Create a better future story by improving your interpersonal relationships

Many times through out my life, I have wanted better personal relationships with family and friends. At times, I have become very upset and frustrated with people near to me. This negative behavior doesn’t create more authentic and caring relationship with those I care most deeply about!

Recently, when upset and frustrated with someone near to me, I found myself guilty of finding fault with their attitude, or something they did or didn’t do, or something they said. Sometimes after getting very emotional or extremely sad and angry, I would replay their words and magnify the hurt in my mind. I would constantly believe the story (the lie) that was playing over and over again in my head. As the relational turmoil gained momentum, my mood would become more and more dismal. As my depressed feelings grew, my thoughts were dominated by more negativity as overgeneralization, “mental filter”, “all or nothing thinking”.

In overgeneralization, one arbitrarily concludes that one thing that happened to a person once will occur over and over again. The pain of rejection is generated almost entirely from overgeneralization. Or one uses a “Mental Filter” when one dwells on a negative detail in any situation and dwells on it exclusively, thus perceiving that the whole situation negatively. In “All-or-nothing thinking” one fears any type of mistake. This becomes basis for perfectionism resulting in seeing oneself as a complete loser. These are just a few of many possible distortions.

Often in extreme cases of emotional turmoil and frustration, I have turned to my friend and counselor, Jeff Teplin who shared with me that ruminating stories are usually distorted. He says all moods are created by our thoughts. He advises me to train myself to recognize the self-critical thoughts as they go through my mind. He also has referred me to a great book, Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns.

In this book, Burns shares some crucial steps. Whenever you are really upset, do the following.
1. Zero in on those negative thoughts and write them down.
2. Recognize cognitive distortions. Learn precisely how you are twisting things and blowing them out of proportion. (There are more than the three examples that I shared)
3. Remember your feelings result from the meaning you give to the event, not from the event itself.

Burns says, ” Every time you feel depressed about something, try to identify a corresponding negative thought you had just prior to and during the depression. Because these thoughts have actually created your bad mood, by learning to restructure them, you can change your mood.” My goal is to become better at this, identifying my negative thoughts. If I can do this, I can better control my moods and thus become a creator of better relationships. I will become more positive and will be spending less time dwelling on negativity and on my thought distortions. I am not there yet but I am creating better relationships with those closest to me as I self identify my negative distortions that I often play. Better relational future stories are worthy investments.

My walk in the woods has helped me clarify a way to improved relationships and thus to a better future story.

Building Future stories with Grandchildren

Vic and I continue our pursuit of an intentional life. One area of great importance is developing relationships with Grandchildren.
Having our 14 year old Granddaughter hiking with us on the AT trail, has been a great blessing and an opportunity to reflect on better practices to build better grandparent and grand child relationships.
Annica has been a great teacher, helping us to take life less seriously as making us laugh when she perches on limbs of tree like a leopard. Or when she talks about her wild hair as “lefty and righty”! Or when she asks Papa Choo Choo, “Is there absolutely anything she needs to do before getting into her sleeping bag for the night”. Or how she directs us to leap over rocks or tip toe quickly over rocks, or how to cross streams, she does so with such humor and again makes us laugh.
Her journey with us on the trail has given us time to share stories of historical significance. Things like what all our grandparents were like, what they did for a living and how they influenced us. Rich conversations that never happen in family gatherings with all the holiday festivities which is their usual time to visit.
On the flip side, she has shared stories about Focus Camp, their family vacations on Cape Cod, her special friendship with her cousin, Grace. She has shared how much she loves taking care of dogs in their family’s dog sitting service through as well as her love of homeschooling.
So as we have always prayed for meaningful relationships, this AT journey has been extra-ordinary in building a relationship with Annica. We have shared the importance of leading a purpose driven life and setting smart goals. We have heard about her new high school and her anxiety about beginning in a new school. We have had endless trail dialogs about setting goals and creating expectations for living. There is no substitute for quality time.
As we have reflected on creating better futures with our grandchildren, we developed some minimums that we deem important.
1. Share passions with your grandchildren and learn about theirs.
2. Follow minimum of one theme with each child.
3. Attend special events and memorialize if possible with pictures, cards, or Shutterfly type books.
4. Find time to reconnect in their routine. Make visits to their home, see their rooms, artwork, look at their school work. Let them teach you when possible. (Our grandchildren are iPhone experts and great teachers)
5. Send old fashioned letters with pictures.
6. Share reading a book.
7. Experience games, music, nature, fish, hike.
8. Keep it light, have fun, laugh often, smile, hug them often, and tell them how very special they are. They can’t hear this too much.
9. Have fun! Smile!
We know that building mutual significant relationships is our goal. We also know our ideas to building meaningful relationships will be dynamic and changing. Annica has taught us much. We would like your insights and ideas too. Please comment to this blog entry

The Power of Habits

Before leaving home, my friend, June Wolfe recommended reading Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, Why we do what we do in Life and Business which we listened to while hiking. Duhigg states that habits are the by product of cues or triggers, routines which are the physical, mental, and emotional behavior that follows a cue, and rewards are the positive stimuli that tells one’s brain that the habit worked well.
According to Duhig, Habits are more important than goals or willpower. By creating routines to a cue, we can profoundly change. A predetermined disruptive habit can create significant change in designated parts of life that then often filter in many other parts of life.
We have found that hiking on the AT requires finding habits that work and this has not been easy. After experimenting for a few months, we have developed some tested habits that have created the grit and endurance necessary to daily hike the Appalachia Trail.
First routine is train and get “right” equipment for hiking up and down hills. We unfortunately trained on the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina.
Second routine: Eat right! (50%carbs, 25% protein, 25% fats with a minimum of 3500 Calories to 4500 calories per day). This means on the trail, we eat ~1400calories for breakfast, 400-500 calories for a snack about 2 hours after breakfast, 1200-1300 calories for lunch, another 500 calories snack, 1200-1500 calories for supper and a before bedtime snack. And in towns, we eat an exceptionally large portions of food.
The third routine is get plenty of sleep. Most hikers try to get 10 to 12 hours of sleep and are in their sleeping bags by 8 pm (“hiker midnight”). Sleep is very important for tired muscles to allow muscles to repair overnight.
Fourth routine is take a complete “zero” day (a day we do not hike) every now and then to give mind and body a break from the rigor and concentration required to hike the AT. On a “zero” day we simply rest.
So we have routines that give us the capability and the needed energy to hike the AT. We have many cues as hunger, fatigue, or a complete relaxing day that drive our routines and motivate us. Our brains tell us our routines have worked and we feel rewarded and a sense of grand accomplishment!
For everyone, developing good habits will positively change ones life. By creating and choosing certain behaviors a head of time, willpower becomes a habit. Habits are powerful!

Dealing with adversity: Praying for fortitude and resolve.

As we have been hiking for more than 60 days, we have faced many trials on the AT, torrential rains, sub zero wind chills, falls, bruises, frost bite, sprained ankles, wet clothes, exhaustion and bugs. I have found that these trials test my very being and my very core. I turn to God in prayer for guidance. When trail adversity hits, I have learned to deal. I have learned that I have the fortitude and can rise above it with Gods help. It seem that these trials often have a simple solutions, rest, stretch, talk to other hikers, seek medical attention and I will come out of it. I have discovered that “coming out of the storm” that I am not the same person who walked in. The “storm’s and hardships” of the AT are all about about coming up with a solution, and realizing that I am ok.
But in the rigor of day to day life, I am not adept at finding solutions. Often multiple people are giving me conflicting advise, I become super discouraged and distraught. On the trail, my email failed. My usual Internet Technology support had changed and I was navigating on my own on turf that I barely understand and getting multiple advice from different providers. Frustration and inadequacy set in big time. I found I was not able to come up a solution like I could on the AT. I want to develop the same resolve that I have on the AT into my total life. So I am praying for fortitude and resolve that God will show me how to deal with all kinds of adversity graciously and patiently just like HE has done on the AT.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (KJV)
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

Discovering Flora on the oldest mountains in the world!

Is there anything more glorious than the flowers that appear in the spring of the year on majestic mountain tops? This week hiking over mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, we have been so touched by the beauty of spring flowers and the melodious sounds of the birds who sing joyously. The landscape of the southern Appalachians, the oldest mountains in the world, is rich in biodiversity, offering us an opportunity to discover flora not found anywhere else in the world. Trillium, violets, spring beauty’s. and redbuds herald the arrival of spring with their showy blooms. As the season progresses, budding wildflowers climb in elevation to the tops of the highest peaks. This progression provides one of the longest wildflower seasons in the country. We are experiencing the forests covered with flowering trillium, lady slippers, jack-in-the-pulpits, Dutchmen breeches, and wild ginger. Soon the mountain laurel, rhododendron which create arbors along most mountains will be blooming. This is a paradise of wildflowers galore and we are loving it. All good things come from God and His hand in nature displays His glory for all to see. We are truly seeing His glory.
Song of Solomon 2:12 “Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season for singing has come. The cooing of doves is heard in our land.”

It is harder, more rigorous, more rugged than expected!

Try as we do, we lag behind our granddaughter, Annica. We all start out ascending, she summits while Vic and I are still huffing and puffing. I think , ok descending a mountain, surely we can keep up but she lilts and sways over rocks and leaps over boulders while I cautiously place every step. The years have their way of slowing us down and making us more cautious. We can’t perform like we once did.

Of the thousands that hike the AT, only less than 30 wIll be over 65. We hope we are among this elite group . As of today, with approximately 205 miles completed, we have hiked to the highest point in the AT, Clingman’s Dome and are still putting one foot in front of the other up hill and down . We won’t ever be the fastest but we are doing the hike with fervor and perseverance. We pray we are amongst the ones who make it to Maine.

Are you ready to “CLIMB”?

To Hike the AT, plan to be prepared to hike up further and up more elevation than if you hiked to the top of Everest. Compared to trails in higher elevation mountain ranges, many falsely assume the AT to be relatively flat. In fact, over the course of the Appalachian Trail’s 2,189 miles, thru-hikers gain over 464,464 ft., or more than 89 miles. So climb we will!

Today CLIMB reminds Vic and me that we need to nurture ourselves to be able to care for others. In this context, CLIMB stands for
C- connecting with Christ every day
L-learn something new
I- invest in key relationships
M-move toward a vision
B-better my physical health
So out into the wilderness we go! Daily, we climb while each step remind us of our connection to our creator, while each day brings more and more learning experiences, while each discussion deepens our investments in each other and our granddaughter. And all the while, we are getting our daily exercise ascending and descending mountains on the AT. We are praying for discernment and wisdom to do God’s purposes for the remaining days of our life. So our AT journey is a CLIMB to greater vision and purpose. It is a climb to use our gifts and talents in ways that we cannot imagine at this time. All we know, is God is leading us!

The Best and the Worst so far

What are expected and unexpected joys of the Appalachia Trail?
1. Hiking with Annica and Vic
2. The AT Shelters allow for a quicker start in the morning and are a great choice when it storms.
3.The quirks of nature are abundant and leave us in awe.
4. Trail Magic (wonderful free meals) happens regularly by joyous people who love supporting the hikers. They delight in doing this almost as much as the hungry hikers.
What’s been our biggest challenge?
1. Hiking all day in the rain, getting drenched and then setting up a tent in the rain and having it rain all night! Misery!

Creating space and time

Sometimes one has to work really hard to create the time and space to remove oneself from day to day routines.  This takes the support of a lot of people. We are so grateful for the people that surround us and support us!

Our son Matthew is stepping up to the plate and really helping us in Milwaukee