My Gym Bag

Motivation Comes From Strange Places

My son Jeffrey gave me a new Adidas gym bag for Christmas about five years ago. This bag was destined to replace an old double-zipper gym bag I had been struggling with for years. However, what really frustrated me wasn’t the bag, it was the results I was getting at the gym. But that’s a story for another day. While getting ready to hit the gym on Monday, the importance of that bag hit me. Ever since I began my Fitness Quest when I was 33 years old, I had a goal of being able to get to the gym three days a week. Since my two boys weren’t yet attending elementary school, I tried to work out when I could. My objective was to join a gym with a pool, steam room, jacuzzi, and other amenities that make sweating my butt off on a treadmill worth the effort.

My search for The Perfect Gym ranged far and wide. I tried Bally’s (a giant ripoff), the local YMCA (ironically, no pool), a smaller community center gym (again, no pool) and I finally settled on my wife’s old high school. It had been converted into a state-of-the-art facility. The Warren Community Center checked off every item on my list. Outside of a locker break-in, where I lost two credit cards and a debit card, I always look forward to my weekly M-W-F workouts. As I detailed in my article Living By The Scale, I was eventually able to drop over 50 pounds. Then, the battle to keep it off began. My gym bag is a constant reminder to get off my keister and keep fighting the good fight. Even if it’s just 10 degrees below zero outside, thinking about the steam room helps to keep me motivated.

That’s how life works. You set goals, prioritize them, and sometimes completely forget about them. However, one day you realize you have achieved one of your goals without even consciously working on it. Life gets so busy, it’s difficult to step back and see the big picture. I think that’s why it’s important to view yourself in the third-person from time to time. Just as if you were the main character in a novel. Keeping a journal is an important part of this process. It allows you to step outside your first-person viewpoint and see yourself as just another character in this fascinating Book of Life. This helps you to realize you actually have achieved some of the goals you set months, or even years ago. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so deep. Anyway, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to get to the gym on a regular basis, and finally, get into shape. And it all began with that gym bag. Funny how life works sometimes, isn’t it?

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I Don’t Get It

Honestly, what’s wrong with these people? I’m sitting on the balcony of a condo in Destin, Florida. The sun is up, and it looks like another beautiful day in paradise. From my 5th floor perch, I notice an endless stream of runners who are trying to get in their exercise before the heat of the day becomes too much for them. At last count, I saw about 12 of them running by this morning. What has always bothered me about runners is that they all look so freakin’ miserable. Poster Children for Physical Fitness? I think not!

Think back, have you ever seen a runner who actually looked like she was having a good time? To me, they all look like they’re on the verge of a heart attack or they’re having some sort of physical breakdown. I’m reminded of Stephen King’s short story The Long Walk. It was a precursor to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Contestants walked as far as they possibly could and the winner received fame, fortune, and food for life. The losers are all shot when their pace falls below a certain speed. Lovely. And, like The Hunger Games, The Long Walk was being broadcast LIVE! Sounds like Must See TV in the Stephen King Universe! In my mind, the contestants in The Long Walk all look like your average runner. They all have that wild look in their eyes that seems to say, “Remind me again, why am I doing this?”

My wife and I are walkers or bike riders. When we are down here in Florida, we like to take a morning walk so we can enjoy the palm trees and the beach. We say, “Hi” to our fellow walkers heading in the other direction. It’s hard to say, “Hi” to a runner, who has his headphones on, and looks like he’s having an aneurysm. In my opinion, the only time you should be running is if you’re being chased by a 300-pound lineman, trying to get away from a natural disaster, or Jason is behind you with a chainsaw! When a runner passes away, I wonder if they bury him in his running clothes, with that pained look on his face. As if to say, “Hey, I’m dead! But don’t I look good?” No, you really don’t. To each, his own. I’m sure I don’t look like I’m having a ball on the elliptical at the gym either. So, run on runners. Just remember, Father Time catches up with all of us in the end.

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Reaching For The Sky

This week I want to discuss something I have been doing in earnest since I was fired from my job of almost 26 years. Setting and Achieving Goals. I came across this concept many years ago, and like Journaling it is something that I should have been doing all along.

To many of you, this may be an idea that you are already very familiar with. However, I had not run across this concept when I was young. It wasn’t until I read the classic “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz, that the notion of Goals, as a defined course of action, was presented to me.

All of us are familiar with the concept of setting and achieving goals, but not in such a structured format. I use the example of learning to tie your shoes. Every child wants to learn how to tie his or her shoes. Little Bobby defines the goal, tying his shoes, and he gets to work on achieving that goal. He learns a series of movements or actions steps he must take to achieve his goal. He pictures himself tying his shoes and with practice before he knows it, he has tied his shoes.

The previous example is a very simple one, but the principle is the same. To quote that great Jedi Philosopher Yoda, “Size matters not!”. Regardless of the size of your goal, the formula is the same. I am going to give you an overview of this concept, along with some resources where you can learn more.

“Psycho-Cybernetics” sounds very robotic, but what it means is “putting your mind to work on reaching your goals”. Much of the book is about improving your self-image, but I found the part about using your “goal-striving mechanism” or “success mechanism” to chart your course in life very interesting.

I am going to keep this overview very “high-level”. Listed below are the basics of goal setting and achievement and why each is so important. At the end of this article, I will list several resources that I have found helpful in getting me to set and achieve my goals. Let’s get started!

    1. Your first step is to “Define Your Goal”. What is it you want? You need to think hard about this. Do you want to make more money? How much do you want to make and how are you going to go about getting it?
    2. Is your goal in alignment with your Values? Sure, everyone wants more money, but most of us are not willing to rob a bank or knock over a liquor store to get it!
    3. What are the “Action Steps” you need to take to achieve your goal? In the example of tying your shoes, put the shoes on your feet (check), cross the laces (check), make the rabbit go into the hole, or make bunny ears, etc. (check). You get where I am going with this. Every step you take to achieve your goal should be written down, no matter how big or small.
    4. Start working towards your goal! You will find that breaking your goal down into small, manageable steps will make reaching it that much faster. You will also find just STARTING to work on the goal will often create a series of coincidences (some verging on the weird) that are necessary for you to achieve your goal. Picture Indiana Jones taking the “Leap of Faith” in The Last Crusade. You have to take that first step!

If you read my article about Journaling, in it I mentioned you should review the previous week’s entries. This will show any items that may have been skipped on a particular day. These items may have been Action Steps toward one of your goals that occurred to you while writing in your Journal, but they didn’t make it into your Goal Plan.

One crucial step in the Goal Process I left out is “Defining Your Dreams”. That is a whole separate subject, but it needs to be done before setting any goals. I left it out because it is a much larger concept and I wanted to keep this article about the mechanics of goal setting and achieving. However, any book or resource about Goals that don’t start with Dreams should be avoided!

The importance of goals cannot be under-estimated. I heard about a study, done many years ago, involving recent Harvard Graduates. They were all asked what goals they had for their life.

      • 84% said they had no specific goals, except to kick back and enjoy themselves over the summer.
      • 13% had goals for their future but they were not written down.
      • 3% of the students had written goals to chart their future.

Ten years later, the 13% of students who had unwritten goals were making twice as much as the 84% who had no goals. The 3% of students who had clear, written goals were making ten times as much as the other 97% put together! The 84% of students with no goals are working for students who had written or unwritten goals!

I have heard that you can take a homing pigeon, put it in a box, drive a thousand miles in any direction, open the box, and it will circle 3 times, then fly straight to its starting point or “Home”. The only one other “animal” on this planet with this “goal-striving mechanism” is the human being. Pretty cool, huh? However, it’s always good to have Google Maps.

The one thing I have NEVER been able to understand is why the Goal Process is not taught as a course of study in grade school, high school, or college. What other subject is more important in helping you get to where you want to go in life? For some reason, academia has decided that kids will “pick it up” as they go along with their studies. How? Have you ever been “educated” on the steps I have listed above? If we truly want our youth to excel in life, these lessons need to be taught and reinforced at every grade level!

I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Here are the resources I mentioned on the subject of Goals:

Maxwell Maltz: He was a Plastic Surgeon who realized that sometimes fixing someone’s face didn’t fix their life.

Brian Tracy: He has written many books on the subject of Goal Setting. His YouTube Channel is full of priceless info.

Napoleon Hill: He is an oldie but a goodie. He was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie to interview the top businessmen of the age and discover their secrets! The resulting book was Think and Grow Rich! The number one secret? Goals!

Book Authority put together a list of the Top 100 Goal Setting Books!

The software that I use to track my goals is ToDoList by AbstractSpoon. It can be downloaded for free at It is not a web-based product, but it is invaluable in organizing and keeping track of your goals! I recently discovered a great website that will help you track your goals and tasks online, or by using the handy dandy app, for FREE! Todoist (not the same as ToDoList) is an excellent way to log your Goals, Habits, and Tasks. It keeps you on target, and I highly recommend it!

If you like what you’re reading on TBPC, please leave a comment and share the website with your friends. Until next week, may your parachute fully deploy, and may you have a soft landing!


How To Keep On Top Of Your Health And Fitness Goals!

Hello, and welcome back to The Brown Parachute Club. This week I am going to talk about something that I came across while I was unemployed. I am referring to the amazing Health and Fitness website: SparkPeople.

After I had been laid off for about 8 months, I was feeling pretty low. Despite some initial positive interest, my small business startup was floundering. I needed to do something I could control when so much of my life was out of control. I decided to take action on losing weight.

After losing the weight, I felt great, but I was stumped on how to keep track of my weight, food intake, water, exercise, etc. It was crucial to stay on top of my weight after I lost it. This is where SparkPeople comes in. I initially discovered the app trying to find a way to keep track of all of the areas I just mentioned. SP is a Godsend!

The app and website help you to keep track of your weight, food intake, water intake, exercise, and much more. My only complaint about the website is that it is geared mostly toward women. However, that doesn’t mean that men won’t benefit from the website. Far from it!

In addition to keeping track of all of your health and fitness stats, SP has a huge library of articles and videos on just about every health and fitness subject you can imagine. You can also use SP to track your exercise goals and it can sync with many fitness trackers like Fitbit.

On the front page of the website, you will log all of your daily food and exercise information, plus keep track of your goals. You can also create groups to make it easier to track your food and exercise. Below that is the Challenges area. There are several personal challenges that you can sign up for, from Taming Your Sweet Tooth to the New Member Challenge. Most of the challenges run between 21 and 30 days and are a great way to keep yourself motivated and accountable during your journey.

In addition to the Trackers and Challenges, the front page also has a Community section. In this area, you can post your fitness journey and get support and feedback from people who are all on the same fitness road as you!

The best thing about SP is that most of the content on this website is FREE! You do have to sign up and get a login and password, but there is no fee and they don’t need your credit card on file! There is a paid option that is very affordable. It will allow you to use the website without ads, which is a major consideration since the website is very ad-heavy.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to all that SP already does, there are healthy recipes as well! There are also more apps! One is for recipes (SparkRecipes) and the other breaks down the nutritional values of all the fruits and vegetables that you’ll be eating (Perfect Produce). All of the apps are available on Google Play. Just type in SparkPeople in the search box.

I only wish that I had discovered SP BEFORE losing my weight. It would have made the whole process so much easier. I am probably going to ride out the holidays at my current weight, but after New Years’, I plan on putting together a Challenge that gets me down to around 220. I should be able to use SP to help me get there and stabilize my weight in the 215-225 range.

In the jumbled chaos that makes up the Internet, once and a while, you find a diamond in the rough. That diamond is SparkPeople. I have already shared the site with all of my Friends on Facebook. This article will hopefully let more people know about the website, apps, and how great they are at helping you live a healthier lifestyle!

If you like what you’re reading on TBPC, please leave a comment and share the website with your friends. Until next week, may your parachute fully deploy, and may you have a soft landing!