Intention

Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines “intention” as “a determination to act in a certain way” and “what one intends to do or bring about,” among other usages.

Bringing intention to just about anything can enhance both the experience in the moment and the effectiveness and level of satisfaction induced by the activity. Several synchronistic encounters have generated a resurgence of interest in practicing intention in my everyday life. Here are a few of the ways I am doing that.

Sleeping: Right before I go to sleep, as part of my nightly journaling practice, I set an intention to answer a question or solve a problem. I write it in my journal and ask my inner guidance to help me find the answer or solution. This sometimes leads to vivid dreams that steer me to a resolution. Other times, I awake with greater clarity or peace around the issue. Either way, I find that it is crucial to take a moment immediately upon awakening to record and process the guidance in my journal. Doing so contributes to deeper understanding and an increased chance of remembering and implementing what I learned in my sleep.

Eating: Adding intention around eating can be life changing. For me, intentional eating manifests in many ways. First and foremost, I eat plants, not sentient beings. My primary intention behind doing so is to add to the compassion, as opposed to the suffering, that exists in the world. A bonus is that the most compassionate way of eating is also most life-enhancing for my own body. By eating whole plant foods, I am intentionally doing what is best for raising the level of compassion in the world and for optimizing my own wellness. Beyond this most critical intention, I have committed to checking in with my emotions before I eat, to consciously and thoroughly chewing my food and to putting my fork down between bites. It is amazing how this can transform eating from a function to a practice. It can be challenging to accomplish this in the midst of a hectic day, with lunch squeezed tightly between appointments, but I make every effort to maintain my intentional practices around eating even then. I find that it helps my body to be in a calmer, more peaceful state to accept the nourishment that I give it.

Exercise: Physical activity, in itself, is wonderful for our bodies, minds and spirits. Engaging in regular physical activity has been one of the most transformative habits of my life. I have been a consistent exerciser since I was 23. My focus has shifted from gym to running to cycling over the years. While each has played an important role in who I have become, cycling is an absolute passion. I find the mood-enhancing and spirit-boosting effects of physical activity are elevated when I add another layer of intentionality to my exercise. I am committed to exercise because I know that moving my body in challenging ways makes me far, far happier and healthier than not doing so. I can get even more out of the movement when I meditate on a resonant quote and/or repeat affirmations to myself. On a recent bike ride, the quote that formed the basis for my intentional mediation was this one by Lucius Annaeus Seneca
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

This is a poignant reminder for me as I work toward some challenging goals. I also include on my rides affirmations designed to reprogram long-held beliefs that are not serving me. I find the combination of powerful physical activity that I love (cycling for me, but it might be something else for you) with positive self-talk and deep pondering of a worthwhile idea to be a particularly potent strategy for improving my confidence and my sense of well-being.

I recently read the excellent book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, by neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki. She explained how a workout called IntenSATI changed her life. The creator of IntenSATI, Patricia Moreno, combined a fusion (dance, martial arts, yoga and interval training) workout with powerful affirmations. Suzuki found that the intention this brought to her exercise changed the way she thought about herself, her body and what is possible in her life. She noticed that her creativity was enhanced, and she was more willing to take reasonable risks in her work and social life. I related strongly to what she said. My experiences on the bike, particularly combined with positive messaging to myself, permeate every aspect of my life and bring me renewal on a regular basis.

I am not necessarily successful at bringing intention to everything I do, but the areas where I do are more rewarding and help me to grow. In our highly distracted world today, the more intention we can introduce into our daily lives, the better. I believe that I have a responsibility to live my life with as much focus and purpose as possible so that I don’t miss the moments that comprise the whole of my existence.

My Favorite Books in 2016

Once again, reading was a rewarding and enriching aspect of my year. I am excited to share my second annual list, roughly, by the order in which I read the books listed in each genre, of my favorite books from a year of reading.

Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and it was interesting to note how many of the books I most enjoyed in 2016 came from that category. A number of them were about epic journeys of one type of another. I love the idea of a quest for personal growth and soul searching. Many of my bike rides become those in miniature for me. Vicariously, I learn and grow from the memoirists’ quests, and they inspire me to explore the idea of setting out on adventures of my own, whether geographic or metaphorical in nature.

These are the books that I gave four or five stars in Goodreads during 2016.

Business

Health

History

Memoir/Biography

Nutrition/Cooking

 

Personal/Professional Development

  • Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, It’s a Financial Number, by Chris Hogan—I felt motivated to take action toward improving my financial future after reading this book. Unfortunately, I haven’t followed through on everything that I planned at that time, but I do intend to refer back to this competent guide.
  • What I Know For Sure, by Oprah Winfrey—I just love Oprah, and this collection of her popular column, “What I Know for Sure,” in O Magazine is light, easy reading that imparts a lot of quotable wisdom.

Social Justice

True Crime & Justice

Writing

Success, Redefined

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose.” Benjamin Disraeli

I have decided that constancy to purpose is also the secret to happiness and inner peace. After my wake-up call from stress-induced B6 toxicity and small fiber neuropathy, I realized that I needed to focus on the things that really matter to me and let go of other expectations whenever possible. There are so many obligations, options, opportunities, causes, people and ideas competing for our time and attention. Trying to keep up with all of them and stay healthy is just not feasible.

We each have to find our own best way to make a difference—to make the contributions we want to make to the world, while remaining as healthy and centered as possible. This requires focusing on our unique opportunities to be a positive force in the universe and spending our time and energy doing those activities that feel most right. These are some touchstones that I find helpful in striving for this focus:

Clear values. Compassion. Excellence. Integrity. Fitness. These are the ethical aims that drive me and the most basic characteristics for which I want to be known. When I am clear about what ideals are most important to me, they guide my decisions in the directions that reinforce and enhance those principles in my life.

A philosophy for living. It is my responsibility to use my strengths and maximize my gifts to ensure that my net contribution to the world is positive. I express my gratitude for the strengths and gifts I have been given by putting them to effective, positive use.

Awareness of my strengths.  Honesty. Love of Learning. Perseverance. Gratitude. Judgment. According to the VIA Survey, these are my top five strengths. I frequently check in with myself to determine how well I am utilizing these strengths. Focusing my energy, whenever possible, on activities that allow me to employ these strengths optimizes both my effectiveness and my ability to find personal fulfillment in what I do.

Acknowledgement of my gifts. This list could go on and on. I am aware that I have been given so many resources and gifts, ranging from a loving upbringing to robust health to a quality education to a love of cycling and a drive to be fit. As an undergraduate student doing both paid and volunteer work in the nonprofit sector, I felt guilty for having been given so much, when I regularly witnessed so much suffering around me. In the years since, I have transformed the guilt into a healthier ownership of responsibility. I strive to maximize, not squander, my gifts. To provide just one example, I celebrate and express gratitude for my good health by nurturing it through cycling; eating a whole-food, plant-based diet; parking at the far reaches of parking lots; taking the stairs—even to the tenth floor when visiting people in the hospital—and making responsible decisions to take care of myself. To do otherwise, in my opinion, would be to scoff at the universe that has given me so many wonderful resources and to neglect my responsibility to give back.

A mission. To contribute to the advancement of human evolution in the direction of compassion. Compassion is my cornerstone value. I strive to live a life of compassion and to structure my decisions and actions around this value.  I can’t magically change the world into the one I wish it were, but I can keep pushing the needle in the direction of compassion. I am encouraged by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” By living and modeling compassion, I hope that I am planting seeds that will grow and flourish in this and future generations, gradually improving the conditions of both humans and nonhumans.

Recognition of the intersection of my passions, my strengths and the needs in the world. Aristotle said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation,” and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I picture these ideas together as a Venn diagram that guides me to my own best way to make a difference in the world. (I created a cool Venn diagram in a Word document, but I absolutely cannot get it to paste here, so I am presenting it as an equation below.)

Passions/Gladness+Talents/Strengths/Gifts+Need=Vocation


And that leads me to where it all comes together . . .

A motto. Fitness is advocacy. This is where all of the above ideas come together in a concise, encapsulated statement that directs my actions and focuses my efforts. There are so many needs in the world, and there are so many ways to address them. We each have to find our own best ways to serve the needs that speak to us most urgently. Represented in the above Venn diagram/equation and summed up in the motto, “Fitness is advocacy,” my unique way of adding compassion to the world becomes clear. When I am fit and healthy and ride hard, while fueling my body with plants, I demonstrate that no one has to suffer or die for us to be well nourished. Being a vegan cyclist has allowed me to educate people in small towns across Kansas about eating well on plants, and it has allowed me to inspire others to try plant-based eating. I give my mind, body and spirit the freedom and movement of the open road while advocating in an upbeat, positive way for compassionate living. There are many other important ways to make a difference. I sometimes participate in other strategies, but I have become clearer and clearer that my signature style of advocacy is through the example I set in my own life. In this way, I feel balanced and at peace.

I started this post with a quote about success, and I will finish it with one of my favorite definitions of success. Mike Ditka said, “Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.” I have come to a point where I really believe that. I am successful when I adhere to the habits, routines and strategies—the disciplines—that help me to remain consistently focused on my purpose. Deviating from that self-discipline for very long throws me off balance and disturbs my inner peace. When I keep my purpose in focus, I feel peaceful. That is my bottom-line determinant of success: Does this (way of life, relationship, job, commitment, activity, food, etc.) bring me more stress or more peace? Choosing the direction that is consistent with my purpose and nurtures inner peace is success.

 

Tips for Raising a Vegan Child

I have been vegan for eight years and vegetarian for 34 years. My 11-year-old son has been vegetarian since birth. I didn’t require him to become vegan when I made the switch to veganism, but I did talk to him about why I was making the decision. When he was in kindergarten, he told me he wanted to become vegan, and he has never looked back. Here is how we do it.

  • Make sure he/she is not left out. This is my number-one rule. I never want my son to feel deprived, so, I provide food that he enjoys for every gathering—family, school and community. I send vegan treats along to birthday parties at friends’ homes and vegan popcorn for movie day at school. When a physics professor visited and made liquid nitrogen ice cream, I sent delectable vegan ice cream for my son. This requires paying attention to school activity dates, and it is certainly extra work, but it is very important to me that my son doesn’t see being vegan as a sacrifice or drag.
  • Make delicious food to share. My cookies and chocolate cake are very popular with some of my son’s friends. One, in particular, considers vegan food a delicacy and gets very excited when I serve it at school parties. Having his friends like what his mom brings helps my son feel cool and normal.
  • Nourish your child appropriately. Like any vegan, she/he should take a B12 supplement. Emphasize whole foods and never assume that your child won’t like a fruit, vegetable or bean. Let him/her see you enjoying a wide variety of whole plant foods, and encourage her/him to do the same.
  • Pack appealing lunches. At home I make almost exclusively whole-food meals. Since I pack a lunch for my son to take to school every single day, I need to keep those interesting. He has access to a microwave, so I send things like frozen spring rolls, frozen burritos, frozen sliders and frozen butternut squash ravioli. These are not necessarily the most healthful vegan options, but they are better than animal-based alternatives, and they keep him feeling good about taking his lunch, instead of eating the school lunches.
  • Talk to teachers. At the beginning of every school year, I make a point to talk to my son’s teacher to let her/him know that my son is vegan, sometimes explaining what that means. I assure them that I will provide food for all parties and ask if he can keep snacks (usually a dozen individual packs of pretzels) in the classroom cabinet, so that he will have a snack for birthday parties that pop up throughout the year. One teacher asked me for books on veganism, and another asked me for recipes. Communicating with teachers is a great way to raise awareness while advocating for your child.
  • Anticipate conflicts and approach them proactively. When I knew that Easter eggs would be colored at school, I purchased wooden eggs and provided special markers for my son to color the eggs. Other kids wished they had his eggs.
  • Provide rationale . . . but don’t overwhelm. I want my son to understand why we are vegan, without getting depressed by the horrific details. This requires a balance of education and protection from pain, telling the truth, but not too much.
  • Help to educate others. When my son was younger, he took Benji Bean Sprout Doesn’t Eat Meat or That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals to school to read to his class. It helped the other children understand more about our values.
  • Celebrate vegan milestones. On his vegan anniversary, I give my son cards, telling him that I am proud of his ability to keep a commitment and live his values. He saves these and even posts them on his bulletin board in his room. I also make him a special dinner of his favorite foods.
  • Foster the development of an identity. Early on after he became vegan in kindergarten, I bought matching pendants for the two of us. Recently, I purchased a vegan cycling jersey for myself. He wanted one, so I bought him one. I want him to feel proud of being vegan.
  • Find a community. It can be tough to find other vegan kids, but my son has benefitted from attending vegan potlucks and other “adult” gatherings. He loves seeing other vegans and knowing that everything on the table is vegan.
  • Pick your battles. We live in an imperfect world that has not really caught up to vegans yet. So, there will be challenges. We will become exhausted and frustrate our children if we try to fight everything at once. Your child will be exposed to things you wish he/she were not, and family and friends will take her/him places you wish they wouldn’t. Decide what is most important and stand firm about those things. Relax about the others.

Just as it is not difficult to be vegan, it is not difficult to raise a vegan child. It takes creativity and planning and a willingness to put in the extra work to make sure that he/she always has delicious food, but it is worth it to know that I am living my values and contributing to the advancement of human evolution in the direction of compassion by nurturing another compassionate being to carry on the work. Best wishes in your journey as a vegan parent!

Some of My Favorite Resources for Vegan Eating

Bookshow-not-to-die

How Not to Die: Discover the Food Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, Michael Greger: Terrific guide to evidence-based nutrition. My number-one recommendation.

The Campbell Plan: The Simple Way to Lose Weight and Reverse Illness, Using The China Study’s Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet, Thomas M. Campbell II: Based on the .research presented in The China Study

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet Weight Loss and Long-term Health, T. Colin Campbell: Just what the subtitle implies—impressive science.

Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous! Rory Friedman & Kim Barnouin: This was the book I read when I was ready to learn the truth. I immediately transitioned from vegetarian to vegan.

The Engine 2 Diet, Rip Esselstyn: Tasty recipes and interesting background.

The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World, John Robbins: Written by a member of the Baskin-Robbins family, discussing his conversion away from animal products, including dairy.

The PlantPure Nation Cookbook, Kim Campbell: My favorite cookbook, lots of great recipes.

Thrive Books, Brendan Brazier: A whole series of books about plant-based eating and exercise.

Unprocessed: How to Achieve Vibrant Health and Your Ideal Weight, Abbie Jaye: Interesting story and cookbook with some creative solutions to minimizing processed food.

Vegan for Her: The Woman’s Guide to Being Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet, Ginny Messina & J. L. Fields: Woman-specific guide to nutrition

Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet, Jack Norris & Ginny Messina: Comprehensive guide written by dietitans.

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero: Classic vegan cookbook, one of the first I owned.

Vegan’s Daily Companion: 365 Days of Inspiration for Cooking, Eating and Living Compassionately, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau: Short daily readings to provoke thought and motivation for living the vegan lifestyle.

Websites

http://fatfreevegan.com/: Great resource for healthful vegan recipes.

http://www.joyfulvegan.com/: Inspiration and information, podcast.

http://nutritionfacts.org/: Source of endless information on evidence-based nutrition. Daily videos.

http://www.veganessentials.com/: Online store with a wide range of vegan products.

Other

Daily Dozen app: Fun way to track daily consumption of the most important foods for health. I use it every day.

Happy Cow app: Source for locating vegan restaurant options.

Is It Vegan? App: Allows you to determine if a product or ingredient is vegan.

Pushing the Pedals with Plant-Based Fuel

One of my great joys in life is Biking Across Kansas each year. I am honored to serve on the Board of Directors and to contribute my skills in a variety of ways to a cause that is dear to my heart. Another cause that is dear to my heart is living and eating compassionately. One of the ways that these two passions intersect is through an annual article that I write for the BAK newsletter to guide others who are vegan, vegetarian or may want to explore living, training and riding fueled by plants, instead of animals. Here is this year’s article, which will appear in the upcoming April BAK newsletter. I decided to publish it to my blog because it may provide useful guidance and inspiration for other athletes who are curious about eliminating the consumption of animals from their diets, but fear that it would be too difficult.

More and more people are choosing to nourish their bodies with plants instead of animal-based products. I have been vegan since 2008 and vegetarian since 1982. My 11-year-old son, who has been on BAK since I was pregnant with him, is vegan. We survive and thrive on BAK, and I am writing to share some of my tips for having a great, plant-powered trip across the state.

Self-sufficiency, resourcefulness and a positive attitude are key to nourishing our bodies with plants on BAK. I have found that the availability of vegan food has increased over the years, but it does vary from location to location and year to year. BAK staff communicate proactively with the lunch and overnight towns, encouraging them to include vegan options when they serve us. I happily provide some specific suggestions whenever those are welcomed by our host towns. Still, we ultimately have control over only our own actions. That is why I believe in taking responsibility for my own nutrition, and I encourage you to do the same.

Despite the proactive efforts of BAK staff, there may be times when we have to be a little more creative in order to get the vegan nutrition we need. This is possible without transporting our kitchen pantries across the state. These are some of my go-to BAK resources:

Local offerings: My first suggestion is that you explore the options presented by the local schools, youth groups, teams and churches. Because of the proactive communication by BAK staff, many of them have prepared a vegan selection, and some groups may offer entirely vegan meals. Highlights of recent years include an Asian meal in Elkhart, vegan kabobs in Oswego and terrific potato and salad bars in Anthony, Coldwater and Goessel. Pasta with marinara sauce is common, and vegan wraps or burritos have also made appearances in the last few years. Breakfasts have included tortillas with peanut butter and dried fruit, as well as oatmeal made with water or nondairy milk. Please make the local offerings your first choice when possible and thank the providers sincerely and profusely. BAK should be a win-win, with riders getting a terrific experience, while local communities reap economic and interpersonal benefits.

Local grocery stores: These can be valuable resources especially at lunch. Almost any fresh fruit is a good, refreshing option. Cut watermelon may be available in produce sections, and it is both hydrating and nourishing. Grape or cherry tomatoes and baby carrots can be dipped in hummus or guacamole, which can often be found in produce sections of grocery stores. Some stores have delis that may serve three-bean or other vegan salad options. Friends and I have shared whole-wheat tortillas, peanut butter and vegan refried beans on benches, pallets or curbs outside grocery stores. Ask the deli staff to open cans you purchase in the store. Grab a can of beans to supplement dinner at night, if the offerings are on the sparse side. Keep a small camping can opener in your luggage.

Local restaurants: I have been pleasantly surprised, at times, to find vegan dishes in local restaurants. This won’t always be the case, but there are usually some items that can be combined to make a decent meal—plain baked potatoes, salad and fruit, for example. Pizza is another option. Pizza crust is usually vegan, but ask to be sure. A loaded veggie pizza without cheese makes a tasty meal.

SAGs: BAK SAGs are the best! They work so hard to feed us well when we are out there on the road. Fruit, pretzels, pickles and peanut butter (great on bananas or apples, if the bread is not vegan) are frequently available. Please thank our generous SAG volunteers, who are spending their vacations in the wind, heat or rain to keep us energized.

Items to pack: In addition to making creative use of local resources, it is important to be prepared for situations when existing options are sparse. These are items that I take with me each year on BAK:

  • Shelf-stable vegan milk (almond, soy coconut, etc.)—I usually take an 8-pack of this. Sure, it adds some weight, but the load lightens a little each day, and it has a lot of valuable uses. Even if there are not full breakfasts that meet our needs, there may be suitable cereal and fruit. Pour some vegan milk on the cereal, add fruit, and you have a meal. I also use this to create tasty, energizing shakes. I don’t even care that the milk is not cold.
  • Vegan protein or smoothie mixes: Take a shaker cup and vegan protein separated into single servings and packed in individual, resealable bags, sealed in a larger zippered bag. This can make a good breakfast with some fruit. My favorite way to use vegan protein shakes is as a quick post-ride recovery drink. As soon as I find my bag, I grab my shaker cup, vegan protein and vegan milk and mix up a glycogen-replenishing drink. It is important (not just for vegans) to refuel within 45 minutes after prolonged and/or strenuous exercise, and this is a convenient way to do it.
  • Dried fruit, nuts & seeds: I usually pack a large, zippered bag of dates and another one of nuts and seeds. Figs, raisins, goji berries or dried cranberries are other options. I place a snack-sized bag of these items in my saddle bag to supplement lunch or SAG food when needed. They pack and store well and provide concentrated energy in small packages.
  • Nutritional yeast: A small bag or repurposed plastic spice bottle makes this a convenient source of both vitamin B12 and flavor. It works as a topping for baked potatoes, when vegan margarine or nourishing toppings like vegan chili, beans or broccoli are not available. It can also add interest to greens and other salad veggies if there is no vegan dressing and give a boost to pasta with marinara sauce.
  • Single-serving packs of almond or peanut butter: This is great on fresh fruit, dates or vegan toast, and the packs can even be taken along on the bike to supplement lunch fare.
  • Gels or bars: Personally, I like energy gels on the bike. Some people prefer to carry bars, blocks or whole-food options, like dates, in their jersey pockets. Energy bars can be useful breakfast or recovery alternatives. Bicycle Pedaler generally offers vegan versions of gels and bars if you need to replenish your stash during the week.

By approaching BAK with a sense of adventure and by taking responsibility for your own nutrition, it is entirely possible to pedal (strongly and happily) across the state while remaining true to your ethical and health principles.

A Bigger Yes

Lately, one of my favorite Stephen Covey quotes has been on my mind. In his terrific book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”

The concept of a bigger yes translates for me to freedom earned through introspection to discover what really matters, awareness to recognize when something may jeopardize our priorities, focus to keep our yes in the front of our minds and self-discipline to say “no” to things that threaten what matters most.

I am at my most empowered when I honor my bigger yes.

Recently, the arena where a bigger yes has been most prominent is nutrition. For most of my life, I have lived a bigger yes when it comes to food. Because of my desire to live compassionately and my commitment to justice for all living beings, I have been vegetarian since 1982 and vegan since 2008. This was easy for me. The bigger yes was compassion. Ceasing my consumption of meat as a 12 year old required some creative maneuvering within my family, but it did not require willpower or sacrifice. I was clear that I cared more for animals than I did for eating their flesh.

For so many years, I wanted to believe that being vegetarian was enough to satisfy my ethics. I allowed myself to linger in blissful ignorance for too long after better information was readily available. It was easier not to know. Until it wasn’t. For a long time, I had told myself that chickens didn’t suffer for us to eat eggs and that milking relieved the cows of their burdens. Deep down, I feared that I was lying to myself in my ignorance. Finally, compassion and commitment to my ethics became a bigger yes than convenience. As soon as I allowed myself to learn the truth, I became vegan. Sure, it requires asking more questions and being a bit more resourceful, but the inner peace of prioritizing my bigger yes makes any inconvenience well worth it.

More recently, the nutritional bigger yes (coupled with my commitment to my ethics) is my long-term health. Toward that end, I have incorporated Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen app (See this post.) into my everyday life. That part was easy. It just meant some small modifications to my daily habits—adding beans to my morning smoothie to get a head start on my three servings; ensuring that I eat at least two servings of greens, plus a serving of cruciferous vegetables and including an eighth of a teaspoon of turmeric into my smoothies. These changes just meant eating even more of nature’s goodness. They weren’t difficult.

More challenging was recognizing that I needed to give up some of my (healthful!) extras in order truly to optimize my health and fitness and avoid gaining weight. After reading How Not to Die, by Dr. Greger, I became serious about making my long-term health and well-being my bigger yes, even more clearly and more boldly than it previously had been.

I have recognized in the past that I have had an addiction of sorts to dark chocolate and energy bars. During times of stress and anxiety, I have used these and other foods for comfort or security. Reading and internalizing Dr. Greger’s evidence-based, whole-food message, I recognized that my relationship to my comfort foods didn’t fit all that well with my nutritional objectives because of the added sugar and the processed nature of those products. Although the energy bars I ate were vegan and relatively healthful, my bigger yes is to maximize whole foods in my diet. So, I stopped a nearly daily habit of both the bars and the chocolate on January 1, when I started using the Daily Dozen app. (The date was coincidental—the day I learned about it—not by design.) In addition to added oil, which I had already largely eliminated, I also decided to avoid added sugar, even agave nectar and maple syrup, and to pay closer attention to the amount of sodium I consumed. Then, I increased my intake of some of the most healthful foods on the planet—dark, leafy greens; flax; beans and whole grains—but I kept a lot of my other little comforts.

They were nutritious additions—bonus foods—to the Daily Dozen. My son had broken our scale, so I focused on how great I felt and enjoyed the knowledge that I was putting good food into by body, without worrying about my weight. Several weeks into this cycle, I went to the doctor for an annual check-up. Stepping on the scale, I realized that even this good stuff was causing me to gain weight that would not maximize my cycling performance or optimize my long-term health.

Once again, it was time to acknowledge and honor a bigger yes. I decided to treat the Daily Dozen goals not as minimums, but as loose limits. By and large, I am consuming only the Daily Dozen now. This is not restrictive! There are so many wonderful, nourishing whole-food options. I am not automatically putting cacao nibs in with my nuts, eating nuts or nut butter several times a day or mixing vegan yogurt into my berries every single day. I still eat these things—nuts are part of the Daily Dozen—but I am eating just enough servings to meet the Daily Dozen goals, and cacao and vegan yogurt (one of the only processed foods in which I sometimes indulge) are truly occasional now. This allows me to honor my bigger yes.

I don’t feel deprived at all. Instead, I feel satisfied and peaceful because I am clear about what my priorities are, and I am living them. These are my comforts now.

Cycling is a bigger yes for me, too. It would be so easy to sleep in on a summer Saturday morning, but if I did, I might not get my long ride. The ride is a bigger yes than the leisurely start to the day. I know that I will feel better and happier with myself if I get up early to ride than if I don’t. Last Friday, I got up at 3 a.m. to take my mom for a medical procedure. Happily, it went well, and I was able to get her home by 1 p.m., avoiding the overnight hospital stay we had expected. When I got her settled at home, she suggested that I take a nap and then go for a bike ride (beautiful day in February!) before my son got out of school. I said, “I am going to go for a bike ride and then maybe take a nap because cycling is a higher priority.” It is not that sleep is not important; it just means that I had to make a choice, and that choice was to honor my bigger yes.

The bottom line is that there is only so much that fits into any one life. We have to make choices. When we say “yes” to one choice, it means that we are saying “no” to another. Conversely, saying “no” makes room for a “yes.” The key is being devoted to a bigger yes, so that the noisy distractions can’t overshadow it. I view this as freedom.

My biggest tormentors are my own feelings—anxiety, stress, disappointment, shame, disgust and guilt. I have found that one way of reducing the power these tormentors have over me is to honor my bigger yes in every situation. When I do that, I am free from disappointment in myself, as well as its previously mentioned conspirators. The key is to be self-aware enough to recognize the bigger yes. These questions may help us discover and honor our priorities:

  • What matters most to me in life?
  • What are my core, defining values for which I want to be known?
  • What do I most want in this situation?
  • What actions will help me to achieve my most important goals?
  • Which choice will bring me the most peace?
  • Where do I need to say “no” in order to make room for my bigger yes?

Reflection and journaling can assist in clarifying the answers to these questions. Then we must commit to the bigger yes. We must decide that we are worth the courage, effort, sacrifice or social backlash that may come with the actions necessary to honor our bigger yes.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said in one of my all-time favorite quotes, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” The bigger yes helps us hold on to what is most important and to resist the pull of distractions. I have often said that discipline is the reward for making a tougher choice, one that honors a bigger yes. With discipline comes freedom, which brings us closer to inner peace. The more I nurture my bigger yes, the freer and more peaceful I feel inside. That freedom is worth more to me than any taste, convenience, nap or social approval ever could be. The bigger yes often requires making the unconventional choice. That is okay. I choose integrity over convention any day. People don’t always understand or appreciate the choices we make to honor our bigger yes, but I have to live with myself one hundred percent of the time, so I choose to direct my behavior internally. As Covey said, it takes courage to do that, but the rewards are great.