Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 2012: Health & Fitness Letter

January 24:  Blogger, the host of my This Side of Fifty blog, provides statistics on the number of hits by day, week, month, and all time.  It provides the top pages views in each of those categories.  I learned just there were over fifty hits to my few of my past Health and Fitness letters.  While this is not even close to being viral, I do not recall seeing the Annual Health and Fitness postings ever getting any hits.  It made me wonder why?  It made me wonder why now?  Being that we are nearing the end of January, this could be because people are struggling with keeping to their dietary resolutions and looking for inspiration and tips on how to stick to their regimen. 
No matter what the reason, seeing hits to these postings made me realize I have not written a Health and Fitness letter since July of 2010.  I basically skipped 2011.  There is a good reason for that.  I was not happy with either my health or fitness.  The back-slide that I reported in 2010 continued through 2011. In fact, it continued until just this month.  I was not happy that I had only logged 1,000 outdoor miles last year.  That was the lowest mileage I had logged since 2003.  I was not happy that I grew a pant size or two since the last Health and Fitness letter.  I was really down on myself.  As there was nothing good to report, I did not want to write a preaching but not practicing letter.  I did not particularly want to pen a whiny letter.  So, I just skipped it.
Yet, I am writing a Health and Fitness letter now.  Why?  What will I write about?  Stasis?  That would be equally boring. 
I decided to write a Health and Fitness letter because I am recommitting to the quest I began in 2006.  It was a resolution, a decision basically, I made late last year.  I am a month into it and I feel better for sticking to it for 24 days for two reasons.  First, I am just happy to have kept to it for 24 days and thus it was not a false start.  Most false starts last about a day.  Second, I physically feel better for eating right and exercising every day.  I knew this to be true, it was simply difficult to get out of my own way to, as Nike says, "Just Do It!"  This Health and Fitness letter is about getting started and launching the initiative. 
The words of Mark Twain always come to me when I think about false starts.  He said, "Quitting smoking is easy.  I've done it a thousand times."  There are a lot of people who suffer silently from the string of false starts.  When the string gets longer, we tend to beat ourselves up.  We see others that seem to be above these kinds of tribulations and we wonder what is wrong with us.  The longer the string becomes, the more likely we are to give up and accept that being overweight, addicted to smoking, and any other habit we are trying to break is simply our lot in life.
My belief is to never ever give up.  It is the mandate of Winston Churchill and was the motto of my late father in-law, Harold Mardoian.  Here are some quotes on why we should never give up on what we want:
  • Never, never, never give up!  ~ Winston Churchill
  • Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.
    ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Don't be discouraged. It's often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock. ~ Anonymous
  • Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts. ~ Anonymous
 January 26:  There are many tips, tricks, methods, activities, and mindsets one could take to initiate and achieve a lifestyle change.  There is no right way.  The right way is the way that works.  The right way is the way that works for you.  Look at them all.  Try them all. Pick the ones that resonate best and ride it for as long as you can.  Maybe the "never give up" quotes listed above are all you need.  Perhaps it is the advice from Dr. Mehmet Oz .  He provides the following bits of advice:
  • Don't beat yourself up
  • Write it down
  • Declare it publicly
  • Arrange your environment to help
  • Track your progress
  • You are not planning to fail, you are failing to plan.  It is key to find an eating style that is both healthy and something you can follow. 
  • Eating in reverse is key (see the triangle figures).  Eat your biggest meal for breakfast.  Lunch should be smaller than breakfast.  Dinner should be smaller than lunch.  
  • Snacking is good if it is healthy and in controlled portions.
  • Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.
 I really believe in "eating in reverse comment."  I heard it once from a Colgate colleague from France that I met only once.  You need the fuel to work and get through the day, not to sleep.  Also, I am thoroughly convinced that the lighter your dinner and not eating after 8 pm makes for a much better night's sleep.  

I also believe in tracking progress.  I only do well when I am recording my weight every morning and evening.  The scale tells the truth.  I am real good at justifying veering off the dietary path with any number of inane rationalizations.  The scale demolishes those myths by reporting the reality of what happens when I take in many more calories than I expend.  For me the scale takes all the BS out of the equation.
I am not so hot on the good Doctor's advice to plan better.  But, this is just me.  It may be perfect advice for others.  There reason I say this because I am great at planning.  My problem is that I am a much better at planning than implementing and executing the plan.  I know what to do.  I have known what to do for a very long time that "Knowing never equals doing."  
January 27:  I clearly am making this too difficult.  It really does not have to be very complicated.  All you have to do is watch TV.  I just saw a commercial on TV.  It began with a simple question, "Where exactly is your road to happiness?"  It continued with "On a Beach?  On a mountain?  Or wherever you are."  It had my curiosity.  What were they selling?  A path to self-fulfillment?  I wanted to know.  I had to know.  Given I was working on this letter, it seemed to fit right in.  "The first step on that road may well be..."  Please tell me.  If have to know.  I have to incorporate it into my letter.  The answer?  "The first step on that road may well be... a bowl of soup."  Of course, what else did I expect in a television advertisement?  This was an advertisement for Campbell’s Soup.  The first step on that road may well have been... a bright yellow Camaro, a membership to Bally Fitness, or perhaps a new suit from Men's Warehouse ("you're going to like the way you look").   Actually, all you have to do is by a roll of Mentos and you can make yourself and everyone around you happy.
All kidding aside, there was not a first step on this particular version of my road to happiness.  There were, in fact, several steps or motivations.
First and foremost is health.  I want to live a quality life and be as self-sufficient as possible as long as possible.  I do not want to be a burden on others.  I do not want to ever have to live in any kind of assisted living or full care facility, if I can help it.  The only way to do that is to take care of myself right now.  This means eating right and exercising.  Eating right is following the Dr. Dean Ornish plan of eating whole grains, fruits, and vegetables until you are full.  Other foods like non-fat dairy should be consumed in moderation.  Sugars, alcohol, and meats should be avoided.   A very good synopsis of the Ornish diet is found on this Web-MD link. 
 Exercising is all about getting myself back on the bike.  I biked so little last year because I had a little knee issue from August to December of last year.  I was convinced that I would need surgery.  I was actually limping around and very tentative on stairs.   My sister Nancy said that if I did need to do surgery, the best thing I could was to prepare for a quicker recovery by losing weight and strengthening the muscles around the knee.  The best exercise for that is the same exercise that doctors prescribe post surgery:  bicycling.  
I was tentative to get back on the bike.  But, this month I figured I will try it.  The worst that could happen is my knee could hurt worse and that would hasten my trip to an orthopedic specialist.  Beginning January 1, I started up again on the stationary bicycle in the basement.  I began with a very light level of resistance.  Guess what?  My knee feels much better.  The creaks and aches are not entirely gone, but it is much better.  There is no discernable limp most days and I am not tentative on stairs.  Cool.  I am even back to the resistance levels I had been using before this injury.  I recently went for an annual check-up.  My physician, Dr. Mark Rudberg, said to continue the bicycling and does not recommend seeing an orthopedic specialist at this time.  Double cool.
The second step or motivation might sound vain (heck this whole letter probably sounds vain).  For me getting lean is matter of self-esteem.  I have been one unhappy SOB these past two years.  I have beaten myself up pretty good for this back-slide and the subsequent inability to get it back under control.  That unhappiness was impossible to keep inside.  It translated into a surliness that was not pleasant to be around.  My wife commented just this morning I am much happier because I am back on the right road to health and fitness.  Eating right and exercising has led to a ten pound weight reduction but the weight off of my mind is probably ten times that.   This is a very strong motivation to continue. 
Related to this self-esteem motivation is how others perceive me.  As a management consultant, I have to sell to get business.  I have to sell my capabilities and my personality.  I have to feel good about myself to put my most positive foot forward.  The better I like what I see in the mirror, the better I feel about myself.  Also, there is the reality of first impressions.  Do I really want my first impression to be old and fat?  That is hardly a first positive first step in a sales process.  I cannot do much about my age (don't even think of suggesting that I dye my hair).  In fact, I have no problem selling age and experience.  But, if I do not appear active and energetic, looking instead overweight and lethargic, I am no one anybody would want to hire.  I can certainly do something about the looking lean and energetic... get lean and be energetic.  That is my intention. 
I often refer to and even make fun of my good friend and fellow musician Ara Topouzian.  I have to give Ara some inspirational credit for this latest re-start of my quest for health, fitness, and longevity.  Ara shares some of the same challenges I do with regard to the battle of rotundity. 
In November, Ara was here for a gig.  We were to play a concert of Armenian folk and classical music for a 50th birthday party in Chicago.  We had a singer with us with whom we had not worked playing a repertoire that was a bit outside our normal dance music.  We had a lot of practicing to do.  Ara came early and we spent some time.  I was impressed that he had started a healthier eating habit.  I was double impressed at how dedicated he was to it.  This also motivated me.
Ara and I share something else in this regard.  His two brothers and his father are lean and lead very healthy active lifestyles.  My Dad, my Uncle Buddy, Cousin David, and my son Aram are in that same boat.  I am always talking about, at least to myself, “letting my inner Gavoor out.”  By this I mean, emulating the health and fitness lifestyle of the other Gavoor men I know.  I am sure Ara feels he is letting his inner Topouzian out. 
January 29:  I just saw a quote via Twitter.  It was from Jim Rohn.  It is the perfect quote to finish this letter with.  It reminded me of a quote that I used in my January 2008 letter, so I am including that as well.
  • Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. ~ Jim Rohn
  • Goals are dreams with deadlines.~ Barbara Scharf Hunt
 Yes, this is what anyone embarking on such a journey needs:  Dreams with deadlines and the discipline to make the dream happen.  I would love to get back to writing the Annual Health and Fitness letter again in either June or July.  I would love to have good things to report.
Wish me luck!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hrant Dink: Five Years Later

There were marches in Turkey today. Thousands of people took to the streets to commemorate the five year anniversary of the assassination of the renowned Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. The turnout was impressively large for more than just the passing of five years. Just this past week or so, the verdicts were handed down in the trials on those accused of killing Dink. It was largely known, or strongly assumed, that the assassination of the Dink was a conspiracy of ultra nationalists. Turkey is the kind of country where the distinction between ultra-nationalists and government is fuzzy.

The young man, Ogun Samast, who gunned down Dink on the streets outside of the offices of Dink's Agos newspaper was sentenced to 22 years in prison. The fellow who incited Samast to commit the crime got life in prison. Two other men each received sentences of 12 years. Sixteen others received light to no sentences. What has caused most of the outrage is that all 19 of accused were acquitted of being a part of a conspiracy.

“Issuing verdicts when the judicial investigation has established so little was already unacceptable but the court’s decisions are absolutely scandalous,” said Reporters Without Borders. “By portraying this murder as the work of a small group of fanatics, the judicial authorities have reflexively protected the state, whose role in this murder has nonetheless been demonstrated by all the independent investigations."

With this verdict, the Turkish state continues its policy of hatred against Armenians. They continue deny the Genocide of 1915, their discrimination of the few Armenians who have lived in Turkey since, and, of course, the murder of Hrant Dink and the trial of those accused of conspiring his assassination. They are a paranoid obstinate lot that believes the time is their only ally in settling "the Armenian question."

It is heartening, though, to see the number of Turks who are also outraged by this. The outrage shown in Istanbul today may be beyond my own outrage. It does my heart good to see this. All Turks do not hate Armenians. Many, like those who protested today look, as I do, to the similarities between Turks and Armenians not the difference. The government, their actions and policies regarding Armenians and other minorities, has been the problem since at least 1890.

There have always been Turks that feel as I do that we are more like cousins then enemies. The culture, the foods, the music, and even some of the language overlap. But, we cannot celebrate these things on a large scale until the Turkish Government just gets out its own way and acknowledges exactly what happened. In my one and only trip to Istanbul, half the people looked Armenian to me.

In 1915, a million and a half Armenians were killed in the Genocide. Yet, the killing of one more, Hrant Dink, has done as much to bring the topic to the forefront in Turkey than anything we may have done in the diaspora. A few days ago I referred to Hrant Dink as the Martin Luther King of Turkey in my previous blog posting. I was hesitant to do it because I was not sure if it was the right comparison.  I pondered and did it anyway. After today's demonstrations in Turkey, I believe I am absolutely correct.  I hope Hrant Dink's death brings about the transformation in Turkey he had so strongly advocated for in this life.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reflections: Martin Luther King Day

It is the closing hour of Martin Luther King Day.  I have not had a chance to reflect on the life, work, message, and importance of Dr. King until now.  I thought I would listen to his most famous speech and reflect on the great man in my daily writing.

I like to listen to his "I Have a Dream"  speech on this day.  It is not long.  It is only about sixteen minutes long but one of the most significant speeches that I have ever heard.  It is something I encourage everyone to listen to on this day.  It helps us realize why we have a national holiday in this country to honor this man who never held public office.  In a time when we no longer honor Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays, but rather lump them all together in President’s Day, we have a national holiday to honor this man who made us realize the injustices and prejudices that were and to a degree still are an embarrassment to this great nation.

The speech was given on August 28, 1963.  It was the keynote speech of the March on Washington, DC.  I was only ten at the time.  It was almost three months before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  I do not remember the speech at all from that time but more after April 4, 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis when, at fifteen, I could better understand the impact and meaning of the words.

In school, back in 1963, we learned that Lincoln freed the slaves.  In my early naivete, I assumed that they were free and that was it.  End of story.  Slavery was evil but with the Emancipation Proclamation, everything was then set right and everyone lived happily ever after.  I learned, however,  that history is rarely that simple.  It is way more complicated.  My views changed gradually as I learned about carpetbaggers, sharecropping, the Ku Klax Klan, and the Jim Crow laws.  At first, when I learned about “separate but equal,” I focused on the equal part more than the separate part.  I liked to believe in our country and the noble values extolled in The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  The glass was always half full for me back then.  As I grew older, I learned that the separate part was quite definitive.  The separate part was ruled with an iron fist.  I came to learn that the equal part was anything but.  

I remember a lot of the adults around me not thinking much of the civil rights movement and the leaders of this movement.  Regarding Dr. King, most did not care for him.  They believed what we now know is the propaganda clandestinely put forth by J. Edgar Hoover.  Most were sons and daughters of immigrants whose parents escaped hardships, discrimination, and worse to come to this country because of all the noble ideas that enamored me as a school boy.  By 1968, their views of Dr. King made no sense to me especially since no one else stated those noble and admirable American ideals as well as Martin Luther King did on that August day in Washington.  

I filter all of this through my Armenian soul as well.  I do it for a few reasons.  First, I cannot help it.  It is who I am.  Second, we are people who suffered in another country and can relate to the movement led by and the message of Martin Luther King.  My cousin Jason Ohanian sent me a tweet earlier today:  

Not sure about you, but today always makes me think about our Armenian ancestors' struggles.  
I do believe this is the second time in one week that cousin Jason provided a blog topic for me.  Thanks again cuz!

Third, Hrant Dink was assassinated on the streets of Istanbul on January 19, 2007.  He was gunned down because he was a beacon, leader, and voice as a citizen of Turkey who advocated that Turkey acknowledge their past injustices and embrace the Armenians still in Turkey and treat them as full equals.  Hrant Dink indeed had a dream.  He had the same dream as Martin Luther King.  Martin Luther King Day was January 15th in 2007.  When Hrant Dink was killed four days later, I remember thinking he is and should be viewed as a Martin Luther King of Turkey.  Maybe they will have a national holiday in Turkey one day in honor for Hrant Dink.  

I think I will listen to Dr. King’s speech one more time...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy

Yesterday, I set out to write a piece about it being mid-January and how unhappy I was with my progress against my various New Year’s resolutions.  I tend get quite ambitious when it comes to resolutions.  Let me rephrase that, I am quite ambitious and optimistic in the setting of the resolutions.  This year was no different.  I could sum up all my resolutions in one resolution:  Significantly improve in every aspect of my life.  Yes, this includes weight, health, music, writing, business, teaching, etc.

I do not know if most people are so naively ambitious.  My guess is not.  I think people pick one resolution.  As I have blogged on New Year's resolutions before, losing weight and quitting smoking is what most folks focus on.  We are quite excited to set and pronounce our resolutions.  Around this time in the New Year, we get frustrated as we realized “Dang, it is hard to keep true to these resolutions.”  Around this time is when people lose their initial exuberance, the temptations to behave habitually becomes quite strong, and the resolutions lose their resolve.

I was writing about this yesterday.  I fully intended to have posted on the subject.  I did not.  My frustration with not making enough progress was multiplied by my frustration with the whiny drivel I had written.  Yuck.  No one wants to read a pile of wimpy pathetic lamentations.  Heck, Ara Topouzian is amazed anyone ever reads my blogs.  If I had posted that pile of dung, he would have had a field day.   I dropped the topic figuring I just could not get the right perspective from which to write the piece.

Yesterday evening, I was doing some other work.  On a break, I checked my twitter and saw a post from my cousin Jason Ohanian:

Ever feel like you are your own worst enemy? I know I am, but try to work through it and stay positive anyway.

Jason’s words resonated.  Here was my angle!  Besides the angle, it was also a diagnosis of why I was unhappy and frustrated.  Everyone is their own worst enemy.  They are hardest on themselves.  I did not realize how pervasive this was until I managed people.  Most companies have a performance review process where people rate themselves against their objectives for the past year.  I found that most people, like 85% or more, were very tough in rating themselves.  The other 15% were simply delusional.  Until I saw this, I did not realize how tough I was on myself.  

I responded to Jason.  Here is the remainder of the twitter exchange.

me  Dang... it might be a cousin thing. I was feeling exactly this earlier today!
Jason:  Maybe its an Armenian thing? I also think most folks are their own worst enemies.
me: you are absolutely correct... most people are way too hard on themselves.  

The nature of resolutions is to change a habit that is well entrenched.  The habit or pattern of behaviors did not develop overnight or in the blink of an eye.  Yet, we believe that they can be overcome quickly and forthrightly.  I made a decision.  I flipped the switch.  I am resolved.  Problem solved.  Of course, we learn from experience that it is not that easy or we were not serious enough in making the decision.  This causes frustration. Frustration makes you waiver and backslide.  You become even harder on yourself and voila... you are your own worst enemy.

New Year’s resolutions, at least the way I make them, are big and broad.  They are to rid ourselves of longstanding habits and patterns of behavior.  These patterns are well trenched.  While making a firm resolution is good, that is the easiest part.    How many times did I flick away a cigarette and say “That is my last cigarette” until I finally was able to quit.  In my earlier posting on this subject, I quoted Mark Twain who said “Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times.”  They say is easy.  The doing is the harder longer haul part of this.

We are a society of instant gratification.  We want everything and we want it quickly.  We want our resolutions to happen in the span of time it takes a CSI team to solve a crime.  It is why people are looking for the miracle weight loss or quite smoking method, pill, or magic wand.  There are no magic wands.

I was in a Barnes and Noble today and downloaded a freebee that they called “Advice to Go.”  It was a short essay by Allyson Lewis, a time management and productivity guru and author.  The download was to entice me to buy her latest book:  The 7 Minute Solution.  I read her little essay.  It was good but I did not buy the book.  She offered seven (she likes that prime number) things one could do to better manage their time.  Two of them applied to the topic at hand here and are worth mentioning:

Good Habits are formed like cow paths:  The habits we are trying to break are, a mentioned above, well worn and well entrenched.  They are like cow paths which are made by the consistent behavior of cows.  If we want to change such a habit, we have to create a new cow path for ourselves.  This means we have to learn a new behavior and consistently repeat that behavior until we have ourselves a new cow path and grass has grown over and hidden the old one.

Micro-actions:  The way we make a new cow path is by the hundreds, maybe thousands, of decisions we make each day.   Take the stairs or the elevator?  Eat a candy bar or an orange?  Smoke a cigarette or chew a piece of gum?  These are the micro-actions Lewis speaks of.  Each one is either a step on the new cow path or the old cow path.

Happy Up:  To quote Allyson Lewis. “Life is better when you are happy.”  This is so obvious that most of us do not get it.  Life is a journey.  Why not be happy and enjoy it while striving and stretching ourselves to improve.  Are we going happily toward a goal of improved health, improved quality of life, and longevity?  Or, are we fighting all the way lamenting and feeling low that we are denying ourselves the cigarettes or high calorie low nutrition foods?  If we choose the latter, we are bound to fail.  
The frustration I have been talking magnifies the unhappiness and together they drive us to fail.  It is about attitude and Jason said that he was trying to stay positive.  Sure we will have our little setbacks.  Let’s be determined and happy about the change we are trying to realize.  Stop being your own worst enemy.  Let’s create that new cow path one positive step at a time.

Thanks Jason!  Thanks Allyson!  I am feeling much less frustrated.