Last time I published a post on garbage in, garbage out, and it’s been bothering me ever since.  Most of what I used as examples weren’t true garbage.  If you walk around eating Pop-Tarts and bacon all day (yes, I’m waiting for the haters) or reading Playboy and watching Showtime, yep, that’s garbage.

We usually just settle for marshmallow fluff.

I have a Bible app on my phone that lets me select a devotional I can read each day.  It’s uber-easy and uber-fluffy most of the time; I usually read 1-3 actual verses in the Bible, get a little pat on the head/back from a known teacher, and go on my merry way.  While I may feel a little challenged, a little convicted, or a little happier after reading, I rarely have actually had much to reflect on for the day and I rarely make any changes.

Sometimes I read Christian novels by authors like Beverly Lewis, Karen Kingbury, Ted Dekker, or Tosca Lee.  These are all great authors and I enjoy their writing.  However, as much as these books are better than some of what I read, they’re still– generally– fluff.

I fill my life with fluff because fluff is easier.  Go to the store.  Marshmallow fluff is relatively inexpensive.  It tastes good (to some people).  It can give you a certain amount of energy.  For roughly the same price as a can of marshmallow fluff, I can buy a carton of eggs.  Same price.  Tastes good (to some people).  Gives you more energy, as well as fun little things like choline and protein.

If I can be smart enough to buy eggs over marshmallow fluff, why am I not smart enough to choose meaningful activities to fill my time over the fluffy ones?

I work 80+ hours a week and deserve a little downtime.”  (Little side note: if you’re working 80 hours a week, how are you possibly serving God with the best of your time?  Bigger side note: I’m not doing this either, so I’m nudging myself as much as I’m nudging you.)

“I really like xxxxxx (TV show, book series, author, web-zine) and I don’t want to give it up.”  (Am I asking you to give anything up?  I might be asking me to give some things up.  I’m just asking you to think about what you’re doing.)

“Without a little marshmallow fluff, you can’t make Rice Krispy Treats.”  (Fair point.  I didn’t say to give up Rice Krispy Treats or marshmallow fluff… wait, maybe I did.  Let me complete the actual thought I was getting at.)

There’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat or break.  God provides for those in the Bible.  But when the whole purpose and/or goal becomes to get that treat/break, then you’ve let your priorities get skewed.  When that happens, you end up with Cain and Abel:

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  (Genesis 4:3-5)

Cain got upset because he was giving his offering for favor.  He wasn’t doing it as a sign of gratitude; he was doing it because he wanted God to look down and give him a deitific gold star.  Surprise!  God saw through that and gave the gold star to Abel.

So, here’s what I’m looking at:

  • I need to figure out my priorities before I can do anything else
  • I need to actually prioritize those priorities before I try to fit in anything else
  • I need to keep the “anything else” limited to things that aren’t going to mess with the priorities I just figured out

I’m a big Buffalo Bills football fan. (Cue the comments about four failed Superbowls here.)  The Bills are an east-coast team and I live on the west coast, so the games usually start around 10 a.m. local time.  This means I’m generally at church for the first half of the game.  Is it tempting to miss church for a game now and then?  Yes, it really is.  But it’s a matter of priorities.  It’s far better for me to spend my time in church, being fed and fellowshipping with other Christians, than it is to root on my team.

An occasional Rice Krispy Treat isn’t going to hurt me.  An occasional lapse in mindfulness also won’t hurt me.  However, overall, I need to be focusing on what’s best over what’s okay.

Time to get those priorities figured out… and to apply this principle to all areas of my life.

 

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We’re heading into the warm summer months here in Southern California, where the sun shines every day from 5-something in the morning until after 8 p.m. in the evening.  Normally, this is plenty of sunshine… if you get out in it.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is still characterized as something that strikes as the sunlit days give way to longer and longer nights.  But there are many people who now suffer from a version of SAD even during the summer.  Either night shift work or just an aversion to go outside leads to depression during summer months.

The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor, but for at-home treatment, it suggests getting outside within a few hours of waking, sitting close to a brightly lit window during the day, and exercise.  Another way to possibly reduce depression is through Vitamin D.  Either in pill form or sunlight form, this “sunshine vitamin” (which isn’t a vitamin at all) is a huge part of how we feel.

There are only so many natural sources of Vitamin D:

  • 3.5 oz salmon (360 IU Vitamin D)
  • 3.5 oz mackerel (345 IU Vitamin D)
  • 3.5 oz canned tuna (200 IU Vitamin D)
  • 8 oz fortified orange juice (100 IU Vitamin D)
  • 8 oz fortified milk (98 IU Vitamin D)
  • 1 serving fortified breakfast cereal (40-100 IU Vitamin D)

According to Harvard Medical School, those who have trouble digesting dietary fat (or maybe even those who are eating a low-fat diet?) and those with liver or kidney disease will have a hard time getting enough Vitamin D from food sources or supplements (1000-1200 IU recommended per day).  But most of us don’t get enough sunlight, especially during the middle of the day, when UV-B rays are strongest and we can absorb the most.

“But, wait, I’ve been told to cut down my sun exposure!”  Cut it down, yes.  If you’re fair-skinned and live below the 37th degree above the equator, you need about 10 minutes a day of unprotected sunlight.  If you have a tan or are darker-skinned, you will likely need more.

So I’m not going to be giving up sunscreen and smart sun protection, but I’m not going to slather on UV-50 for a lunchtime walk– not if I keep it under 30 minutes most days.

I’m hoping remembering to get my Vitamin D, whether through sunlight, food, or supplements, will help me keep a better attitude.  It will certainly reduce my chances of osteoporosis.

 

****  NOTE:  I am not a medical professional.  I do my best to do my homework, but please do your own and talk to your doctor before making any decisions about anything I post. ****

Late last night I found out that someone I cared deeply about had passed away earlier in the day.  Her passing wasn’t so much of a shock as the timing (Mother’s Day) and the feeling that I’d somehow been cheated.  See, I was going to visit her soon.  I’d been saying that for over a year… but something always “came up”.  Now I won’t see her again until Heaven.  When I cry today (and I will cry), it will be as much for that missed opportunity as it will for missing her.  I could have gone, just once.  Woulda coulda shoulda…

However, I am working on not dwelling on woulda coulda shoulda.  I have spent too much of my recent past (last five years) living in the past.  This is a waste; I can’t change it.  The very fact that I fantasize about a time machine instead of working on doing better now is a sign that I don’t have a very healthy connection to this aspect of happiness.

On the other hand, to keep saying that I’m going to do something “in the future” is just as vain.  As I was just forcibly reminded, tomorrow isn’t promised.

Far too often I waste my right now with regret or empty hope.  It’s time to change that attitude, step-by-step.

First, when the past rears its ugly head, I’m not going to dwell on it.  I’m going to make sure I’m not repeating a past mistake.  If not, then I’m going to move on.  If I am, then I’m going to make a plan to change what I’m doing.

Second, I’m going to stop waiting for tomorrow to do things.  “I’m going to start eating better… tomorrow.”  Why not start eating better today by putting down that cookie?  “I’m going to do more things with the kids when I have more money.”  Why not find things I can do with them for free right now?  “I’ll do better about being positive once I’ve fixed these other things in my life.”  Why not make a small change to improve my attitude along the way?

Third, I’m going to make a plan every day.  It’s okay if the plan isn’t perfect (I have a bad habit of spending more time in research and planning than in doing), but I need a roadmap.  Plans are there for guidelines; it’s okay if they’re altered.  It’s like taking a cross-country trip (I’ll use this analogy a lot).  You plan ahead of time, figure out where you’re going, etc.  But when you take the actual trip, you enjoy each moment and (hopefully) every little detour.  That’s how I want my life to be.

Finally, I’m going to stop complaining about things.  If I don’t like what’s happening, change it.  Can’t make an immediate change?  Take five minutes to make a plan (no more than three steps) to change it and then let it go for now (you know you just sang a Disney song in your head).  If I can’t change it at all (like divorce orders, for example), then I’m going to have to change how I think about it.  Period.

“If  you don’t like something, change it.  If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”  — Mary Englebret

If you see me complaining on this blog, call me to task!  Ask me for a plan to fix it.

I’m going to go make a quick plan for my day and then I’m going to spend a day off social media in honor of living in the moment.  My reader, Alice, has been leaving me comments about how she’s doing better off social media and I’m feeling challenged.

What will you do today?

Let’s calculate your hours worked per year.  Say you only work your 40 hours each week and you get two weeks of vacation each year.  No overtime.  No missed lunches.  No second job.  You work 50 weeks at 40 hours a week, or 2000 hours.  Then you take off a few Federal holidays (companies vary, so I’ll use ten as an easy number to calculate) and lose another 80 hours.  So you spend 1920 hours a year at work.  That’s a lot of time for a place that USA Today says just 30% of people are engaged and inspired to be.

I’m pretty lucky.  I don’t hate my job.  It’s not my dream job and there are other jobs I’d prefer, but, overall, I enjoy where I’m at.  According to the UCR Wellness Center, that makes me pretty healthy:

  • Do I enjoy going to work most days?  Yes.  I like who I work with and I enjoy my general job definition.  I’m not crazy about working in the middle of everyone (introvert) and it’s not my chosen sector (construction/retail sales), but the job is good.
  • Do I have a manageable workload at work?  Most days.  Occasionally I become three people (covering for others) and that’s not the best.  But my general workload is quite manageable.
  • Do I feel that I can talk to my boss and co-workers when problems arise?  Overall.  I suspect this is more a personality issue on my end than a problem with work.  I’m just not good at confronting problems if it sounds like I’m whining.

The assessment doesn’t take into account a sense of accomplishment at work, which I think is important, and using your talents.  My job does tend to skip those for the most part.  So I work a second “job” (largely  unpaid as yet) where I edit and write on the side.  I have more goals for that side occupation than I do for my “real” one.

Short-Term Goals (3 Months)

* Finish writing my novel AND editing it

* Finish editing for my main side project

* Finish the catalog at work

Mid-Term Goals (1 Year)

* Shop out the novel.  If no one has picked it up, self-publish by May 2015.

* Regularly edit and set-up for a professional editing business

* Learn the accounting processes at work

Long-Term Goals (5 Years +)

* Publish at least once a year (novel) and enter short-story contests at least twice a year

* Develop editing business to making money

* ??  at work

 

Like I said, most of my occupational goals are in the writing and editing fields, so it’s obvious where my heart is, but that doesn’t pay the bills, so I’ll stick with it for now and just try to keep it healthy.  How did you do?

Since financial health is one that I consider necessary to happiness (but UCR does not?), I had to find a financial assessment tool.  I went with the New York Times article here just to get me going.

  • Is your net worth growing?  Um, no.  Five years after divorce started and I’m only starting to dig myself out of the hole I made.  But my potential to have my net worth grow has improved.
  • How is your debt-to-income ratio, your savings fund, and your emergency fund?  Debt has improved (very slowly); I have nearly non-existent savings and emergency funds.
  • Are you spending more than you earn?  No.  I spend exactly what I earn, some of that including paying down debt.
  • Am I adequately insured? No.  No vision or dental insurance, only medical.  No renter’s insurance.

There are  a few other questions (which I welcome you to go look at yourself).  The basic answer, however, is that I’m not financially healthy.  I knew that.  My goal is to improve my financial health.  This is going to take time.

Short-Term Goals (3 Months)

* Follow a budget (I’ve been making one)

* Put a set amount into savings each month and don’t touch it

* Develop a debt-reduction plan

Mid-Term Goals (1 Year)

* Have a set plan in place to get rid of all debts

* Have all the necessary insurances

* Have a will and a death plan (I should look up what the proper terminology for that is, too).

Long-Term Goals (5 Years +)

* Get rid of all debt.  Five years is plenty of time.

* Have a good savings account and an emergency fund.

* Develop my 401k so I might actually be able to retire by age 95.

 

Like I said, financial health is probably my weakest area, but I know it is a huge component of happiness, so I’m going to work on it hard.  How did you do?

I think this is probably the area where I naturally do the best.  I’d be thrilled that I’m doing well in an area, except that it’s pretty lopsided.  I depend on my brain.  My dad had Alzheimer’s.  I don’t want to be so dependent on my mental ability that I have nothing else.

The UCR Wellness Center assesses intellectual wellness as:

  • Am I open to new ideas?  I love new ideas.  I write speculative fiction.  I boldly seek out new… ideas.
  • Do I seek personal growth by learning new skills?  In the last six years, I’ve learned three entirely new skillsets.  I’ve also lost skill in others, but I’m still growing.
  • Do I search for lifelong learning opportunities?  Yes.  There are amazing free classes available from places like EdX, Coursera, and others.  When I’m not taking online courses, I’m learning by reading.
  • Do I look for ways to use creativity?  I am a writer and songwriter.  I’d like to act.  I don’t have much in the way of visual arts, though.  That should probably be a long-term goal.

Short-Term Goals (3 months)

* Take class on Becoming a Resilient Person

* Write actively each day

* Look for an opportunity to act or perform musically

Mid-Term Goals (1 Year)

* Find a visual skill I enjoy and learn how to do it

* Take at least one class each quarter

* Use the skills I develop

Long-Term Goals (5 Years +)

This is another area where I’m going to leave it open for now.  I might start to develop longer goals in this area, but I already engage in a learning lifestyle.  I need balance first.

How did you do?

I’m not going to come out well in today’s assessment.  I know this.  I’m an introvert.  I’ve lost many of my “in person” friends in my many moves over the past 5 1/2 years.  I have friends, but they’re largely online, many of them states or countries away.

The UCR Wellness Center lists these items under it social assessment:

  • Do I plan time to be with my family and friends?  My kids, yes.  This takes priority over every other thing in my life.  Friends… um, working on it?
  • Do I enjoy the time I spend with others?  Yes, actually.  I’m a true introvert, so people wear me out over time, but I still really enjoy being around them.  I love heart-to-heart talks and fun activities.  I just don’t do them much.
  • Are my relationships with others positive and rewarding?  Ouch.  Let’s see.  Failed marriage.  Failed engagement.  Friend who blocked me from his life.  Um… we’ll have to say working on it.
  • Do I explore diversity by interacting with people of other cultures, etc.?   Yes.  I don’t have a huge choice, given that I’m in metropolitan Los Angeles, but I’ve always enjoyed meeting and getting to know people who were “different” than I am.  I love cultures and I’m a writer, so it’s good background.  Anyway, people are just interesting.

So… I didn’t do quite as poorly as I thought I would, but I’m still not proud of my “score”.  Here are my goals:

Short-Term (3 Months)

* Interact with people (outside of my kids) on a weekly basis.  If I can’t get together with established friends, go outside my comfort zone and interact with strangers.

* Work on having positive, rewarding relationships.  For my three-month goal, I’m going to just figure out what that is.  I may blog it; it may turn out to be too personal.  We’ll see.

* Cultivate the friendships I already have.  Even if they’re “only Facebook” friends, take time to find out real things about their lives.

Mid-Term (1 Year)

* Grow at least three relationships (outside of my kids and work).

* Heal broken relationships if I can (maybe through an AA-type action?).

* Schedule weekly activities with others.  Play nice.

Long-Term (5 Years +)

I honestly don’t know what to put under long-term.  Maybe I will after I’ve worked on this for a while.  For now, I’m going to leave this area as one needing immediate attention.

How did your assessment go?  Any goals you want to share?