Friday, December 17, 2010

Short Term Pain Equals Long Term Change

It is my second year as a volunteer Youth Basketball Coach at the Y. It's so much fun to have the opportunity to coach my son, as well as interact with the other kids. Last Saturday, our first game was about to begin. One 5-year-old was struggling with a case of the nerves and was crying to go home. His mother brought him to me and explained the situation. I asked the young man if he would just stick around and sit with his mom. If he felt better later, then he could come over and join the team. It wasn't long before the nerves were gone and this little guy was on the bench ready to play. He got in the game, our team scored some points, and everyone was cheering, high-fiving, and having fun. At the end of the first quarter, with the team seated on the bench, the same young man spoke up. "Coach," he said somewhat out of breath, "this is the greatest day of my life."

I have a friend who is estranged from his daughter. Following a family tragedy, the daughter made many poor and destructive decisions many of which have been difficult for the remaining family to forgive. After years of non-communication, my friend has initiated connection and family counseling with his daughter. My friend knows full well that the next steps involve pain, fear, and raw emotion that has been ignored for far too long. But, he knows that at the end of that road lies hope and reconciliation.

Many people come into the Y with the New Year's Resolution of losing weight or becoming more fit. There are countless stories of people who started with a similar goal and have transformed that goal into significant life change. They become healthier in spirit, mind, and body. However, the road to a new you is painful at the start. It involves trading new, healthier foods for the comfort foods you crave. It involves making time for activity and exercise in what is already terribly busy schedules. For many other people, the resolutions unfortunately fizzle in the sometimes difficult first steps. But, for those who stick with it, small changes lead to different attitudes and behaviors that lead to healthier people.

I know people who have recently given up the chew. After a very difficult first 30 days of nervousness, shaky hands, and foul moods, the cravings lightened and the time and money previously spent on an addiction was directed toward other, more meaningful things. And they didn't have to worry about the spit cup spilling on the carpet, a definite bonus.

The point is simple. Change means facing our fears and moving from the comfortable to the uncomfortable. Change involves persevering through tough first steps. Getting to the "better" often means having a willingness to deal with the "worse." A mentor says that we bury our issues in our backyards thinking that we can hide them. Of course, the issues don't go away, they just poison the well. The only way to take care of this is to dig up our issues and deal with them. This involves time, effort, and an openness to working through the junk in our lives. But, at the end of the day their is something better, something more than the mundane of getting through another day.

So, if it's deep emotional things that you are wrestling with, a resolution to be healthier, or if it's just a bit of anxiety over the first basketball game, I'd encourage you to strive through the painful beginnings because in the end, you might just find "the best day of your life!"

Monday, November 22, 2010


When my wife and I were dating, she told me about a tradition that her family celebrated during birthdays. When it was your birthday, after you took your first bite of cake, if anyone could make you talk before you finished your piece of cake, you had to finish eating your cake under the table. Huh? While a bit afraid of what future gatherings with the in-laws might become, I chalked it up to the fact that they were from Wisconsin and I married her anyway (luckily)! When the average annual temperature in Northern Wisconsin is 39 degrees F, I guess there isn't much to do except celebrate quirky, eat-your-cake-under-the-table traditions.

An editorial by Rainer Kocsis reads, "Tradition is generally defined as long-standing beliefs, practices or customs that have been passed on from one generation to the next. As humans begin to understand a heretofore unknown world of medical marvels and instant communication, traditions are being lost as humans misunderstand the value of tradition." We live in a culture where innovation often trumps tradition and not always to the benefit of society.

Traditions create bonds and facilitate memories. They deepen relationships and provide motivation to connect. In short, traditions are the underpinnings for healthy communities as they weave us together in a common way.

When this article prints, the Y will have held our 8th Annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. The event has grown from a few hundred participants to an anticipated 1,700 friends, families, and neighbors this year. The event have moved beyond a way to get a bit of exercise before a big Thanksgiving meal, to an event that the community celebrates. Awareness is raised for good causes as teams of people where color coordinated shirts during the race! People in costume heighten the festivities and entertain the kids! Smaller communities of churches and neighborhoods and coworkers and friends come together in a larger gathering to celebrate the day and be thankful for what we too often take for granted, all while strengthening the foundations of community through honoring traditions.

This holiday season, be intentional about honoring, celebrating, or even creating traditions with your family or friends. One of our friends takes strips of paper and writes something that they are thankful for each day throughout the holiday season, culminating in a paper chain of thankfulness that they string across their living room. At our home, we have birthday cake on Christmas morning to celebrate the the birth of Jesus. (While we value the faith focus that this tradition brings, we're still not certain that the additional sugar load on Christmas morning is a good idea for the lil' ones. And we haven't yet figured out how to explain why Jesus would want us to sit under the table to eat cake). We used to live in Las Vegas, a very transient city, and a former coworker always had a large holiday celebration where they invited everyone that they knew that didn't have family local. It was a great time. Another family that we know chooses a toy or piece of clothing that they like and that is in good condition and boxes them up for a family in need, symbolizing the value of not just giving off the top, but giving something of value and importance.

This season, hold onto positive, healthy traditions. Whether it's running a 5k in a Pilgrim costume or eating your birthday cake under the table, it's in these moments that our stories are written... and valued... and remembered. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Healthiest People I Know

There is a group of people that frequent the Y who are fondly referred to as the breakfast bunch. They spend a few hours at the Y most weekday mornings, but physical exercise occupies only a portion of their time. They arrive before sunrise and warmly greet each other, making small talk with the Y staff along the way. They each get their workout in, ranging from shooting hoops to lap swimming to visiting the Fitness Center. After showering, they gather at the tables in the lobby and wind down the morning sharing about their weeks, their families, and their lives. Sometimes, they follow up their Y visit by going out to breakfast. They enjoy their time together. I believe this is the healthiest group of people at the Y.

In spite of technology that allows us to connect with more people, more efficiently, we are a society of individuals becoming increasingly isolated. Busy schedules prevent deepening relationships and friendships become categorized networks. This is unhealthy.

Scientifically, we began to see the ill effects of isolation from Dr. Lisa Berman's Alameda County Study (originally published 1979). In the study, her team looked at the lives of 7,000 people in Alameda County over 9 years. They studied the quantity (number of relationships) and quality (depth of relationships) that these people had developed. In short, the study showed that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die versus those with stronger, healthier social bonds. Variables proved irrelevant, both in age and lifestyle. "The protective value of connection [relationships] showed, under statistical multivariate analysis, to be present in all ages [30-69]... [and] even in the presence of health hazards such as smoking, obesity, alcohol use, poverty, poor use of health services, and poor health at the start of the study, people who had strong social ties lived significantly longer than those who did not." (Hallowell, Edward M. Connect).

The key to those who were most healthy and lived longer were those who had several kinds of connections. These included churches, family, friends, clubs, service groups, and similar social organizations. The connections varied from person to person, but ultimately the more deep relationships, the better. Those who were in the most danger of dying were the 10-15% who were most isolated. Similar studies conducted internationally have replicated these findings over the past 30 years. (Hallowell, Connect).

There is a retired couple who comes into the Y daily. During my first days working at the Y, the gentleman (always recognizable in Miami Hurricanes gear) yelled across the lobby, "Who are you?" I introduced myself. "Well, Tuckey," he said, "the coffee pot is not getting as hot as it used to. Fix that and you'll have done something around here." Since that time, we've developed a friendship. We talk regularly about faith, sports, and heating systems. These folks will tell you that they come to this place for exercise, but most importantly they come here to visit their "family." Their friends are here. Their loved ones are here. And the Y wouldn't be the same place without them.

In a recent health journal, two BYU professors reported that social connections can improve our odds of survival by 50 percent (PLoS Medicine). According to them, social isolation or low social interaction compares to these well known risk factors: smoking 15 cigarettes a day, alcoholism, more harmful than not exercising, and twice as harmful as obesity.

Will finding a new friend solve your health challenges and ensure a long life? Not necessarily. However, science continues to show that investing in people, valuing relationships, and dedicating time to listening to and learning from others is emotionally and physically beneficial. Humans are hard wired for personal and supernatural connections. Eat healthy, exercise, and don't starve yourself of relationships. It all matters.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Confessions of an Addict

I have two rules when it comes to the latest technology. First, I don't jump in during the first wave of hype. I longed for a smart phone for two years before I bought one. I wait. I watch. I study. And then I make my decision. Second, I am brand-loyal to a fault. I'm a Blackberry guy. And while their market share is dwindling and their stock price is plummeting, I'm still all in. I'll loyally stick with my Blackberry until it goes the way of vinyl records and rotary phones.
In any case, once I'm in, I'm dedicated. I love technology. I communicate via my Blackberry, I share a schedule with my wife on Google Calendar, and I Tweet - even though no one wants to follow me.

On the surface, this can be a good thing. Technology certainly allows me to be more efficient, process information faster, respond more promptly, and get more things done in a day. Beneath the surface, it's a drug. At it's worst, I'm not present with my wife because my eyes are glued to the blinking red light on my phone indicating that important information awaits. I miss a "Dad, watch this" moment with my kids because the alluring buzzing of the phone is distracting me. I am disrespectful to others in meetings because the words on my phone become seemingly more important than the words being spoken.

Once again, it's not the thing (tech junkie) as much as it's the thing beneath the thing. At times, my addiction to technology can be a manifestation of narcissism, materialism, and escapism. The deeper issues are observed in the symptoms of tech-driven distraction and isolation. Unresolved, they pull us away from the human and supernatural relationships that our souls desire. An addiction to the digital world can be a very unhealthy lifestyle, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

Howard Mann, author of Your Business Backyard, says "... We've become slaves to our mobile devices and the glow of our screens.... We walk the streets with our heads down staring into 3-inch screens while the world whisks by doing the same. And yet we're convinced we are more connected to each other than ever before. Multi-tasking has become a badge of honor. I want to know why."

I'm not proposing that we give up our digital devices. (The thought is unbearable for me). I am offering that we turn them off sometimes. Over the next 30 days, be challenged to miss the HD TV show for a hike with your family, listen to understand during your next meeting instead of reading emails during the discussion, turn the phone off from the time that you get home from work until the next morning, skip the digital home workout for one with others in a community like the Y, go outside - fall in PA is exceptional, or just be present with your friends and family - making someone feel valued by giving them your time and attention can be life changing.

My brother is a top-of-his-class, Management of Information Systems major at Penn State University. He lives and breathes the digital world. Yet, he'll always choose a phone call over an email when it matters most. He invests his time and focus into his fiance, not just plugging her into his schedule. He uses technology as a tool, but pours himself into relationships as a life. Maybe I'll text him and tell him how much I admire that.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

When my wife brought up the idea of getting a dog, I was quick to respond.

"Not a chance," I said. "We have two boys under 6 years old, home repairs, volunteer at our church, and both hold jobs. We're too busy for a dog... can't afford a dog... can't take on more responsibility right now..." At this point, she was no longer listening but, my point was still going to be made. Sure, our boys said they'd help take care of the dog, but I know how that goes. Everyone would cozy up to the pup until it's 10 degrees in February. Then who would be outside chiseling the ice hardened doggie doo off of the walk? It would be me, while the rest of the dog lovers sit inside and sip hot chocolate. No dog.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released the results of a survey that says more than 30% of people are obese in 9 states. In 2007 only 3 states reported obesity levels that high. Mississippi reported the highest levels with 34.4% of the folks obese (USA Today, August 3, 2010). Must be that southern-fried goodness.

Overall, the data suggests that approximately 27% of adults in America are obese. We know that the obesity rate is growing as is the associated health issues which include increased risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.

"Obesity is common, serious and costly and affects virtually every system in the adult body," says William Dietz, director of the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

We know the disease (obesity is defined as being 30 pounds over a healthy weight) and we understand the remedy (healthy eating and increased activity). Yet, we just can't put down the cookies. Why?

I thought my wife was appeasing the kids who had been pining for a dog when she asked if we could go visit a dog living with a foster family nearby that she found through Furry Friends Network.

"Let's just visit." She said with pitiful eyes.

"OK with me," I said obligingly, "but, we're still not getting a dog."

Food has become an opiate for the masses in our country. However, we know that it's not really about the food. Food simply becomes something that we shove in our face to try and fill whatever void we have in our lives. Similar to any other addiction, food becomes our crutch. Author Tim Keller calls these things idols that are our functional saviors, the things that we use to save us on a daily basis.

A pastor friend of mine often asks, "what's the thing beneath the thing?" Food is just the thing. It's not obesity, that's a symptom. The disease is rooted much deeper in our own social and emotional issues for which we turn to food to dull the pain - this is the thing beneath the thing.

On the ride home from the foster family, my wife and our two boys were talking delightfully of how Sophie the dog, was just the perfect fit for our family.

"A dog would be great for the boys." My wife said, now turning up the pressure. "It would teach them responsibility. And would cause us to slow down, stay at home more often, spend more time together."

I started to crack, "I don't know..."

Social networks and healthy personal relationships help us find the thing beneath the thing. We need human interaction for encouragement. We seek connectedness for understanding. We require friendships that hold us accountable and challenge us to grow and move forward. We long for relationship with something bigger than ourselves for purpose and meaning. When these relationships are lost in the business of our lives, other things like hopelessness and loss of identity can take root. Too often we feed these unhealthy emotions with fast food and fried chicken to numb ourselves from feeling anything at all.

Any healthy relationship, even those with pets help us become healthier. There are many studies (Can Owning a Pet Help You Live Longer? Mgrath, Jane) that show pet owners are less likely to die from heart disease and other ailments. Why? Even an inhuman relationship helps us deal with our stuff which helps us reduce our stress.

If weight is an issue for you, start with a healthier diet and add more physical activity to your day. But, don't stop there. Find the thing beneath the thing. Dig up the roots of what's causing you to use food as your daily savior. Do it with others. Share your struggle with an old friend. Engage in a healthy community like the Y and meet new friends. Connect with someone in a deeper way to cultivate a new relationship. Join a support group. Or, adopt a pet.

Sophie has thrown up on our carpet twice. The doggie doo doesn't get picked up everyday. There is dog hair on the couch. But, our family rescured a pet together and became closer through the process. Our boys have become more responsible. We stay home more often. The dog has allowed us to just be together more and that's a healthy thing for all of us.

If you see me on a dreary, wet, and cold February morning walking a dog, know that it is worth it. I'll be returning soon to a smiling familiy making hot chocolate who know through experience that relationships matter.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blame it on Scooby

Scooby Doo, Dora, and Shrek make kids fat. At least that is what the evidence suggests according to a recent study at Yale (, How Scooby Doo Makes Kids Fat, 7/1/10). Kids pay attention to marketing. They want to eat the foods that the characters they love are endorsing. We know this. But, can we resist the luring temptress of Hollywood marketers influencing the choices we make for our children? The answer seems to be no.

Childhood diseases stemming from poor diet and lack of exercise are rising to epidemic proportions. In a recent Q&A, local doctor Chad Jumper (Creason, Naomie, The Sentinel, 7/4/10) reported seeing an alarming increase in childhood obesity. The YMCA's Healthy Family Home newsletter, along with many other health-focused organizations promote a simple message to combat this issue: eat healthier and be more active. Yet, we are losing the battle of the bulge as more unhealthy behaviors are now sprouting up in our children at an earlier age. Why? Blame it on Scooby. Or, so we'd like to.

The Yale study was published in the July issue of the Journal of Pediatrics and it showed that children reported that foods in packages endorsed by their favorite characters tasted better than the same foods in plain packaging. A similar study by the Sesame Street Workshop showed the same, wherein children were more likely to choose broccoli over a Hershey bar only when Elmo was placed on the vegetable. It was suggested in Super Size Me that Ronald McDonald has better brand recognition among children than Jesus. Really?

As parents, we are reeling against the power of the marketing punch of the food industry. We awkwardly try to convince our children that their home made lunch is just as cool as their best friends kid's meal, complete with a gender specific toy, and that it will benefit them in the long-term. While we stumble through the conversation, the food industry is gearing up to have a greater impact. The website reports that the Federal Trade Commission states that the food industry spent $1.6 billion on promoting their products to children under the age of 17 in 2006. Five percent of that spending was on advertising "healthy" eating through dairy products and fruit juice. Hooray. (None was spent on fruit and vegetable promotion). Much of that money is being spent on cross promotional efforts with movies, internet-based games, and other multi-media approaches to have a greater branding effect with our kids. Who knew Dora was this powerful?

Product recalls don't even slow this marketing freight train. Even after I learned that some of the Shrek products were pulled from Happy Meals, I caved to efficiency one busy afternoon and picked up a fast food lunch for my children. They beamed while wearing their new Shrek watches that were included. I'm not sure which was worse, the nutritional value of the lunch or the uncertainty over the manufacturing of the toy. Shrek wins.

These food industry folks are tough. But, in the words of Rocky Balboa, "it's not about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." We don't have the resources to combat the $1.6 billion in marketing that is being thrown toward our children. So, we have to withstand the onslaught of high-sugar, highly processed promotions, find small victories, and keep moving forward.

I recently visited a big-box store with my 5-year-old son. As he stepped out of the car, he quickly spotted that the traditionally white parking lines had been repainted with a photo of a seductive smores treat. "Daddy, can we get one of those inside?" He said with a grin. Do we really have a chance in this battle?

I believe we do. And it's not blaming Scooby, Dora, or Shrek for our weight-induced national health crisis. And it's not in waiting for first lady Michelle Obama to resolve the issue (though she is to be commended for trying). It's in personal accountability for our own health choices. It's in creating a culture within our homes where food is viewed as energy-giving fuel for our bodies that allow us to work outdoors, play, and be active. It's in modeling healthy choices for our children. It's in de-cluttering our schedules to allow for less visits to a drive-thru and more opportunities to prepare meals together. It's in enjoying the sweets of life, but in moderation and on occasion. It's in being responsible for our own health and caring for the futures of our children.

But, be careful - Scooby is coming for you!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gaining it With Jillian

It's the end of a long day, the kids are finally in bed, the chores are finished, and I fall into the comfortable chair in our living room ready to turn on the baseball game and drift away into the bliss of America's pastime. I click the remote and the TV flickers on, only to show the title sequence screen of a Jillian Michaels DVD. I appreciate that my wife spends time with Jillian, it's a great stress-reliever for her. What I can't understand is why it's so difficult to push stop, remove the DVD, and turn the TV back to cable mode. I've now missed at least one at bat in the game, probably the Web Gem play of the night.

Jillian has become a national celebrity from her work as a Personal Trainer on the television show, The Biggest Loser. DVDs, books, commercials, and now a spin-off show have followed as millions of Americans have become Jillian-ites (I just made that up, so if she uses it in the future, I request a cut of the proceeds). Why such love for Jillian? It's because change is hard. Painfully difficult. So daunting in fact, that most people simply avoid change. And during her soon-to-be expiring 15 minutes, Jillian has inspired change. But, how?

Alan Deutschman writes of a study showing that 90% of patients requiring heart by-pass surgery do not change the unhealthy lifestyle habits that led to the condition requiring the surgery (Fast Company, 2005). This result has been shown in medical studies over and over again. In short, even when faced with death, people are often unable to change.

The fact that year after year, approximately 80% of medical costs are consumed by a small population of individuals with diseases stemming from poor lifestyle choices misrepresents the "burning platform" lexicon used in the business world. This says that when consequences are so desperate and dire, change can be forced. However, as shown by Deutschman and more recently proposed by Chip and Dan Heath in their book, Switch, this change or die approach is typically not very effective.

This brings us back to Jillian. The results from her work with common folks inspire hope. Her training is done in community, with support, and culminates in people experiencing new found joy and happiness in living as opposed to just a fear of dying.

Deutschman tells of one doctor who turned the 90% study on its head by refocusing the need for change from ultimate death to the joys of living. This particular doctor rehabbed cardiac patients in community, with support and pointed people to the opportunities they could now experience with family, friends, and in life. This approach resulted in 77% of patients making healthier behavioral changes.

In their book, the Heath brothers discuss an early market struggle between Target and Wal-Mart. Target ultimately emerged to successfully find their niche and become a market leader not by casting the vision of a burning platform wherein they had to outperform Wal-Mart or fade away, but rather by giving their team a glimpse of what might be possible with innovation, creativity, and colorful design. Their meteoric rise occurred in community, with support, and inspired eager anticipation of where the company was going and their teams wanted to be a part of that.

"Bring home good grades or you're grounded" doesn't inspire. "Lets talk about what you might become" just might.

"Avoid highly processed foods because they'll take years off your life" doesn't easily lead to behavior change. "Eat more fruits and vegetables to have more time to enjoy sunny afternoons of fishing with your great-grand kids" just might.

"Stop smoking or your lungs will turn black" doesn't always motivate. Envisioning the joy of being able to run around the baseball field with your children just might.

Being for something invokes more constructive passion, positive energy, and beneficial change in people than simply being against something. Do you want to see change in your diet, marriage, workplace, or lifestyle? It's unlikely that you will scare the change into existence. Look for something more, something deeper, something better and hold onto that. People aren't just losing weight with Jillian, they're gaining hope.

Now, if I could just convince my wife of the joy she'd find in our relationship if she'd just remember to put the DVD away when she is finished...

Monday, May 3, 2010

One More

A few weeks ago the Carlisle Family YMCA held its first indoor triathlon. This included an 800 yard swim, a 12 mile bike, and a 5K run. I'm a quasi-marathoner, part-time runner, and one-time sprint triathlete. I am not a swimmer and I am not a biker. I've labored through enough races to know that the success of your race is directly proportional to your preparation. Tossing aside that nugget of knowledge, I signed up for the Indoor Tri a week prior to the event. It was a short race that I had completed before. How hard could it be?

After coming out strong on my first two laps in the pool I came to a few conclusions: I had started out entirely too fast, was now quickly fading, and I needed much more conditioning to be prepared for this race. Next, I began to wonder if your heart could actually beat entirely out of your chest. Or if the pounding in my ears was actually audible to those on the pool deck. Or if they had to pull me out of the pool, would they do it with the traditional floatation ring or would a lifeguard actually blow the whistle, jump in, and pull me to the side?

Then the debate started in my mind. I had finished every race I had ever entered, including the Baltimore marathon. I had never quit. I had YMCA colleagues and my friend whom I convinced to register in the race with me - I couldn't bail out on them this early. But, the lightheaded whirl in my head from not getting enough oxygen between my doggy-paddle strokes was convincing me to throw in the towel. I didn't even know what lap I was on anymore. I was just trying not to pass out. As the conversation in my mind raged on, I committed to one more lap.

I often thought of perseverance in terms of the outcome. If one pushes through the current situation, a better result would follow. Perseverance, I thought, was the bridge between lacing up your hiking boots and enjoying the amazing view from the peak. I only thought of perseverance as the sometimes treacherous road that ultimately led to a finer destination.

I grasped the edge of the pool, gasping for air, and thinking of the ramifications of just ending this poorly planned decision. I could hear those of the pool deck encouraging me to keep going. I committed to one more pool length, at least to get me back to the starting point.

Nelson Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." Our goals often seem so distant, that the minutia of the moment make them seem unachievable. We feel like we'll never arrive, until we get there. Losing the fast food 15 lbs, putting away the smokes, or saying no to good things to allow for more time with your family are all admirable goals that life often pushes to the side.

I looked up at the volunteer in my lane who put down the lap counter board as if I was finished. Even now, I'm not certain whether this was out of completion or mercy. In any case, I was finished with the swim portion of the race and I was off to begin the bike portion. As I jumped on the spin bike, my legs felt like I was pedaling through concrete. I told myself I'd pedal strong for one more mile.

"Perseverance is not a long race, it is many short races one after the other," the American Catholic priest and writer, Walter Elliott once said. Or, in the words of another great American philosopher, Rocky Balboa, "One more round." It's about simply taking that next step. Just one more.

I completed the bike portion, and ended the event with the 5K run. I finished the race 12th out of 18 participants (one person was a no show, but I'm sticking with 18). But, as with every other race that I've participated in, I learned something about myself along the way. I sensed new strengths, other weaknesses, but nevertheless I learned some truths that only seem to show up when I can't fathom going any further.

And that's what perseverance is all about. Not so much a ladder taking up to the top. Instead, maybe it's the shaping of our character, our lives, and our motivations that occurs in the heat of the race. The book of James says to consider it pure joy when we face trials because, "you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." The excursion that you travel en route to your goal is critically important. It's the path that sharpens us, even defines us.

Be encouraged in your travels. Go one more day without chewing tobacco. Have one more meal without the fried side dish. Spend one more moment reflecting on what matters most in life. Find one more opportunity to symbolically show your family how important they are to you. Go one more mile on the treadmill. We'll know that we've arrived after just one more...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Transformational Wellness

Transformation is a big word. Daunting perhaps. It represents sweeping change, a complete turnaround, a reversal. When applied to health and wellness it can become dispiriting. Health transformation conjures images of The Biggest Loser, running a marathon (that's 26.2 miles to be exact), or giving up all of the foods that you enjoy (like smoked hot sausages and french fries from a summer festival or hand-dipped ice cream with hot fudge). But, transformation doesn't happen in broad strokes. It happens in small, seemingly insignificant ways.

According to, transformation means, "a change in form or appearance." Simply, it's doing something differently. Not everything. Just something. It's a slight change in process or a minor variation from the routine. By definition, transformation bubbles up from small changes.

Many of us have made resolutions this year to be healthier. In turn, some have signed up for a gym membership, joined a weight management program, promised to quit smoking cold turkey, or vowed to forever stop eating after 7 p.m. All in hopes of reaching the peak of transformation. Unfortunately, the peak looks far away, transformation seems too distant, and we never begin the climb.

Instead, we need to refocus our vision from the peak to the next step. To bring about transformation, we need to focus on those small, seemingly insignificant changes. Forget about the resolution to be healthier. Instead, find 30 minutes to be active today. Have the hot sausage, but forgo the fries. Have the ice cream, but lose the hot fudge. Have your evening snack, but reduce the portion. Find two resources to help you stop smoking and consider which one might work for you. Park further away from the store. Get up from your desk and stretch. Take a walk instead of turning the channel.

In the book Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, they talk about a small town that failed to respond to other initiatives focused on 'being healthier." Consequently, efforts were refocused to a single message - "change to 1% milk." That's it. That was the message. And with that one, small, seemingly insignificant change, the town responded and their health and wellness improved in a variety of ways based on specific metrics. They became a healthier community.

"Be healthier." That's a slogan. "Purchase a lower fat milk." That's transformation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To Give Or Not To Give

Currently, the Carlisle Family YMCA is in the middle of our Strong Kids Campaign. As we seek support for the campaign, the following tag line is used, "Your donation to the Strong Kids Campaign is one of the best investments that you can make in your community." In fact, that phrase is even included in my email signature tag. Is it true?

Statistics can be powerful tools of influence. The fact that the Carlisle Family YMCA gave over a quarter of a million dollars last year in financial assistance to those in need for memberships and program participation is significant. The assistance was provided with funds raised through the Strong Kids Campaign and the United Way. But, campaign goals and assistance totals only tell a piece of the story.

To give of not to give, that is the question. As you consider where you'll invest your charitable dollars this year, be encouraged to go beyond the research, the quantitative data, and the campaign marketing information. Find ways to witness the core, the heart, the mission of the organization that you're considering. Talk with the stakeholders. Connect with the participants. Witness the community that the organization represents and serves.

As you consider the Carlisle Family YMCA Strong Kids Campaign, be encouraged to stop by the George B. Stuart Athletic Fields on a Saturday and witness the hundreds of youth and families enjoying CAYS soccer. Schedule a tour of one of our camp sites and hear of the stories of the thousands of area youth that have had memorable experiences at summer camp. Tour the YMCA and see the interactions in the Youth Lobby, the Youth Fitness Center, and the overall sense that the work being done in and through the YMCA is so much bigger than any individual program. I'm confident that if you do this, if you invest the time into getting a true sense of what's happening at the YMCA, the statement that, "Your donation to the Strong Kids Campaign is one of the best investments that you can make in your community" will ring true.

Thank you for considering the Strong Kids Campaign.

(For more information on taking care and caution in charitable giving, please visit

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Does Community Matter?

In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell theorizes that culture, community, and context play a significantly greater determining factor in success than we typically imagine. Most often, we focus on the direct parallel between achievement and individual talent or work ethic.

In the early pages of the book, Gladwell looks at a town of early 20th century immigrants from a village in Italy who avoided the high rates of heart disease that many Americans over age 65 face. It wasn't behavioral trends or genetics that made the difference. Rather it was a "powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world."

This is fascinating. A community of healthy personal interactions, strong relationships, and a deep sense of connectedness created a group of people that defied one of the most prominent dieseases in our country.

Does community matter? Apparently, it does.

I like that story and the overall theme of Outliers as I think it's a great illustration of the work that we're trying to do at the YMCA. Individual physical, social, emotional, and spiritual growth is important and we try to create programs and services that provide opportunities for that. However, there is a deeper theme of community that's interwoven throughout what the YMCA offers. It's about families sharing experiences together at Family Camp. It's about the early bird group of seniors enjoying coffee together after their workout and talking about life. It's about preschoolers learning the importance of being active while being exposed to other cultures and languages - and doing this with their parents. It's about buidling a stronger community through fostering healthy relationships.

I'd like to think that at the YMCA we work to provide an environment that builds strong kids and strong families through a community that offers a bit of a "powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating [us] from the pressures of the modern world."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wellness Resolutions

At the Carlisle Family YMCA, we talk often about wellness. We promote it, we facilitate it, we embody it. But, what do we really mean? According to, wellness is defined as, "the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, esp. as the result of deliberate effort." I like this particular definition because it highlights the correlation between a healthy body and mind. Again, we feel that this synergy between a healthy mind, healthy body, and a healthy spirit is best cultivated in community.

In 2010, you'll see even more opportunities to participate in programming that weaves together a focus on developing the body while also developing the mind and spirit. For example, the Mom's Night Out program partners a sampling of group fitness classes with discussion time led by local professionals relating to issues that moms face (relationships, family, finances). Our Healthy Family Home Program allows for families to participate in group activities (Family Double Dare Challenge) while also providing tips and resources for families to make their homes healthier in practical ways. The Motherwell series offers physical fitness activities that include opportunities for new moms to connect and even BYOB (bring your own baby)!

This isn't a commercial for programs. Instead, it's a reflection of how important community becomes in many aspects of our lives. During this New Year, take advantage of the many opportunities at the Y to make new friends, serve others, build up someone else, and receive support and encouragement from your Y community.