November – A month of gratitude

It is hard to believe my life changing adventure began a year ago. I had buried my brother just over a month before and was in a very dark place. My wife provided me with a gratitude challenge. For 21 days, I was to think, act and live with a gratitude mindset. Doing this each day and posting about it each day, began a transformation in my mind, body and spirit.

This year, I will do as similar challenge but for all of November and post about it here. I challenge you to do the same. Post will go up every morning no later than 6:30 am Central Time. I will continue to provide other regular updates too! It starts tomorrow!

Life Gets in The Way

This has been a week. It was supposed to be a week off from regularly scheduled duties. Instead, it was an intense week full of personal and professional requirements.

One of the challenges in living a healthy life is doing so during hectic weeks. I haven’t been perfect this week but I have been much better than in the past. I have exercised everyday. I have eaten mostly healthy (though I confess I was at a conference and there were cookies). I’m achieved my three major objectives each day.

I attribute most of this success to planning and focus. There have been several moments during this week where I could have focused on the wrong thing and gone down the rabbit hole of despair. Yet, because I had taken time to plan my week, I was able to focus on the plan and what I wanted to achieve this week.

I hope to write more this weekend but until then focus on what you can control.

Food Planning – Mrs. Harris viewpoint

I am extremely lucky to have an amazing and supportive spouse. There are so many reasons I love her. She occasionally reads this blog. She read the most recent post about meal planning and shopping. After reading it she expressed a few thoughts. I thought I would share those along with a recent Wall Street Journal article about making things from scratch.

She correctly pointed out that my method is not perfect. She identified several deficiencies involving the supply of bananas, paper towels and toilet paper in our household. I reminded her that the later two were not part of meal planning. There was more discussion about a desire for me to visit the store more often followed by constructive criticism about the lack of food on the weekends. Her statements are mostly correct and I do often make a quick trip or two each week. These quick trips only take couple of minutes and are usually integrated on the way home from work.

Yet, a major point is that the planning of each meal throughout the week reduces stress. It has resulted in less inappropriate binge eating. Additionally, I spend less time in the store because I know what is needed. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go to the store and buy some extra bananas.

NOTE: Several have asked about whether I use online grocery shopping. I do not use online grocery shopping because most of the food that I purchase is fresh produce. I am very particular about my produce.

Rainy Day Thoughts

Earlier this week, it was 70+ degrees and sunny. Today it is 40 degrees and rainy. A common descriptive phrase where I live is that we are the land of infinite variety. We also say if you don’t like the weather, wait 48 hours.

What if we all took a similar approach to all aspects of life. In other words, rather than reacting negatively to the current situation, we accepted it for what it was and looked forward to an optimistic the future?

So far, I have not written about the specific foods and “diet” that has lead to a nearly 70 pound weight loss. Rather, I have spent most of the time writing about mindset. This has been intentional.

For me, I attribute my success primarily to a change in my mind set and focus. From the beginning, I believed the next 48 hours, 30 days, and 3 months would bring a better result. You need to pay attention to what you’re doing today. You also need to have the patience and ability to look beyond what happens today.

Set aside time this weekend, whether it be 15, 30, or 60 minutes, to think about the person you want to be in the future. Write it down and commit to it. Next week, I’ll write about the food system I chose to follow. Have A great weekend!

Planning to Pivot

Through this journey and the pandemic, I have learned the importance of planning and pivoting.

For the last 10 months or so, I have used a portion of my Sunday to plan for the week ahead. A properly planned week reduces unnecessary stress by providing certainly along with opportunity to tackle the surprises that life gives us.

I would love to report this was an easy and seamless transition. However, that would be untruthful. I spent most of my life moving from crisis to crisis responding and reacting to things. The result is often higher stress, less satisfaction, and poor choices.  You get to the end of a long day with no food in the refrigerator and no energy to cook.  Hello fast food!   

The truth is planning for the week is hard to start.  You must consider all that is on your calendar and what might be.  What events must you attend? What tasks must get done?  What do you want to do? It is a lot to track.  It is worth it. Trust me.  It just is.  Start the habit today and your life will be immeasurably better.

Start small.  I began by planning dinner for 2-3 days.  To be honest, it started by accident.  I started making a vat of chili on Sunday.  The chili would serve as dinner on Sunday and lunch and/or dinner on Monday.  I would go to the store and get the ingredients for the chili on Sunday and anything else on the family grocery list.  I would also pick up the ingredients for a couple of nice simple healthy salads for dinner on Monday and Tuesday night.   Finally, I would pick up some canned soup and healthy breakfast items.  The result was almost instant.  I got into a routine.  It was one less thing to think or worry about.  Further, it helped my cravings.  An additional benefit was I went to the grocery store fewer times. 

This strategy served me well until Wednesday rolled around and we were out of food.  I had to plan and go to the store again.  Because it was winter and cold, I found some easy soup recipes.  I found them by typing “healthy easy soup recipes” into google. Prior to Fall 2020, I don’t recall making soup.   Now it is my go-to meal.  I love making soup.  It is easy, filling, and healthy.  Make a big pot of soup and you are good for a couple of days.  In our house, weekend meals are not my responsibility, so I didn’t plan a meal for Friday or Saturday. 

Ultimately, I would challenge myself to pick up all items for the next week in one stop on Sunday.  I was able to do this writing down my shopping list.  In my head, I would think about items that could be used in multiple recipes, items that were healthy, and items that could keep for a week. 

Creating the list had at least three substantial benefits.  First, it allowed me to avoid most impulse buys in the grocery store.  Second, it allowed me to get out of the store faster.  Third, it cut down on grocery spending as there was less wasted food.  An additional benefit was fewer trips to the store. 

After a few times of creating the list, I began to expand my recipe list.  I found I enjoyed trying to create different soups and salads.  I would add different soup or salad every week.  Expanding my repertoire also kept me from getting bored with same meals.  I learned how long the soup or salad lasted (i.e., were there leftovers for lunch the next day).  See above for how I found new recipes. 

I would eventually add written weekly life planning and weekly written meal planning.  Generally, it takes me about 10-15 minutes to plan meals for a week.  It takes about 30-60 minutes to plan for the week.  I no longer need a “list” at the store because I know what ingredients I need.  (In a later post, I will share a sample weekly schedule, shopping list, and plan).   For now, understand that a little bit of planning went a long way to provide certain and stability to an otherwise chaotic life.  Further, my wife appreciated not having to worry about meals.  With less stress, I ate better.  Just did.  Because I didn’t purchase things not on this, I only had healthy options in the house. 

What I didn’t expect from all this planning was the ease in which I could pivot and adapt as life got in the way.  There was often something from the night before if we were extremely strapped for time and sapped of energy.  Don’t want to make soup?  Throw a basic salad together quickly.  Don’t have time to cut up the vegetables for the soup?  No problem.  Already bought the vegetables precut (a little more expensive but worth it if you are strapped for time). Yet, most of the meals take less than 15 minutes to prepare (sometimes longer to cook but you can rest while that is happening).  I established the mindset that I always have 15 minutes to make a quick meal for us.  Since we had the ingredients and the recipes were healthy, I didn’t have to worry about deviating too much from my plan.

Today was beautiful fall day where I live. It was unseasonably warm (71 degrees).  I had planned to eat lunch midafternoon and take care of other work after.  Then I looked at the weather forecast.  It said it will be much cooler and rainy tomorrow. Because I had a plan in place, I was able to shift my calendar.  I didn’t have any more scheduled meetings. Instead of a midafternoon lunch, I took an hour-long nature walk.  I had canned soup instead of making a salad.  I did some work from home this evening.  It was major pivot from plan.  The picture in this post is from my walk today.  But because I have a plan, I know I got everything I need to get done today.   Planning allows you to pivot when needed without the stress. 

Water

Nearly seventy five percent of the world is covered in water. Water plays such an important role in our lives. Yet, we often overlook the importance of water in our health. For me, drinking water was essential to weight loss.  If you are properly hydrated, you body functions, looks and feels better. Additionally, for me, water filled me up and curbed my appetite.  Here are my four tips to drinking enough water.

First, drink 16 ounces of water each morning before you consume anything else.  For nearly a year, I have started each day with a glass of water.  I have varied what I put in the water.  Sometimes it is just straight tap water.  Sometimes it is cold filtered water.  Some mornings, I will slice a lemon and squeeze its juice into the water.  I’ve even tried some celery juice water and other green juice.  Recently, I have been adding a dietary powder supplement.  But the routine is the same every morning 16 ounces of water before anything else.  NOTE:  My wife thinks I am crazy for doing this before coffee.  Truth is coffee is not good for supporting your hydration.  While I do drink coffee, I also limit my intake and don’t count coffee as part of my hydration.   

Second, as you drink water, track how much you are drinking.  You will quickly get a feel for how much water you need to stay hydrated.  I use an app on my phone for tracking water.  I measured out how many cups/ounces were in the glasses I use at home.  An added benefit of tracking is added a level of accountability for me.  I have a goal of at least 80 ounces of water per day.  On most days, I exceed that amount. It was easy to track using the app. Easy to know where I was.    I didn’t include coffee, pop, beer, or wine in this calculation.  I did include herbal tea. 

Third, drink 12-16 ounces of water before each meal.  For me, that water gave me a sensation of being full sooner.  I have noticed my food digests better with a glass of water in my stomach. Finally, when I did not drink the water before the meal, I tended to eat too much.   

My final tip made the biggest impact for me.  Losing weight requires you to change your habits and attitude. Why people eat is different for each of us.  I was terrible at listening to my body.  Occasionally, I would eat when I was hungry.  I mostly ate meals because it was time to eat meals.  Breakfast in the morning, lunch at noon and dinner around 6pm.  It didn’t really matter if I was hungry.  Confession, I AM A BOREDOM EATER.  Put another way, if I am at all bored, I get cravings.   If I am bored and food is available, I eat.  Though I often eat throughout the day, the most dangerous time of the day is after 7pm.  I get bored and just start munching on whatever food is available – and it isn’t always a good choice.

While the cravings persist, my approach since early in the journey has changed.  Early in my journey, I decided I would drink a glass of water whenever I had a craving outside of meals.   The result has been transformative.  Most of the time, the water cures the craving.  Most of my cravings are from boredom not hunger.  While I don’t know if this method works for other non-hunger cravings, it is worth a try.

So, to sum up, want to lose weight, drink more water. You will be glad you did.

Pivot from Beginning to End

Yesterday, I wrote about new beginnings.  Today, I was going to write about whether I achieved my goals yesterday (all of them for the most part).  I was also going to write about the importance of diet in weight loss (extremely important).   Yet, sometimes we need to pivot and write about an end.   

In many ways, it seems entirely appropriate that I learned of the passing of mentor, colleague, and friend while I was giving an examination at the institution where we met 35 years ago.  Additionally,  it seems appropriate that the man who ignited my love of  Constitutional Law and the Supreme Court of the United States passed away on the first Monday in October. 

I have spent much of the day reflecting.  There has been some laughter and smiles.  Some stories shared on social media and privately.  There have been some tears about what has been lost and profound impact this man had on my life.  We all have teachers that changed the course of our life for the better.  The teacher that believed in you, challenged you, inspired you, guided you and supported you.   For me,  Dr. Peter Schotten was one of those teachers.  There are so many stories I could tell you about him.  I could tell about his propensity for puns.  I could tell you about his quick wit.  I could tell you about his intelligence.  I could tell you about his fashion sense.  I could tell you how he helped students like no other professor I have ever seen.  In the end, I am at a loss for words.  I will simply say, he is the mentor and professor that I have aspired to be since returning to Augustana. 

I met Dr. Schotten thirty-five years ago when I was a freshman in college in the fall of 1986. He was the prelaw advisor at Augustana.  Though he clearly had concerns, he supported, encouraged, and challenged me to be the best I could.  I listened to him but often fell short of both our expectations. He helped me prepare for the LSAT and apply for law school. Without him, I would have never been accepted to law school.  Years later, I would be fortunate to return to Augustana and call him a colleague.  He always treated me as an equal.  He had good advice.  But most of all, he was honest.  Brutally honest at times.  If you ever dealt with him, you understand what I mean. 

In my last correspondence with Dr. Schotten, I thanked him for being such a great mentor to me and many others.  I wrote “There are few people that have had a greater impact upon my life.”  What I didn’t say is that outside of my parents and immediate family, he made the most significant positive impact upon my life. I simply would not be where I am today without him. Life is short.  Thank those who help.  Hug those you love.  Make sure they know.

You can read his obituary here – Peter M. Schotten The picture at the top of the blog post is from my college graduation party. It shows me, looking a bit startled and intimidated. It also my father (far right) and Dr. Schotten (middle) with expressions that are priceless. Rest well Dr. Schotten. You made the world better. Say hello to my dad.

New Beginning

It is the first Monday in October. For US Supreme Court junkies, this is the beginning of a new year. What cases will they hear? What decisions will they make? It certainly will be an interesting Supreme Court term

The start of a new day, week, month, semester, or year is an excellent time to start something new. It serves as an important reminder to start a new. Your failures of past are erased with a fresh start. It’s like a do over or a mulligan. Further, research shows when people utilize these fresh start points, they are more likely to succeed in achieving their goals.

So, rejoice in this new beginning today. Set new goals. Make yourself better today.My goals for today are:

⁃ To write a short blog post

⁃ To finish the book How To Change

⁃ To finalize an exam I will be giving to students tomorrow.

⁃ To grade at least 1/3 of the outstanding assignments that have been turned in by my students.

⁃ To prepare for class tomorrow.

⁃ To drink at least 90 ounces of water.

– To walk at least 10,000 steps

⁃ To make healthy eating choices all day

⁃ To send a card or letter to at least one person in my life

⁃ To celebrate each goal I achieve

I better go! looks like I’m going to have a busy day.