Nov 292011
 

Too many of our days flow by, busy but not memorable only 48 hours later.

Here are the lyrics to “If Today Was Your Last Day” written by Chad Kroeger. I think that the message is well worth a few minutes of contemplation.

My best friend gave me the best advice
He said each day’s a gift and not a given right
Leave no stone unturned, leave your fears behind
And try to take the path less traveled by
That first step you take is the longest stride

If today was your last day
And tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you have?
If today was your last day

Against the grain should be a way of life
What’s worth the prize is always worth the fight
Every second counts ’cause there’s no second try
So live like you’ll never live it twice
Don’t take the free ride in your own life

If today was your last day
And tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you have?
Would you call old friends you never see?
Reminisce old memories
Would you forgive your enemies?
Would you find that one you’re dreamin’ of?
Swear up and down to God above
That you finally fall in love
If today was your last day

If today was your last day
Would you make your mark by mending a broken heart?
You know it’s never too late to shoot for the stars
Regardless of who you are
So do whatever it takes
‘Cause you can’t rewind a moment in this life
Let nothin’ stand in your way
Cause the hands of time are never on your side

If today was your last day
And tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?

Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you have?
Would you call old friends you never see?
Reminisce old memories
Would you forgive your enemies?
Would you find that one you’re dreamin’ of?
Swear up and down to God above
That you finally fall in love
If today was your last day.

We might not step up and do all the things we know we should, but let us live today well, for it truly is a gift.

I.M. Optimism Man

Nov 222011
 

I try to stay away from politics because people are usually very polarized and emotional in their political beliefs. But today, with the “failure of the super-committee” in the headlines, I am compelled to say a few words on the topic.

Imagine that you have a grown son, David Cole, who is 34 years old, married to a great positive girl.  David, or D.C. as you have always called him, hit the ground running after graduating from Yale and now has one kid in 3rd grade, one kid in kindergarten, and a third in the oven. He landed a good job with IBM as a major accounts salesman when he graduated from Yale, worked hard, had a few truly dynamite years where the commissions were generous. He bought a substantial 4,500 sq. ft. five bedroom in Barrington Hills, financed two german luxury cars, joined Bushwood Country Club as a junior executive member, and recently bought a time share in Tahoe. The bills were being serviced but his family budget was very tight.

Two years ago, D.C. showed up on your doorstep for a loan.  “Mom, Dad, I’ve had a lean year. I was transferred to a new data warehousing division at IBM, the product is not as solid as it should be, it isn’t selling well and the commissions I was counting on are not coming through. I’m sure that they will fix the software soon and you know I’m a top gun sales professional. I need fifty thousand to get me over the rough patch but I’ll pay you back over the next two years.

You don’t like it, but you agree to loan David the money with no interest. The next two years pass and you can’t help but notice that D.C. is living larger than before, a new Benz sits in the driveway as a replacement for the previous one that was only 4 years old when traded, his wife shows up for the family traditional Sunday brunch invariably wearing new shoes from the boutiques of the Galleria, and the 3rd grader is sporting her own Apple 4S smartphone. You ask D.C. about when he plans to start paying you back several times over the two years.  The answer is always flavored with excuses and really soon Dad is the ultimate message.

Today, D.C. is back on your couch in the den, hat and Starbucks in hand. “Mom, Dad, over the last years, I have borrowed more than I should have and I’m now deep in debt with credit cards, the house, and my margin account at Merrill. I’m in danger of not making my payments, losing my house and my cars, and it turns out that D.C. Jr needs to go to a special school that helps kids with ADHD. Please give me another $60 K and I’m sure that I will turn this around.

What would you do?

I would bet that an austerity discussion would follow. I think all of us would discuss the Bushwood golf membership, the shiny cars, and the real need of five bedrooms in Barrington Hills when Peaceful Valley has great schools and good value. D.C. argues how he “needs” all of it, every bit, to live his lifestyle. “I can’t earn big commissions if I have to take clients to lunch in a Honda, Dad – you just don’t get it.” More revenue is coming – he will get the generous commissions again soon – the loan is just to bridge this year’s budget. It will turn around.

Our elected politicians in D.C. are not being adults. More and more revenue squandered (revenue sounds better than taxes so the pols have renamed it) does not get Washington D.C. or America a permanent fix. It is time to downsize the government, pay down some debt, live within our means, and save for a rainy day. Why can’t some not see the parallels with D.C. and the advice that they would immediately and vigorously give their own son?

I believe America’s best days are in front of us. We need to hurry up the process. We need to elect a new administration and demand serious bi-partisan cooperation that actually does their job — making tough adult decisions for the future of America — rather than the good’ole’boys that simply fight for their own re-election. Lets stop electing life-long politicians. I’m all for electing candidates who are actually qualified and experienced at running big businesses well. We need brave leadership and financial common sense, no matter which party each people’s representative is affiliated with.

The super-committee was not asked to come up with a huge budget haircut, relative the US GDP or tax revenues or current spending, but they super-failed none-the-less. Time to elect some adults to D.C.

It is not up to gentlemen in the picture above – they just had their chance to be all-stars for the people. It is up to us to demand that our representatives start acting like adults. It is up to us to elect qualified leaders. This is not about the 1% versus the 99%. This is not about more revenue to pay for Bushwood and healthcare for all. This is not about capitalism being broken. This is 100% about the U.S. government moving to a four bedroom in Peaceful Valley and giving up the timeshare in Tahoe.

Washington needs to fix just one core-issue, well. Pick one place to start. Fix social security. Now. If they fixed one thing, people would regain confidence in them and they could move on to big issue number two. Throw the American people a bone and optimism will return.

I.M. Optimism Man

Nov 162011
 

Please take out a scrap of paper and write down the initials of the ten people that you talk to most often in daily life — your most-frequent-friends-and-associates — outside of your immediate family. For most people, this group is usually co-workers, but really what I’m targeting is people that you talk to many times each week.

Please don’t peek at the rest of this article until you are done with your quick list of friends and associates.

After you have your most frequent-10 on paper, go back and think about each person for a few seconds.

If the person brings you up, motivates you, and adds optimism to your life most of the time, put a + plus sign next to their initials. On the other hand, if the person brings you down most of the time, complains a lot, sucks you dry by demanding your constant support, and often tells you that things won’t work out, put a – minus sign next to their initials.

What’s the verdict? Are the majority of your most-frequent-friends-and-associates helpful in your pursuit of optimism, happiness, peace, fun, and success? If not, consider making some changes. It is hard to be optimistic if you are surrounded with daily negativity and its nearly impossible to sustain lifelong optimism if you are the only beacon of light in your group.

Circle the two people’s initials that are the most negative of your frequent-10. Your mission is to greatly reduce your daily interaction with these two people. Find two positive, optimistic people that can move into your frequent-10 in their place.

Wishful thinking will not change things. To find, you must invest the time and search. Daily life improves dramatically when the vast majority of your daily conversations are positive instead of negative. Repeat this substitution several more times over the next couple of years and you are well on your way to being surrounded with friends that make your life better and help you succeed. There are millions of people out there — don’t settle for pessimists in your inner circle.

I.M. Optimism Man

Nov 092011
 

What gets measured, gets improved.

I’m a huge proponent of goals in certain areas of life, but you don’t always need to set specific, stress-you-out-when-you-stumble-a-bit goals to improve your daily habits.

Our minds play tricks on us. When it comes to changing bad habits into better ones, humans are usually convinced that they are doing better than they really are — it is “ostrich syndrome” — most of us stick our heads in the sand, preferring not to face the accurate reality of our daily actions. We always thing we are doing better than we are on the bad habits front.

Change is difficult and changing daily habits is exceptionally so. No matter if you want to eat more portions of healthy fruits and vegetables or reduce the number of alcoholic drinks you have in a week, the best first step is to face your current situation and understand your true baseline reality.

People often make a fatal mistake when they try to change their habits: they over-do it. They set a very difficult goal and take the drastic plunge. Many people go from never going to a gym to a goal of working out five days each week. Others decide to stop eating sweets every night to limiting themselves to one desert every two weeks. Of course many stumble, they become disappointed with their lack of will power, and they fall off the program for months on end.

When it comes to starting a new daily habit, consider not setting specific goals. I suggest keeping a tally count, with a time and date stamp, each time you “do it” or “eat it” and then review your tally weekly.

There are readily available tools that work great for this. On the iPhone, I love a little program called Tallymander (update — this program seems temporarily unavailable for some reason on AppStore — I sent the developer an email (OM)) which allows you to set up any number of tallies, then click it to record when something happens. Not only does the program keep a count but it also makes it simple to email yourself a report in a spreadsheet-ready file that includes the exact date and time you clicked on any tally. Brilliant! Tallymander is a great addition to an optimist’s technology arsenal. Of course, a tiny Moleskine booklet, making marks on your calendar, or sending yourself an email are all other efficient ways to keep your accurate log — the trick is that you must have your logging method with you at all times — in my case, my smartphone is omnipresent.

After four weeks of logging, you will notice the extraordinary magic of pale ink and optimistic, conscious thought. By simply keeping an accurate log, most people notice that they in fact start improving week-over-week without making the drastic and often unsustainable goals. The log itself becomes a motivator. The person simply gravitates to beating last week’s number by a little bit. This progress is the normal, natural gravity of the conscious mind, a sustainable way to modify one’s bad habits for the better, without all the guilt, stress, and frequent failure of “setting super hard goals and then missing them.”  The disappointment associated with letting oneself down in the hard core goals method is what often torpedoes long-term habit change success.

If you have an iPhone, download Tallymander from the Apple AppStore and start with just one item. If you eat french fries or chips, my suggestion would be track the portions that you eat — we could all afford less of both — I’m 100% sure that four weeks from today, you will eat less of this stuff and your arteries will rejoice, without the pain associated with hard-core goals.

After you focus on your first item for two or three months, your improvement becomes a good habit. Then it is time to change your tally to the next item.  If you can substitute four good habits for bad habits each year, it really adds up to serious change for the better, over ten year’s time. Most importantly, by using this tally method, your optimism grows with each success.

Logs and tallies simply work better for habit-change than hard-core goals. I personally used this method for reducing “Complaints” last year — I even enlisted my family to help point out whenever I complained a bit and faithfully recorded each event in Tallymander — in four short weeks, I was averaging less than one per day!

Nothing will make you more optimistic about life than personally getting rid of complaints. Please re-read the previous sentence twice. Imagine how different our country and the world would be if we could convince everyone in America to complain just once per day!

I.M. Optimism Man

Nov 032011
 

A lot of people say “I want to live to 100!” Others wish to be slim and fit today. I go one step further and declare that “I want to live to 100, be fit every day for the rest of my life, and still be spry in my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.”

This is not an easy goal given the sedentary nature of our modern society. Few of us walk, lift, carry, and exert ourselves as part of our daily life. We often sit for 90% or more of our waking hours hunched over a computer keyboard, talking on the phone, drinking our coffee. We sit in our cars stuck in traffic yet complain when we have to park a bit far from the front door of the supermarket. We sit at lunch, and at dinner, and in front of the TV at night.

The key to fitness is not one thing — the “how” and “how often” we exercise — which seems to be the topic most people bandy about.  Rather, success at health and fitness has everything to do with leading a life of integrity, staying disciplined on the core decisions that all impact your health.

One’s health comes down to a number of factors, many of which are in our own control and a few that are not. We cannot control our genes. We might not be able to control exposure to certain viruses.  But we can control many things that all play a big part in the equation.

Fitness mostly comes down to having integrity and discipline in seven main areas:

  • Exercise for strength
  • Exercise for aerobic endurance
  • Eating good quality food
  • Eating the right amount
  • Getting plenty of quality rest
  • Reducing and avoiding stress
  • Avoiding items that are clearly not good for your health
    (excessive anything, like alcohol, caffeine, bacon, butter, salt etc.)

Please take a minute and give yourself a letter grade (A B C D) in these seven areas. Are you going to the gym and lifting weights like Hans and Frans, but eating double whoppers with cheese twice per week?  Are you running 5 miles a day but then sleeping only 5 hours per night and skipping breakfast?  Are you eating vitamins like they are your one and only plan to win the health lottery?

Integrity is the true answer. If you have a goal of longevity and fitness, decide to get straight A’s from here on out.  Integrity demands that you make the disciplined choices.  It is easy to cheat when you are in your 20’s — a light workout followed by a pizza binge still works — but this all adds up when you hit the second half of your life.

From a personal perspective, I had a hard time committing to aerobic exercise, preferring to lift weights whenever I had a choice.  Two years ago, I decided to follow an every-other-time strength vs aerobic schedule, lifting weights on one day and then doing aerobic sessions during the next workout.  It works because I decided to no longer give myself the option.

The most common conversation at the gym is “how” a person works out, but most of the gym rats would be best served by focusing on what and how much they consume.  Diet is a huge component of long-term health, as is rest, as is stress reduction.

The debate should not be about the value of yoga vs. pumping iron vs. running vs. racquetball.  Building great habits takes time and persistence — adjust your habits a bit at a time and keep track of your decisions in a fitness journal. Making notes is very encouraging. Don’t get discouraged if you fall off the train once in a while — get right back on the next day.  Believe you can, and you will find that progress does in fact happen.  Yesterday does not matter whatsoever but choices made today matter a lot.

Integrity, balance, optimism, and discipline in one’s physical fitness plan is the answer to giving yourself a chance to earn fit, spry, and playing with great grandkids at 95.

I.M. Optimism Man