John Baumann’s no nonsense, in your face, extremely effective self-improvement edicts for those who are absolutely, positively committed to transform themselves:
If you have decided that you desperately and passionately commit to transform yourself no matter how much effort, time and sacrifice that it will take, keep reading, this information is for you. If you are willing, you will have to work harder than you ever have before and sacrifice more than you thought possible.
I wrote DECIDE SUCCESS: Twelve Action Steps to Achieve the Success You Truly Desire as an easy-to-understand, step-by-step process for building your own personalized success plan complete with written exercises for each action step. While pragmatic and academically sound, it was not intended to, nor does it attempt to, address the emotional (and even spiritual) foundation often necessary to succeed. I will attempt to provide that foundation here. Just as the steps in DECIDE SUCCESS are hard to stick with, the same will be said about these self-improvement “edicts.” This process or program or, better yet, set of ideals are not for the faint of heart. You got to want it bad enough to get through the pain that is transformation.
As the well-known expression goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expect that you are going to get a different result.” Many of us have never learned this lesson. We hold on to familiar approaches to life issues when deep down inside we know that we will get the same result, although unhealthy, one that we are actually comfortable with. Doing something different takes either a very brave person or very desperate person. I recommend that you take the bravery route and not wait for you to become desperate, some call it “hit rock bottom.” Being exposed to someone who is brave enough to transform, or is in the process of transforming, his or herself, a mentor, makes a tremendous difference because you realize that it is possible to succeed, “If they can do it, so can I.” Seek out a mentor.
I have broken this Chapter down into two parts using an old adage adapted to fit my needs. First, “out with the bad.” Then, “in with the good.”
OUT WITH THE BAD
Out with the bad. I am not proposing that the proverbial baby be thrown out with the bathwater. Quite the opposite. A complete and honest review of your life is necessary from all angles to decide what unhealthy things (including people) need to be removed and who and what have the privilege and honor of remaining in your life. It is “your” life after all. You only get one chance at life and for a very limited time at that. One of the first things you need to do is to stop watching or listening to the news. You may be thinking, “Is this guy kidding?” or “Is this guy for real?” Bad or negative stories are the lifeblood of the media. Uplifting or positive stories are an afterthought or allowed on the air after, I believe, much arm-twisting. Turn off mainstream television and watch documentaries instead. Learn something. Get in touch with the energy emitted by people. In particular, whether the comments made have a negative bent or a positive one.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when I was 41 years old. We, in the Parkinson’s community, use the example of a snowflake when describing how the disease affects each individual differently. Just like every snowflake is unique unto itself, every person with Parkinsons has their disease progress at a different rate. Since there is no test to determine how long one will maintain their quality of life, moments become precious. As with any life-changing medical condition, a sense of urgency develops. We may not have the time to wait to transform our lives. Thus, the following fall under the category, “Out with the Bad.”
BURN THE TICKS OFF
This may be a little bit gross, but ticks will embed themselves into a human body by inserting its head below the surface of the skin. If you pull the tick off, the head will remain. The way to remove the tick completely is to apply a flame to its body or use an alcohol swab. In this way, the head comes out and the whole tick can be disposed of.
There are ticks in your life that have embedded themselves into you. You may have grown accustomed to having them attached to you and feeding off you. It may seem ordinary and usual to have them connected to you. You feel like they belong. You may even feel a sense of superiority to have these people dependent upon you. What you need to realize is that they are slowly, but surely, sucking the life out of you.
You need to properly and honestly determine who are your ticks and “burn” them off. Ask yourself, “Am I better off with this person in my life or without this person in my life?” Do they add to my healthy enjoyment of life or detract from it? Do the things they say tilt toward the positive or the negative. What energy do you feel? A clear signal is, if after spending some time with someone, you feel like you need to take a long, hot shower to wash the muck off, you might want to rethink the amount of time you spend with that individual, if any. Burning the ticks off is not easy. Ticks have a vested interest is remaining embedded in you. There will be resistance. Serious resistance. It takes courage. It takes guts. It takes resilience. Most of all, it takes discipline. You have to stick to your decision even when doubt creeps into your head. Burn, baby, burn.
SLAM THE DOOR ON UNFULFILLING DATING RELATIONSHIPS
Often one source of the ticks in your life is the person with whom you are dating or “romantically” involved. These may be some of the more difficult ticks to burn off. At one time, you may have been “in love” with this person and you are in a perpetual state of “hopefulness” that the “oneness” you felt in the beginning of the relationship could possibly, maybe, potentially, perhaps come back. It won’t. Move forward.
Just as with the ticks that were formerly in your life (that is before you read this), you need to ask yourself, “Do I honestly believe that this person has the qualities that I am looking for in a committed relationship?” People rarely change. Maybe for a short time, but eventually you will likely encounter the same behavior as reared its ugly head in the past. Let them change, or better yet, transform themselves, and sustain that transformation, without you in their lives and come back to you in a couple years when they are done. You can make a much more informed decision given the time and space that you have been apart.
The problem with remaining in a bad, or even just lukewarm, dating relationship is that you are not available to meet someone who has the qualities that you do desire. You might fool yourself into thinking that you are available, but you actually are not emotionally or spiritually available, while still “seeing” that person. Would you be willing to start dating someone who was still seeing a person from a prior relationship? In addition, practically, we all have a limited amount of free time so time spent with your non-fulfilling “partner” takes away valuable time that you need.
Be alone. Alone ain’t so bad. Take the time to do things that you enjoy (if you can still remember what they are). Otherwise, try new things. Get out of your comfort zone. Create a bucket list. It is certainly not true that “even a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all.” This will also, at times, be hard to maintain. Stick to it. Show yourself that you can. Be strong.
STOP TELLING YOUR SOB STORY
Everyone has a sob story. Some have a whole book of them. Some have enough to fill a small library. Just stop. No one really wants to hear the tragedies that have befallen you in your lifetime. Don’t wear them like some kind of badge or medal. Realize that no one has a perfect life. I don’t mean to belittle or minimize the horrific things that we, as humans, have been forced to endure: death of a child, sexual assault, disease, disasters, concentration camps, addiction, etc. However, you need to look at yourself as a survivor and move on. I am not saying forget, but, by telling your “story” over and over just for the sake of eliciting sympathy, you become the story. It becomes who you are. It becomes your identity. You stop growing. You get lost in the “woe is me” syndrome and your life, for all intents and purposes, is over.
Just as with all the others, this will not be easy. Some people have held on to their sob story for decades and don’t want to move on. Nothing worth anything is easy. But isn’t getting “your” life back worth it? As my wife, Bernadette, says, “Send the Boo-Hoos Bye-Bye.”
GET OVER IT
Glenda, a wise friend, coined the expression, “STOP or I can’t help you.” Any time anyone is involved in some way in a “Life-changing Event” a flood of emotions come with it. For me and my Parkinson’s, what I call the “emotional rollercoaster” started with disbelief, moved to shock, then to denial, isolation, embarrassment, sadness, depression, and finally accepting and even embracing my Parkinson’s.
Its at these times that Glenda’s words of “Stop” or otherwise remain present, regroup and I’ll help you move forward is all my wife needed to realize that she had to shift her thoughts toward a place of “I can” and begin a renewal process. She did. There are positive people around you that are in your life for all the right reasons, might not be forever, but they can just show up and carry you when you need to be carried. This is the support of love and compassion that strengthens a person and pulls them out of the hole, helps you fight. It’s the team, the brigade, the peers, the mentors in your life and your faith that you need to move forward. Then, and only then, can you be lifted. Stop or they can’t help you.
Interestingly, I have not felt angry about having Parkinson’s, who am I going to be angry with? God? Not smart. A pretty powerful force to be mad at. In reality, no one was to blame for my Parkinson, at least not that I know of.
But often someone is to blame, and anger becomes a major blocking emotion. Very justified. Also poison to the soul. You allow the perpetrator to dictate sometimes the remainder of your life. I’m not saying that you, me or anyone else would be able to get over someone taking the life of someone you love or any other evil act. And I am not oblivious to the time necessary to heal. But, I think you would agree that the faster we move through these emotions, the better.
So, I term this simply, “Get over it.” There is no standard for the time it should take, but there comes a time that you need to just “get over it.” Sooner rather than later. Any way that is right for you (and legal, of course) works. Spiritual. Exercise. Primal scream. Yoga. Fitness Boxing. See a therapist or a doctor. Or, as bold and simplistic as it sounds, just make the decision “to get over it.”
By now you know what I am going to say next: It will not be easy, in fact, depending upon the severity of the incident, it may very well be the most difficult thing that you ever do. But you have got to do it. Getting stuck on any negative emotion takes a tremendous amount of energy and blocks you from moving forward. In fact, when people truly “get over” an emotion, whether it be denial, anger, sadness, depression or any other, they typically report some sort of feeling that a weight has been lifted off of them (usually their shoulders). Why wait? Why not control your own circumstances?
By way of example, why wait for the justice system to procure (or worse, not procure) a guilty verdict in the situation where you or a loved one was harmed by another to take your life back? You have the power to move forward through the natural emotions that you experience in as quickly a fashion as possible.
Shock. I had every right to be in shock. I was 41 with Parkinson’s. I needed to “get over it” and did. Denial. Anyone would understand why I would be justified in being in denial. I was so young to have an “old person’s disease.” But I needed to “get over it” and did. Sadness. Interestingly, most of my sadness appeared when I disclosed my illness to others. I had to deal with the emotions experienced by family especially my mother and father. I had to actually help them “get over it.”
Depression. I experienced depression both because I could see my future in other people that I meet with Parkinson’s (wheelchair, uncontrolled movements, inability to swallow, etc.), but also the chemical reaction in the brain to loss of dopamine that is the pleasure center of the brain. Although I do take medication to combat my depression, I don’t rely solely upon the medication. I still do what I can to “get over” my depression. Eat healthy, exercise, stay mentally active, pursue my life’s purpose, etc.
This “get over it” philosophy is necessary to move forward from wallowing in a negative emotion and applies to more than just being diagnosed with Parkinson’s or any other incurable disease. It applies to emotions associated with becoming a caregiver for someone with such an illness. The loss of a parent. The loss of a sibling. God forbid, the loss of a child. Injury of you or a loved one. Divorce. Being cheated upon by a spouse. Loss of a job. I could go on and on. The response stays the same, “Get over it.”
Addictions produce very complex issues. Addictions from drugs to eating disorders, etc. are not likely something that one can just will oneself to just “get over.” Intervention, medical personnel, counselors are necessary. But there is still a critical element of the person, somewhere deep inside themselves, making the affirmative decision to “get over” the addiction.
QUIT BEING MEAN
After discussing such sensitive areas thus far, it may seem trite to provide an edict called, “Quit being mean.” The significance of this statement should not be trivialized. People provide ample opportunity to be criticized, made fun of, teased, bashed, bullied, abused, etc. You need to resist the temptation to somehow build yourself up by tearing someone else down, whether to his or her face or behind his or her back. I’m just saying. It’s exciting to be mean. We get a rush from it. In fact, watch most of the shows on television. Meanness abounds. You must, on some level, be affected by watching people being mean on these shows. The meaner the host, the better the ratings. Stop the insanity and choose different programs to watch.
I’ll end the “out with the bad” section with the most significant edict. Forgiveness. What a powerful word. Who do you need to forgive? Everyone. That includes YOU. Though we should always strive to be, no one is perfect. Sometimes we come down hardest on ourselves. I am not saying forget, but give yourself a break. Learn from mistakes. Learn from failure. As I state on the first page of my website, JohnBaumann.com, “It’s through the pain and fear that builds a warrior.”
You absolutely can, and must, forgive even if it is something that you will never forget. We need to learn from our experiences, but that does not mean that we cannot forgive. It is totally within your power and control to forgive anyone. The other person does not have to ask for your forgiveness or say that they are sorry for you to forgive them.
Your forgiveness does not entitle them to avoid the consequences of their actions, that is their issue. But you don’t have to carry around the anger or other baggage associated with the situation. You have the option of simply forgiving them in your heart. Think back to the people who have wronged you over your lifetime and, one-by-one, forgive them.
I know I sound like a broken record, but, as simple as it sounds, truly forgiving someone, let alone everyone, is also a very difficult thing to do. It takes strength. It takes all kinds of strength, including spiritual strength. “To err is human, to forgive divine.” You may question whether you can forgive. What if you were molested? Lost the ability to walk due to the intentional act of another? Had a loved one brutally murdered by someone? Yes. Yes. Yes. And there are many more circumstances, too many to be able to include in this publication. As monumental as the task, you cannot improve until you have relinquished the anger and pain of your unique past.
IN WITH THE GOOD
Now that we have removed the bad, we have created a void. We need to fill that void. It is just human nature. What do we fill it with: Good. In with the good. After all, this is self-improvement. It is time to discuss the improvement part.
PICK A CONCRETE DAY
Many, if not most, people naturally procrastinate, especially when it comes to doing things that are hard or difficult. So, you need to, as my friend Terri says, “Just pick a day to start and stick with it.” If you don’t decide upon a day to begin, you never will get going.
I recommend that you jump right into your transformation, but some people need to start slowly and build up steam. Whatever works for you is fine so long as you are moving forward and not backtracking. It can be a random date or a date that has some significance. Just don’t make it too far into the future or leave it flexible. Focus hard on the date and set it in concrete. Tell people that are important to you the date. Gain ownership in the date.
SEEK OUT POSITIVE
There are positive people out there. You just have to keep your eyes open. Look for them. Join a gym. Take up a hobby. Something you really enjoy. Get involved with a charity. Go to a place of worship. Meet new people. Make the time to do what you truly love to do. Surround yourself with the most positive, upbeat, fun-loving people that you can find wherever you go.
Seeking out positive goes well beyond people. Create a positive environment in your world. Open the shades and let in the light. Build a fire in the fireplace on a cold, winter’s night. Feel the warmth. Schedule time to just do nothing. Go for a walk in the park.
Have real conversations with people. Discuss things that matter. You don’t have to discuss politics or religion to have a real conversation. If in a group, a good rule of thumb is to speak no more than one quarter of the time and listen intently to what others are saying the remainder of the time. Are they confrontational? Are they conciliatory? Are they really listening to what others are saying? Are their comments of a sexist or racist nature? Then, pick out the ones that you want to consider a friendship relationship. Slowly at first, but remain in touch and engaged with them.
BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU HAVE
Although I recognize that there are many, many people with no material possessions, there are also many people who have shelter and food to eat on a daily basis. We get so caught up in adding to our “stuff” that we forget what we have. You need to constantly remind yourself to maintain perspective.
When you wake up in the morning, practice making your first thoughts be a relationship that you cherish, could be your relationship with a parent, a sibling, a close friend, a higher power, etc. Or maybe the comfortable bed that you just woke in, the roof over your head that is protecting you from the elements, the ingredients necessary to make your breakfast, etc.
Being healthy covers a range of topics. First, eat “clean” (healthy food). Make sure that you put fuel into your body that will aid in living a quality life, make you healthier. You need to eat organic foods to minimize the ingestion of pesticides and other damaging products used in non-organic and processed foods. It would be best to grow your own vegetables and fruits in order to make sure that the soil is not depleted and has the necessary nutrients. If that is not possible, farmer’s markets are popping up all over. Develop a relationship with some of the producers.
In one form or another, sugar is contained in almost everything food purchased in a store. You need to read labels and wean yourself off sugar and sugar substitutes. If you choose to eat meat, focus on locating sources that don’t add steroids or other growth stimulators, treat the animal humanely during its life and the manner of its death, and handle the animal parts in a proper, sterilized and refrigerated environment. Again, start with a farmer’s market.
Drink water. Lots of water. Cut out soda and diet soda, any drink that is sweet. Go cold turkey if you have to. No discussion. No negotiation. It is that bad for you.
I found that when I started eating healthy, I could eat a lot more food, I never had that bloated full feeling, I have more energy, I can exercise more effectively and, so long as I am prepared, I almost never feel hunger pains. What I mean by prepared is to have food always ready to eat no matter where you are, just in case. For me, an Ezekiel wrap of hummus and length-wise cut cucumbers. This removes any excuse to ever be tempted to go to a fast food restaurant.
Remember, food is your body’s fuel. At first, you will struggle giving up many so-called “comfort foods.” I know that I sure did. But as your system cleanses itself, the cravings diminish and then disappear. For the first few months of your transformation, think of food as fuel for your body to operate efficiently and not a source of pleasure or reward. Sure, some of the clean food you eat will taste good, but, temporarily, don’t focus on taste, focus on nutrition.
Second, exercise on a daily basis just beyond your comfort zone. I was attending a conference on Parkinsons when one of the speakers made this statement. It shook my world. I immediately went home and started to exercise on a daily basis, no excuses allowed. I put a definite time on my schedule. I progressively moved from walking on the treadmill to spin bike, etc. Sixteen months later, I do, on alternating days, an hour of strength training in a kettlebell class called G-FIT at Core Combat Sports and 90 minutes of hot yoga at Bikram Yoga Louisville.
I, over the past sixteen months, unintentionally went from 215 pounds to my optimal weight for my height of 180 pounds. I can honestly say that I am healthier and fitter now, over ten years into my Parkinsons, than I have ever been even before I started exhibiting the symptoms of Parkinsons.
Make human connection. Many may scoff at this notion. I have an “old school” doctor who during my appointment is in constant contact with me whether it be my forearm, hand, wrist or shoulder. It is unusual and, I’ll admit, I was somewhat uncomfortable with it at first, but, when I got used to it, I realized how soothing it is. I have come to realize how important hugs are in appropriate circumstances. I hug my son and daughter every time I see them. My wife has to remind me sometimes to stop writing so we can hug. For us, it is a minimum of 20 seconds.
BE KIND, COMPASSIONATE AND LOVING
Wow, what a mouthful. But doesn’t everything boil down to these five words. What is the golden rule? What are the teachings of most, if not all, religions? The message of many self-help or self-improvement gurus can be summarized to be more kind, compassionate, and especially loving.
FIND YOUR PURPOSE
I discuss extensively in my book DECIDE SUCCESS having faith that your life has purpose. Once you have accepted the fact that your life does have purpose, the next adventure is to uncover what that purpose is. You don’t create it. Often, you don’t decide what your purpose is. You just uncover it.
For me, I thought my life’s purpose had something to do with working as an attorney. I was wrong. As it turns out, what I uncovered was that my life’s purpose has to do with inspiring people. Go figure. I found out that I have a gift. My genuineness, kindness, compassion, empathy, joy for life, optimism, love comes out whenever I am asked to inspire a group or even an individual. I can bring back hope where hope had been lost. I can help people see beyond what is apparent. I can work with people to create a more positive “End-vision.” I had to develop Parkinson’s disease to uncover my life’s purpose. I now not only accept my Parkinson’s, but actually embrace it. God does work in mysterious ways.
What is your life’s purpose? I know one thing, if you don’t burn the ticks off, slam the door on unfulfilling dating relationships, stop telling your sob story, get over it, stop being mean, forgive, pick a day to start, seek out positive, be aware of what you got, be healthy, touch, be kind, be compassionate and be loving; you will not be prepared or ready to uncover your life’s purpose. It takes work, hard work, to move forward, but, I can tell you, it is worth every bit of it. I hope that I have set a positive example for the people with whom I come in contact. After all, that is what being a mentor is all about.
John M. Baumann JD, BBA, NSA
Inspirational Speaker, JohnBaumann.com
Author, DECIDE SUCCESS, Twelve Action Steps
Parkinson’s Proud since 2002, EmbraceParkinsons.com
Faculty, University of Louisville, College of Business