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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: December 2005

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Personal Best
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for balance

    My wife and I wish you all the best of the Holiday Season, no matter what your persuasion, geography, or demographic. We hope you've had a wonderful year and wish you an even better one to come. Peace, health, safety, and joy.

    Tis the season techniques for balance

    • Use some humor with gifts. Tis the season to be JOLLY, right?
    • If you're in doubt about whether to send someone a card, send it.
    • Most people enjoy a brief personalized sentiment, but none of us is really interested in reading nine pages about your family's accomplishments over the past year.
    • How about a gift to humanity for the holidays? Perhaps a contribution to a philanthropy, or volunteered time in a worthy cause?
    • Resolutions are usually senseless, but here are three that might make a difference: get regular medical checkups; establish or maintain a physical fitness regimen; vote in every election.
    • God invented gift certificates to avoid arguments about color and size.
    • Exertion is exponentially multiplied in snow and cold. Hire someone to shovel and plow, and/or buy environmentally-friendly de-icers. Don't hurt yourself (or worse) moving precipitation. (For those of you in warmer climes, don't swing the golf club too violently.)
    • It's proper to send "thank you" notes for gifts, but it's not proper to sit around expecting them.
    • Make a resolution to give up one thing that's driving you crazy, whether it's a civic obligation, social gathering, work demand, or family matter.
    • Would it really be so awful to leave a couple of cookies and a glass of milk by the fireplace or window? I mean, the old boy may be all that we have.

  2. The Human Condition: Personal Best

    I've been working out in the gym for about 10 years on an every-other-day basis, no matter where I am in the world. I'm not obsessive, but I am dedicated.

    I've always believed that working to keep yourself physically fit is both physiologically and emotionally important and rewarding.

    However, I'm like a laser beam in terms of making things easier and less labor intensive. This stands me in good stead in reducing my work load, but it's a dramatic drawback when "feeling the burn" is the desired outcome. Ergo, I was able to reduce my workouts to routines, to the point that even I guiltily knew they had become another part of my "system" and were no longer truly offsetting my love of good food and fine wine. My muscles, so to speak, had grown accustomed to the pace. (For those of you who recognize Rex Harrison there, I salute you.)

    And so it came to pass that my rational self overruled my clever self and I enlisted with a personal trainer. I "rewarded" myself by going three days a week, cutting out the old regimen and eliminating weekends. But I knew I was in for a hard time.

    Matt is a fine guy with great tact and wonderful technique, which create a fine patina over his sadistic approach to his work. He is relentless, meaning I am without any artifice to forestall the onslaught. There may be three or four of us at a time (my wife has a different trainer at the same place), gasping for air, clutching at supports, invoking the 20th level of the inferno, and meekly succumbing to procedures meant to buckle the will of the 101st Airborne Division.

    But in six weeks I've reduced my body fat percentage, increased my biceps, thighs, triceps, and calves, and grown a quarter of an inch in height (I don't quite know how that happened). My resting heart rate is down (my blood pressure has always been perfect), and I'm competitive in pushups for my age and gender. My abdominal crunches in 60 seconds have increased by a whopping 48%.

    Discipline�even rigor�are worthless without proper technique. The power of the rear wheel is wasted if the front wheel is not directed toward the proper destination. That's why coaching and mentoring, for all the bad press of the schlock artists and personality testers, are such important additions to our lives. Too many of us are driving boldly forward without improvement, new destinations, or even sapience.

    I'm in better shape after two months with Matt the gentle Nazi than I was after ten years of Alan's "workout lite." I still hate the sessions and bemoan the work, but the physical and emotional payoff is greater than ever. We all need expert guidance. To seek and accept it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of the strength of someone pursuing his or her personal best.

    The purpose of a coach, mentor, or guide is not to help us be the best in show, not to make us into world class champions, not to create a gold medal winner. Rather, the purpose is to help us each to be as good as we can be, and that's a lofty goal, Army recruiting slogans aside, considering how many people fall short of their own potential.

    I can do 25 pushups. That's my current personal best. You may be able to do more. I don't care about that. But in another couple of months, I'll do 35. I'm here to tell you to be careful about my wake, because, IN ALL THINGS, I'm in hot pursuit of my personal best.

  3. Musings

    I'm in my favorite coffee shop with the dogs yapping outside in the truck waiting for a couple of dog biscuits, a highly clever specialty of the house.

    The line is being delayed by two women, a mother and daughter, staring at the wall menu as if it were the runes of an ancient civilization and they were linguists without the Rosetta Stone. I'm in a hurry to get home to receive my first phone appointment and the dogs have begun threatening passersby.

    So, I resort to my deadly weapon, since the last police superior has departed with his donuts. I fix them with my "look."

    The "look" never takes more than 18 seconds to melt the will of strong men, and these two were putty in my hands. "Would you like to go ahead of us," asked the mom, "since we're overwhelmed by the choices?"

    "Well, that's very nice of you," I volunteered, dialing back the intensity so that I didn't inadvertently vaporize the daughter who was obviously in distress.

    As I placed my order, the women continued to debate the merits of half-soy, no froth, flavored latt�, and something called chai. I asked the mother if she took this long to buy a house. "It's troubling," she said with total ingenuousness, "but I have a tough time with so many choices."

    My order filled, the woman moved up to the counter�I am not making this up�and ordered two medium, regular coffees, cream and sugar. I spun with my tray of two iced coffees and dog biscuits, and shot her the "look."

    "I know," she said, "but it was just too difficult."

    There is a phenomenon known as the "quality of the decision." (Okay, so maybe I invented the phenomenon.) What I mean is that some decisions are of low quality, in that one alternative solution is about as good as another, and some are of high quality, where some solutions are manifestly better than others.

    An example of the former might be which dessert we order in a restaurant, and of the latter the school we choose for our children. It makes sense to spend months examining and debating schools, doing research, and involving the child. It doesn't make sense to do that in order to choose between the Boston cream pie and the flan. Yet many people decide on a car or vacation destination in less than an hour, and take about the same time to determine which movie they should see that evening. What's wrong with this picture?

    Make low quality decisions quickly, and move on, methinks. The cappuccino will not make a substantial difference in your day vs. the latt�. But whether you go to Cancun in hurricane season or Europe in September might just make all the difference in your quality of life.

    Just pretend there are dogs barking outside waiting for a treat. It's your job to move the line along.

  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department


    My wife and I spent Thanksgiving in New York to be with our family. We had a gorgeous corner suite at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Columbus Circle.

    We could see the Hudson River from the bay all the way up past the Washington Bridge. It took us two hours to realize we had a second bathroom. It was that kind of place.

    Thanksgiving morning, after my shower, I pulled up the blinds on the wall-to-wall main bathroom window and realized that we could also see Central Park West and the beginning of the Macy's Parade IF we stood in the bathtub. Fortunately, the hotel provides binoculars in all the rooms (we were on the 41st floor) and there was a TV in the bathroom, so we could hear the commentary on NBC down the route for the elements in the parade I couldn't recognize.

    Thus, for two hours, the two of us stood in the tub alternating the binoculars and listening to the TV. When the parade ended, I thought it would be a good idea to listen to the remaining TV commentary from the comfort of the living room. So I went in there, turned on the television, and opened those curtains for the first time.

    It was then I discovered that you could also see the parade route from our living room from the vantage point of two comfortable chairs. My wife asked from the next room what the view was like. "Nothing to write home about," I said, and closed the curtains.