September 30, 2009

Living a greener lifestyle

People who cook outside and go to the bathroom inside baffled my grandfather. He had a contrarian’s view on many things, including progress: when you’ve come so far that you have to go out of the way to seem natural, something’s wrong, he figured.

I can’t think about the green movement without wondering where he’d stand if he were alive today. As a lifelong farmer and outdoorsman who grew his own food and, yes, killed his own meat, would he be glad to see people interested in protecting the earth? Or would he be among the chorus of conservative contrarians who deny the environmental impact of the past four generations?

At every turn, I find myself surrounded by global warming mockers. They catch a whiff of environmental hypocrisy in people like me: we cling to destructive consumer habits and justify creature comforts, sucking up resources unconsciously for most of our lives. When we realize our yoga mats are decidedly unfriendly to the environment, we suddenly become evangelists for the green movement. Some are truly committed. Others are still so clueless that we’d probably trash our old mats and buy a new “eco-friendly” mat upon learning the bad news. We deserve to be embarrassed.

If you’re among the recent converts who are sincere about reducing your own environmental hypocrisy, read Ecoholic (when you’re addicted to the planet): Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services. This book is loaded with realistic, eco-friendly tips on clothing, food, cosmetics, transportation, and money. Written by Adria Vasil, a Canadian author and journalist who writes a regular Ecoholic column for NOW magazine, this tomb suggests hundreds of micro-decisions you can make to live a greener lifestyle. You can check it out at your local library, but it’s an exhaustive reference book, so you’ll eventually want to buy a copy for your bookshelf. It’s organized in an approachable way with informative sidebars and suggested electronic resources to check products you use.

Two detractions:
1) There’s no bibliography to support the science that’s cited within. That’s unfortunate because it probably weakens the book’s validity, especially with our global-warming-mocker friends.
2) The designers of the book have done a wonderful job of making the book accessible—except for the solid green sidebars, underscoring the book’s green theme in a literal way. Anyone who is familiar with printing processes knows that black type on a solid background decreases readability—a lot.

Those factors aside, I’d still recommend the book as a first step for people who aspire to be an ecoholic. If you’re not already there, this book may be your guide. Beware: you might need to join Ecoholics Anonymous after reading the book!

September 25, 2009

Know more about your food

The way Americans eat is killing us. It’s cheaper and easier by far to eat junk than it is to choose a healthy diet. We gotta change that, according to Michael Pollan, author of three important works about food:

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer, And What You Can Do About It

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

If you want a real education on our food chain and how your diet choices impact the world, start reading! Pollan makes a strong argument for how better diet choices could make a serious dent in other problems like energy consumption and pollution.

Why would a blog that’s all about personal development would take on this subject? Two reasons: 1) Food is a powerful representation of how we view ourselves in relationship to the world. 2) It’s tough to be effective when you aren’t healthy.

If you’re interested in knowing more about how to make a serious change in the way you eat, here are two resources: is an Indianapolis organization with all kinds of resources and events designed to support a healthier take on food. New chapters of this international organization are popping up in cities all over the world as people become aware of how they can contribute to more sustainable lifestyles. If you aren’t in Indianapolis or Cincinnati, you can search for one in your area at

If time is your obstacle to buying and preparing local foods, check out Farm Fresh Delivery, a local service that delivers organic and locally grown foods right to your door. They operate in Indianapolis and Cincinnati. This has been a lifesaver in our busy household. For a minimum $35 delivery, we get a crate loaded with fresh vegetables and fruits every other week. You can set up more frequent delivery and add on a wide variety of products, from meats to dairy and spices. They also allow for substitutions within each standard crate if you have picky eaters in your family. If you live in a major metropolitan area outside Indy or Cincinnati, search for a comparable service in your area.

We love the surprise of opening each crate and seeing what’s for dinner. It forces us to cook new things we might not otherwise try. Rather than wandering the store wondering what to buy, you build meals around each delivery. This expands the variety of foods you consume and reduces the monotony of deciding what’s for dinner. What’s more, you’ll find yourself spending less time at the grocery and taking lunches to work/school more often to make sure what you buy isn’t wasted.

You might think this service would be expensive, but I find it’s no more expensive than shopping the grocery, plus I save time shopping and eat fewer lunches out when I always have fresh produce on hand. Give these things a try and see how they work for you!

September 23, 2009

Earn a free book just for following my blog!

I have a favor to ask: will you follow LeadingReads, the blog? What’s in it for you? Well, for starters, I’m offering a free book (your choice) to the first 20 people who’ll subscribe to LeadingReads feeds (the RSS link is in the column on your right) or follow from Facebook’s Networked Blogs before next Friday, October 2.

Choose any single children’s title up to $20 in value from my Usborne Bookstore. E-mail your name and mailing address plus the title of the book and ISBN# to If you’re an adult reader who has no children, choose a title from Amazon and I’ll gladly oblige you with the book of your choice up to $20. Not to worry: I’m not checking on who actually follows or subscribes. There’s no reason to do that because readers are the most honest of people.

In addition to the free book, you’ll receive regular inspiration for daily life based on books, ideas, resources, and people I discover––all devoted to helping people find ways to become their best. LeadingReads covers a wide range of topics related to good health, better relationships and communication, self-examination, positive thinking and spiritual wisdom drawn from modern and ancient sources. If you dig that sort of thing, I invite you to follow, comment, and perhaps, be a guest blogger whenever appropriate.

I began LeadingReads in 2007 because I missed the kind of writing I once did as a corporate writer for a company that believed in developing people. That got me hooked on learning about the world from other people and sharing what I learned with others. Operating outside the boundary of a company stance, I have more freedom than ever to write in ways that encourage personal effectiveness. On a strictly personal level, I’m on my own quest to give my best effort in this life. That keeps me vigilant about learning and applying principles that contribute to my goal. It’s a pleasure to exchange energy and ideas with anyone who is on the same quest. I hope you’ll join me at LeadingReads!

September 21, 2009

A better kind of internet than the one you know (Part one in a series)

If you write, present, or conduct competitive research, here’s a resource you should add to your toolbox. Would it be helpful to you to have free, full-text access to an exhaustive archive of content from blogs, academic and trade journals, newspapers and other periodicals? Well, in most cases you already have that. You just don’t know it. Unless, of course, you’ve been in an institution of higher learning in the past five to eight years, and in some cases, not even then.

Public libraries offer patrons remote access to some very powerful (read: searchable) full-text databases. Most people’s eyes (and brains) glaze over when you share a statement like that. So maybe it's best if I share where to find them and how to use them. That way you can see for yourself. A few words of preparation for those new to the concept: it isn’t Shake n’ Bake, but it isn’t rocket science either. You’ll figure it out once you get there. But don’t expect to be good at search until you’ve done at least a little investigation.

Where to find free databases
If you live in Indiana, visit INSPIRE. Your IP address authenticates you as an Indiana resident. If you live elsewhere, search by your state’s name and a term like “digital libraries” or “database.” You should also visit your local library’s web site to see what additional databases they beyond INSPIRE. If you live in a community that has a college or university, you probably have access to an even greater universe of databases if you’re willing to go onsite or become a student. These are so powerful you might even want to become a student just for the access. Remember, friends, this is the same sort of content that corporations, marketing research firms and law firms buy for bazillions. Organizations don’t buy what they can get for free. The reason they pay is that the content is better (and more searchable) than what you get on the free web! Better, better, better. And more precise than an internet search.

As an Indiana resident, INSPIRE is free to you because it has already been financed by the Indiana General Assembly through Build Indiana Funds, the Institute of Museums and Library Services (under the Library Services and Technology Act and in partnership with Academic Libraries of Indiana.)

How to use databases in your life
Think medical research, business research, professional development, consumer research, or academic research.

In the next part to this series, I’ll share ways you can databases to your advantage. Meanwhile, if you're a writer, presenter, or sales and marketing whiz, get searching!

September 19, 2009

Vive la difference: How anatomy can (and should) influence your yoga practice on and off the mat.

Ever been in a yoga or fitness class, working your way through a certain pose or movement and wondered what’s wrong with you because you don’t look like your neighbor? Everyone else is doing it, but you feel trapped in a painful distortion that makes the goal seem impossible. No matter how much we try not to compare, it’s part of our social conditioning.

Here’s a kernel of wisdom to help you reconcile that discrepancy and bring you to a new place of awareness in your yoga practice and in life: our Creator made no duplicates. We’re all unique. Our parts are similar in some ways, but not at all alike in others, according to Paul Grilley, a yoga expert who specializes in anatomy. When we find a movement difficult or impossible, Grilley says it’s usually due to one or any combination of four anatomy factors: compression, tension, proportion or orientation.

In his DVD, Anatomy for Yoga, Grilley introduces a wide array of body structures that illustrate why some people may never safely touch their toes, do a headstand, or swing freely between their arms from a seated position, no matter how strong or how flexible they become. From one person to the next, our range of motion in joints can vary widely, not because of flexibility (tension), but because of structure. A bigger or smaller socket or ball at the elbow joint (or some combination of both), for example, can restrict or liberate rotation of the lower arm from 50 to 180 degrees. We’ll only move a joint so far until we reach bone on bone. Grilley calls that compression. The same goes for ankles, hips, knees, necks, shoulders and just about any other hinge in the body.

Grilley says the proportion of the body—the relationship between arms and legs, for example–– also plays a role. One of the best revelations of my yoga training was realizing that my failure to touch my toes in a forward reaching position was no failure. It’s a factor of proportion. The length of my legs compared to my arms and upper body prohibit it no matter how flexible I become. Through practice, I may get closer to my toes than I’ve ever come before, but it’s doubtful that I will ever reach them. I will forever adore the yoga instructor, an amazing woman in her seventies, who lovingly introduced me to this fact. Thank you, Dona Robinson, for showing me that it’s okay to bend my knees in a forward fold.

I’m a relatively slight person. But if I had to guess, I’d say that two-thirds of my weight is in the lower half of my body. My neck is small and it already has a few injuries. Know what that means? I’ll never do a headstand. Trying it would be like inviting a serious injury to the party that is my life. All that weight on a tiny injured neck…it wouldn’t be good.

This information is equally important for yoga students and instructors. It means people are as unique as snowflakes. When we can’t achieve a certain move, it doesn’t mean we’re defective. When we can, it doesn’t make us superior. We can marvel at the differences that allow our neighbors to pivot differently from us, but we should never judge that difference. To do so is to overlook the uniqueness of our own God-designed bodies and will most certainly cause harm.

From now on, promise yourself that you won’t succumb to an ill-advised instructor who pushes you past your comfort zone when reaching for your toes, or the peer pressure of a student who casts a sidelong glance of superiority when flopping her forehead to the floor in a wide-legged stretch. Take it a step further and promise not to judge yourself or others because of weight, a number that depends on a lot of things, not all of which we control.

Beyond the mat, here’s the lesson that sticks: no matter what experiences we share, it’ll be different for you than for me. Different in our bodies, different in our minds. It means I need to cultivate more compassion and respect for my fellow man and for myself. It means forcing myself or someone else beyond the point of discipline or need, especially when there are other winning alternatives, may be harmful. A co-worker, student, employee, or spouse who doesn’t want to do things my way isn’t always purposefully uncooperative. They may just be showing a nature that’s unique to mine. This isn’t an excuse to skirt rules that exist for the greater good or tread over others. It’s just a fact.

When we can’t understand why a co-worker triggers our anger, why a sibling resents a parent so deeply, or why a child gets under our skin, it’s best for everyone not to invest too deeply in the right or wrong of our position or theirs. We can’t possibly know how another person has processed life, even when we share a wide range of common experiences. We all feel differently, even while experiencing the same things. In some cases, the gap is so enormous that it’s almost impossible to appreciate or respect our differences. Meanwhile, at a bare minimum we must learn to accept. To compete, compare, or judge each other is pure foolishness because it keeps us from living and expressing our God-given individuality.

September 5, 2009

A not-so-ordinary day: reframing life as we know it

Let’s face it. We all have days when life seems kind of…well, ordinary. Days when no one notices you and you don’t notice much either. You wake up, go to work, eat and sleep, but nothing amazing happens. No Pulitzers. No comments to your blog posts or Tweets. No praise. No blame. No reaction. You’re just here living your life, not hating it, but not loving it either. Not even close to suicidal or despondent, but wondering if anything you do really matters all that much.

One day last week, I was purging a file cabinet and ran across a notebook of messages I had saved from a job I left in 1999. I had stuffed the entire binder with hard copies of the e-mails people sent me while I worked there. Some were heartfelt expressions of sorrow upon hearing my plans to leave the company. Others complimented me on a contribution or the inspiration I offered during and after a rough reorganization. I read them one by one and realized that I do matter. All the ordinary things I had done day by day had really amounted to something, not just professionally, but personally. People had noticed. I must have known that the notebook would one day provide inspiration and remind me of my own significance, and most of all, of their significance in my life.

At that moment, I decided to pay more attention to people in my life, naming each day for meaningful things that happen (READ: extraordinary) on an otherwise ordinary day. It started with Cute-Little-Girl-Day on Wednesday, aptly named for three cute little girls under the age of seven who approached the library reference desk where I work.

The first was a bespectacled little girl in a floor-length dress, carrying a tote over one shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said in a disarmingly grown-up voice. “Could you tell me where the Molly books are?” The pattern continued with another little girl, also wearing glasses--same height, and probably the same age as the American Girl fan that preceded her. She was on a quest for “pig books”. The final lassie in the trio was a preschooler who wanted to know where the suckers were. Her grandmother shrugged, speculating that her darling companion apparently associates the library with candy because one of my colleagues gave her a sucker on her last visit.

These weren’t the only connections I made that day. Nevertheless, I found a bit of wonder in crossing paths with not just one, but three charming little girls in a single day. They’d each given me a reason to smile and even connect with my former self. Remember how you were as a kid?

Now, see what I mean? If each of us named our days by the extraordinary people and events in them, I’ll bet we’d find many extraordinary things to wonder about on an otherwise ordinary day. The act of noticing our blessings and small little wonders helps us understand how to lead a significant life, with or without fanfare. Now, I’d better sign off before this becomes “Spent-Too-Much-Time-Blogging-And-Got-Nothing-Else-Done-Day”.

Suggested Reading: The Little Book on Meaning: Why We Crave It, How We Create It, by Laura Berman Fortgang.