenty of us would rather have our tongues cut out than sound pitiful – even to ourselves. But though we don’t verbalize it, I know this is a very real resource misconception because most of us ACT this way.

Yikes, this kind of cockeyed thinking makes me crazy!

Especially when, if I just pay attention to my life, I can clearly see mounds and mounds of resources – all mine and already paid for in time, money, and energy. Things like:

  • a kitchen full of utensils, making meal prep a no-brainer
  • a block-size grocery store a mile away, filled with all the raw ingredients for the above, and the money to buy that food
  • a closet full of clothes, all appropriate for what I need to do and, for now, all fitting
  • a closet floor full of shoes, ditto above
  • a garage filled with two cars
  • a workshop area with every tool we could possibly need (and a bunch we don’t need!)
  • a house full of furniture and furnishings

And then there are the less tangible resources most of us also possess:

  • a community of friends and family who provide all kinds of support on an as-needed basis
  • carefully nurtured good health and good healthcare
  • inherent talents, as natural as breathing, to be used on the job or simply to benefit family and friends
  • cultivated abilities, e.g. repairing a bathroom stool; wiping every bit and byte of ID-sensitive files off a hard drive; taking portrait-studio-worthy photos, etc.
  • expertise acquired from six years of very expensive university studies
  • emotional insights acquired from life’s painful events (Yes, they’re resources; they’re the “tools” we use to help others going through similar situations.)
  • good enough health to work and earn money
  • sturdy legs to walk anywhere
  • eyes to see all the beauty around you and let it sink into your soul
  • a quick mind that allows you to catch on to your manager’s latest ideas quicker than anyone else at the table (always an endearing trait to those above us)

Here’s the irony in this sad saga. We’re not paying attention to the fact that we do indeed have plenty of resources of every imaginable kind, and so we tend to use up a disproportionate amount of the world’s diminishing and not-so-plentiful resources. We grab more and more because, pitiful souls that we are, we “don’t have enough.”

Make a list
of your own personal resources.

Pay attention to it. Take it to the next step: revel in it. Post it somewhere prominent where you can’t miss it. Make it a habit to review it daily. Realize you have enough, and give the earth’s not-so-plentiful resources a much-deserved break!

Meanwhile, let’s delve deeper into this topic of resources with this post on functional fixedness. (It’ll be fun, unlike many of my previous posts. 😀)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” – Gen. 2:15, NIV Bible

Translation: TAKE CARE OF resources.

red box with white text of Luke 12:25: ". . .life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."

The I-never-have-enough lifestyle won’t work.

Magic Bullet 2: Wouldn’t it be cool if maintaining good health were easy?

photo of young women on edge of bed, holding head in hands, and feeling unwel

No magic bullets for health dilemmas

In The Point, I promised to expose myself to a boatload of embarrassment on this blog, in hopes of sparing you some of life’s common problems. This post is chock full of embarrassing info, so pay attention!

Sometime during my forties, I began having several little health problems, all seemingly unrelated. Up until that time, I’d been very healthy, so this new chain of events was irritating, to say the least. (Up till then I’d pretty much stomped my Type-A foot down on that accelerator and zoomed on down the road of life.) 

For years and years, I practiced magic-solution, vacuous thinking.

  • If the chiropractor can make the right adjustments, I’ll feel great.
  • No, wait: if the dentist can just make a few adjustments to my bite pattern, I’ll feel great.
  • If the neurologist will just do whatever it is that neurologists do, I’ll feel great.
  • If I can find the right meds, I’ll feel great.
  • If I can find the right supplements, I’ll feel great.

But the health incidents kept increasing and escalating in severity. My new normal was alarming. In desperation, I fired off the mother of all magic bullets – major sugery. Bad idea: it helped very little.

After surgery, I became unhealthily skinny. I slowed to a quarter of my usual speed. I was depressingly fatigued by the slightest of everyday stressors. All this necessitated a dramatic decrease in my client workload. I saw doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist, submitted to test after test, procedure after procedure – with practically no help from any of them. And on and on, until I faced the music: lots of problems all intermingled, no magic bullets to be found.

Now what?

It was time to throw out the magic bullets. It was time for serious research.

The more research I did, the more I learned about my body. That’s when I made the melancholy discovery that I’d definitely not been paying attention to my own body. It was embarrassing what I didn’t know about my body – and didn’t care that I didn’t know – until it no longer worked.

Along the way, I picked up a tidbit that helped this symptom, something else that helped with that symptom. I learned with much disappointment that I’d been living in very unhealthy ways on a number of fronts until one day – voilà. I struck the mother lode – a major piece of information about celiac. Once I adjusted my diet, life improved considerably, just four “short” years after my magic-bullet surgery.

Almost everything I’d learned along the way helped a little bit – and sometimes, though not often, a lot. I began to realize that there were several health problems all playing into each other. As I talked with others who’d gone through similar experiences, guess what? I wasn’t unique! Our health issues are complex because our bodies are complex. Duh.

Most doctors are short on time and short on knowledge of all modalities. They practice either conventional medicine or alternative medicine, but very rarely both. They prefer specialist income to GP income, so they specialize in one narrow field. Not overly concerned with how all the body parts work together, they either know ALL about the skin or ALL about the brain – but not both. (And the specialist to whom you’re referred is not the only sage on stage, just so you know.)

In short, very few docs are looking at the big picture: your body in all its complexity and all its parts. But let’s be fair: no doctor can know all about your daily physical and mental habits – the countless things you do every day that have a slow, steady impact on your health. There isn’t a medical/health questionnaire long enough or thorough enough to give a health professional all of this very necessary information.

Drop brainless magic-bullet thinking.
Adopt these intelligent-thinking concepts.

It’s what I should have been thinking all along – and how I hope you’ll think from this day forward.

  • The person who lives in your complex body is the person responsible for its care and feeding. Even though you’re the one who’s sick, YOU will need to pay meticulous attention to your health issues – because precious few in the medical community will. They’ll be looking for the one problem they can fix with their one magic bullet from their very specialized area of medicine.
  • Ask your close family members or spouse to pay attention to your health. Often, their feedback will be far more objective than yours.
  • Pay attention to The Big Picture and take note of all its little problems that may be interconnected or contributing to the seemingly isolated Big Problem.
  • Pay attention to all of you: your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical states and how they interact.

 And lastly, tattoo this on your brain: firing a magic bullet at a health problem is just folly gone to seed. Dooooon’t do it.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text of a quote from Quentin Regestein, M.D. about the patient's job of taking charge of his own life.

A respected doc: there’s no magic health bullet

%d bloggers like this: