Step by step

I stopped on my way home to order Chinese takeout for dinner the other night. Usually I spend the brief wait time on my cell phone, catching up on email and the next day’s weather forecast.

Not this time. Instead, I headed outside, crossed the road and circled a nearby church parking lot as fast I could walk for 12 minutes. It was dark and a little chilly and possibly not as well lit as ideal safety would dictate, but boy, did it feel good. Because … steps.

My company has been holding a “Walk to Disney” step challenge for the past several weeks. I’m part of a team of four trying to accumulate 904,000 steps to cover the 452 miles from our office location to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom in 26 days. (Spoiler alert #1: We got there in the first two weeks and are well on the way home.) The Sole Sistas (see what we did there?) are competing against 211 other employees on dozens of teams with cool names like Holey Walkamolies and Cirque du Sore Legs to log the most steps. (Spoiler alert #2: The final results won’t be known for a week after I’m writing this, but we’re looking reaaally good right now.)

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Besides being a lot of fun and burning off some stubborn calories that mysteriously glommed onto my midsection after — not during — the holidays, I’ve learned a lot from this challenge. Some of these are more like duh-huhs but apparently I needed reminding.

 

  1. Being on a team working toward a goal together is both fun and motivating. All the gals in my group were already very active, but none of us wanted to be the “anchor” holding the team back. So we all kicked it up a notch, adding second daily workouts, joining neighborhood walking clubs and obsessively carrying our phones or smart watches to track every possible step. When one team member fell victim to the flu, the healthy ones had her back by adding even more activity.
  2. It’s easy to get complacent. I’ve been a distance runner for decades, usually walk when I play golf, almost always take the stairs at work, lift weights once or twice a week and take an occasional yoga class. But surprise: It wasn’t as much exercise as I thought. 10,000 steps a day? Pfff, piece of cake … not. I found I’d been overestimating my activity and had lots of room for improvement. Hmm, the mysterious holiday pounds might not be so mysterious after all.
  3. People will do anything to win a key chain. OK, that one’s not true. Yes, a company-branded lighted key chain is the only prize all but the top 4 or 5 people will win, but they’re not really participating for the prize. Rather, it’s all about the friendly competition and the challenge of seeing how well you can do. Many departments have their own internal rivalry going on — the top prize is barely on their radar.
  4. Fitness challenges can engage anyone. One of the most exciting things to me about this program has been the participation by the “non-athletes” among us. Evidence: We have walking workstations in a few locations around the building — treadmills with a place to plug in your laptop, so you can walk for 30 minutes while you’re on a conference call or checking email. Use of these workstations skyrocketed when the challenge was announced. Clearly, even people who had little chance of “winning” started stepping it up. Whether for better health or just to be part of a fun event, it really doesn’t matter.

Of course, the real success of the challenge will be if people continue their increased activity long-term. It would be cool if teammates kept in touch and kept each other accountable. Maybe those intra-department rivalries will spark new competitions of their own.

For me, I’m already thinking of ways to maintain at least some of the intensity and focus of the past month. I noticed Ash Wednesday falls just a few days after the challenge ends. So instead of giving up chocolate, I’m going to commit to at least 3 days a week of two-a-day workouts.

There probably won’t be an LED key chain waiting in my Easter basket, but I think I’ve already seen the light.

 

 

True grit

by Jeanne Reynolds

 What makes people successful – Talent? High IQ? Money? Luck? Genes?

 No, no, no, no and no. All those things help, but the true driver of success is grit.

At least, that’s the opinion of Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor who’s been studying this stuff for years. And the more I read and think about it, the more I believe she’s exactly right.

225px-True-GritDefinition here: Grit is a combination of unshakeable motivation, persistence and determination. Simply put, it’s sticking with it. Never giving up, even when it gets hard.

I’ve become fascinated with this concept since hearing Duckworth talk about it recently on National Public Radio. She’s done tons of testing with students and teachers, adults and kids. Unfailingly, whether in school, work or life, it turns out high performance is most closely tied to high levels of grit.

I’ve seen this play out in my own life. Take running, for example. I’m slow, and I didn’t T330_189554_Runningbecome active in the sport until later in life. But somehow I’ve managed to run 21 marathons, including five Boston Marathons. I tell people distance running doesn’t require talent – it only requires you to keep moving. That’s grit.

And because I’m pretty gritty (take the Grit Scale Test to get your score) there’s a good chance I’ll get that children’s book that’s been in my head since age 9 down on paper and submitted to a publisher one day.

Can you get grittier if you’re not hard-wired that way (Hey, marathon running isn’t for everyone. I get that.) or help your kids develop more grit? Probably. One way is to develop a growth mindset. It’s a concept developed by Carol Dweck that says our ability to learn isn’t fixed. In fact, our brain grows in response to challenge. The key is believing failure isn’t a permanent condition. We have to be allowed and willing to fail, so we can learn and start over with the lessons learned. (Note to helicopter parents: See that word “allowed”? You might need to back off so your child can develop grit.)

Programs like Girls on the Run that teach girls how to train for a longer-term goal may help. You can also try some online exercises like this this one.

I think the idea of grit as what determines our success is great news for most of us. I enjoy doing many things I don’t necessarily have an innate talent for: running, singing, golf, playing the flute, writing, cooking. But that’s OK, because talent and smarts apparently don’t matter as much as getting back up when I fall down and taking the next step.

As Duckworth says, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

 

Resolutions rewind

by Jeanne Reynolds

This time last year I posted that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I like to set a few new goals each year.

To recap those thoughts, goals focus on accomplishment rather than fixing what’s wrong. They feel positive instead of punitive. I may not achieve all my goals in any given year, but putting them in writing helps me clarify what’s important to me.

What I rarely do, though, is pull the list back out and check my progress toward those goals. Yeah, I kind of know in my head the big things I accomplished during the year. (Some of them end up in my Christmas letter, when I get around to doing one. Christmas letters: love them or hate them? Discuss among yourselves.)

Since I went “public” with my goals last year, I thought it only fair to share the results. And two things surprised me:

  1. I had forgotten most of the items on the list.
  2. I did better than I thought.

Here’s a look:

 

  • Run a half-marathon in under 2:05. Yes! I ran the Palmetto Half at Sandhills in
  • 2:03 and change. I have to confess this wasn’t exactly a stretch goal since it’s waaay slower than I used to run, but coming off some injuries it seemed reasonable.
  • Paint our bedroom and get new linens and towels. Yes! We ended up getting nearly the whole inside of the house painted a calming gray. Love. It. For those interested, I went with an all-white bed and mossy green towels in the master bath.
  • Obtain and complete at least 3 freelance writing jobs. Didn’t take even the first step toward this, except in my mind. Realistically, this won’t happen until I can cut back my hours on my “real” job. Maybe this year.
  • Lower my golf handicap to 14. Surprisingly, yes! I had some good rounds in the summer and fall, bringing it down to 13 something. Of course with our recent weather I’ll be back where I started, but at least I know it’s possible.
  • Finish the first phase of landscaping in the natural area of our Cat Island home. Hmm, sort of? Another pesky hurricane drained a good bit of our resources but we’re making progress. Unfortunately, a couple rows of wax myrtles that will one day be a huge hedge aren’t yet making a dent in the use of our yard as the neighborhood ball field (you can probably hear my husband saying “I told you so” in the background). But someday … And we did plant four new trees to replace some of those lost in the 2016 hurricane.
  • Take a special getaway trip to celebrate a milestone birthday. Not yet – see hurricanes above. Instead, the trip will be this year to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Rome, Tuscany and Amalfi coast, here we come.Italy guidebook

So now it’s time to set some goals for 2018. I’m going to take a little longer to think about that. But based on points 1 and 2 above, I realize it’s not the goals themselves but the act of setting them that matters. Most of us get so busy just charging through each day, we seldom stop to think about where we’re going. Just taking some time to think about what’s important to me – and what I might be willing to do to reach it – is a good goal in itself.

Like nature, my to-do list abhors a vacuum

By Jeanne Reynolds

I’m writing this on a Monday afternoon in mid-December — a somewhat random day off work just to avoid losing vacation days as the window of opportunity quickly closes.

Wow, a whole day off just for me, with no doctor’s appointments, errands or family duties. So much free time just to read, relax or do whatever I want.

Yeah, right.

It started that way. Then I decided it would be the perfect time to submit online matching gift forms for my year-end charitable donations, address and stamp and stuff Christmas cards, bake my special gingerbread men that I give co-workers every year, wrap a few gifts, reorder a gift I already bought because the vendor just notified me it’s sold out, pick up air filters for all the air returns in the house (there are at least four, each a different size, so I also have to figure out where I wrote that information last year or get the ladder out of the garage and measure them), and oh, what’s that grungy stuff splashed all over the back of the pantry door, and when was the last time this sugar canister was washed?

And so it goes. This happens to me all the time — no, correction: I do this to myself all the time. I overbook and cram too much into my “time off” so the feeling of accomplishment from crossing so many things off my to-do list is outweighed by the feeling of resentment that I can’t take a simple day off and I never get it all done.

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Wait, back up a minute. I may have stumbled on the real issue here. I never get it all done because it never will be all done. Even if I draw a solid black line through every task on the list, 3 or a dozen more will leap into their places. I don’t know if it’s a female thing or a perfectionist thing or what, but there’s always going to be more to get done than I and a small army can do.

I keep thinking if I really slam it today, I can enjoy my free time tomorrow because the list will be cleared off. But no, like flipping over an hourglass so the sand runs inexorably from the top to the bottom, the list will fill, fill, fill again.

So what’s the answer? I probably could take a cue from the song in the animated film Frozen: Let it go.

Honestly, I’m not sure I can. At 60 I’m not likely to change my DNA. But maybe I can try some baby steps. Like today: I stopped what I was doing late this afternoon and went to have a pedicure, a favorite treat I enjoy only once a year or so. And it was lovely (can I get one of those massaging chairs installed in my car?).

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Ladies, let’s give ourselves permission to put down the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser once in a while, close the door to the closet that looks like Mount Vesuvius erupted again, and enjoy some guilt-free down time. I’ll try if you will.

 

Because I have to say those baby steps are going to look pretty good with these awesome toes.

 

 

What’s in a name?

By Jeanne Reynolds

If you’re like most of us, you’ll probably spend more time than usual with extended family this month: aunts, uncles, grandparents, in-laws, parents of old school friends.

Have you ever struggled with how to address them — especially as you get older and are no longer one of “the kids”?

This came up the other day when I stopped by a friend’s football tailgate and the conversation drifted to the topic of their parents — former neighbors of ours — and then on to the names by which we address our in-laws.

I became really intrigued by this, and started a sort of informal survey of other friends and family members. Turns out this is a tricky issue for most of us, and goes beyond family to pretty much anyone a generation older than us. If you’ve spent the first 20 (or more) years of your life calling someone Uncle Joe, it feels weird to start saying just Joe. And if your high school BFF’s mom was Mrs. Smith, how old do you have to be to call her Mary?

In-law nomenclature seems to bring its own set of unwritten rules. If you started out from day one calling your intended’s parents by their first names, no problem. But if they were Mr. and Mrs. Jones when you were dating, when is it OK to segue to Bob and Judy? Does it depend on how long you’ve been married, or your age, or your relationship with them? I’ve been married for almost 25 years, and am just now experimenting with first names for my in-laws. It feels a little odd but seems to be OK. It’s certainly less confusing when there are several Mrs. Reynolds in the room.

I experienced another spin on this generational name-calling last year when a friend’s daughter came to work for me as a summer intern. Like most companies, we’re all on a first-name basis from the president on down, so Mrs. Reynolds wasn’t going to cut it if she wanted to position herself as a capable professional. (Also out: “Yes, ma’am.” Not sure which was harder for her, being a good southern girl.) It was probably even more confusing for her when she went home in the evening. I imagine this:

Her mom: “How was work today?”

My intern: “I got a great new project from Jeanne … I mean Mrs. Reynolds … I mean … oh heck.”

Yes, the names we use for each other do matter. They can indicate respect, professionalism, status and intimacy. It can be annoying when someone takes the first-name liberty inappropriately (think telemarketer) and a slap when someone refuses that permission. And it’s very much a personal preference. An online search found numerous articles offering advice on when it’s appropriate to use first names, but mostly for business situations. When it comes to personal relationships, we’re kind of all on our own.

If in doubt, you could always just ask. More likely than not, most people are just happy to talk with you and really don’t care that much. So don’t be surprised if you hear some version of that old joke: “You can call me whatever you want. Just don’t call me late for dinner.”

 

Put down the phone!

By Jeanne Reynolds

I’m pulling out of Ricky’s on Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia with a brand-new set of tires, heading back to work at the tail-end of the Thursday lunch hour. I’ve driven maybe 100 yards when whoosh! The red SUV next to me swerves suddenly into my lane.

I slam on brakes and jerk the steering wheel hard right, narrowly avoiding a collision. Really glad for those new tires right now.

My heart is beating hard, my hands are shaking and I can barely breathe. I look over to see if the other driver is acknowledging she nearly caused a wreck. An apologetic wave? A sheepish smile? No, because her right hand is raised to face level, holding what looks like … a phone.

Now, just before her ill-timed move, I noticed the car in front of her appeared to move into the left turn lane abruptly without signaling. Ms. SUV was following too closely to start with and I’d guess wasn’t paying enough attention to brake in time, thanks to her irresistible mobile device.

With one hand now pressed to my forehead as I try to calm down, I make it safely back to the office. And here’s the really ironic part: The National Public Radio news program I’m listening to as I navigate those last few miles is running a story on the dangers of technology and distracted driving. Yeah, tell me about it.

Friends, this time of year more than any, please put down the phone while you’re driving. Between all the extra errands we’re trying to cram into our lunch hours, the million things racing through our mental to-do lists and the scheduling squeeze of kids’ activities and holiday social events, most of us are distracted enough. Add in the now-early nightfall, and we really need to have two hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road.

If you don’t care about me in the next lane, think about how a cast on your leg will ruin your special holiday party outfit, or how a big bill from the body shop coupled with a hefty ticket will put a crimp in your gift-giving budget.

And it could be much worse than that: 9 people die every day because of car crashes involving distracted drivers.

Think it can’t happen to you? If you’d been riding shotgun with me on Sunset last week, you might reconsider.

 

Digging out of the Doldrums

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Sometimes it just all seems like too much.

Work projects I thought I had plenty of time to tackle are suddenly looming over me. I still haven’t painted the laundry room or cleaned out my closet. The pile of charity donations sits where I started it months ago. My office colleagues are quibbling and pulling me into the middle. A nagging hip injury caused me to miss a race for an important cause. My favorite football team lost. And I’m two days late turning in this blog post.

Yeah, I know, first world problems.

Still, all of us go through times when the stress of everyday life seems overwhelming. The list of things to get done grows faster than we can cross them off and molehill-size annoyances take on mountainous proportions.

As the joys – and chores, errands and demands – of the holiday season approach, this seems like a good time to remind myself of simple ways to keep perspective. Maybe some of these will work for you, too.

Take a deep breath. I recently started taking a weekly yoga class (see nagging hip injury above) and apparently, it’s all about breathing. It helps bring oxygen to your muscles and clears your mind. And it’s a concept I can use any time I feel things piling up around me. No stretchy pants required.

Get outside. I don’t know if it’s the aforementioned oxygen or just being surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation, but going for a run or walk, playing a round of golf or even picking up pine cones and sticks in the yard (talk about your never-ending task) never fails to help me change my focus.

Write it down. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer – and old-school, too – but the physical act of writing things down helps me feel better organized. I wrote back in August about how making a master list of everything you need to do creates some mental space and alleviates some of the pressure. If that doesn’t appeal to you, here’s another idea: Keep a running list of the blessings in your life. Jot one or more on your calendar each day, then go back at the end of the week, month or year and read them. This is something your whole family can do. Start now and share around the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Start anywhere. Can’t face cleaning out the whole closet? Start with one shelf, one drawer or the shoe rack. The sense of accomplishment will feel great and may inspire you to tackle another piece of the project. I often use this strategy to overcome writer’s block. I just start keying in phrases, bullets or ideas, then go back and cobble them together into a cohesive whole.

Let it be. Sometimes the best thing to do is … nothing. Taking time to think through a problem before jumping in likely will lead to a better solution. Give yourself permission to procrastinate. It may be good for you. (Note to my editor: This is my excuse, I mean reason, for being late this time. Is it working?)

Pray. This one should be at the top of the list instead of the end. I don’t know why it’s one of the last things I think of. I rarely pray for a particular solution to a problem. Instead, my prayer takes the form of thankfulness for my blessings and for knowing God is always there for me. It’s a reminder that no amount of list-making or closet-cleaning means I’m really in control. And thank goodness for that.