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2nd Key Observation: Think Like a CFO…Show Me the Money!


Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


2nd Key Observation…

Think Like a CFO…Show Me the Money!

presented for your intellectually driven consideration, your emotionally driven engagement, and — most important — your viscerally driven action


As mentioned in the 1st key observation, health promotion champions who “get it” are great but if your company’s wellness future depends upon the support of one or two senior officers who intuitively live the life of wellness (graduates of the Jack LaLanne School of Management)…


In these challenging economic times, more and more organizations are turning to their CFOs (graduates of the Joe Friday School of Economics) to set a new or corrected course of action.  In every bean counter’s closet is a picture of Jack Webb and the flipside of their business card reads:

“Just the Facts, Ma’am … Just the Facts”

Okay, I realize this comes as a bombshell but …  CFOs lean (sometimes lurch) hard and strong toward the world of tight analytics and concrete facts.  God Bless ‘em All.  We need that approach.  The green eyeshade gang protects the fiscal conservative in all of us.  HOWEVER, they tend to fall pretty flat when it comes to risk-taking and innovation.

Due to a lack of evidenced-based standards and measurements, “Wellness Programs”—whatever that means—are often last items added to a budget and first to feel the blade.

Remember, for every Jack or Jacquelyn LaLanne jogging with the troops, there is a Joe or Joanne Friday sitting in a corner office with a sharp #2 pencil and an itchy finger hovering just above the “delete” button on their keyboard.

Learn to think like a CFO!


“The Other 16 Hours”


Wellness in the Workplace 2.0 – All Hail the Benevolent Dictator!

Wellness in the Workplace 2.0

What Got Us Where We Are Today…Won’t Get us Where We Need to be Tomorrow

10 Key Observations from Thirty-Five Years in the Field


Okay, for those of you who do not know me or my work here’s a quick bullet bio:

  • 12 Year Cancer Survivor & Thrivor
  • Graduate Degree in Education from the University of Michigan
  • Vietnam Era Veteran of the US Air Force
  • Former Public School Teacher, Counselor, Administrator
  • Co-Founded the National Center for Health Promotion in the late 1970’s
  • Founding President & CEO, The Health & Wellness Institute
  • Retired SVP, Health & Wellness Services, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of RI
  • Author of 5 Books on Health Promotion & Behavior Change
  • International Speaker on Leadership, Health Promotion & Cancer Awareness
  • High Altitude International Mountain Climber and Trekker
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Rhode Island, Health Management Services
  • Annual Guest Lecturer, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Married 39 Years with 3 Children and First Grand Baby due in April (Yea!)

I give you this background information to show that the observations that follow are grounded deeply in both personal and professional experience and not just the product of distant observation, casual research, coffee house debates and focused literature review.  I’ve had the academic training, taught the classes, written the books, delivered the keynote addresses, conferred with esteem colleagues, built the health promotion companies and passionately lived the life.

Over the next several days I will note my key observations followed by a summary entry on suggestions for Wellness in the Workplace 2.0…

Disclaimer:  It is arrogant and presumptuous to suggest that a mere essay on lessons learned and suggestions going forward is anything more, than … well … an essay.

es . say \e-s­­­a­: an interpretive literary composition usually dealing with its subject from a limited or personal point of view



1st Key Observation: All Hail the Benevolent Dictator!

When Augustus, 1st, Emperor of Rome, wanted roads and aqueducts, the Empire got roads and aqueducts.  When Maria Theresa wanted the children of the Austrian Empire educated and the creation of a unified judicial code, the children of Austria were educated and Austria had a unified judicial code (which eliminated the inquisition, burning at the stake and public torture, I might add).  When Catherine the Great wanted an end to religious bigotry and recognition of basic rights for women, Russia entered a period of religious tolerance and the role of women was elevated.

Of course, the list of atrocities under each of these rulers would fill several pages; however, …the point is this:  When you’re in charge, you get to make the rules.  CEOs of today’s private companies, like their counterparts ruling ancient Rome and sitting on the thrones of 18th century European monarchies, get to call the shots.  If they want free-fruit Thursdays and a smoke-free campus, all they have to do is say so.  Of course it is also a fact that if they want chili-dog Tuesdays and junk food vending they can have that, as well.  As long as they conform to the letter of the law (and—in a union shop—provisions agreed to in collective bargaining), corporate rulers get to rule, absolutely.

Here’s the rub, in corporate America the wellness culture of an organization can all change in a heartbeat — for better or worse.  If you have a great boss who BELIEVES in the inherent value of an evidenced-based healthy worksite, INDEPENDENT of strict number-crunching-proof-specific-to-your-company, great.  No problem; you’re one of the lucky ones.  But what happens when out walks Joan of Art and in walks Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Bloody Mary or Vlad the Impaler?

Champions are great but unless and until evidence-based health promotion and disease prevention (EBHP) measures are woven into the fabric  of your organization —read: written into your policies and procedures manual—your health and wellness program is at the mercy of boardroom circumstance.

Tomorrow: Key Observations 2 and 3

“Show Me the Money” &  “The Other 16 Hours”


Wellness at the Worksite: We Can’t Get There from Here

On March 9th and 10th I’ll join Dee Edington in Ann Arbor to celebrate the University of Michigan’s 30th Annual Wellness in the Workplace Conference.  The focus will be on “Next Practices for Champion Companies.” Dee has asked me to speak what is on my mind for about 30 minutes and then join a panel with Larry Chapman, Ron Loeppke and Casey Chosewood to discuss private sector challenges and opportunities.  Dee and I have been friends and colleagues for the past thirty years so when he tells me I can speak what’s on my mind, he knows that I will do just that.

For those of you who can’t make it to Ann Arbor (great town…you should come visit), what follows is the backgrounder for my 30 minute talk before the panel.

Warning:  This is a long post (but in easy to digest bite-size junks).


Thesis Statement –  Wellness at the Worksite:  We Can’t Get There from Here

As I read the latest research reports on worksite wellness including COI and ROI studies, I can’t help but shudder just a tad…okay, in some cases more than a tad.  Mostly because of what my old friend Yogi would call “Deja vu all over again.”

Don’t get me wrong, there is an absolute call for ongoing research but, please, let’s be careful that we understand current state before we plan future state.  I’m not so sure that all of the professionals wishing to advance health and wellbeing at the worksite are on the same page.  With that, I humbly present my 35-year biased perspective of where we are today.  Without an understanding of these basics…worksite wellness will remain an illusive goal.


Nothing and Nobody will Lower your Healthcare Costs:  The cost of healthcare will continue to grow; they will never shrink.  The concern is the rate of growth.  Currently, the cost of healthcare doubles every seven years.  Given the projected spend in 2009 of 2.8 trillion; we’re looking at 5.6 trillion in 2016 and 11.2 trillion in 2023. We can slow the rate of burn significantly through improvements in efficiency and effectiveness.  Currently, it is estimated that approximately one third of our annual healthcare spend is wasted on unnecessary treatments, redundant tests, fraud, errors, and superfluous activities and procedures that do nothing to improve the nation’s health.  That equates to around $700 billion in 2009. Cut that figure by half, and there would be more than enough money to offer top-notch care to every one of America’s 46 million uninsured.

Death is not a Curable Disease: Life is precious and we should do all that we can to ensure that every individual lives a life accented by quality and opportunity.  That being said, we are all going to die (sorry to be the one to tell you).  In the end it isn’t the date of birth and the date of death that matter…it’s the quality of the dash that separates the two.

In 1900, US life expectancy was about 47 years with minimal disability prior to death. At that time, individuals died at home and, for the most part, their families picked up the tab.  A baby born in 2010 can expect to live until around 78-80, preceded by about two years of disability.   More than likely, death will occur in a hospital and Medicare will pick up most of the cost.

Increasingly, expanded morbidity and complex care accompany the years just prior to death. According to the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services, one-quarter of Medicare dollars are spent in the last year of a patient’s life. Also, end of life dollars vary greatly depending upon where you live.  The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy has found that spending is nearly three times higher in Manhattan than in areas of Colorado, mainly because patients in Manhattan average 21.9 days in the hospital during their last six months, compared with only 6.3 days in Grand Junction, Colo. Yet higher costs don’t necessarily mean longer or better lives.

Should the social and political will determine that our collective objective is to provide maximized extended life options for all citizens — at all costs — we have to find a way to fund it.

One way is to eliminate unnecessary treatment, redundant tests, fraud and errors along with nonessential activities and procedures, as mentioned above.  In addition, we can address the social issues that determine individual and community health including housing, education, hunger, health literacy, and access to affordable primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. We can also move toward a qualitative instead of quantitative medical reimbursement system, a true healthcare system that rewards outcomes and patient/practitioner compliance instead of a sickcare system that encourages increased numbers of visits, prescription drugs and medical procedures.

Then, again, we could simply do nothing and pay increased taxes to cover the increased costs…

“Wellness” is an Amorphous, Dangerous & Distracting Term: The word “wellness,” when used as an antonym for sickness loses punch and significance because it’s not measurable.  How does “wellness” translate into dollars?  The argument goes, “I get that “sickness” means missing work, incurring medical expenses and running-up pharmacy costs, but what are the savings, or, absence of cost, that comes with being well?”  It’s too slippery to measure, so anything called “wellness” is often the first to feel the blade of budget cutback.  Far from fluff and waste, WELLNESS is an umbrella descriptor for programs, policies and initiatives that promote health prevent certain diseases and compress morbidity (shorten length of illness).   Wellness is also an objective and subjective incremental state of well being with infinite variations.  The next time someone talks about the need to improve productivity, slow the surge of healthcare costs, recruit top talent, retain key employees and improve the overall quality of life for your community…THINK WELLNESS.  And, then, tell me “wellness” is fluff! 

The Primary Areas of Focus Should Be:

  • Affordable Healthcare for All
  • Universal Coverage
  • Social Determinants
  • Behavioral Determinants
  • Personal Quality of Life
  • Health Promotion
  • Accountability
  • Disease Prevention
  • Compressed Morbidity
  • Employee Productivity
  • Tort Reform
  • Reduced Paternalism

As just mentioned, the word “wellness” is a convenient catch-all term that distracts and confuses the real issues that have created, perpetuated and exacerbated today’s healthcare crisis.  These issues are an absence of effective health promotion (social marketing, facilitating healthy corporate & community cultures and meaningful health policies), a lack of focus on disease prevention (including awareness, education and early detection via age & gender appropriate screenings) a focus on compressed morbidity (early intervention, evidence-based treatment and care compliance), increased productivity (presenteeism, reduced absenteeism, employee retention and key hires), achieving business objectives (mission & margin), universal and affordable healthcare (access and coverage for all), personal quality of life (what matters to ME), tort reform (reasonable, equitable and judicious compensation for medical incompetence) and economically efficient & outcome effective medical  treatment.

Organizations Measure Success According to Mission & Margin…Individuals (Employees) Measure Success in Terms of Subjective Wellbeing:

Management – At the end of the day, the goal of every organization is to open the doors the next morning.  Simplistic, yes; however, sustaining and expanding both mission and margin is a fiduciary responsibility of every corporate officer.  That goes for the one-person-not-for-profits all the way up to Fortune 500 companies.  Nobody in senior management will argue the importance of having healthy and happy employees (mom and apple pie).  That being said, if employee health and wellness initiatives, policies and activities are not tightly framed and measured in the context of corporate survival, growth and profitability, they will be viewed as ancillary and delegated to the same bucket that holds company picnics, charitable contributions and free fresh fruit in the cafeteria.  When times get tough, calculators are worked overtime and, well…you know the rest.  That’s why it’s important that you always level-set when using the word “wellness” in a conversation with senior management or when submitting budget requests/renewals.  Make sure it is clearly understood that you addressing some or all of the issues listed in item four, above.  If not, your programs, initiatives and policies will suffer and, gradually, go away.

Employee – At the same time that you are tending to management’s objectives, remember that at the end of day the goal for the employee is to live life to its fullest…according to their terms and definitions.

Foregoing bad genes and catastrophic events, evidence shows that a life accented by a healthy blend of proper nutrition, physical activity, intellectual stimulation, emotional support, spiritual engagement and social interaction tends to be long and relatively free from illness and infirmity. That’s the science of life.  The art of living, however, is specific, subtle and subjective. To advance this art, an individual must refine and extend their senses to seek out and build a unique existence that continuously advances their personal state of wellbeing.  If employers are to acquire and retain the best of the best, they must respect and address the issues of employee contentment and happiness.  Once thought frivolous, studies show that these “soft” issues correlate with presenteeism — ability to focus on the job while at the job — productivity and retention.

There is no Political Will to Change Healthcare in a Meaningful Way: While there is considerable noise, there is no real interest in changing the U.S. healthcare system. This is the case, in part, because most Americans don’t feel any visceral urgency to change. Yes, sure, people are aware that there is a problem and everyone knows someone who has suffered under the current burden of expense, error and inefficiency; however, for most people healthcare reform is several pegs down on their ladder of priorities.

No doubt there will be some re-shuffling of the deck chairs but the system, as presented, will continue for the foreseeable future. This, in spite of the fact that The Commonwealth Fund warns us that the average premium for family coverage in employer-sponsored policies will double in the coming decade from about $12,300 in 2008 to $23,800 in 2020 with a growing cost-shift to the workers. Premiums will also continue to soar for individuals who buy their own coverage directly.

So, are we willing to fight for a country where individual freedoms include guaranteed health, shelter and education?  Do we have the individual desire and passion needed to push the political will in a direction that benefits all of our citizens? I don’t believe that is the case.  To drive home the point, take a look at our current allocations. Of the $2.8 trillion annual U.S. healthcare spend, less than 5 percent is for primary prevention, early detection and early intervention.  There is no indication that these percentages will change in any measurable way.  It is clear that the current political will is more about protecting and growing the sickness industry than it is about advancing the health and wellbeing of the people.

Unlike underdeveloped nations, where health and wellness (prevention) is an economic as well as moral imperative, the U.S. healthcare system, in order to survive and profit, requires and reinforces sickness and disease.  This lack of meaningful action toward disease prevention and health promotion makes it clear that we agree with Gordon Gekko: “…sickness is good” [sic] for the U.S. economy and there is no political will to fundamentally change and transform the system.

If “Greed” is Good… “Sickness” is Better: In the 1987 film “Wall Street” Michael Douglas, as Gordon Gekko, delivers the memorable “Greed is Good” speech…

“…The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good.  Greed is right.  Greed works.  Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.  And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”

If you substitute a better word like “integrity,” “respect” or “passion” for the word “greed,” he’s right.

By placing money in the same context as life, love and knowledge, the character’s intent was to put greed in a favorable and honorable light.  The problem, of course, is that greed is not good. It is as Webster defines it:

Greed:  “An excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially material wealth) than one needs or deserves.”

Greed, in all of its forms,  greed for power, greed for control, greed for self-interest and greed for spite has marked the downward surge of mankind.  And, greed, you mark my words, will ruin that malfunctioning corporation called the USA (think recent events on the real Wall Street).

What Gekko was saying to the stockholders is that he can make them a great deal of money; that he can earn them millions, if not billions, of dollars if they turn over control of the fictitious company, Teldar Paper, to him.  Millions?  Billions?  That’s chump change when compared to the trillions to be made in sickcare.

So, if greed is good…clearly, sickness must be better.

Pogo was Right: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” With this statement, Walter Kelly, creator of the Pogo comic strip, attempted to explain that each individual is wholly vested in the democratic process.  The results of the process fall on the head of the public and he who defers to others or procrastinates in raising his voice can blame no one but himself.

If you have ever experienced a situation, group, or culture that you considered (sensed or thought) was wrong, odd, or dangerous only to remain silent, as you gradually viewed that same situation, group, or culture as normal, neutral or beyond your ability to influence, you have assimilated and/or abdicated. It may also signal that you have compromised values, ethics, morals and sensibilities in exchange for acceptance and security.

Healthcare Spend & Focus Needs to Shift from Disease Management (Survival & Costly) to Primary Prevention (Thrival & Inexpensive): Once diagnosed, it is critical that provider and patient join forces to contain and minimize the impact of disease. However, keep in mind that the right side of the continuum reflects diminished quality of life and consumes 98% of the healthcare dollar; whereas, concentration on the left side results in high quality of life and cost avoidance.  You know the old sayings:  “A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” “A stitch in time, saves nine,” and “You can pay me now…or, you can pay me later.”  Another one to keep in mind is:

“Survival may bring years of life but Thrival brings life to your years!”

…and dollars to your wallet

It is Arrogant & Presumptuous to Suggest that — without context — a List has Independent Value: Reflect on the items listed above and place them in your world.  Do they make sense? Do any of them touch on your circumstances? Are you motivated to learn more?  If you are anxious, angry, confused or frustrated with today’s healthcare crisis but haven’t taken any meaningful action to change things, go back and read item eight.

More to come in future posts…



Quantum Entanglement and The Power of Intention


the minimum unit of any physical entity involved in an interaction

quantum entanglement

a quantum physics phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects have at all times to be described with reference to each other, each instantaneously tracking changes to the other, however large the spatial separation of the objects


a determination to think and act in a certain way


elementary physics…

  • Since inception (Big Bang), all matter is connected.
  • Double slit experiments demonstrate that all matter exhibits properties of both particles and waves — wave-particle duality.
  • The mere act of measurement (observation, thought) influences behavior.

Furthermore, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle teaches that there can be no circumstance whereby we can describe, with absolute certainty, a particle’s definite position and definite momentum. The more precise we are at measuring a particle’s exact location the more imprecise we are at measuring exactly where it is headed.  And, conversely, as we hone in on momentum, we navigate away from position.

Therefore, the behavior of all physical matter—waves, particles, protons, electrons and neutrons—is connected, unpredictable, and exists in a pool of infinate potential and possibility.

Got that?  Okay, so what?


So what?  So What?!  I’ll tell you, So What!

It means that WE—as card carrying members of this mostly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen mass of neurons, protons and electrons genus—are all related and interdependent.  Of course, it also means we’re connected to dung beetles but, for today, let’s keep the focus on bipeds with highly developed cerebral cortexes.

At a very fundamental level, what you do and how you feel matters to me.  We are the same.

It also means that YOU (we) are not trapped in the past.  Independent of what has come before this moment your future is not set in stone.  You can change your current direction.  Your acceptance or rejection of this fundamental principal of physics—paired with meaningful action—is the key to your present and future wellbeing.

No small thing, eh?

What are your intentions?  Where do you see yourself going?  Your thoughts are the gateway to your actions.  Focus on the power of the possible and avoid the paralysis of the probable.  Yes, life IS filled with infinite opportunity but keep in mind that the door swings both ways.  Attitude and action make the difference.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

– Shakespeare, “Hamlet”


When the Boon is Rejected: Maintain Authenticity and Caution Against Assimilation

The reoccurring storyline tells the tale of the hero who awakens one day to the call of adventure.  More than an invitation, it is closer in power to a Siren’s song without — necessarily the classic torn sails, broken mast, and floating splinters.

His rational mind and his emotional being play tug-of-war but, in the end, as often is the case, personal emotion trumps collective reason.  He goes in search of the grail knowing that, as Joseph Campbell reminds us, there is no security and there are no rules.

On the journey, our hero encounters tests, allies and enemies.  And, with the aid of a wise mentor, and a writer who knows what Hollywood wants, he conquers all adversity, captures the flag, and sets off back to the village (perhaps even with the once-deadly-but-now-tamed Siren) to share the boon, the prize, the newly found wisdom.

All live happily ever after.

Fade to black…

Okay.  Fine.  But, there are times when the boon, the prize, the newly found wisdom is rejected.  No matter the treasure, it is still disruptive in a world that knows not, or little, of its existence or value.  Truth and authenticity are threatening in a world of shifting facade.  What you may view as “The Answer” may well be viewed by others — particularly those in control — as the newest problem to be dealt with, swiftly.

When you are the hero and this  happens to you, you have a few options.

  • Grab Your Booty and Run (all meanings apply) – Resolve that they are fools not worthy of your treasure.  Saddle up for new horizons confident in the delusion that others elsewhere will readily value what you have to offer.
  • Spin & Re-Purpose The Treasure to Meet the Needs of the Village Elders – With this option, you have tempered your optimism and water-downed the strength of your beliefs.  You have compromised values, ethics, morals, and sensibilities in exchange for acceptance and security.  You have both created and assimilated into an unauthentic system.  Shame on you.
  • Slow Down and Allow Others to Catch Up – Kaizen. Without compromise or dilution, break the treasure down into manageable bite size pieces and strategically introduce value to those in a position to eventually harvest and distribute the full treasure.

Note: If you have ever experienced a situation, group, or culture that you initially considered (sensed or thought) was wrong, odd, or dangerous only to gradually view that same situation, group, or culture as normal and desirable, caution…you have assimilated.


Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay…


Sitting on the Dock of the Bay…Summer, 1967, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

“Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun – I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes

Watching the ships roll in – And then I watch ’em roll away again

I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay – Watching the tide roll away

Ooo, I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay – Wastin’ time

I left my home in Georgia – Headed for the ‘Frisco bay

‘Cause I’ve had nothing to live for – And look like nothin’s gonna come my way

So I’m just gonna sit on the dock of the bay – Watching the tide roll away

Ooo, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay – Wastin’ time…”

– Otis Redding and Steve Cropper, 1967


Three days after recording this number one hit, Otis Redding died in a plane crash near Madison, Wisconsin.  He was twenty-six years old.


All should be perfect.  The waves slosh against the creaky dock. A rainbow slips in behind the morning mist. The Bush beer bought at the Base Exchange is cheap and cold. The girl from North Wilkesboro is innocent, sexy, engaging.  Otis sings.

The sun warms my body but a quiet ache blurs the rainbow and snuffs the joy out of this and so many other possibility moments.  All I hear is Otis.

“Sittin’ here resting my bones – And this loneliness won’t leave me alone

It’s two thousand miles I roamed – Just to make this dock my home

Now, I’m just gonna sit at the dock of the bay – Watching the tide roll away

Oooo-wee, sittin’ on the dock of the bay – Wastin’ time…”

I’m nineteen years old during what would later be called “The Summer of Love.”  Well, I can’t seem to focus on love, and, unlike Otis, I’m not resting my bones. I’m blindly and frenetically scurrying down a cluttered and confusing path.  Of course, like so many others at nineteen, or twenty-nine, thirty-nine or seventy-nine, my journey is more about retreat than quest.

Past and future merge on that Myrtle Beach day.  I don’t know what I’m running to and, other than loneliness, I only have a vague sense of what I’m running from.  The one thing I believe for sure is that, like Otis, I’m wasting precious time.

It would be many years before I even sniffed the truth.  The truth that real treasures, unlike transient and superficial end-points, objects and the perceived whims of others — are beyond tangible. They are ethereal.  And, they are quicksilver.  The treasure, this boon, is not a stagnate “something,” waiting for us at the end of the journey.  The prize is imbedded in every footfall of the journey.  Time spent sittin’ in the morning sun watching the ships roll in, the taste of cold beer, the sound of Otis singing my song, the kiss and warm blush of a pretty girl on a hot summer day.  All is perfect.

Make sure not to push away gold as you reach for tin.

(Once Again) Hey, Dorothy…it’s not over the rainbow.  It is the rainbow!


Wake Up!

Before you take another step…Wake Up!

Caution: This journey to full consciousness is not to be taken lightly.  Awakening brings acute awareness, accountability and a profound understanding of choice. No longer will you readily assume the role of victim when confronted with obstacles, disruption and hardship.  Nor will you will routinely subjugate your joy and passion to the interests of others.   You will instead own and be responsible for the moments of your life, all of them.  Clarity lifts the gauze that both protects and restricts what you see and feel.


Okay, so here’s the deal: you’re going to die.  We all are.  Sorry, if that comes as a shock; and more sorry if you know this but prefer to consider it at a later time.  That notion. — that we can deny, ignore or defer the reality of death — is dangerous, futile, wasted opportunity and the height of hubris.

Here’s the really sad part.  Many people, when they are healthy and vibrant and not in the throes of disease or giving care to a loved one, accept the concept of death — a finite existence — only as an intellectual construct.  Yes, sure, someday; someday, sure, but not now.  Someday.

Here’s a fact: Most us will not die in our sleep after a wonderful fun-filled day of __________ (fill in the blank).  For most of us there will be a period of illness before we die and, if you are fortunate enough to grow old, there will be the accompanying infirmities that come with time.  To  quote the Bard:

…The sixth age shifts 
into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
 his youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
 for his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
 turning again toward childish treble, pipes
 and whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history,
 is second childishness and mere oblivion;
 sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

— Jaques (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166)

So much for being delicate.  Oh, and to be more intrusive, as these blog entries continue, it is my goal to shake you out of your slumber so that you can be fully awake before you die.  Yes, that’s right, most of us are sleepwalking down overcrowded sidewalks in that overcrowded Village of Someday.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can focus on the real issue, morbidity.  Or, perhaps a better way of looking at it, the dash (-) that separates the date of your birth from the date of your death.  The date of your birth is fixed and beyond your control.  You are here, so open your eyes to all of it; the good, the bad and the truly ugly.  The other date, your death, is inevitable and is simply a matter for the stonemason.  That leaves the dash.

Hey Dorothy!  It’s not OVER the rainbow…it IS the rainbow…

The Science of Life and the Art of Living

Because we are human we do not always do what our mothers taught us to do.  We make mistakes.  We slip.  Sometimes we feel guilty, sad and remorseful. This is followed by a strong commitment to change; to get back on the right path, to do all those things that mom, our first-grade teacher, Captain Kangaroo, Bert & Ernie, Mr. Rogers and Oprah told us to do.  Unfortunately — just like when on a bike path — once we slip off we tend to make deeper and deeper grooves in the soft grass and mud.  If we stay too long the grooves just get deeper until we find ourselves in someone else’s tracks; someone who slipped off the path long before we came along.   Without fast action, we quickly adapt to this new trail. It seems so much easier to just continue along in the mud.  The problem is that we know we are in the mud and that we would be much safer if we could break through the rut and get back on the stable road.  However, when we try to leave the sloppy and increasingly dangerous trail we are intimidated by the bumps as we smack up against the groove’s edge.  So, we settle back into the rut (we’ll try again, later). We lack the courage, strength or will to risk the initial jar so we stay where we are.  Such is life both on and off a bike path.    The difference between life and a bike path is that, on the life path, there are plenty of people willing and anxious to tell you what’s good for you — what you need to do to live a healthy, happy, and prosperous life — to get back on the right path.  Parents, teachers, priests, rabbis, monks, brahmas, mullahs, your Aunt Betty, Dr. Phil and the next-door-neighbor stand ready to offer (push) advice your way.  Mostly, this advice is well intentioned, but it is often general in scope with little or no personal relevance.

Any newsstand magazine, professional website or internet blog can give you a broad wellness formula made up of good sense tips (mom told you all of this a long time ago) like eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep, stay away from tobacco, drink alcohol moderately or not at all, exercise regularly, spend time with family and friends, read a good book, see your doctor and dentist annually, wear your seat belt, believe in a higher power and stay away from a steady diet of cable news.

The science of life is general and objective. Foregoing bad genes and catastrophic events, evidence shows that a life accented by a healthy blend of proper nutrition, physical activity, rest & recovery, intellectual stimulation, emotional support, spiritual engagement and social interaction tends to be long and relatively free from illness and infirmity.   Science can show you how to construct a strong skeleton but YOU have to lay down the muscle and tease out the connective tissue that makes your unique system work, for you.

So, what do YOU want?

There are countless “How To…” books outlining the objective science of life complete with full-color templates.  But, only YOU can explore, discover, design and nurture the unique, subjective, deeply personal, art of living your life.

The question is: What do YOU want?  Where do YOU want to go? What predictably triggers and sustains those moments when you feel truly happy and satisfied with the life you’re living?  Is it yoga or deep breathing exercises? How about “The Secret,” The Bible, The Koran, The Torah, or “The Four Noble Truths?”  Is it truly better in the Bahamas … and does it simply take a trip to Jamaica to feel all right?

Perhaps, for you, well-being — life satisfaction — improves when you read a good book, spend time with your kids, go the movies, buy gifts for your grandchildren, drink a cold beer on a hot summer day, watch television or work till dawn on a project that comes to life and tickles you each time you give it your undivided attention?  For me, every few years, it’s a quiet far-far-away mountaintop, exhausted, sleeping alone in a tent surrounded by strangers who quickly become forever-memory friends.  For my wife it was once the thrill of climbing out of a perfectly good airplane, hanging from the wing strut, letting go, and floating through the sky (YIKES!).

How about you?  Of course you want to increase and sustain your life satisfaction but first you must WAKE UP!   You must become AWARE and take inventory of what brings meaning to your life, today.  You must open all senses and pay attention.


Turn On Your Radar…And Keep it Turned On



“Michael, thank you for helping our stakeholders turn on their radar.”
—Willie G. Davidson, Harley-Davidson Motor Company

Rarely are we oblivious to the rocks along our life path.  We are, however, reluctant to lift them to see what lives beneath…even when we sense creepy, crawly, slimy dangers that may attach, follow, and cause us harm.  Instead of lifting the rocks to determine risk (or reward) we whistle in the dark and pretend they don’t exist.  Lift up the rocks.  If there are creepy, crawly, slimy dangers you have two options:  You can always carefully put the rocks back in place and pretend you never saw anything or you can do something about it.  It’s up to you.  Oh, one more thing…once you pick up the rocks, you can never be a victim…again!  Welcome to the world of informed responsibility.

As a writer I find metaphor and simile to be very efficient ways to advance a story line or drive home a main theme or point. Radar is a good one.  Back during the Viet Nam War Era, I was a young airman stationed on the top of an extinct volcano in the middle of Alaska.  The purpose of radar is to allow you to detect and track incoming objects as early as you possibly can.  This allows you to determine degree of threat and, if needed, to take appropriate defensive or offensive actions.

Think of radar in your own life, if you are like most people, you often sense threat but delay taking action because:

  1. you tell yourself that you are too busy
  2. you hope that somebody else will deal with the problem
  3. you convince yourself that the problem doesn’t really exist

Then, as the “blips of life” get closer and new ones appear on the horizon, your anxiety increases as you continue to convince yourself that you are really too busy; you continue the delusion that someone else will take care of the mounting issues; and you hold on to the notion that the issues aren’t really that bad or that they don’t exist, at all.  Then, one day comes and you look up at the sky to find that the sun is totally obliterated by threatening blips — work, health, family concerns, relationships, money — and then, what do you say?  Well, all too often we express surprise and shock as we tell everyone and ourselves “I didn’t see THAT coming!”  Of course, you did.  You saw it way out on the outer circle of your radar as you told yourself that you were too busy, you hoped and expected that somebody else would deal with the issue, and you convinced yourself that it really wasn’t a big deal and that it maybe wasn’t a problem, at all.

During the short time it takes to read this, I know from years of experience that your personal and professional radar will turn on, do a 360 degree sweep, and life’s blips will once again appear.  You have options. You can:

  1. immediately shut down the radar and move into complete denial until forced into a panic-stricken reactive mode
  2. you can tell yourself that you are too busy
  3. you can wait for someone else to fix the concerns
  4. you can minimize and/or deny the existence of the problems
  5. you can focus energy on the threats and take proactive measures to protect you, your family, and your co-workers from the threat

The choice is yours.  By the way, one of the benefits of keeping your radar turned on is that you will never again be a victim.

Now, what was really happening in Alaska was that every Tuesday morning around 2 am the klaxons would go off and somebody would shout, “The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!” as we detected Russian bombers entering Alaskan airspace.  We would then notify the Alaskan Air Command in Anchorage and they would scramble fighter jets to chase the Russians back home.  The next night, some young kid who looked like me but spoke Russian would yell, “The Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming!” as we sent B-52s into their airspace until Russian MiG fighter jets would intercept and escort them back to Alaska.  This cat and mouse game seemed pretty silly until you realized that people in Seattle didn’t realize what was happening; nor did people in Chicago, Detroit, or Boston.  They didn’t need to know because somebody was paying attention; somebody was on guard so that others could rest and safely go about their business.  Can you imagine if instead of watching for incoming blips and proactively responding to possible threat we decided that we had a really hot pinochle game going so we turned off our scope figuring that Yukon, Anchorage, or Seattle would eventually pick up any real threats?  Of course, that would have been crazy, irresponsible and disastrous thinking.  However, we constantly do this in our personal and professional lives.



Feed the Monkey! Understanding and Harnessing BSOS (bright shinny object syndrome)

In 2001, on my way to the Mt. Everest base camp and the summit of Mt. Kala Patar, I visited the stupa at Swayanabath located on a hill on the western edge of Kathmandu, Nepal.  Also known as the “Monkey Temple” (because it’s crawling and leaping with monkeys), this is a must-see for anyone visiting this beautiful South Asia gateway to the Himalayas.

Our guide cautioned against getting too close to the monkeys.  They bite.  She also warned that if we let go of any shinny objects, like cameras, even for a second, the monkeys will snatch, run and do an in-your-face-victory-dance.  They love bright, shiny objects.

Monkeys are not the only ones afflicted with BSOS.  It afflicts all of us.  We are not as rational as we think we are.  In fact, we are just a missing link away from being the monkey grabbing the watch.  No excuses, just fact.

For years we have known about the evolutionary process of the brain.  How In many invertebrates (think worms), the nervous system consists of no more than a net or bundle of nerve cells. After the worms, comes that goldfish who’s driving your cat crazy, the bird circling over your head, the croaking frog that keeps you awake at night and the snake in the grass that freaks you out.  All have pretty well developed brains made up of the cerebellum, tectum and basal ganglia. These structures help these creatures see, hear, move about and respond reflexively (tap on the outside of the goldfish bowl and you’ll see what I’m talking about).

The big leap in evolution came with the development of the outer brain, the neocortex.  It is this development, and in particular the frontal region, that is responsible for increased intelligence and the potential for solid executive decision making.  All mammals have a neocortex but the higher primates, chimpanzees and humans have disproportionately larger neocortices.  Not speaking for the Chimps, but we humans don’t always live up to our potential.  We often…way too often, drop down a couple rungs on the evolutionary ladder and lead with the emotion driven mid-brain (think monkeys and bright shiny objects) rather than with our outer rationale gray matter.

Why Do Smart People Do Stupid Things?

Question:  So, why do we smoke, eat too much, drink to excess, watch too much television, not exercise regularly, and fly off the handle at the slightest provocation?

Answer:  Because all of these actions, reactions, and no-actions are good for us.  Huh?  Good for us?!  Yes, good for us.  At least — at a very primal level — we feel that way. The monkey brain that drives BSOS is automatic, ritualistic, and highly resistant to change.  Its only concern is survival and its only time-focus is now.  It does not judge behavior or anticipate consequence it simply wants pleasure (or, freedom from pain) NOW! This is the home of our stress response — the launch point for our decision to fight or take flight.  Without giving it much thought, things like smoking a cigarette is justified/demanded as a logical reaction to distress; so are drinking too much, sleeping too much, drug abuse, and many other behaviors that take us out of our conscious world when we perceive the conscious world as a threat.  Trace any behavior back far enough and you will find an emotional payoff.  The intent is never to harm oneself.  The intent of the monkey is to always feel better regardless what our rational thoughts tell us.

Question:  Backup for a second.  How do unhealthy behaviors get started, in the first place, and why do they continue?  From the time we are little we are told about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.  We are also told of the benefits of proper nutrition and exercise.  What went wrong?

Answer: Now, think about it, most unhealthy habits practiced by adults start during their teens and early 20s.  Keep in mind the fact that the cerebral cortex and more specifically, the prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain … the home of judgment and reasoning), is the last part of the brain to develop.  Most researchers suggest 18 – 20 years before it’s completely developed; some say as many as 25 years.  This means that emotions and emotionally driven behaviors dominate during those years.  As an infant, and as a child, our emotions are closely monitored and influenced by our parents and teachers.  We are their emotional dependants.  However, as we hit the teen years, hormones begin to push the emotional dependency away from the old folks and toward people our own age.  We seek out and listen to people who look, talk, think, act, and react as we do.

The sage advice, warnings, and demands to stay away from sex, drugs, and rock & roll are increasingly vulnerable to the emotional/visceral pull toward peer acceptance and belonging, no matter what the intellect says.  If fighting pass coughing, throat burning, and horrible taste is what it takes to smoke cigarettes, then so be it.  Same goes for choking down that first beer or fighting off health facts and guilt-strewn lectures about sex and sexual abstinence.  Unfortunately, the more we engage in these behaviors, the more difficult it is to stop them.  These new behaviors, with repetition, are pushed to a section of our brain containing the basil ganglia.  This is where the neural circuits of long-standing habit are formed and held.  The basil ganglia operate without much effort and consume very little energy.  What does this mean for behavior?  It means that behaviors that were once “unthinkable” have become just that — behaviors done with little or no thought at all.  What smoker hasn’t lit a cigarette while another one burns in an ashtray?  How about pouring a drink while a half-filled glass sits on the table across the room?  Biting fingernails without realizing it?  Throwing a bag of chips into the shopping cart, automatically?  How about that pledge to eat, “just one?”  Habit is the brain remembering and, when feeling better is matched with a specific behavior, the brain chemistry doesn’t want you to forget!



Caution: Grandma & Grandpa are Killing Your Children!

Alright, alright.  Before you go off on the title of this blog entry, take a deep breath and read on.  If you disagree with the premise or reality/metaphor send me a comment.  As I think about it, if you AGREE send me your thoughts, as well.  If childhood obesity doesn’t scare the hell out of you, you’re choosing to sleep through a crisis.  Shame on you…

Okay, I hear you say that protecting and advancing the good health of our children is a moral, ethical and economic imperative.  I hear you say that you are concerned about the research that shows that fat kids become fat adults.  By the way, I’m sorry if you’re offended by the word “fat” but that’s the right word to use, “fat.” It — FAT — causes much more of a visceral reaction than does “heavy,” “large,” “overweight,” or “metabolically-challenged.”  Fat is the word.  And, if unchecked, fat kids face a lifetime of health risks and social realities that come with diabetes, heart disease, poor self-esteem and discrimination.  Don’t agree?  Just check with an adult who is currently fat or was a fat kid.  Ask them if they bear any scars or carry painful memories from growing up fat. There’s no more time for political correctness.  I’ve been in the health and wellness field for over thirty-five years and, when it comes to creating healthy cultures, I hear considerably more than I see.  Just look around you, there’s way more saying than doing.

When it comes to health and health advocacy most of us are living a life of contradiction.  What we do and what we allow — our actions and acceptance — are contrary to what we say.  Just look at the data. No, on second thought, scratch that.  We don’t need any more data, just look at our kids.  Look at what we feed them.  Look at what we allow in our school cafeterias and vending machines.  Look at the empty playgrounds.  Look at the commercial messages our children see and hear hour after hour, day after day, and year after year.  And, while we’re at it, look in the mirror.  Like what you see?  Look at what you eat.  Look at what we allow in our workplace vending machines and cafeterias.  Also, how’s that exercise program of yours working out?

Now, tell me: Are we making progress with obesity?  Are we taking any meaningful action to help our children avoid the physical, psychological and social pain that comes with being a fat kid who morphs into a fat adult?  No?  Why do you suppose that’s the case?

No judgment here, no finger waving, just honest observation.  I’m not here to moralize.  Judgment and finger waving just sends us off in the wrong direction.  Time to face and accept facts. When it comes to health, we care more about talking than we do about doing.  We would rather not offend someone than help someone.  We’d rather blame someone else than accept responsibility.  We’d rather deny than accept.  It’s easier.  No pain.  Okay, I get it.

Of course, perhaps I have it wrong.  Maybe you do care.  Maybe you are ready to take action to remove unhealthy snacks from your homes and schools.  Maybe you’ll encourage and support fitness education and activities.  Maybe you are angry enough to demand that your elected officials watch over our kids by passing protective legislation.  Maybe you truly get the fact that you have a responsibility to be a positive role model for children and that behavior is reflective.

Then again, perhaps you just like the sound of it.

And, finally, maybe, just maybe, Grandma (and Grandpa), in all of their various forms, can find ways to say, “I love you” that don’t include pies, cakes, ice cream, sugar sodas, candy and cookies.