In a post that I made last week about books that I loved as a pre-teen, I mentioned how my two younger kids are showing signs that they will be readers like me. One of those, our ten year-old son, G-man, is who this post is about.
He recently got in trouble for sneaking a laptop into his room and watching videos instead of sleeping. One of his punishments was losing access to all electronics for a couple of weeks. If any of you has kids in this day and age, that’s a pretty brutal punishment, both for him and for us. Now he is “SO BORED” and “HAS NOTHING TO DO” to which we reply, grab a book and read. This is not too bad for him since he is a great reader who actually enjoys tearing through good stories.
Earlier this afternoon, mom had to take Willow to ballet so she took the boys with her to hang out, do some schoolwork and get a bit of reading time in while they waited. As they were sitting in a little cafe called Rejavanate, G-man asked if he could stop doing school and do some reading as he had a couple of books that he had brought with him. She said no at first but he persisted in asking so she finally relented and said yes, that he could read. Naturally, she presumed that he meant to read one of the books that he had on the table with him. But no, he reaches for his pocket and says “The fat cat it is!” and pulls a Garfield comic strip book out of his shorts pocket.
He LOVES Garfield, the books, movies, and the show, and will often default to these when he wants to get a quick read in. I adored these books too when I was his age and remember buying loads of them at garage sales, used bookstores, and wherever I could find them. They were like comfort food and were always good for a good laugh.
It’s a win for us and for him too, as long as he’s reading something, right?
I am referring to the idea of setting realistic expectations for myself. Like a lot of people, I have a terrible habit of going too big with my goals and expectations and then when I do not see major progress quickly, I get discouraged and quit. For example, I will often start a new fitness plan and work out three or four times. Then I weigh myself and see zero progress or even worse, I gain a few pounds. Then I get mad and give up. Or I may write a few posts and then check to see if anyone has visited the site. I see no improvement in the site visitor statistics and again get discouraged and quit for a couple of months. Do you see a pattern? I do.
What keeps happening is that I go into a new discipline without setting realistic expectations and as a result, failure is almost a certainty. Setting realistic expectations is really important to achieving lasting success. I recently listened to a podcast calledWrite Now. The host, Sarah Werner did an early episode entitled “Five Steps to Making Your Writing Goals a Reality” and she discusses this very subject. She tells how setting realistic expectations allows you to set realistic, and attainable goals. Once you begin to meet these goals regularly, you are well on your way to what we really want and that is making it a habit.
In my case, it began a couple of months ago with the decision to purchase my indoor exercise bike. I had decided to be much more realistic with my expectations about becoming physically fit. For me, as a blind person, I always felt like I had to depend on others for my fitness. As a result, I never really got very far with it because at the end of day, my fitness is my responsibility, not my spouse or my friends. I had to figure out what I had to do in order to reach my goals. What was really realistic? What could I do to make it easier to be successful?
With the arrival of the bike, I then began to plan to exercise with it. In my case, this meant setting out my clothes the night before, setting an alarm and then going to bed early enough to allow myself enough sleep for the next day, even if I were to get up an hour early to ride or walk. By removing those barriers to doing the exercise, I have removed my excuses that I always fall back on and which lead to failure. And then the really important part, the expectation of result. I no longer expect massive improvements in short timespans. I had to decide that the end result was not the point. Instead, it is the process that had to matter. I have come to realize that the freedom to exercise on my own and how I feel afterwards is what really mattered to me. My more realistic expectation now, is to ride or walk, three to five times a week in the morning before work and to feel good. That’s it. No strings attached of weight loss or anything else.
In the same way, I am wanting to write more on this blog and in my own journals. I have had this desire for a long time. I am striving to allow time for it. To accomplish this goal I need to remove distractions like social media and the rabbit hole that always seems to suck me in when visiting Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. I have uninstalled Facebook from my phone and tablet and surprise, surprise, I have found myself far less distracted.
I am realizing that the expectation of reaching thousands of visitors is not realistic and to reset my thinking. To me, what has always been important is just doing the work, doing the writing. If that is what I enjoy then my expectation should be that I write for my own benefit, to get the words from my head to the page, so to speak. My goal is to write and post two to three posts per week. That’s it. No expectation of outside validation or visitor counts.
Am I seeing improvements? I think so, but I am not going to weigh myself with the risk of sabotaging my success. I know myself and know how that could hinder me. I especially need to avoid weighing myself when my wife is around. She likes to sneak up on my blind side and push her foot on the scale which really flubs up the numbers!
Besides, weight loss is not the point. Feeling better and improving my heart health is and I definitely see strides in those areas. Am I writing more? This is my third post this week, so at the moment, yes. That is what matters and I need to keep my sights set on that. It is important to keep my focus on the process. Focusing on making small, regular deposits in these areas and allowing the benefits to build over time. Finding ways to keep it fun and continue to remove obstacles from my path. Keeping my expectations realistic and thus my goals are attainable.
There are two types of people in the world. People who love to read and those that I believe must have a large, gaping hole in their souls. Bold statement I know but I make it from a place of love. I love to read and books have played, at least in some part, a role in many of my memories.
As a child, I was that weird kid that always had a paperback with him. I would take a small stack with me on vacation and read the entire drive while my brother and sister slept. I would read late into the night if the book was particularly compelling (which most were) and would go to school groggy the next day. I would even sneak books to church and my friend Todd and I would read instead of listening to the sermon.
Now, as a father of four, I am striving to raise lovers of reading, although to varying degrees of success. My oldest has gone through phases where she has read a lot, but not so much now as a 16 year-old. My 13 year-old is not a fan of the physical act of reading but loves audiobooks and audio dramas in podcast form. That brings us to my younger two, 9 and 7, who both are showing signs of loving to read, especially the youngest. She always has stacks of books on her floor and loves to read out loud or to herself.
In thinking about the kids and what might be a good book to recommend to them from the library, I tried to remember some of my favorites from my pre-teen years. This was the period of time that I really took charge of my book and genre selection. I remember spending hours at the library or at the Waldenbooks or B. Dalton Books in the local mall. I would peruse the book covers, looking for something to grab my attention, and then read the summaries on the backs to help me make my selections. I even got book catalogs delivered by mail so I could keep up with what was coming out soon in my genres of choice, science fiction and fantasy. Yes, I was that kid.
Here is a short list of series and books that I loved from that period of time, and these have certainly continued to influence my reading to this day.
Xanth series by Piers Anthony – Some of my first fantasy that I just couldn’t get enough of. Weird but wonderful.
Elfquest series by Wendy and Richard Pini) – Sparked a love of comics that has lasted to this day.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – A lifelong love and I definitely read the Fellowship of the Ring during church.
Knight Rider and the A-Team – Books based on the shows, not top tier literature but who doesn’t love KITT and Mr. T?
Mack Bolan/The Executionerseries by Don Pendleton – Shoot-em-up pulp stories that I devoured from used bookstores.
The Epic of Flight by Time-Life Books – These were a large series of coffee table-sized hardbacks that chronicled the history of aviation. I would check them out from the library, one at a time, and read them cover to cover. I loved them so much that I bought them a few years ago and have them on my bookshelf.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury – The first time I read these, I read my dad’s copies that we still had at that time. Classic science fiction which was so ahead of their time.
So many good books there plus so many others. Now I do just about all of my reading in audiobook format since my eyes don’t allow me to read without some serious magnification. But I still love it, maybe even more than I did when I was 12. Maybe.
Just for a minute, I would like for you to think about exercise. In particular, think about the different ways that people often exercise. I imagine that among the things that came to your mind was going to a gym, jogging, biking and possibly even rollerblading or hiking. All of those are great ways to get off of the couch and get moving. Now, imagine doing any of those as a blind person. These everyday methods of fitness would fall somewhere between dangerous to impossible for a person with vision impairments.
I do not have to imagine what that is like as I have tried just about all of them. Running into unseen weight bars and tripping over treadmills at a gym are particularly painful and embarrassing memories. Now, you might suggest that these could just about all be done with a training partner and you would be correct. But, that is kind of the point of this post. If I have to depend on my lovely, patient wife, kids or friends to exercise, then there is no sense of independence or empowerment. Having to hold an elbow or hand just to avoid falling off a path and twisting an ankle tends to make even walking at the park, less appealing. After 46 years, I have come to realize that just about any type of barrier to doing exercise will make it likely that I won’t do it. I don’t think I am alone in that.
So, one day I just had enough of not being fit and blaming it on my lack of vision. I figured that there had to be something that I could do, on my own, to start moving the needle back towards being physically fit and lowering the numbers on the scale. Somewhere in that process, I came up with the idea to purchase an indoor, stationary bike and pair it with my iPad Pro (the big one, 12.9 inch display) for instruction via the Peloton Digital app. This setup would allow me to get up early, without disturbing anyone, and get a ride in, all on my own. Well, almost on my own as I would be riding along with an instructor and the larger Peloton community, virtually.
So that is what I did. I purchased a Sunny Health and Fitness Synergy indoor bike after doing a ton of research. This would give me many of the features of much more expensive models, such as the Echelon, NordicTrac or Peloton, at about a quarter of the price. After it arrived, my 13-year-old son put it together for me. I added a cadence sensor to track how fast I pedal and a heart rate monitor, both of which communicate with the Peloton app, helping me to keep track of my pace, etc.
I have been using this setup now for almost 4 weeks and it has been a great success. I have done 14 rides and feel so much more in control of my own physical fitness. It is just so very liberating to finally feel in control of that area of my life. Now, if I could just figure out a way to drive. Self-driving cars can’t get here soon enough