Young, Determined, and Persistent

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Can you see the figure in the distance? She’s one of my role models, the one I look for each time I go walking at Scott Park. Young, determined, and persistent, she’s there winter and summer, in rain and sun and wind. And yes, she’s there the other seasons of the year too. Without even knowing her name, I’m impressed with her.

Young, she’s doing something important for her body that will stand her in good stead when she’s older. Developmental psychologists state that the human body is at its optimum level of functioning in our 20’s and 30’s, and many people in that age category somehow magically believe that the state of health they enjoy currently will be theirs in ensuing decades. I’m pretty sure that humans reach their physical peak around 25, and after that it’s a slow, steady, inevitable decline towards old age. All this is to say: Put on those shoes and join my friend and me at the track.

She’s determined. When I first saw this young woman, she was heavier than she is today. Because of her determination and persistence, she has not only lost a lot of weight, but she has also become more toned and less sluggish. I’m not sure how this works, but persistent involvement in moderate exercise can actually energize us, not deplete our energy resources. Note that I said “moderate exercise.” You don’t need to run several miles a day. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week can do you/us a world of good.

Although I’ve already alluded to the persistence aspect of my young friend, there’s something else I need to mention. So many people start diets and exercise regimens in a gung-ho manner, and after a couple of weeks, they’re making excuses for staying on the couch: the weather, a cold, too tired, and many other alibis too numerous to list. They’ve also probably begun sneaking French fries and sipping sugar-laden drinks. An occasional indulgence is okay; a steady diet of them is not.

Am I a doctor? No. I don’t have the scientific aptitude for that. What I am is a senior citizen who is aware of the long term consequences of health decisions that we make when we’re young. It’s never completely too late to turn things around, however. I say “never completely” because once certain diseases take hold, it might be everlastingly too late.

Back to my young, determined, and persistent friend, I missed seeing her couple of days recently, and when I recognized her in Wal-Mart, I asked about her absence. It turned out that we had been visiting the track at different times. Plus, I’d been doing a lot of beach walking. We chatted about the stress relieving factor of exercise, and she said that her children had recently urged her to go. They didn’t want a cranky mom, and as young as they were, the little ones realized that exercise was good for their mother’s psyche and mood. But that’s a story for another day.

For today, I’m interested in hearing your exercise success stories. How has consistent exercise helped you physically and emotionally? How do you find time for it?

Light at the End of the Tunnel

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There was a brown journal in the small cabin where we stayed in Bryson City, NC  a couple of weeks ago that was fillled with advice, suggestions, and memories from the people who had stayed there. If we hadn’t read the journal, I doubt that we would have heard of The Road to Nowhere and the spooky tunnel at its end. Since several people wrote about it, we decided to take a look for ourselves.

Amazingly, Everett Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Bryson City, just ends a few miles outside of town. It doesn’t fork off to the left or right. No, it’s a dead-end. Once we had traveled as far as the road would take us, we parked the car, walked a few steps, and there was this amazing structure, a tunnel about 1/10 of a mile long.

Sometimes tunnels are creepy and scary, especially the underground ones. No wait. I think the underwater ones are pretty intimidating too. I recall riding in one to Fort Monroe, VA with my brother and his wife a few years ago and being so relieved when we saw that little speck of light at the end of that tunnel. The Bryson City tunnel was “average creepy.” Dark and dank with graffiti covered walls, it had an eerie ambience, and we walked briskly through it.

I’ve written about the light at the end of the tunnel concept often. Sometimes a person can be in the midst of some trial or heartache and start believing it will never end. It could be the demands of taking care of young children, the stressors of attending college while juggling home and family responsibilities, or dealing with the challenges of illness. Just like the person in the middle of a tunnel, you feel boxed in. Everything is dark, and you can see no relief in sight. And then one day, there’s a little pinpoint of light. It gets larger and larger until finally you can actually see the other side. THE LIGHT!

There’s truly light at the end of the tunnel as you realize that things are getting better. Some issues people deal with are long term. Raising children is a lifelong commitment, but there are moments even in the throes of the diaper changing days that are blissful. In college, there are moments of clarity, insight, or peace when you know you can make it. And as for the illness aspect, one day you realize that you can eat again without feeling nauseated or stand up without feeling wobbly.

A tunnel mentality can be applied to so many areas of  life. Just yesterday, a friend who’s planning a trip abroad said that at one time in her life she couldn’t have afforded an overnight trip to Myrtle Beach. In her words, the family “lived lean,” and she was always stressed out about whether the bills would be paid. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but for now there’s illumination rather than darkness on her finances.

I realize that all of the above scenarios are simplistic. Perhaps you’d like to add your own experiences with light at the end of the tunnel. Please do. There’s surely someone in Blogland who can benefit from reading it/them.

Getting Over It

Today was such a marvelous day in South Carolina that I just have to share a few tidbits, especially since there were a few lessons thrown in for good measure.

I’m skipping the part about insomnia, something I’m always plagued with the night before a big event like the Cooper River Bridge Run. You’d think I was expected to be a front runner or something! So I got up at 4:30 a.m. and headed off to Charleston to “get over it.”  The race was to begin at 8:00, and since I was in the K-group, I figured it’d be 8:30 before I crossed the Start line. Boy, was I wrong.

Because of a problem with the bridge (never found out what), it was almost 10:00 before I finally headed towards the bridge and Charleston. While waiting, I entertained myself by watching some zany people. I also chatted with some cool ones. My favorite new stranger/walker/friend is a woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a year ago. After six rounds of chemo, she was pronounced cancer-free. Today she was doing the Bridge to celebrate life and health. Before we parted company, she extracted a promise that I’d make an appointment for a physical next week

Walking and jogging, I crossed Shem Creek and headed toward the bridge. One advantage of being at the back of the pack is that the people there don’t take themselves so seriously. They laugh and tell funny stories and encourage one another. They also take time to stop and take pictures. My favorite family shot was of a couple cradling a baby between them. The baby was wearing super size sunglasses, and the father had some weird hair going on. I think it was a wig.  I smiled as I thought of how neat that picture would be to the family as the child grows.

I spied several men wearing red dresses, and two of them were walking near me. Feeling brave, I told them that they won the prize for originality, creativity, and pure guts. “Thanks,” they said. Then one of them told me that he had considered wearing his blue ensemble and then opted for the red. “Good choice,” I said. “It makes a bolder statement.”

As I passed other walkers and joggers, I overheard snippets of conversations, some of which were quite interesting. About three miles into the event and almost halfway over the bridge, I heard a man say, “Sometimes I think it’s just pure luck.” His walking buddy replied, “Yeah, but perseverance is important too. Just sticking to something and not quitting can make a big difference.” I wondered if they were psychologists, career counselors, professional employees, or regular guys who were trying to figure things out. Whatever their status, their philosophy applies to just about every area of life.

And the music! Oh my gosh, it was fantastic. That’s an understatement. The bands and the sounds they made were awesome beyond words. Some were so good that race participants took a break to dance along the way! At a street corner in downtown Charleston, we were greeted by an Elvis looking crooner with a great voice. The band performing at the park was ultra talented and entertaining. So were the men and women who danced on stage. Their costumes were original and “fun,” and their joie de vivre was contagious.

And the food. It was great too. I sampled an apple, some ice cream, and a bagel. Oranges, bananas, yogurt, and water were available too. The vanilla and chocolate ice cream tasted so cold and creamy as I stood listening to the band on stage and watching the dancers. I looked up at the clear blue Carolina sky,  glimpsed the American flag, and then caught sight of a father dancing with his daughter on his shoulders. What a morning!

To no avail, I tried to get together with Lauren and Kelly. I didn’t see Ben, Lisa, or Lynn either. Still, it had been a fun morning, and reluctantly I left to walk towards the busses that took race participants back to Mt. Pleasant. On the bus, I sat next to someone who had completed the Chicago Marathon, and I enjoyed listening to her story.

Tonight as I remember all of the upbeat sights and sounds, there’s only one downer. Not only after we got into the city, a man missed his footing somehow and fell to the sidewalk. I heard a couple of people scream, and startled, I turned just as he hit the pavement, blood gushing from his forehead. I hope he’s okay tonight.

And I hope the 44,000 folks who “got over it” had a swell time. And I hope you’ll join us in 2013.

Lessons and Lavender Flowers

The grown-ups were sitting in Dunkin Donuts at the Outer Banks when I got the text from Elizabeth that she’d just passed the halfway mark of her first 8K. Since she was walking, and her cousin Sarah Beth was jogging, I knew that SB would soon be nearing the finish line.

“Let’s go Y’all,” I said, wrapping my pumpkin muffin and heading for the door. “If Lib’s halfway through, then Sarah Beth is probably getting close to the finish line, and we don’t want to miss that!.” 

We hustled to the car and rushed back to the school where the 8K had begun 30 minutes prior. Jumping out of my Highlander, we scattered in different directions: David to the race course to spot his nieces along the route, Becky and I to the inside gate of the track, and Mike and Lisa to the finish line to see Sarah Beth cross it.

I loved waiting there with Becky. We were both charged with the happy anticipation of seeing the girls come into view, feelings intensified by the gorgeous day. With temps in the 60’s, a gentle breeze, the sunshine on our arms and faces, we couldn’t have asked for a lovelier day. Then too, there was music, laughter, squeals from children, and the smell of popcorn wafting across the center of the track.

My phone rang. It was David. “Elizabeth sighted,” he said in his best military officer tone. Then he added, “She’s looking good. Strong pace.”

A few minutes later, Becky and I spotted her in the distance, and I couldn’t help but feel a mother’s pride. She had done it! She had stayed the course and completed what she had set out to do. As Elizabeth came through the open gate and onto the track, she asked me to join her in walking towards the finish line. LOVED doing that!

Earlier that morning, I had reminded both girls of one of my favorite terms in psychology, self-efficacy. Loosely defined as one’s ability to make something happen despite challenges and difficulties, I told them that self-efficacy was actually more important than ability. There are plenty of folks out there of average intellect and ability who believe in themselves and their goals so much that they work like crazy to achieve them. The moment someone decides, “I can’t,” she’s right.

As Elizabeth and I walked that last lap together, I asked, “So, was there ever a moment that you let doubt creep in? Did you ever find yourself wondering if you could do it or not?”

“No Ma’am. I knew I could do it. A couple of times, I just thought, ‘I don’t really want to.’”

I had to chuckle a little. Isn’t that often the case? We know we can. We just don’t want to. We’re tired or stressed or bored. We’d rather be stretched out in a hammock somewhere. We’d rather be doing anything than what we’re doing. And yet, there are times when quitting is not an option. We all have to do things that we don’t want to do whether it’s performing our jobs, getting up with a crying baby, paying bills, doing our homework, or completing an 8K.

At the finish line, we saw Sarah Beth with her parents. Happy and sad at the same time, she had achieved a personal best and yet there had been no one there to witness it. Since no one knew what a little speedster she had become, we misjudged her estimated time of completion. We all hated that, and I hope that she doesn’t let our poor judgment detract from her accomplishment.

Although they don’t know it, Elizabeth and Sarah Beth provided examples of some important life lessons:  belief in oneself, going the distance, and doing what’s required whether there’s anyone there to take note of it or not. Sometimes those private, inner victories can be sweet.

And here’s another lesson from Elizabeth. Along the course, a little girl ran up to her and gave her a tiny lavender flower. It was one of those unexpected treats that made the journey a little more enjoyable. Lavender flowers are everywhere. We just have to look for them.

Shake it Off

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs.

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs. Hmmm, now that I think of it, sometimes the criticism and skepticism are right up front.

So should a person go for it or continue playing it safe? I think you know my answer to that! It’s tied into positive psychology, a mindset that emphasizes optimism, personal choice, and happiness in human development and overall mental health. Generally, the so-called lay person thinks of psychology as a field in which people with mental and emotional disorders are helped by talk therapy, drugs, or ECT, and while those things happen, psychology is much, much more.

Here’s a neat story that fits nicely into this topic. A couple of Sundays ago, I attended church in Myrtle Beach and heard a story about an old donkey who fell in a deep, dried-up well. His owner tried to get him out, but his efforts were in vain. Finally, he realized that nothing he did was going to get the donkey out of the well, so he came up with an alternate plan. He called his neighbors and asked them to bring their shovels so that they could help him fill in the well. After all, it was dry and useless, and the donkey was old anyway.

At first, the donkey brayed and carried on something fierce. He was scared and angry. Still, the men persisted in their dirt shoveling. Suddenly, they realized that the donkey was quiet, and when they looked down into the well to see what was going on, they saw something remarkable. Every time someone hurled a shovel of dirt on him, the donkey shook it off and then stepped up on it. The men continued shoveling, and the donkey continued climbing until eventually he was above ground.

You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to see the moral of the story. When life throws dirt on you, shake it off and keep stepping up. You don’t have to get buried by dirt. You don’t have to stay trapped at the bottom of a well. No matter how many people are actively involved in shoveling dirt on you, you have a choice to shake it off and step up…or not.

One of my friends got a rejection letter about a story she had submitted to a magazine. I wrote her on Facebook and said, “Yay! It means you’re actually doing something instead of just talking about it.” Another had a poem of hers criticized for having too many gerunds. Did it bother her? Probably. And yet I know she’ll shake off the dirt and try again. As I write this, I’m thinking of people who are making jewelry, drawing birds, writing stories, writing books, and training for a marathon. I feel certain that in all of their lives there are people with their shovels raised and ready to use.

I hope my friends stay the course. I hope they keep shaking off the dust regardless of who’s shoveling it or how much gets dumped on them. I hope they’ll read this donkey story and that it will help them the way it helped me.

Wandering in the Desert

When Paul and Amanda and Olivia were here this past weekend, Paul and I had a brief conversation about some psychology books I had recently read. He listened politely (someone taught him some excellent manners), but then mentioned that he looked at those specific books as “self-help.” I’m not above reading self-help books, so it kind of caught me off guard. Then he said that if he needed any help, he’d look to the scriptures for answers.

Hmmm. I agree with him that the scriptures are replete with advice, stories, and instructions on how to how a fuller richer life. There’s also lots of encouragement about overcoming fear, many reminders about loving one another, and several stories about people who veered off the straight and narrow and faced some dire consequences.  In fact, there are so many parallels between self-help books and the scriptures that I can say with assurance that regularly dipping into these types of literature has saved my life (figuratively speaking) on many occasions.

Back to Paul. I talked a little bit about the exodus out of Egypt and of how, to me, that was an example of how people don’t have to live lives of slavery…or even of unhappiness. A person can change his life IF he has the desire. He might have to leave behind a former way of life, walk through the Red Sea, and wander around in the desert for a while, but he can do it. In other words, change is hard. Whether the proverbial desert is for four days or four years or longer, you’re going to have to work, and you might have to eat manna instead of steak and potatoes.

Last night as I recalled our conversation, I thought of the man who led this exodus, Moses.  I thought of how he tried to get out of his “calling” by telling God that he had speech issues.  But God knew that Moses was the man He wanted and wouldn’t take no for an answer. We know the rest of the story. We know that Moses led the people out of bondage and that his brother Aaron was his mouthpiece (at least some of the time).

What I’m getting from this second story is that God wants everyone to use the gifts He’s given us, and when we agree to do so, He’ll find a way to help us succeed. It might not be a speech challenge. It could be your looks, your social status, or your misperceptions about your abilities. Whatever it is, God can work through and with you IF you’re willing to walk around in the desert for a while. Overnight success is pretty unlikely.

So yes, I agree with Paul about the scriptures being the original self-help book(s). Sometimes I just need a little helpful commentary to help me understand them better, and that’s where psychology, philosophy, and literature come in.

Gambaru Pablo!

What I want to say to Paul and all the other recent graduates is something I learned from reading about Ann Curry’s parents last week (guideposts.org). Gambaru! It’s one of my new vocabulary words, one that Curry’s mother used to tell her when she was on the verge of giving up or quitting something. It’s Japanese for “Never ever give up, even and especially when there’s no chance of winning.”

One of the gifts my children gave me for Mother’s day is a photograph book from Shutterfly. I love it! It’s a compilation of pictures of the three of them along some “Momisms” that I’ve preached (oops, taught) them over the years. When I was leafing through it again yesterday, I noticed that Paul is the only one of the three who mentioned “Never give up.” I’m sure my lovely daughters heard, “Keep on keeping on” in a variety of ways, just like their brother, but it just didn’t make their top ten.

Never give up is on my mind this morning because Paul is finishing graduate school this summer and has begun a serious job search.  He knows all of the social networking “stuff” and has tweaked his resume (can’t get the punctuation marks to come up) to a tee. It’s a tough market out there, but I’m confident that with his looks, intelligence, perseverance, competence, charm, human relations skills, and attitude, he’ll find just the right position. Yes, I’m a little biased, but that’s a mother’s prerogative.

What I want to say to Paul and all the other recent graduates is something I learned from reading about Ann Curry’s parents last week (guideposts.org). Gambaru! It’s one of my new vocabulary words, one that Curry’s mother used to tell her when she was on the verge of giving up or quitting something.  It’s Japanese for “Never ever give up, even and especially when there’s no chance of winning.”  Raised as a  Buddhist, Curry’s mother Hiroe couldn’t find a temple in America when she needed spiritual sustenance. She couldn’t speak English very well either and was often ridiculed. A tough lady, she had battled tuberculosis earlier in her life and won. This is the kind of mother Ann Curry had.

Her father Bob Curry was a tough cookie too, a strong man who instilled the values of family, love, hard work, and loyalty in his children.  A  Navy man, he met Hiroe when he was stationed in Japan after World War. Life as a mixed-race child in a poor family was hard for Ann and her siblings, and he often told Ann that trials and tribulations would make her stronger. It bugged him when his children whined, and one day he told them that from then on, whoever whined would have to drop and do ten push-ups no matter where they were. His kids quickly learned that whining didn’t accomplish anything.

Her father was a man who practiced what he preached. Once they were on a crowded bus, and all five of the children jumped into the empty seats before he could snag one. When her father said, “That’s not fair,” Curry and her siblings gave him “the look,” and he dropped down in the aisle and did ten push-ups. What a lesson in character!

Curry’s father encouraged her to do something of service with her life, and she decided that journalism would broaden her choices. She and her father went to college at the same time, he with the GI Bill and she with small scholarships and all kinds of work from bookstore clerk to hotel maid.

So to Paul and all the other job seekers, if you ever get discouraged and  feel like throwing in the towel, think Gambaru! Think of a young, frail Japanese woman recovering from tuberculosis living in a new land struggling to learn the language and customs. Imagine her rising above taunts and ridicule and prejudice to practice what she preached: Never give up. Never. The next time you think about whining or complaining about how hard  or unfair your life is, think of Bob Curry doing push-ups in a crowded bus.

I’ve never met Bob and Hiroe Curry, but I’ve seen their daughter on television many times. I saw her on the Today set one May morning two years ago. She’s a winner. She never gives up, she works hard, and she serves other people. She doesn’t whine either. Gambaru!