LiveWell®

Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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A little inspiration for a cold winter week

Inspirational quote for winter.

Photo by Jackie Krage of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.


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Have a mindful New Year

Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress and live more joyfully.

Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress and live more joyfully.

This article will appear in the Winter 2015 issue of the Livewell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

After the rush of the holiday season, the first few weeks of the New Year can feel like the slate has been wiped clean. As winter deepens, life in the natural world slows down, too.

Take this opportunity to enjoy the stillness and consider what’s important to you, said Mary Beth Lardizabal, DO, psychiatrist, Allina Health Mental Health – United Clinic, and a group leader of Resilience Training at the Penny George Institute.

Better yet, find a way to bring that calming stillness into your everyday life.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT

One way to do that is to practice mindfulness. “Mindfulness is simply paying attention and being present. It’s not thinking about the past or what might happen in the future. It’s living in the here and now,” Lardizabal explained.

For many of us, living in the present is surprisingly difficult. “Increasingly, we are overscheduled and don’t have time to relax and reflect,” she said.

Technology may be partly to blame. “Endlessly checking your email or social media newsfeed becomes a conditioned habit. You end up missing out on everything else going on around you.” Patterns like this become automatic. “Until you become aware, you can’t interrupt the pattern,” said Lardizabal.

“It’s like unconsciously eating. We keep walking to the refrigerator without thinking about it. Once we catch ourselves, we can make decisions about the behavior.”

HOW MINDFULNESS HELPS

But practicing mindfulness can have an even deeper impact on our lives.

“Self-acceptance and self-compassion is an important part of mindfulness and being self-aware. In this culture, we always want to be more than what we are without really accepting who we are right now,” said Lardizabal. “It’s good to strive for improvement, but if the motivation is because you dislike yourself, it’s a set-up for failure.”

Research confirms the value of mindfulness, said Jeff Dusek, PhD, director of Research at the Penny George Institute. “People who practice mindfulness see normal life events such as illness as a challenge to overcome rather than a roadblock to good health. They also experience a greater sense of self-control in their lives, have increased commitment to daily life, and believe the world is comprehensible, manageable and meaningful.”

Mary Beth Lardizabal, DO, ABIHM, sees patients at Allina Health Mental Health – United Clinic in St. Paul. For appointments, call 651-241-5959.

HOW TO BUILD MINDFULNESS INTO YOUR LIFE

The Penny George Institute offers a variety of programs to help you explore mindfulness and put it to use in your daily life. To learn more, call 612-863-3333.

Program Best suited for:
Resilience Training – Eight-week intensive program that teaches mindfulness-based coping skills in combination with an individualized program of exercise and nutrition. Individuals who have experienced depression, anxiety or other stress-related mental health conditions and are currently in recovery or wish to prevent relapse.
Mindfulness Training – Four-week experiential program offering tools to help manage stress and achieve a higher state of well-being. Individuals who wish to explore new ways to manage stress and optimize their health and well-being.
Guided imagery MP3 albums – Three guided imagery albums focusing on pregnancy, stress management and pain management. Individuals who would like to learn how to benefit from the mind-body connection using electronic tools to improve health and well-being.


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Boosting your ability to bounce back: Resilience Training

Resiliency, a concept that is rooted in psychology, is gaining ground as an important component of overall health.

Resiliency, a concept that is rooted in psychology, is gaining ground as an important component of overall health.

Resiliency and its connection to good health was highlighted in a Star Tribune article earlier this year. It explained that resiliency, the ability to bounce back despite life’s challenges, is being embraced for its role in promoting wellness through the mind-body connection.

In the article, Jeff Dusek, PhD, Research director at the Penny George Institute, said that resiliency is becoming more popular “as people are looking to accentuate the positive and improve resiliency as opposed to just reducing depression, anxiety or stress.”

The article also described the experiences of Deb Hitt, whose struggle with chronic pain led her to enroll in the Penny George Institute’s Resilience Training program. The program helped her gain a new perspective and learn new ways to deal with her pain. As Hitt explained in the article, “For a long time I focused on what I couldn’t do and what was hard for me. Today, I define my life by the positives that exist within me — my strengths, my talents and most importantly my resilience.”

Read the entire Star Tribune article, “New approach to wellness – resiliency – is gaining ground.”

The eight-week Resilience Training program is offered regularly at several locations in the Twin Cities. The next session begins Monday, Jan. 19. Call 612-863-0041 to register, or check the Resilience Training schedule for additional sessions.


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Live well, live happy: how exercise increases happiness

Even a small amount of exercise can make a difference in your happiness and health.

Even a small amount of exercise can make a difference in your happiness and health.

By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

This is part five in a LiveWell blog series on happiness that launched with “Live well, live happy” in January.

I am excited to share more great news about happiness. As noted previously, most happiness comes not from our circumstances, but from how we think and what we do given our circumstances.

Recently my mother has experienced joint inflammation and pain. She had to cut back on activities, including running around with her grandchildren. I was able to recommend to her a supervised, gentle exercise program. After just a few weeks, she is moving better and is also experiencing a shift in her mood. Her confidence has grown, she feels more hopeful and optimistic, and the return of her joyous laughter makes everyone around her smile.

My mother is experiencing what Sonja Lyubomirsky describes in her seminal publication, “The How of Happiness.” She says “exercise is the single best thing that you can do to improve your happiness.”

Documented benefits of activity include:

  • Enhanced ability to manage stress—Exercise releases norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the body’s stress response.
  • A boost in “happy chemicals”—Exercise releases endorphins, which produce a feeling of happiness and euphoria. Additionally, exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety and can sometimes be just as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression.
  • A profound positive effect on your brain—Exercise helps create new brain cells and protects certain brain structures, thereby sharpening memory and focus, and preventing cognitive decline.
  • Improved self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • Increased focus, creativity and energy.

Despite these benefits, you may still have obstacles to building more movement into your life. These tips may help.

  1. Fill in the blank: “I’m too ________ to exercise.” Is it busy? Tired? Old? Overwhelmed? Understanding your primary barrier will help you to work through it.
  • If you are too busy, what is the smallest amount that you could do?
  • If you are tired, experiment with just a bit of activity and see if you get an energy boost.
  • If you are prone to black and white thinking, i.e. “unless I am running, I may as well not bother,” know that research overwhelmingly shows the benefit of even a small amount of movement.
  1. Understand your exercise personality and preferences.
  • Do you love the great outdoors or prefer the climate-controlled comfort of your home?
  • Do you crave time alone or do you do best when with others?
  • Do you prefer joining a class or sports team, or is it easiest to weave in movement during your day?
  1. Start slow, be gentle and build gradually.

Even if it has been a while since you’ve been active, it is never too late to start, or restart. Here’s to happiness through movement!

Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. Call 612-863-5178 to make an appointment with her.

Past entries by Mary Farrell in the “Live well, live happy” series:


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Feeling stressed? Try a two minute time out to regroup

When your circumstances and expectations don't match up, take time to pause, breathe and set aside preconceptions. This can help you gain perspective and take a fresh approach to your situation.

When your circumstances and expectations don’t match up, take time to pause, breathe and set aside preconceptions. This can help you gain perspective and take a fresh approach to your situation.

By Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, massage therapist, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Two stories have been on my mind in the last few days.

The first is a Chinese folktale I recently told to my kids at bedtime: A farmer relies on his horse for his living. The horse runs away, and the farmer’s neighbors all come to console him. “Bad luck!” they cry, and “So sorry!”

“We’ll see,” says the farmer.

A few weeks later the horse returns with a second horse, a beautiful nomad stallion.

The neighbors come again, saying “Good luck! Congratulations!”

“We’ll see,” says the farmer.

The farmer’s son loves to ride the new stallion, but one day he is thrown from the saddle and breaks his hip. “Bad luck!  So sorry,” cry the townspeople.

“We’ll see,” says the farmer. “How do you know this isn’t a blessing?”

A few months later soldiers come to the farmer’s village, enlisting every able-bodied man to fight the invading nomad hordes. The story goes that nine of every 10 soldiers are killed in the conflict. The farmer being old and his son being lame, both remained behind to care for each other and their families, so their lives were spared.

How quickly we judge the events in our lives. We are culturally trained to look at life through a lens of preconceived notions. “A” is good or desirable. “B” is bad or undesirable. In my work, I’m increasingly called to not think of situations as “good” or “bad.” This allows me to suspend my preconceptions and inquire more honestly into a situation as it actually is.

The second story on my mind is from my own life. Yesterday I went to drop off my 5 year-old at her dance class. The class, the setting, and the teacher were familiar to both of us from several years of attendance. My plan was to quickly make the drop-off and head to an important meeting where, I imagined, my timely presence was desperately needed. Alas, it was not to be.

We found the classroom, saw the smiling, welcoming, familiar teacher who I know my daughter loves, and exchanged a sweet goodbye. I turned to go, but found my daughter clinging to my leg. Was she shy of the new students? Who can fathom the workings of the five year-old heart? I tried “patiently” for several minutes to convince her to join the group. Even the teacher joined in ― all in vain.

Finally, I decided to sit down with my daughter by the door. She watched the class from my lap, processing. Soon she joined in, casting a nervous glance my way every few seconds.

“I’m going to go,” I mouthed, catching her eye and pointing to the door.

“Not yet,” she mouthed back, shaking her head. Dancing over to me, she leaned in and whispered: “Just another little bit, OK?  I’ll be more comfortable. I’ll tell you when you can go.”

So I sat down and waited, chagrined, delighted, impatient, and relieved. Inside of a minute I got the nod that I could go, but by then I’d relaxed enough to realize my meeting wasn’t all that important. I watched for another minute, waved, and went out into the crisp fall day.

When you find your expectations are not matching what is happening in your life, set aside a minute or two to try this:

  • Consider the uncomfortable, or less-than-perfect circumstance, that is bothering you.
  • Notice whether and how you are pulled to adjust, fix, rationalize or resolve the problem.
  • Then, if necessary, pause, take 10 complete breaths, and just sit with the situation.
  • Consider how this changes your perspective on the situation and helps to clarify what you intend to do.

When we get stressed or lose perspective, it’s easy to feel like the walls are crumbling around us. Pausing for a minute and simply sitting with what’s going on helps remind us that we are bigger than the problem. Then, creativity and curiosity can take root, and we can start to have a bit of fun.

Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, is a massage therapist with the Penny George Institute. He works with hospitalized patients.

 


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Six tips for reducing school year stress

Family eating dinner together

During the school year, commit to one healthy habit like eating dinner together.

By Courtney Baechler, MD

This is one of my favorite times of year ― cool mornings followed by hot, sunny, summer afternoons and the excitement of a new school year.

While some parents feel good about this, others get anxious thinking about the faster pace of the school year ― carpools, deadlines and the possibility of more commitments.

Here are some tips to help keep you and your family healthy and to reduce stress this year:

  1. Choose one thing that your family wants to commit to, such as:
    • eating breakfast at the kitchen table instead of in the car
    • eating dinner together
    • not overcommitting
    • having dedicated family time
    • sticking to a bedtime schedule.
  2. Create your “team” of support. Just as CEOs need a lot of support to do their jobs, you as the “chief wellness officer” of your family do too. Create a list of the team members who help meet your family’s needs, along with their contact information. Keep this list in a central place so that everyone can see how to get a hold of the back-up players. Team members may include:
    • family members
    • neighbors
    • babysitters
    • kids’ club leader
    • back-up babysitters.
  3. Don’t forget about your social needs and connections. Make time for:
    • friends
    • date nights
    • activities that help you thrive, such as book clubs, exercise, and spiritual groups.
  4. Get outside. Nothing is quite as calming as being a part of nature. During the week, simply take a family walk around the block or a trip to the neighborhood park. Add in a few hikes, bike rides or canoeing trips to make the most of the beautiful and calming scenery of autumn.
  5. Say no. It’s OK to do this, and it can actually be empowering. Try to do more by doing less. Commit to and enjoy the things you are interested in doing, but don’t feel the need to do everything. You will find that you get more joy from experiencing a few things in entirety. That holds up for kids’ activities as well. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to have your kids in only a few extracurricular activities. Trust me, their futures don’t depend on being over scheduled.
  6. Limit screen time. Take a family poll and see how much time your family (including you), is spending using technology. Most families admit that these devices can eat up time. Consider setting clear limits for when and how much screen time is allowed. You don’t need to eliminate screen time entirely, but limits can have the benefits of increased movement and improved sleep.
  7. Rejuvinate on the weekends. Crazy concept, huh? Turns out weekends were never really intended for all of our errands and household chores. While I know it’s impossible to stop running errands, designate at least part of the weekend for rest and relaxation. I would argue that one of the greatest skills we can teach our children is how to relax. It turns out that it’s easier to do all the difficult things in life (choosing healthy foods, exercising, and being productive) when we return to work and school on Monday after recharging our batteries.

 

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She has a master’s degree in clinical epidemiology from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

 

 


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Live well, live happy: How to live in the present

 

Find an activity that engages and energizes you.

One way to live in the present is to identify and do activities that fully engage and energize you.

By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

This is part three in a LiveWell blog series on happiness that launched with  “Live well, live happy” in January, followed by “Live well, live happy: The role of relationships in happiness” in March.

What makes me so excited about writing this series on happiness is the fact that our happiness depends so little on our circumstances and so much on what we do with those circumstances. The message is that happiness really is up to us.

It is now early summer ― one of the most beautiful times of year in Minnesota. Winter’s grip is a distant memory and life bursts forth wherever you look. I can be found under a floppy hat, decked out in garden gloves, comfy clothes, wellies and dirt, and surrounded by fragrant and colorful herbs, flowers and vegetables. As I transplant, arrange and water, I am blissfully and completely in my own world. It turns out that as I do this, I am also tending to my happiness and well-being through a process called flow.

What is flow and why is it important to your happiness?

Flow is being fully engaged in what you are doing and fully present in the moment. It can also be thought of as that “sweet spot” between being bored and being overwhelmed. When you are in flow, you might feel simultaneously transported and yet fully in the here and now. You are lost in what you are doing. Though challenged, you feel that you are performing at your best. You may receive some type of reward for the activity, but more often than not, you do it just for the love of it.

Researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  has studied flow for decades and the findings are pretty amazing. Flow can benefit us by:

  • leaving us fully energized and engaged
  • tapping into our strengths and filling us with competence
  • improving productivity because flow at its best is absolute focus
  • markedly improving our mental well-being.

Sadly only 23 percent of people regularly experience flow and more than 40 percent have never had the experience.  Most of us have the opportunity for regular flow experiences at work, but we are too distracted by anxiety, to-do lists, or external pressures, to enjoy the flow. Outside of work, we may miss numerous opportunities when we are glued to our smart phones and tablets.

If you are ready to “go with the flow,” here are three steps you can take:

  1. Identify your flow experiences:
  • When do you feel most energized? What are you doing?
  • When do you feel absorbed in an activity? When do you lose track of time?
  • What do you do well? What are your favorite skills to use?
  1. Bring flow to the everyday:
  • Try doing a regular task with excellence, focusing on the details.
  • Control your attention — practice focusing on whatever it is that you are doing at the present time. This takes practice.
  1. Expand your boundaries:
  • Begin to explore new interests by asking yourself: What would my 8-year-old self want to learn?
  • Flow in conversation: Listen closely and learn as much as you can about the speaker.
  • Learn the difference between vegging and vegetating: Instead of TV, play a game or work on a hobby or project that demands your attention.

Flow is mindfulness in action. It’s being fully present in the here and now, and responding to the task at hand with curiosity and purpose. Give it some attention and you will reap benefits far beyond those blissful moments.

Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. Call 612-863-5178 to make an appointment with her.


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Looking within: Rediscover joyful living through mindfulness

Calm.Centered.Happy.v2

Multitasking once described what computers did. Now it describes us – living in a world transformed by mobile technology, 24/7 connectivity and instant communication.

“Many of us are in a state of ‘continuous partial attention,’” said Maureen Doran, RD, LD, Mindfulness Training facilitator, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Hospital. “In fact, we are taught to splinter our attention and focus on many things at one time.”

We are also trained to look outside ourselves for happiness. “It’s having the right partner, the right job, or the right house and believing that this will bring us happiness and fulfillment, or at least help us avoid suffering,” said Doran.

Yet this way of life may create suffering in the form of chronic stress, said Doran. “There can be a feeling of disconnectedness, that you are living a little outside yourself.” If you develop an illness, have chronic pain or go through some major life stress – like job loss or a death in the family – it compounds the issue. Joyful living seems all but impossible.

Mindfulness is a practice that many see as an antidote to fragmented, crazy-busy lifestyles. Participants learn to stabilize their minds and increase resilience through mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga. “It’s a way of being present to one’s life, learning to notice what’s going on right in front of you and bearing witness to it in a non-judgmental way,” said Doran, who teaches a four-week Mindfulness Training class.

“Our class participants have overwhelmingly said that Mindfulness Training has improved the quality of their lives and has provided them with tools for living with greater ease, joy, engagement and balance,” said Doran. “We help people recognize and mobilize their inner psychological resources to take better care of themselves, learn new ways of calming themselves, and become more centered and clear-headed.”

Mindfulness research
Research in the field of mindfulness has shown that:
• Consistent mindfulness training can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, decrease blood pressure and increase the immune response.
• Those who practice mindfulness experience a greater sense of control in their lives, have increased commitment to daily life, see life events (including illness) as challenges instead of obstacles, and believe that the world is comprehensible, manageable and meaningful.

Mindfulness Training, a program of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, is being offered this May in Minneapolis and New Ulm.


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Breaking away from unhealthy American ways

AmericanWays.57300728By Megan Odell, LAc, MS

My professor was new to our school and the United States, having only recently left China. I had the privilege of observing this brilliant acupuncturist as he assessed patients’ concerns and composed treatments.

As he worked on a patient chart one day, he paused and with a big sigh asked, “Why does everyone here have this pattern?”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the word “pattern” is used instead of “diagnosis.” Where conventional Western medicine works to whittle an illness down to a single cause, TCM instead looks at the whole body-mind ecosystem and attempts to find a pattern to what is happening. A treatment plan is created to restore balance and health.

My professor had noticed that Americans appeared in our clinic with one predominant pattern―Liver-Spleen disharmony. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean there is anything structurally wrong with a patient’s liver and spleen. The issue lies in the functions that the Chinese medical system attributes to those organs.

Patients with Liver-Spleen disharmony might express concerns such as headaches, high stress, digestive difficulties, menstrual pain, irritability, fibromyalgia, or a host of other symptoms.

So, if my professor’s observation was right, what is it about living in the United States (or perhaps an urban area of the Upper Midwest) that makes it so common? In my experience, this pattern is all about four things:

  • Stress: According to TCM, the liver is in charge of the free flow of Qi.  Qi is energy that moves through your body along channels. When you are healthy, the Qi moves freely. When you are in pain, sick or emotionally upset, the Qi can become stuck. When you are in a state of stress, the qi often stagnates (which you might express by clenching your jaw, stopping breathing or tensing your shoulders).
  • Emotions: In TCM, we believe that emotions come and go like water in a stream. If we let them come and express them, everything should be fine. However, sometimes we deny or “stuff” emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief or jealousy. I often speak to people who have semi-successfully hid from emotions for months or years with unintended physical results.
  • Exercise: If we aren’t physically moving, Qi is less likely to move.
  • Food:  In TCM, the spleen is largely attributed with the transformation of food into energy. Some foods, such as soup and lightly cooked vegetables, are easy to transform. Other foods, such as dairy, sugars, and fried foods, are difficult to transform. Eating too much of the latter can bog down the digestive system. And if we do other things while eating (working, reading, driving), the body’s ability to focus energy on digestion is hindered.

Does any of that look familiar? Do you see it in your life or our culture? I would offer that the “American way” often encourages stress, overworking, emotion-stuffing, screen-watching, and food-as-stomach-filler. Even when we try to avoid these things, it is easy to feel pulled in a number of directions in our daily lives. And usually our self-care is the first to go.

So what do we do? TCM offers solutions like acupuncture and Chinese herbs that can help. But improvements from those therapies will only be sustained if lifestyle changes are made, too.

  • Meditate or find another way to manage your stress. Biofeedback and Mindfulness Training are available at the Penny George Institute and offer excellent approaches to handling stress.
  • Feel. Know that your feelings are right, and they are temporary. If you feel you need help processing your emotions, please consider seeing a therapist to help you.
  • Move. It doesn’t have to be high-intensity interval training. Any time you move your body in a way that you enjoy, that is good.
  • Savor. Experience and enjoy your food. Experiment. Slow down. Smell it. Taste it. Eat only enough to feel 70 percent full.

Good luck – together we can work to change the American pattern to one of balance and harmony.

Megan Odell, LAc, MS, is a licensed acupuncturist and offers services at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern.


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Passions and priorities – avoiding being overwhelmed

185421595.OverscheduledCalendarBy Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, massage therapist, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

It was my junior year of college, and I had big plans. On the slate for fall term were 16 credit hours, a campus job, two volunteer positions, a romantic interest, and spots in at least two performing choirs. On the side, I also was to teach a weekly yoga class, tutor Italian language students, and participate in a twice weekly science internship.

Several friends told me that it seemed a bit much. But I was excited and confident that my passion and drive would see me through.

It was an impressive juggling act for the first few weeks, and ultimately my passion did carry me through, just not to my planned destination. I scraped through the term with 11 academic credits, many frayed nerve endings, and an application for academic leave.

The job, volunteerism, romance, choirs, additional credits, and much of my social life disappeared by November.  My attempt to “get it all done” had run me into a nervous breakdown.  I remember feeling confused about why it hadn’t worked out.

Reflecting back, I see that I had talent, inspiration, youth, intelligence and energy on my side. I set goals that seemed reasonable, and planned my time accordingly. The trouble was that I gave equal importance to everything. When things got hairy with my classwork, I didn’t let other responsibilities go — I just stayed up later. Things started to slip and that didn’t fit my self-expectations, so my emotional stress hit the roof.

Years later, the number of responsibilities, passions, and demands on my time hasn’t decreased—quite the contrary. The lesson of that semester, though, has stuck with me: Many things can be important, but only a few can be central. I took spring semester off, and came back with three clear priorities ― school, yoga, and music. Once those were taken care of, my remaining time would be unstructured.

In truth, there was little unstructured time and focusing on three things was almost boring in comparison to my fall semester. But at the year’s end, I was a happy, healthy biology major on top of things. I felt successful, and I had found a new way to approach my passions and priorities.

As you consider resolutions, goals, and plans, what are your top priorities? What is filling your time but not supporting your values? What people, ideas, or activities excite you? Acting on your values provides what I call the “second paycheck.” These are things that money can’t buy, but that have immeasurable worth –  like time spent with the kids, painting, hiking in the woods, or close friendships.

Here is my challenge to you in four easy steps:

  1. Buy a stack of 3 x 5 index cards. Each night this month, draw a blank card before going to bed.
  2. On the front, write down three core values and/or important goals.
  3. On the back, note three small things you will do the next day to meet those values or goals.
  4. The next day, do those three things again.

Repeat these steps until you can’t think of anything else that is important to do. Sound easy? Let me know how it goes!

Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, is a massage therapist with the Penny George Institute. He works with hospitalized patients.