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  • The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me (And You)

    Hey, Friend. In a recent work meeting, the check-in question was: "What is something that most people do not like, but you do?". Immediately I thought of grown-up birthdays. Most grown-ups do not seem to like their birthdays, nor do they seem to celebrate their birthdays. Well, I could not feel MORE differently. The best thing that ever happened to me was not meeting my husband. It was not having my children. It was not moving to Canada. It was being born. I am going to say that again (and probably again for good measure): My birth is the best thing that happened to me. None of the good things that happened TO me would not have been possible without there being a ME. A moot point, perhaps, but a helpful one to consider at least once a year ON my birthday. Another two cells could have joined, and then my mother's belly bump below would have yielded a different person entirely. I could have very easily NOT been here at all. And yet... here I am, hugging strangers. If you haven't seen that video, see below - I share it once a year on my birthday, and it truly is one of my favorite days ever: I'm thinking a re-do might be in order in a couple of years. What do you think? You in? ;) If you are also glad I was born, hit Reply today and let me know. Because the second best thing to the birthday itself, is receiving birthday wishes from awesome people. Hugs,

  • Laughing Over Salad, And AI-Generated Images

    Hey, Friend. I hope you’ve had a chance to play around with some text-to-image tools that are out there - whether it’s the app that takes your photo and creates an AI avatar based on that image, or whether you are loving the generative fill feature in Photoshop. Btw, I have taken playing around to the next level, as my AI MAGIC DUST sessions kicked off couple of weeks ago. These are 1:1 90min deep dive coaching calls, where I help coaches integrate AI tools into their coaching practice. Of course, in discussing text-to-image AI, I had to start with the quintessential fitness woman laughing over salad. Here you go. Let’s all agree that if AI’s only contribution to the health and wellness industry is going to be that no woman ever has to laugh over a salad again, that would be sufficient and worthwhile.Thank you for your service, AI. Only in the last few weeks, I’ve created kid bedroom decor, futuristic cars, mock-up logos for a nutrition business, and stock images for an upcoming event - all in MidJourney (a text-to-image AI tool). *Pro tip for parents of young children: you can prompt any image as a “black and white colouring page”, which then allows you to print it out, and voila - a custom colouring book! Like this: If you are up for some hysterical laughter, play with prompts around golf swings, athletic movements, and people eating spaghetti. Those specific scenarios still produce hilarious results, as they rub against AI’s current limitations. But… no one is really laughing at AI-generated hands any more. And we did only a few months ago, because the results looked like this... Now here’s what I am getting: Now… The photo below is NOT AI-generated. It was taken with a cell phone on my recent trip to Alberta to participate in the team relay for the Canadian Death Race. The photo does not do the view justice, of course. And while I could produce multiple stunning landscapes in MidJourney - those landscapes would not do the real thing justice either. AI-generated images and art might take a bit bite out of the stock image business, and commercial photography, but… it won’t take the place of us taking selfies, us trying to capture what we see on our iPhones (however measly the result), and us creating art for the sake of creating art. For someone who has never been creative with images, but have always been creative with words, text-to-image AI is opening up an entire new world of creativity. The same might be true for you too. Hugs,

  • Bum Wrist, Ganesh Balls, And How We Can Always Do Something

    Hey, Friend. Did you know that In Ashtanga yoga, you show up on your mat SIX days a week - five days of self-practice, one day of led practice. No practice on full moon days. Some days, your practice is amazing. Other days, it's just okay. And then there are those days that suck giant Ganesh balls. You are happy to make it to the mat at all. The fact that you practice the same poses every single day makes it easy to compare. “Hey! What the hell - I could touch my toes in this pose yesterday! What gives?!” I recall hurting my wrist, and calling my yoga teacher to tell him I am not coming in for my daily practice. “How come?”, he asks. “I hurt my wrist!”, I repeat, feeling incredibly sorry for myself. “Ok”, he responds, “so you can come in and do everything that does not involve your wrist. See you soon!”, and hangs up. I make it to the studio that day, and get through my practice, skipping every pose that involves the use of my wrist, and swallowing tears. The only time you don’t show up to practice is if it’s a Sunday, or it’s a moon day, or if you are dead. The black-and-whiteness of ashtanga was part of the reason I stopped my regular practice - it fed into my perfectionism a little TOO WELL. And it would have been totally fine to take a day off, AND spend it on the couch feeling sorry for myself. Would I have felt better if I did that instead? Actually, I doubt it. It was a great lesson. It was never about the wrist. It was about “a little more, a little better” on that day. We can always do SOMETHING. Hugs,

  • The Art Of Asking Amazing Questions, And FOUR Specific Text-To-Text AI Tools I Recommend

    Hi, Friend. Can we talk about all the unexpected places and contexts the skill of ASKING AMAZING QUESTIONS can come in handy? Want to be a more effective coach? Ask better questions. Want to communicate with your teenagers better? Ask better questions. Need to negotiate with terrorists? Better questions. [For real, terrorist negotiators take training in motivational interviewing and similar modalities.] Like… this truly is a skill that keeps on giving. So, I really should not be surprised that the skill of asking good questions translates quite well to using text-to-text AI tools effectively. Am I going to be the new queen of ChatGPT prompts? Challenge accepted. Listen. If you are deep down the AI black hole yourself, you don’t need me to tell ya anything, mmmkay? If you are like ME, and you are listening to ALL AI podcasts, receiving ALL AI newsletters, and reading all AI books, and taking all AI courses, and experimenting with endless prompts in all of your free time, and possibly sitting your children down in front of Netflix, so you could experiment with generating a sales page for a client in their specific brand voice, and explore unique angles for another client’s marketing plan for a group coaching program. If this is you, then high fives, AI friend. Let’s keep riding that crazy train together. However, most of you are doing NONE of those things, because who the fuck has the time to learn about yet another thing? AND… because tech is overwhelming, AND where do you start? AND you find this AI shit a bit creepy honestly, and you have already wondered multiple times whether or not I have even written this goddamn email myself, and whether all of my emails have been generated by AI for weeks and weeks. Especially considering how sick I was couple of weeks ago, and how did I find the energy to send out that email with all the details of my sickness, huh? I guess you’ll never know. Meanwhile, I (or possibly Simone, my AI assistant impersonating me) want to recommend FOUR specific text-to-text AI tools. Text-to-text just means the subselection of AI tools that take text as input, and give you text as output - and function like any other chatbot, or chat window if you are old enough to have experienced the joys of chatrooms. [Next week I’ll recommend some text-to-image tools - where you input text, and get an image as output.] This is the big one. If you are going to try one and only one tool, it should be this one for a few reasons. It’s easy to sign up. It’s easy to use. It can be free. [Yep, the paid version is better. You should probably spend 20 bucks for one month to give it a try. But… unnecessary for you to dip your toes in the AI water.] Think of it as the Walmart of AI tools. It has sort-of everything, and is the cheapest. Because it does everything, you don’t have to pick and choose among all the more specialized AI tools. Do you need help with copywriting? Content? Writing a speech for a family function? Need a modification for a recipe? An easy strength program you can do from home? Yes, there are going to be specialized and possibly better tools for all of those, but ChatGPT will give you a taste of all the things. Jasper is one of the more-specialized AI tools, specifically for copy and marketing. Think marketing campaigns, email sequences, sales pages. If ChatGPT is a multi-tool, Jasper is more of a chef’s knife. If I was a copywriter, working on marketing copy all day every day, I would probably choose Jasper. You specify brand voice (based on a sample text or a URL), select specific assets that you’d like created (e.g. blog posts, emails, sales pages), and get an entire body of work generated that you can review and edit. Jasper describes my brand voice as:“a casual, conversational tone with friendly informal address, colloquial language, personal anecdotes, self-referential remarks, humor, and a conversational flow to create relatable and engaging content." Not bad! Jasper is not free, and not cheap at $49 USD per month. But there is always a free trial to give you a taste of what it’s all about. It also takes a bit more time to learn, as you are now working within an entire dashboard - place to save outputs, documents, emails and email campaigns. Probably an overkill for most users, who are not dedicated copywriters and marketers. A lot of success in Jasper seems to rely on you having clear brand assets - brief, brand voice - already developed. As someone who used to have a part time job, doing medical transcription, I will be forever blown away by technology transcribing audio, and doing it well. I remember turning on the audio file, and pausing it every few seconds, while I’d type up what I heard. Sometimes, I’d have to re-listen to part of the file numerous times to hear what exactly the doctor was saying to the pharma sales rep. Enter - a nifty little AI tool that “attends” your Zoom meetings - as an actual attendee - and transcribes the whole thing. You then have a transcript of the entire conversation, as well as the ability to chat with the tool ABOUT the conversation. I can get calls and recordings transcribed retroactively by simply uploading the file, and have the transcription generated. I have been doing this with some group coaching calls I lead, as I can then quickly review the main points, and even ask the chatbot some questions: e.g.“have we talked about cooking in this call?”, or“summarize the next actions that were discussed in this call”, or “what were some of the questions asked in this call?” The purpose is simple - you can chat with any PDF file. The tool uses ChatGPT backend to process and analyze PDF files. This is a good example of where a specific tool is better than ChatGPT, even though I could use ChatGPT for the same purpose but would have to utilize some workarounds. The tool is free, so you should totally play with it. One of the most obvious and awesome uses for the tool - helping you read and understand research articles. This ^^^ is article I uploaded most recently: "Orthorexia Nervosa, Eating Disorders, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Selective Review of the Last Seven Years". You can view it in full, and use it yourself to play with the tool if you'd like HERE. Some of the questions I asked: What did the researchers in this study do? What were the exclusion criteria for the participants? Who are the authors of this paper? What is the relationship between orthorexia and obsessive compulsive disorder? Few limitations - the tool is primarily aimed at TEXT, so it might not be as helpful if you are mostly looking at pdfs with diagrams and schematic representations. You might run into size limitations with larger pdf files (pdf file limit is 32Mb). If you are reviewing pdf files with sensitive information, privacy might be a concern. Files are uploaded to a secure server, and can be deleted after you are done using them. Of course it will be up to you whether or not that assurance is enough. Ok. That’s enough tools for one day. If you want some one on one coaching on how AI can integrate into your business, I am doing 90-min coaching intensives doing just that. Here’s how it works: ➤ We will spend the first 20-30 minutes, taking a deep dive into the specifics of your business. I want to know what your work looks like, what tasks you are having to complete on a regular basis, and what you love doing, and what you despise doing. ➤ Then I will pull out my best fairy godmother impression, as I sprinkle the AI magic dust, where it would make the most difference. I will make recommendations for specific AI tools (there are thousands on the market to choose from), and show you how to use them for the specific tasks IN your business (and life). ➤ You’ll walk away with a clear understanding of how AI can fit into your business, and make your life easier, as you keep the work you enjoy, and delegate / automate the work you do not. You will finally have your own assistant. I call mine Simone. ;) The 90-min coaching session is $399USD, or two payments of $199.50USD, and you can sign up HERE. After our session, you will be able to download the Zoom recording of our call for future reference. I will also send you the session notes (taken by Simone obviously). AI will never replace coaches, but coaches who use AI might indeed replace coaches who don’t. Supercoaches use supertools, you know what I’m saying? ;) If you want to get on this spaceship, you can sign up HERE. Can't wait to do magic with you. : Hugs,

  • Feeling #Blessed, Crying In The Dean's Office, And A FREE Webinar

    Hi, Friend, hi! I was supposed to be a computer scientist. Did you know that? Many (omg so many) years ago I was accepted to the BEST computer science / math university program IN THE COUNTRY. It was close to impossible to get into, and you needed some stupid A+++++ average to get in. Which I had. Because perfectionism. And immigrant parents. I spent a whopping FOUR months in that program. LOL. You read that correctly. Four. Months. Then I spent an hour crying at the dean’s office, who kindly closed her door AND did not respond to the ringing phone for that entire hour. At the very end of my sobby soliloquy she looked at me and said: “Do you know how lucky you are?”. “What?”, I sniffled, looking up. “Do you know how many students I get in this office, feeling exactly the same way you do? Except they have no idea what it is they want to do instead of their current program? And you have the EXACT idea?” Psychology. It was psychology. I just spent an hour telling her how I really didn’t want to do computer science, and how I wanted to do psychology. I switched my major that day. [Every immigrant and child of immigrants reading this is wondering how well that went over with my parents. Not well at all. But we all lived.] Next semester I learned all the things I wanted. My classmates were complaining about the workload, as I sucked the textbooks down like they were beach novels. It felt intoxicating and illicit. I went on to get a graduate degree, and multiple post-graduate certificates. And now I help people untangle their minds for a living. So, what did four months in computer science teach me about computer science, and computers, and tech in general? Honestly, very little. However, I have forever remained an advanced tech USER, and user only - who has zero desire to do anything complicated with computers, and who wants to work with people and be as lazy as possible when it comes to anything and everything technology. As an advanced and very lazy user, I’ve been in the deep AI rabbit hole for a few months now, and my mind is getting tired from being blown so often. My four year old recently demanded her own car. What kind of car? A unicorn car. Obviously. I asked what colour. Pink and purple. Then I got MidJourney to generate this ^^^ image, and now I really really want this car. How long before I can simply upload this image to a car manufacturer and get it 3D printed? Come on, Subaru. IG mommy mob insists that I should feel #blessed for my two perfect-healthy-love-them-so-much children. Instead, I feel #blessed to have grown up without the internet AND now be able to have an AI assistant attend a meeting for me and take notes. WHAT? I feel like randomly screaming “What a time to be alive!” as I continue discovering new ways AI tools can fold into my life and, especially, into my business. Since I have zero capacity to keep cool things to myself, I'll be offering 1:1 coaching consults to those of you interested in integrating generative AI into your business. They will be 90 minutes long one-off coaching sessions - starting with a deep dive into the details of your business, figuring out where you can benefit from some AI magic, and then identifying the best tools (and prompts) for the job. I gotta figure out what to call'em. "Turbo Sesh"? "AI Vroom Vroom"? "AI 101"? Not sure if I need more coffee right now, or less. If you are interested in learning more about these, hit Reply and let me know. Meanwhile, here's what I'll have on deck for ya in the next few weeks: --> some cool story as always, and then I'll tie in text-to-text AI tools into it somehow --> another cool story, and then text-to-image AI tools, so you can learn how to make your own unicorn cars! --> back to non-AI stories at some point I swear! I am going to jump up and down and squeal now, just to get the energy out. Hugs,

  • Sick As A Dog, And Everything Is Relative

    Hey, Friend. I interrupt all regular programming to bitch and complain about how much it sucks when you are sick. It seems to suck double now that I have children, because children do not give a flying squirrel that I am sick. I am pretty sure they are the ones who made me sick - but they burned through whatever bug this was in two days, and are back to bouncing off the walls. Meanwhile, here’s how I described my current condition to a friend: In my feverish haze, I went into the largest online mommy group that I am a part of, and posted the following: So far the consensus is: – yes, it’s a stage – yes, it ends eventually – the kids will probably be 10 and 12 when it does, so… giddy up and hold on, it’s a long road. Please enjoy this account of one particularly nasty case of the cold - written BEFORE children - when I had way more time and bandwidth to feel sorry for myself: I am clearly dying. I rarely go to the doctor, but this time - I NEED to see a doctor. ASAP. The drive TO the clinic is... dodgy. I spend most of my 20-min wait leaning against a wall, trying not to collapse. The doctor finally calls me in. What brings you here today?” “I am never sick. And now I feel like death. My throat. My chest. My whole body”. Underlying message: There is clearly something horribly wrong with me. Please make this go away, or send me back to the glue factory. PLEASE! After a few questions, and listening to my chest, the doctor announces: “Congratulations, you have the flu!”. I am not fucking kidding. He says “congratulations”. I was pretty pissy before that, now I am downright insufferable. He reminds me to drink lots of fluids (my throat hurt so bad I couldn’t stomach anything else anyway), and to sleep lots (great advice in theory, but incredibly frustrating in practice – I was so sick, I could not fall asleep at all). “Where is your regular pharmacy?”. My regular pharmacy? “I don’t have a regular pharmacy. I am healthy as a horse”. I am clearly not in the mood to be helpful. The doctor sends me downstairs with a prescription for a $30 nasal spray – mostly to make the visit feel worthwhile, I am sure. When I arrive at home, and announce the not-so-dire diagnosis to Italian, he is amused to no end. “Who has the common, usual, ordinary, pedestrian, cliche flu?”, he teases. I just pout into my eleventh mug of Neocitron. (According to the doctor, I should not exceed 4,000mg of acetaminophen per 24 hours, which seems about 4,000,000mg short). Italian, of course, correctly deduced that I was secretly hoping for a much more serious, and definitely more unique diagnosis than the common freaking flu. You know… to validate my suffering, and all. I spend a few days mimicking the lifestyle of our cats – ever so slowly moving from the bed to the couch and back. I can’t seem to regulate body temperature all of a sudden (even more so than usual) – the experience of standing in a hot shower, and shaking from the cold is pretty unnerving. I take multiple showers a day, and stick my feet in a bucket of hot water for the remainder of the time. Oh, and as soon as I get warm, I immediately get too hot, and spend the next few hours sweating violently through every single layer of towels, clothes, and/or bedding surrounding me. I ask for strange foods – namely, hot and sour soup, Kraft dinner, and hot dogs. The first of those at least makes sense – it’s a hot spicy soup that clears your sinuses, and makes you happy on the inside. The last two items – Italian double and triple checks. “Are you sure?”. [Maybe now he will finally believe that I am dying? Although, I doubt I’d get KD and hot dogs for my last meal. No sir!]. Then I ask him to boil some potatoes. “ You want mashed potatoes?”, he nods. “No, I want to breathe the potato air over the pot”, I respond. He lifts his head to join me in a laugh, and sees that I am dead serious. Pretty sure that’s the last straw. “I am NOT boiling you freaking potatoes so you can breathe over them!”. “What’s the big deal? We used to do it when we were kids all the time!”. “Because it’s ridiculous!”. “So what? Just a regular example of Soviet self-healing voodoo.” “I am going to make mashed potatoes. You can do whatever you want with the water, breathe it in or whatever, but that’s NOT why I am boiling potatoes. I am making mashed potatoes!!!”. Forty five minutes later, I am sitting at the kitchen counter with a towel over my head, and my face over the pot, breathing in the starchy steam from the boiled potatoes. Mmmmmm…. Childhood. Fast forward two days, and I am... feeling fantastic. And I find that fact hilarious, because my feeling fantastic is very much RELATIVE to how I have been feeling in the last 48 hours, aka “wanting to die”. Thus, I keep forgetting that I am still very much sick. Whenever I decide to utter a sentence that is a tad too long, I am stopped in my tracks with an attack of coughing that physically brings me to my knees. But hey, I can utter short sentences! A little more, a little better! I went downstairs to my office for the first time in three days. After an hour, I was exhausted. That’s sitting in a chair, and gently pressing on keys, y’all. But it’s an hour! A little more, a little better! It’s all relative. So relative. I got an email from my mother later today. It says: “Sorry to hear you are sick! Try deep inhaling under the pan with boiling water with soda or potato. It does help!” Hugs,

  • From Coach To SuperCoach: 3 Shifts Health And Wellness Professionals Should Be Making In 2023

    Hey, Friend. Last week I gave an online talk as part of the Men's Health Strength In Diversity initiative - it's a program designed to help trainers from marginalized communities to jumpstart their careers and offer them a chance to work with a line-up of elite fitness professionals. I talked about coaching, of course. More specifically, I talked about the THREE shifts that trainers and coaches should be making in 2023 to be top of mind and top of their industry. I argued that every coach and trainer should: 1. move away from coaching movement only, or even movement and nutrition, and move towards a more holistic view of health, aka deep health. You might have noticed that before and after pictures are NOT the vibe in 2023. After a few stressful years managing the global pandemic, working from home, juggling the children - stress and burnout are front and center, when it comes to our health concerns. No amount of kale is going to make us healthy if we are not considering social support, sleep and recovery, accessibility and environment, and the roles they play in our health. One client messaged me recently, sharing that she lost over 100 pounds in one weekend, by getting rid of all the clothes that haven't fit. Imagine walking into a closet and NOT feeling guilty. Imagine every single piece of clothing FITTING your body today. Is that client in a better place to make healthier choices in their nutrition and movement? You better believe it. Environment (and so many other things) matters. 2. redefine their relationship with social media. This one comes up a lot in my work with coaches. As more and more platforms pop up (hello, Threads!), ready to claim our attention, we have to get increasingly more militant with intent. Scrolling and clicking is the proverbial sand from the big rocks and sand in the glass jar exercise. If we don't take care to fit the big rocks, it's easy to fill our whole jar (aka day) with sand. When I say "militant", I mean.... "MissionImpossible" level precision here. We have to identify exactly what value social media provides, and structure our approach in such a way that we can get in, get the value and get the hell out, before cute puppies bumping into walls claim our attention. When it comes to Instagram, for example, I tend to follow less than 30 accounts at any one time. To keep that number at bay, I have to do an unfollow sprint every few months. Oh, and I'm not allowed on the IG's Explore page either. Scroll through never-ending content that I did not directly choose or ask for? Nope. 3. integrate AI tools into their workflow. This is a big one. And it's going to get bigger. We are at the very early stages of AI becoming part of our everyday lives. This is the Wild Wild West - no clear rules, no clear guidelines, no precedents (yet). It’s both exciting and terrifying. Some have compared the current emergence of AI tools to the game-changing nature of Google as a search engine now-many-years-ago. Others went as far as to compare it to electricity. Everyone uses electricity, right? Electricity is completely intertwined into life, right? Exactly. From brainstorming ideas with ChatGPT to creating images with MidJourney to taking notes in meetings with - it's all about finding ways where AI tools can make your life easier. Will AI replace coaches? No. But coaches who use AI in their work might indeed replace coaches who do not. The future is here. ;) P.S. I’ll be taking the next few weeks to share some specific AI tools with you and how I’ve been incorporating them in my work, and helping clients do the same. Hit Reply and let me know if there is anything in particular you want me to discuss. Hugs,

  • Older And Wiser, And How I’d Ignore My Own Advice

    Hi, Friend. Rod Stewart has a song with the following lyrics: I wish that I knew what I know now When I was younger, I wish that I knew what I know now When I was stronger. I wish I knew what I know now. Ever feel that way? “What would you tell your younger self?” There is a question I often receive in podcast interviews. It’s a classic. My answer? “Nothing. Why waste my breath?” It’s tongue in cheek, but only a little. Ten years ago, if an older coach shared with me ALL the (measly) wisdom that I now possess… I am not sure I would listen. That’s just not what twenty something year olds do. Twenty something year olds try a bunch of random shit, see what sticks, break a bone or two, maybe go to school, maybe try some recreational drugs, get through a breakup, travel a bit, realize that do not hate their parents nearly as much as they thought they did, and, if all goes well, arrive into their thirties a little tired, and motivated to learn more. Thirty something year olds get married, maybe have a child or two, finally get a dog, buy a house, but decide against the white picket fence, learn words like “trim”, “shingles”, and “water tank”, find some grey hairs, pull the first couple out, then give up, shift from craft beer to cocktails, and realize that quiet Friday nights are vastly underrated. So… as we get older, do we also get… wiser? If you look at research on wisdom, you find that: -Wisdom is a multifaceted construct -Despite common belief, wisdom is not correlated with chronological age When faced with a difficult question, a wise individual will: consider the context of the problem at hand, as well as individual circumstances, acknowledge and take into account the variability of individual values, and priorities, and recognize the inherent uncertainty of life. Should I quit smoking? Should I have children? Should I start a business? Any simplistic response such as “yes” or “no” that fails to consider context, circumstances, values and life uncertainty, is easy to spew out, and nice to hear, but… not helpful. If you listen to the experts try to answer complex questions posed to them, you will often hear a lot of “it depends”, and “it’s hard to say”. Because it does depend. And it IS hard to say. In fact, the more one knows about any one field, the harder time they will have answering questions simply - because it’s just not that simple. Meanwhile, the best predictors of wisdom in adulthood seem to be certain personality characteristics (creativity, moral reasoning, social intelligence) and life history factors (exposure to great mentors, challenging life experiences). At the cusp of forty, I am probably not ready to absorb the truth and wisdom of someone else’s fifties. I ask, and I work hard on keeping my mouth shut when they talk. I hope some of it rubs off. Do you notice how we ALL end up making the same fucking mistakes decade by decade? It’s not that we do not have the information… people HAVE experienced their twenties before our time. Many of these people have tried sharing what they learned with us - our parents, perhaps, were some of the first. Maybe, we are just not meant to know what we know any earlier than we know it. Information is useless if the recipient is not ready to receive it. I acknowledge this possible limitation. And so: I dial down my own impatience with friends, clients and colleagues that are ten years younger. I dial up my own curiosity with friends, clients and colleagues that are ten years older. We will all get there eventually (wherever THERE is). :) Hugs,

  • The “I” Labels, And The Many Times I Tried Smoking Without Becoming A Smoker

    Hey, Friend. I am not a smoker. I have never been a smoker. It’s just not something that ever made it into my list of “I am’s”. I have tried smoking. I am twelve years old, having pizza with my best friend in a small Dutch town in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. It is a “grown up” pizzeria - with white table cloths, long menus, and fancy Italian toppings. My friend is the same age as me, but she is undeniably cooler. She wears khaki coloured jeans, grey hoodie sweater, and white running shoes. White running shoes are all the rage, and you have to tie the shoelaces just so. There are at least three different ways of tying shoelaces that are acceptable, just long as you don’t leave them tied the way they come out of the box. My friend pulls out a pack of cigarettes as we are waiting for our order. “You want to try?” She lights up. It’s Europe, and smoking inside the restaurants is still permitted. No one seems to bat an eyelash at a 12-year old puffing away. I nod, and reach across the table. Cigarette feels strange, yet exhilarating, between my index and middle finger - the tip glowing. My friend instructs me to pull some smoke into my mouth, and then to take a short sharp inhale with a surprised “Ahhh!”, pulling air further down my throat. “Just pretend your mother saw you with a cigarette”, she grins. “Ah…”, I gulp, and immediately double over in a fit of coughing, my eyes tearing up. My friend laughs and laughs, and our pizza arrives, and I shove hot slices in my mouth, trying to soothe my burning throat with melted cheese, still coughing. I say yes to the offer of a cigarette a few times since then - in the school courtyard, at a bar patio, at a nightclub. I take a few puffs of a joint going around the circle at a university basement party, and learn how to roll my own on a rooftop in India - this time with aromatic hashish grown in the same mountains I can see outside my window. But I have never been a smoker. I always listen carefully for “I” statements when people speak. Those self-identifiers are important. You can facilitate this by asking people to complete the sentence “I am…” and “I am not…”. What comes up? “I am a smoker.” “I am a runner.” “I am a mother.” “I amnot a smoker." “I amnot good with money.” “I amnot much of an exerciser.” Years later, as I rush into the academic building to teach a psychology class, I spot M., one of my students, shivering just outside the main set of doors, that familiar glowing red dot between her fingertips. I see her there every single week. M. is a smoker. So I am surprised (and skeptical), when I give out an assignment on behavioral change in her class, and M. announces that she is going to quit smoking. The assignment is to initiate a behavioral change (start something, or stop something) and carry it out for thirty days in a row. An audacious goal, indeed. As we discuss possible strategies, I suggest a mantra of sorts: “I don’t smoke”. It’s what I say when someone asks for a lighter. “I don’t smoke”. A simple statement of fact that slips off the tongue easily. For nonsmokers. “But I do smoke!”, M. protests at first. “I am trying to quit, but I do smoke!” “So what?”, I shrug. “You are not smoking at that very moment. Try it.” So, she does. She makes it. Thirty days. Not a single cigarette. It gets better. She actually continues NOT to smoke for the rest of that semester. Two months. Three months. Four months. Does our identity determine our behavior? Or does our behavior determine our identity? Which one comes first? The chicken or the egg? Both. Either. Start with your behavior. And your identity would change. Start with your identity. And your behavior would change. “I am _________ .” How do you finish that sentence? And what would happen if you finished that sentence differently? I hear from M. again at the end of the school year. She tells me a story that both warms my heart and makes my skin tingle. Earlier that week, as the bell rings in one of her classes, M. gathers up her binders, and pens, and hurries outside. Few of her friends call out to her. They are huddled around in a circle, rings of smoke floating above their heads. They offer her a cigarette, yet… she does not slow down. “Thanks, I don’t smoke.” The words escape her lips easily, before she realizes what she is saying, and… ring true. She does not smoke. Identity shift - complete. Hugs,

  • Dr. Seuss, Boxed Wine, And Lines In The Sand

    Hi, Friend. The first time I read Dr. Seuss’s books aloud, I thought I was having a stroke. Partially, because Dr. Seuss feels like the children’s book equivalent to “dance, monkey, dance!”, while pointing at words in the air. Partially, I am missing the cultural context and familiarity that comes with repeated exposure. Also, I generally hate reading kids’ books that make me produce various sounds. No one has ever read me children’s books in English. I don’t know how you are supposed to pronounce “kerplunk!”. I make my best guess, and feel like a fraud, and that makes my performance less than believable. And I hate bad acting. But I love books, and I want my children to love books, and so I make my way through “Ten Little Fingers And Ten Little Toes” or whatever they pull off the shelf. Here are the three book rules that I have established (aka made up) that help me keep my sanity, while encouraging literacy in my household. 1. We do not throw books. That’s a no-no. Books are not to be thrown, kicked, or stood on. 2. I will always read when asked. (Almost) no exceptions. I will turn off the stove. I will step out of the shower. I will put away my own book or my phone. I have walked through the door from a trail run, dripping in sweat, shins covered in dust, and had a toddler plop themselves in my lap AT the entrance with a book. “Mommy, read this.” Worth it. 3. I will not read any book more than three times in a row. Self-explanatory AND crucial to my sanity-keeping. I can read the last page of Grumpy Monkey {Why are you so grumpy, Jim?}, and then turn right back to the first page, knowing that there are only two more passes left. Then I tap out. You notice all of these “rules” are quite arbitrary, and specific to my household. There is nothing particularly magical or RIGHT about them. You might not give a shit’s rat about reading and books, and, while we will never be friends, that is still a-ok. They are helpful to ME. Speaking of rules… children seem to elicit the need to make the unspoken rules explicit. Have you noticed that? You hear yourself speaking evident (to you) truths aloud. “Don’t lick your sister”. “Peanut butter is not for painting!” “We do not spit on the floor.” Then those truths are thoroughly challenged by someone still wearing a diaper. I’ve talked about “food rules” in a recent letter, and how those CAN be helpful (as well as hurtful). I have the “rule conversation” with clients often. Many of them come in with decades worth of unhelpful rules like… “anything above size 8 is unacceptable!”, and “bacon is not allowed!”. So, I ask: “What rules can they set for themselves that are HELPFUL?” For example, here are some alcohol-specific rules that I helped someone with recently, as they are re-examining their relationship with alcohol: I don’t do shots. I don’t mix drinks. I don’t drink out of plastic cups. I don’t drink wine out of a box. Notice these rules are not designed to get this person to quit drinking (as that was not their goal), but rather re-shuffle the ROLE of alcohol in their life. Alcohol as more of a food, rather than an escape. More of a high-end elevated enjoyment, rather than a coping mechanism. I think of rules we set for ourselves as lines in the sand. The lines are clearly visible, and yet… they are permeable. Changeable. The lines are there to help us visualize whether or not we are on the right side of the actions and behaviors and habits. They are not cages. At least, they do not have to be. They can be guardrails. Like the toddler gate at the top of the stairs. YOU draw the line in the sand. YOU can choose to ignore that line, or draw a new one. Hugs,

  • Rural Vermont, The Ultra Running Mantra, And Our Perception Of Suffering

    Oh hey, Friend. There are three things that can predictably end your race before your time: – Your stomach. – Your feet. – Your mind. Your stomach → Figure out your fuel. Know what you can tolerate, and what you can’t. Your feet → Feet are sacred. Change your socks. Know your shoes. Lube up any likely areas for hot spots. Your mind → That one is self-explanatory, isn’t it? You let the distance get to you, or the pain in your feet get to you, or where you think you are in relation to other runners - get to you, you are done. Except today, it’s neither of those three. It’s the fucking mosquitoes. I am wearing bug spray - the most poisonous one, none of that organic candy. It’s Deet 4.0 in 456% concentration. Mosquitoes seem to slurp the bug spray off my skin, making nom-nom noises. “Mmmmmm, hot sauce.” Meanwhile, I can’t take a full breath, because with every sip of air, I inhale mosquitoes into my nostrils. I feel them in my ears. I can’t open my mouth, because when I do, I immediately swallow a handful. Months of training (however insufficient), hours of driving to get to rural Vermont, shoes, energy gels, gear, lubing up the feet to avoid any possibility of hot spots, and it was going to be the damn mosquitoes that were gonna end this race for me. We are only three miles into the race, climbing a long gradual hill - up, up, up. There hasn’t really been much running yet - it’s been all uphill almost immediately, and you gotta earn the running. Want to run? Climb this damn mountain, then you can run down. It’s been an hour. Maybe, two hours. We have another seven hours to go (if all goes well). Can I handle the mosquitoes at this level for another seven hours? Is this the mosquitoes getting to me? Or is this item number three from the earlier list - my mind - getting to me? Infinitus is a rugged trail race, offering distances anywhere from 9 miles to 888k. Yes, you read that number correctly - a handful of crazies get to Vermont a week before everybody else, and run in (very large) circles, trying to cover 888k in just over a week. There’s been six people so far who have been able to do that. With that said, running a marathon distance is practically a 5k - a short sprint. The course is two loops - you start out with a nine mile loop, come back to camp, and then head out on the eighteen mile loop. Did we finish? Yes. Did we get lost on the last loop and turned a 42km race into a 50km race? Absolutely. Was this on brand? Oh, so much so that when I told a friend I got lost in a race, he asked if it was on purpose. What I really love about long races is the sense of things constantly changing. At some point you will be hopeful, excited, happy, sad, angry, frustrated, irritated, tired, energized, surprised, amused, amazed, terrified, and everything in between. There is less time to do that in shorter races. Ever ran a 5k? You come out of the gate fast, but not too fast, so you don’t burn out too quickly. You are breathing hard, your heart is beating hard. You are running, running, running. You are trying to hold on to that aggressive pace. Then you hit the halfway mark, and you speed up. This is it - all you’ve got in the last 2.5km. Open up, and hold on for dear life. No time to process emotions, or experience a variety of feelings - you just feel like you are going to throw up the entire time. Am I selling you on a 5k or what? I’ve always joked that ultrarunners run long distances, because they don’t have the balls for a 5k. That distance truly tests how much you are willing to suffer. Ultrarunning is a different animal. You get to live an entire life in a span of one race. You rise with the sun, and head out all fresh and bushy-tailed. You keep moving through late morning and lunch. You are still on your feet in the late afternoon. Maybe you are approaching the finish line in time for dinner. Maybe. There are moments in the race, when reality blurs, and that’s it - this is what life is. Life is just hiking / running / scrambling / one foot in front of the other / sweaty / breathing / sore feet / stiff back. It has been this way forever. And it will be this way forever. “Just wait ten minutes” is the ultra running mantra. “If you are feeling bad, just wait ten minutes”. “If you are feeling good, just wait ten minutes”. We don’t think about suffering this way, you see. The assumption is that suffering is linear. That experiences are linear. The assumption is that if something is good, it will continue being good, be it a race, or a marriage. The assumption is that if something is bad, it will never be anything else. If I have a headache, and it gets worse, I panic. Because surely there is only one way to go - worse, worse, worse. We think of hunger this way. You feel that pang of hunger, and panic. It will only get worse. Except… if you have ever gone without food for an extended period of time - 12, 24 hours or more - you know it’s not true. Hunger comes and goes. In waves, in peaks, in valleys. It attacks, and recedes, it rumbles in the background, it rages, then disappears completely, only to come back two hours later. The mosquitoes never went away. But they backed WAY off once we got to the top of the mountain. In the suckiest moment, relief was only ten minutes away. This is what a long race is. A long exercise in realization that “this too shall pass”. Hugs,

  • The Sky Is Grey, The Sun Is Orange

    Hey, Friend. A number of you have reached out, asking if we were ok with all the wildfires around. We are ok. On one hand, life goes on without changes. I am at work, and kids are at school, and I am working on my next newsletter about the Vermont race. Stay tuned. :) On the other hand… I heard from our school this week, informing us that all the outdoor activities will be moved indoors due to poor air quality. The sky is grey, but there are no clouds. It’s the creepiest thing ever. I am wondering whether the long run on the weekend is even a good idea. Everyone seems to be coughing, and it’s hard to tell if it’s seasonal allergies, random spring colds, or smoke in the air. Air quality is expected to continue to deteriorate, and hit its worst today. Italian works outside, and I try not to think about that. The headlines are downright scary. But then again, yours truly WAS born in a small coal mining town, soooo black smoke in the air is practically my birthright. Or something. Between global pandemic headlines, war headlines and “it is currently impossible to find Tylenol” headlines, and now this, I’m torn between feeling 1. Old and 2. Like I am in some sort of post-apocalyptic video game. Hugs,

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