Why You Need a Summer Break

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I’m my summer preaching break and as always, it has been incredibly helpful. If you are a pastor, this is something you need to put into your yearly rhythm.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that personal health and leadership health is incredibly important to me. It seems every month I hear about another pastor burning out or running out of steam because they didn’t take care of themselves. If you burnout, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Over the last 3 weeks, I have played longer with my kids, walked on the beach and picked up seashells, took long walks with Katie, took some naps, watched the world cup, worked ahead on sermons, read some great books and spent time with friends.

Who benefits from a summer break. Literally everyone. The pastor taking it does as he is able to recharge physically and spiritually. His family does as they get some much needed down time. What many people fail to realize is that ministry can become an all encompassing endeavor. The church benefits as well from having a pastor come back more passionate and energized than when he left and they benefit from hearing sermons from other voices. It is a win-win for everyone.

Most pastors want to take a summer break, but don’t know how. If that’s you, here are some ideas on how to make your summer break successful:

  • Plan ahead. We think resting should just happen, but it doesn’t. This is especially true for your summer break. If you are taking vacation, you need to plan ahead so you can disconnect from social media, email and your job. Work out the details so everything is covered and you are not needed.
  • Disconnect early and connect early. My recommendation during your break is that you disconnect from email, social media, blogging, etc. For me, I can find myself getting angry at posts or distracted and that keeps me from recharging or doing what I should be doing on my break. Put an auto responder on your email a few days before you actually leave so you can begin disconnecting and then turn it back on a few days before you come back so you can ease in.
  • Leave town. You don’t need to be gone for your whole preaching break, but the more the better. This helps you to truly disconnect and recharge. This doesn’t have to be expensive as you can drive and visit friends or family or stay somewhere cheap. This is why planning ahead is such a benefit.
  • Don’t feel guilty. It’s summer, so don’t feel bad. Everyone is taking vacation, time off and slowing down. People go to the beach, lake, mountains, the park. Once summer hits, our mindset changes and our schedules change. This is why it is the ideal time for a pastor to take several weeks in a row from regular church activities.
  • Be purposeful. This isn’t simply about time off. Take a sabbatical for that. This is to recharge and have time off, but also to work ahead, evaluate the ministry and do things you need to do but often neglect because of the time ministry takes. By planning ahead purposefully, you make sure you accomplish what you need to. This summer I spent a lot of time talking to pastors of churches who have broken the 500 mark trying to discern what I need to know as we approach that in our next season of ministry, the kinds of leaders we need on board to break through that barrier.

In the end, a preaching break is really about the longevity of ministry for a pastor and his church. This keeps it fresh and moving in the direction God wants him to. Don’t minimize how important this is. The ones who do, end up burning out or losing passion very quickly.

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What to do When You’re Too Tired to Work

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There is a moment that every pastor knows well, but many Christians might find surprising.

It is Sunday morning and you will preach or lead worship in less than hour. You feel into your pocket and feel your keys and think, “What if I left right now?”

The same thing happens to men and women at work everyday. It isn’t that you are unprepared or don’t love your job, it is just that you don’t feel like you have anything left to give.

For pastors, they are prepped, ready to preach, they are just running on fumes and don’t have the stamina for what lays ahead.

I recently talked with a student pastor who told me, “I’m just not sure I have anything left to give. I love my church and my students, but I’m beat.”

If it hasn’t happened to you yet as a pastor, that only means you are new to ministry.

When it does, here are 6 things to get out of this funk, but also to protect yourself from it:

  1. Get a good night sleep. The stats on how poorly Americans sleep and how many sleeping pills they take are staggering. It seems like no one gets a good night sleep anymore. Get to bed early on a Saturday night and strive to get into bed by 10pm every night. Yes, it is hard to get a good night sleep when you have kids, but you can try. Don’t drink caffeine late in the day. For me, I stop drinking caffeine at 2pm. It keeps me up. Same with sugar from chocolate or ice cream. Your body may not react like mine, but if it does, cut back.
  2. Eat better. Most pastors do not eat well and are paying the price for it in ministry. They fill up on fast food, energy drinks, carbs and then lack the motivation and energy. On Sunday morning, eat tons of protein. By the time I preach, I have consumed over 50g of protein. If I don’t, I will be too tired to do anything else the rest of the day.
  3. Let go of hurts. One of the main reasons pastors burn out is not the physical strain of working, but the emotional side of ministry. Walking with people through their hurts, counseling, being stabbed in the back by a friend, church discipline situations. All of these stack up and unless a pastor lets go of them, they will pile up and he will eventually explode. You must have a system for how you give those things up to God and let him carry those burdens.
  4. Have some friends. Pastors seem to be bad at friendships. We don’t know what to talk about if we aren’t talking about church. We struggle to have hobbies outside of church and our only friends go to our church. Get some friends that are other pastors, people in your neighborhood who don’t expect you to be perfect. There are times that I have dinner with someone from church and tell them, “When you come over, we aren’t talking about church or ministry. If you can’t do that, we can’t hang out tonight.” If you aren’t careful, ministry can become all encompassing and take over your life. You have to turn it off and let your day end at some point.
  5. Preach less. Decide how many weeks in a row you can preach without feeling too tired and preach that. For me, I get crispy after 10 weeks in a row. You may be able to go longer and that’s great. For longevity, I strive to never preach more than 10 weeks in a row. I take 3-4 weeks off in a row each summer to rest.
  6. Have a recovery plan. Sunday after preaching, you might take a nap, have dinner with friend, workout, do yoga, take a hike, read a novel or play with your kids. Whatever will fill you back up after preaching, do that. Preaching is hard work, it is a war for the souls of people. It will take everything out of you.

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Systems Trump Hopes & Intentions

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Everybody has hopes, dreams and good intentions.

Everyone wants to lose weight, get out of debt, get a degree, start a business, or start a hobby.

Churches want to grow, reach new people, see people start following Jesus, see new givers take that first step, see people get connected into community or serve.

W. Edwards Deming said, “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.”

Put another way: systems trump hopes and intentions. 

This is true for every system.

The systems you have in place as a church are why you have the number of first time, second time and third time guests that you have. It is why you have as many people giving. Why you have the number of people serving or in community.

None of this is accidental and none of this “just happens.”

For Revolution, this is one reason we transitioned from small groups to missional communities. We found that small groups would give us a certain result and it wasn’t the result we wanted.

Think about it personally. What if you want to lose weight, get out of debt, get a degree or start a business. None of that will just happen. You have to have a system for it. Just hoping to lose weight won’t cut it. You can’t have the intention of getting out of debt without a system for it.

The reality of Deming’s words ring true in our businesses, churches and homes. We are getting the results our systems are designed to give us. It isn’t an issue or hope, wishes, intentions, but of systems and strategy.

At this point, once you realize this, the next step is having the patience for it to take root.

One of the reasons I see people not lose weight or get out of debt is they expect it to happen as quickly as they gained the weight or got into debt. 

That isn’t a reality. In the same way, after 10 years of unhealthy communication in a marriage, it will not change over night. It will take time.

What happens for many people is they put a system in place, that moves slower than they would like, so they give up and settle for the results they don’t want.

And then we are back to square one.

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How to Make Smart Food Choices When You Eat Out

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For anyone wanting to eat healthy, a roadblock is often what they do when they eat out.

You sit down with friends or your spouse, you are thinking in your head, I’ll make a good choice. And then something happens.

You open the menu and see all the choices and see all the pictures and boom. You make a poor choice.

Same goes for dessert.

You know that a dessert at a restaurant could feed a small family in terms of calorie count, but when you see the dessert menu or tray, you are done for.

What do you do? Stop going out to eat? Stop traveling for business or vacation?

In my journey of losing 130 pounds and keeping it off, I’ve learned a couple of things about how to eat out while on business, a date night, lunch meeting or vacation and stay healthy.

  1. Eat some protein a couple hours before eating out. Not eating enough protein is one of the reasons you get hungry in the middle of the morning or afternoon. When you eat out, this leads you to ordering an appetizer and then a meal that has way too many calories in it. Before eating out, grab a banana, a protein bar, greek yogurt, a smoothie. Something with protein in it so that you aren’t as hungry when you arrive at a restaurant.
  2. Know where you will eat. This is important if you are traveling or are on vacation or having a meeting. When I travel somewhere, I know the options near me that have healthier options. Don’t show up blind to a new city and just guess. That’s a way to make poor choices. I was recently in Orlando with another pastor and I had 3 options for breakfast and told him, “you can pick but it has to be one of these three.” Without this, you pull into the first place you see.
  3. Know what you will eat before you arrive. When you open a menu, if you don’t know what you want to eat, you will often order something very bad for you. Restaurants don’t put pictures of the healthiest meals in the menu. Also, things like salads are not always the best thing to order on a menu as they may have low amounts of protein (which will make you hungrier in a couple of hours) and high in sugar (so it tastes better). If you know what you want before you arrive at a restaurant, you are more likely to make a good choice.
  4. Order first. This came up in Tom Rath’s book Eat Move SleepHe said that the person who orders first at a table sets the standard for what others will order. This is often true. If someone orders a healthy option first, others follow suit.
  5. Box up half your meal when it arrives. A friend told me this one, but when your meal arrives, ask for a box. Put half your meal in the box and close it. Now eat.

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Rest Takes Hard Choices

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On a regular basis I will talk with someone about Sabbath, pace of life, margin and rest. Most Americans are tired, don’t get enough sleep, don’t take enough vacation, feel stressed, overloaded, overwhelmed and aren’t sure how to change it. For many years, I struggled with this and still find myself not getting it right.

A couple of things helped me make the hard choices to rest (you’ll see at the bottom of this why I call them hard choices):

  1. Rest is a faith issue. Rest is a lot like giving back to God. It is trusting that God will make up for the time you aren’t. When people say, “I don’t have time to rest or take a sabbath.” What they often mean is, “I don’t trust God with my time. I’m too important. Life will fall apart if I’m not there.” Or, “I need to be doing as much as I am.” Many times, people won’t stop because the silence is too painful. As long as they keep moving, they don’t have to deal with hurts in their heart. The pace they keep, keeps them from feeling hurt.
  2. Rest isn’t something our culture encourages. Rest is seen as lazy. If your kids aren’t on 3 teams, in 2 dance troops. If you aren’t in 4 bible studies you aren’t growing as a Christian. We don’t encourage rest. We come back from vacation and say, “I need a vacation.” We go to work on Monday and ask “where did the weekend go?” I know someone who goes on vacation and fills their days from sunrise to sunset with things to do and see. Even on vacation, they keep moving and moving.
  3. Most people aren’t sure what “rest” means. Most people don’t know what it means. Some Christians say you shouldn’t shop or go to the movies on Sunday. Should you do any work? Rest in Scripture is to be restorative. It is to be recharging. For some, that is woodworking or painting, taking a nap, reading a book, having a long meal with friends, taking a hike, working out. Rest should connect you with God, restore your body, mind and soul.

So, why do I call having rest making hard choices?

Because, it will take time and it will often mean being countercultural to those around you.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you rest:

  1. It doesn’t matter what day it is. I’m a pastor, so Sunday is a work day, not a rest day. Just pick a day. It might be Wednesday for you. Pick a day, set it aside and think through what you will do on that day to restore your body, soul, heart and mind. What will you do? Who will you be with or will you be alone? How will you reconnect with God? How will you rest?
  2. It needs to be a day. Some people in an effort to feel better say, “I’m starting with 4 hours of rest.” That sounds nice and makes it feel like you are moving in the right direction, but it often fails. Quickly, you will find a reason to make that 3 hours. If you can give 4 hours, you can give a day. What are you afraid of? I know, you are afraid of not getting everything done, of things falling apart. So keep reading.
  3. Work fills the time allowed. Have you noticed how you accomplish everything you need to before going on vacation or before a school deadline? Work gets done that needs to get done. If you have 6 hours to work and at the end of 6 hours, whatever is not done is not done for the project. You skip Facebook, turn your phone off, no apps, no games, no breaks, you get it done. Work with that intensity each day so that you can rest.
  4. You have all the time you need to accomplish everything you want. I tell people this all the time and they always tell me I’m wrong, but hear me out. I’m a huge Steelers fan and never miss a Steelers game, even if I watch it on DVR. Why? I put it on my calendar. Because everything that is important has a time attached to it. You do something similar to this. It might be a show, a class, a team you’re on, a hobby you have (think about how much time you spend on a hobby). My point is, we accomplish all kinds of things we want to accomplish. We often just accomplish the wrong things.
  5. You don’t have to do everything you are doing. This is the hard choice. Resting means you will skip things. You will miss things. You will say no to things. But remember, when you say no to one thing, you say yes to something elseYou don’t have to do all that you are doing. You can stop some things. Not sign your child up for that team. You can get off that committee at school or church. You can stop and slow down.

Let me close with a story.

When I was in seminary, I wanted to not lose my marriage as many married students working on their masters do. Katie and I both worked full-time and I went to school full-time. Each class, I would get my syllabus and anything that was 1 or 2% of my grade, I didn’t do. Why? I had class one night a week and we agreed that I would do homework 3 nights a week and we would have 3 nights a week for time together. I had to be diligent in those 3 nights to get all my homework done for a full class load. I trusted God each semester to expand my time and effort. Even with doing 90% of my work in each class, I graduated with a 3.8 GPA and my marriage stronger than when I started. Sadly, I have classmates that are divorced and out of ministry.

Please, make the hard choice to rest.

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How to Reach Your Goal of Losing Weight

I got to share my story over the weekend at a health seminar. It was awesome to see the amount of people putting in the time and effort to live a healthy lifestyle.

If you don’t know my story, I used to weight almost 300 pounds and have a 42 inch waist. Over the course of 18 months, I lose 130 pounds and have kept it off for the last 5 years. It feels incredible. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about what does work and what doesn’t work to lose weight, keep it off, pass on healthy habits to your kids and enjoy life.

So, I put together all the blog posts I’ve ever written on the topic.

Being free from bad eating habits, a food addiction (and other addictions that lead to an unhealthy lifestyle) and poor body image:

  1. What to do on “Fat Days”
  2. Food, Weight, and Stop Being the Victim
  3. How to Examine Your Heart/Motives
  4. When Eating Becomes a Sin
  5. Why We Aren’t Healthy
  6. Women and the Cycle of Defeat
  7. Two Ideas that Should Change how We Think about our Bodies, Weight Loss & Food
  8. Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace

How to lose weight:

  1. My Journey of Losing Weight
  2. How I got to where I am 
  3. The idol of food (the spiritual side of weight loss)
  4. Have a plan
  5. It’s for the rest of your life
  6. The effects
  7. Do your homework
  8. The idol of exercise & staying in shape

Staying healthy (eating well, avoiding burnout, etc.):

  1. Every Time You Say Yes to Something You Say No to Something Else
  2. What I Wish I’d Known About Energy, Family & Mistakes
  3. Making Room for What Matters
  4. How I Structure my Week
  5. How to Know You’re Too Busy
  6. How to do Crossfit on Your Own
  7. 6 Ways to Stay Motivated to be Healthy
  8. Thoughts on Burnout, Sleep, Adrenaline, Stress, and Eating
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How to Know You’re Too Busy

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I was talking with some pastors the other day and the topic of burnout, being too busy and doing too much came up. This seems to be a common thread among people, no matter what they do.

Here are some of the things they asked:

  • How do you know if you are close?
  • Are there warning signs that you are getting too busy?
  • How do you know that your busyness is not just a season, but becoming a way of life?

I know in my life, there are warning signs when I am doing too much or taking too much on. Sometimes I adhere to them and make changes, other times I bulldoze through and pay the price.

Here are some warning signs to be aware of:

  1. What is normally easy is now hard. This is one of the first things that happens. For me, it centers on preaching, sermon prep, reading leadership books. Whenever I find myself not feeling motivated in one or all of these areas, I know I am past the point of running too fast in life. To combat this, I take periodic breaks from preaching (I try to not preach more than 10 weeks in a row) and I work in books that have nothing to do with sermon prep or church ministry to give my brain a break.
  2. Sleep is hard to come by. For many Americans, sleep is hard as it is. We go to bed too late, we don’t take enough naps, spend too much time on technology and get worked up. I try to get to bed by 10:30, I try to not look at social media or texts after 8pm so that my brain is able to take a break. I’ve read studies about how using a smartphone after 9pm can be harmful to sleep and productivity. If you have to take sleeping pills, watch TV to fall asleep or find yourself going to bed at midnight or staring at the clock at midnight, you need to work on your sleep.
  3. It is hard to get going in the morning. Some people are morning people and can’t wait to get going, others are not. I’m not a morning person. But, when I find myself having a hard time getting going in the morning, needing multiple cups of coffee to stay awake or to focus, that’s a warning sign. Think about this morning, how hard was it to get out of bed? The harder it was, the closer you are to burning out.
  4. Motivation is hard to come by. It is true that you are more motivated and alert at certain parts of the day. For me, it is first thing in the morning, which is why I reserve that for sermon prep and not meetings. It is when I am most creative and I need to give that mental time to the most important part of my job: preaching. When I find that motivation not there, I know I have a problem.
  5. You get angry fast. When you are tired, you tend to get angry fast. Your fuse is shorter with those closest to you: family, friends, coworkers.
  6. You use things to calm down. This might be food, sex, porn, exercise, drugs, smoking, alcohol. While these things calm you down and all of these are not necessarily sins, when used to calm us down or help us relax or sleep or “take the edge off” we have a problem. If you think, “I just need ____ to calm down or feel better” you have a problem.
  7. You don’t laugh as much or have fun. This is connected to what we’ve already said, but if you can’t remember the last time you laughed and had fun, that’s a problem. When you are tired, the last thing you have energy for is fun or community.
  8. You have pulled back from community. When you are tired, especially if you are an introvert, the last thing you want is to be around people. Ironically, one of the things that can be the most helpful to warding off burnout and helping to bring you out of unhealthy patterns is community, being around people who care about you.

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How to Set Goals and Accomplish Them

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This post originally appeared on The Blog of Manly.

Since we’re now at the end of January and the luster of New Years Resolutions has begun to wear off, I felt like its time to share some ideas on how to set goals and keep them.

Resolutions are just that, goals. They are hopes for the future. In December we look at our lives, the things we don’t like about them and set a goal to change that specific area of our lives.

No one makes a resolution to get into more debt or add 30 pounds (at least not that I have met).

Here are ___ ways to set goals, keep them and accomplish them.

  1. Be realistic. If your goal is to lose weight, losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks isn’t likely or realistic. Possible if you just stop eating but that sounds miserable. The excitement of what could be is easy to get caught up in, but the reality that you will all of a sudden get up at 5am 4 days a week when you have been struggling to get up by 7am isn’t realistic.
  2. Set goals you want to keep. I have had friends set a goal and they are miserable. Now, sometimes our goals will have some pain. When I lost 130 pounds, it wasn’t fun to change my eating habits, but the short term pain was worth it. The same goes for debt. It will require some pain to get out of debt. You have to walk a fine line here. If it is too painful, you will not want to keep it. This is why our goals are often more of a process than a quick fix.
  3. Make them measurable. Don’t make a goal: to lose weight, get out of debt or read my bible more. Those aren’t measurable. How much weight? How much debt? How much more will you read your bible? Make them measurable so you can see how you are doing.
  4. Have a plan. Once you have your goal, you need a plan. If its weight loss, what will you do? If its debt, how will you get there? What are the steps? If its bible reading, what plan are you using? No goal is reached without a plan.
  5. Get some accountability. Equally important is accountability. One of the things I did when I weighed 285 pounds and started mountain biking was I bought some bike shorts that were too small and embarrassing to wear. This gave me accountability to keep riding. Your accountability might be a spouse or a friend, but it needs to be someone that can actually push you. Maybe you need to go public with your goal and invite people to help you stay on track.
  6. Remove barriers to your goals. Your goals have barriers, that’s why you have to set goals in the first place. It might be waking up, food, credit cards, working too late or wasting time on Facebook. Whatever it is that is going to keep you from accomplishing it, remove it. Get rid of the ice cream, credit cards, move your alarm clock so you have to get out of bed. Whatever it is, do it. Life is too short to be miserable and not accomplish your goals.
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Making Room for What Matters | Sleep

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On Sunday, I finished our Breathing Room series at Revolution by looking at how to find breathing room between work, life and everything that has to get done. This week, I want to share 6 simple ways I’ve done that and you can to. I’m going to share one each day so you have time to process them and hopefully put some things into practice.

The first one: Get a good night sleep. 

This might seem like a silly way to start. Everyone knows how important sleep is. We know how we feel in the afternoon if we don’t get a good night sleep. If you have kids, you know that you are a better parent when you get good sleep. You are a better student, boss, employee when you get a good night of sleep. You are more creative, lively and all around, more enjoyable when you get a good night sleep.

Yet, how often do you find yourself laying on the couch watching TV when you should be laying in bed? How often do you find yourself staring at a computer screen checking email, scrolling through Facebook when you should be in bed?

More than you want to admit?

Then you need better sleep.

What is fascinating to me in the Bible is how a day starts at night. When God creates things, when he establishes the Sabbath, talks about time, he starts at night. He starts at sleep.

What if you had the mindset that your day started when you went to sleep instead of when you get up?

It changes how you think about things. Talking about starting your day off right starts at 10pm.

Why 10pm?

That’s when your body begins to shut down.

When people talk about a second wind, they get that around 9:30-10pm. If you don’t go to bed then, you will struggle to fall asleep.

Don’t believe me?

Stay up past 10 tonight and see if it is hard to fall asleep. Go to bed by 10 tomorrow night and see how it goes.

Sleep matters. 

So, how do you get a good night sleep?

It isn’t taking sleeping pills (unless your doctor thinks you should, but even then it probably isn’t a good idea). Here are 5 things to do to get a restful night of sleep:

  1. Sleep in a dark room.
  2. Turn off the ringer on your phone.
  3. Don’t look at electronics before going to bed.
  4. Don’t eat after 8.
  5. Set your alarm to get up at the same time each day.

There are more things you can do, but this is a good start.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how to create margin in your day by staying alert and awake.

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6 Ways to Stay Motivated to be Healthy

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I get asked a lot about how to stay motivated to workout, stick to an eating plan or just to be healthy overall.

It is a challenge.

Here are 6 ways that I’ve learned to stay motivated:

  1. Make it the next thing on your schedule. This is crucial. Put working out on your calendar. Currently, I workout 4-5 times a week. I put my workouts into my calendar each week. They are a scheduled appointment like the dentist or a meeting. When the time rolls around (whether that is 6am or 5pm), it is simply the next thing I’m doing. Over time this has helped me to get up and go to the gym. Believe me, I can fill that time with something else, but its a commitment I’ve made. The reality for many people is they aren’t willing to give the time it will take to be healthy.
  2. Pick a plan you like and will stick to. I don’t care if you ride a bike, run, do crossfit, zumba or something else. Pick something you will do and stick with. Too often I’ll see people switch plans or programs because they don’t see changes quickly enough. When I started working out, I saw a ton of changes fast. Then I went almost 2 years where I felt like I looked the same, but I stuck with it. Just recently have I started to see more changes.
  3. Set a realistic, attainable goal. Set a goal. Specific. With a deadline. Now, is it realistic? If you do nothing right now, working out 4 days a week at 5am probably isn’t the best first step. Maybe 2 times a week at that time and then build up. Get small wins as quickly as possible. If you lift, set
  4. Eating well is more important than exercising. This is something most people miss. Eating counts more than working out. Don’t kill yourself at the gym and then go home and eat like a guy living in a frat house. Eat well. Food is fuel. If you exercise regularly, you should drink at least 100 oz. of water a day. Limit dessert and other foods that aren’t great for you. You don’t have to cut out gluten like I do, but eat well. Here are some ideas on what I eat.
  5. Weight gain isn’t always a bad thing. If you lift weights, this will be something you need to learn. I stopped weighing myself 3 months ago. Our scale’s battery died and I never replaced it so it wasn’t a conscious choice, but it has been a good thing. Weight gain is not always a litmus for being healthy. If you lift, muscle does weigh a lot. Have a pair of pants that give you a test to see if your waist is growing.
  6. Health is a lifestyle switch. Don’t quit. I know this is the topic of this post, but don’t. Being healthy is a long-term choice. Sure working out feels good, but I do it to stay healthy for Katie and my kids, to have energy to lead well. I want to stay in the game well into my 80’s.

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