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14

Small Steps Lead to Big Changes

Alexandra Williams, MA

By now, you probably know our mantra of “Small Steps lead to Big Changes” if you’ve read our past posts or attended any of our conference presentations. This phrase applies to more than exercise, of course. Any part of your life that you want to change can probably adhere to this principle of incremental steps.

Painted logs under a cloudy skyWe talked about the cognitive benefits of change in Train Your Brain. We even discussed how to make a chart for getting from A to Z, or 0 to 10, or from here to there (okay, Seuss lovers, what book is that from?) – however you want to put it.

Today I am going to talk about how small steps led me to possibly making more money. Yup, financial benefits come from change. *rubs checkbook between fingers*

I love exercise, as it does so much for me. But (contrary to what some people believe) exercise isn’t my whole life. Though I’ve never considered myself creative, I do like to bake, write and travel. But never have I been able to take a good picture. The whole concept of photography totally overwhelmed me, just as I’m sure it’s overwhelming for some of you to consider adding movement to your life.

paraglider at the beachBut I went from barely understanding my iPhone camera to becoming a pro photographer, as of today. All by incremental steps and with encouragement. Essentially, I asked for a camera for my birthday, signed up for classes at the community college, did the homework, practiced and practiced, asked for and took advice to improve, then submitted my photos to a stockhouse that licenses out the rights for usage, and today I got accepted. I may never sell a single photo (I will work at it, though), but I have become competent, and confident that I can and will improve and succeed. The steps I took to learn photography aren’t of interest; my mental process is what might resonate with you.

See if you’ve ever had similar thoughts, substituting movement for photography.

“I want to become a photographer, but I have no idea where to start”
“I’ll ask for a camera for my birthday because then I’ll HAVE to do something”
“Okay, now that I have a camera, I at least should read the manual”
”Hm, this is intimidating, and I want to do it right, without wrecking my camera”
“I signed up for a class, so that I can learn to do it right, AND because now I’ll have to go since I paid”
“Aargh, this is so confusing. I just KNOW that everyone here knows more than I do”
“Wow, the teacher noticed how hard I’m working. That’s cool”
“Another student in class asked me for help today. Haha. She must think I know something”
“Now that I’ve taken my camera with me nearly every day, and taken thousands of pictures, I’m starting to understand a bit more”
“The teacher encouraged me (okay, and everyone else) to submit my photos to a stockhouse that licenses photos for MONEY. I just might try. The worst is that they’ll say no”
“I submitted my photos, and they were all accepted on the very first try. I can stop feeling like a poseur. Poseurs don’t get accepted to a professional stockhouse”
“I feel really happy with myself. I had a goal and I did it. Time for a new goal – learn nighttime photography”

Mussel on the sandDoes this process sound familiar? Even me, with all my confidence, had so many doubts. But I wanted to be successful badly enough to keep at it and risk being… what? The same as I was? Worse? The only way to be worse was if I had berated myself for not trying. It’s not like I would have become a worse photographer after trying. I might have just had no talent for it. But I would have still been successful because I tried instead of dithering (I just like to say “dithering.” Probably from an overdose of BBC shows).

Sunset reflected off a rockThese four photos are the ones I submitted as my test for approval at Alamy Photo Stockhouse. The pictures have things I could have done better, and things I did well. The main thing is that I did them. Me, a non-photographer. Nope, me, a professional photographer.

Go out there and take steps toward your goals. The feeling when you do is really tremendous. It feels so good to be happy. Even if I never make more than enough money for a cup of vanilla chai, I still get to call myself a pro. So worth every crappy photo I took (and will continue to take) on my journey.

By the way, if you’re in the U.S. you might like to enter our giveaway for Cold-EEZE natural cold remedies. They have six different types, and you might win one of the 5 sets they’re offering.
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31

Actively Aging with People Your Own Age

Alexandra Williams, MA

Last weekend’s BAM – Bloggers at Midlife conference – was the first time I’ve been around a large group of people my same age since my ten-year high school reunion in the 80s. I enjoy being with people of all ages, yet there is something to be said for spending time with people who have similar concerns, interests, cultural references, histories, fears and joys.

Photo credit to Lori Moreno

Photo credit to Lori Moreno

According to research by the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy, “being part of a cohort – a tight-knit, reliable, common-purpose group – is very important in different ways.” Not only were we tight-knit, we were on a mission to squish as many people as possible onto a couch. Sort of like a slumber party, but with a reasonable amount of sleep.

Meaning
As humans, we strive to create meaning in our lives, which we do by growing, learning and giving. We do these things best when we have connections. Connections with women who both support and challenge me helps me create meaning, especially when I believe those women understand me, or at least have the framework to share a language that leads to understanding.

Kymberly's ABC class students. Photo by Dorothy Salvatori

Kymberly’s ABC class students. Photo by Dorothy Salvatori

Fun
Okay, that’s all well and good and counselor-ish, but just like exercise, if it’s not fun, we aren’t going to do it. Speaking of which, our exercise classes for BAM were at 7 a.m. which we discovered was a bit out of the majority of the attendees’ comfort time zone. So now we have a conundrum to solve – how to help midlife women realize that you gain energy for a long day by getting up early to work out. In any case, Kymberly’s Abs, Balance, Core class and my Drums Alive workout were really fun for all who were there, as evidenced by these comments from Candace Karu of Cabot Cheese and Rebecca Olkowski.

picture of Alexandra with drumsticks

We didn’t actually do Drums Alive on the Nissan; we used chairs.

Stories
As I’ve aged, I’ve discovered that I’m an outgoing introvert, or maybe an extrovert who likes a lot of “listening and observing” time. While teaching or presenting (we also gave a talk about media kits for bloggers) I am very animated and sociable, yet found that much of my “people enjoyment” came from listening to others’ stories. Are you more of a talker or a listener? I found it extremely satisfying to hear the stories my friends (which was everyone at the conference) shared – stories of loss, powerlessness, poverty, struggle, heartbreak, exhilaration, achievement and reinvention. These stories enabled me to feel part of the “girl gang” as we all have histories that got us to where we are now.

The “In” Group
Do you ever feel like you are on the outside looking at those on the inside? I do sometimes, especially at my job at the university, where every year I’m a year older and the students are still 20. My heart and plans and thoughts and desires all feel young to me, yet sometimes my body reminds me that I’m in my 50s. Sometimes my two boys make me feel old, simply because they are now grown up. I don’t want to be young again, yet certainly don’t see myself as old either. Being around a hundred women my age automatically put me into the “in” group. We were ALL good-looking and effervescent; fashionable and interesting. No-one was dismissed; there was no “outsiders” group. Doesn’t that sound like Friend Utopia?

pic of bowling at Pinewood SocialFriendship
Do you have a good balance of new and long-term friends? As I age, I find it important to make new friends as well as relishing my friendships that go as far back as a half-century. After the conference was over, Kymberly and I were taken on a Nashville sightseeing adventure by good friends we made via social media over the past few years – Kathy of Live the Fine Life, and Brenda (a single redhead from Alabama; hint to single guys). When I was young, I just accepted that everyone I met was my friend. As I aged, that changed, yet I still know when someone JUST IS my friend. I like the freedom age gives me to choose my friends based on nothing more than that I like them.

Nashville CapitolTravel
On that note, you get to see some pictures of downtown Nashville, courtesy of my desire to improve my photography skills. I don’t know if the BAM conference will be in Nashville in 2016, but I do know Nashville has lots to offer. I also know that I’ll be at the conference no matter where it’s held, because – Friends.

pic of Hats Boots sign in Nashvillepic of window at Union Hotel NashvilleUnion Hotel Nashville Lobbypicture of Hatch Printing, Nashvillemosaic entrance Betty Boots, Nashvillewarehouse with crooked windows Money
As Kathy Bates said in Fried Green Tomatoes, “Face it girls, I’m older and have more insurance.” In other words, we have money. And we’ll spend it with brands that acknowledge our existence. The sponsors of the inaugural Bloggers at Midlife conference deserve a shout-out for doing just that.
Support these brands:
Stouffer’s
Nissan
Collective Bias
Vibrant Nation
Cabot Cheese
Always Discreet
1010 Park Place
Albertini Int.

7

Get Smarter: Learn New Skills

Alexandra Williams, MA
pic from AARP convention

I am reimagining myself much smarter!

We just got back from the AARP Convention. You know, the one for your parents, not you. Yeah, well, I brought my fake I.D. so they let me in. My fake I.D. looks a lot like my twin much older sister.

AARP, Intel & the RealPad
The very first thing we did when we arrived was head to the press event announcing the unveiling of the RealPad, a tablet designed in conjunction with Intel for the those over 50 who are “technologically shy,” as one of the panelists defined it. Simple to use and fairly intuitive (and only $189), the RealPad is a bridge to technology. More on that in a minute.

While listening to the press conference, part of me was thinking, “Wow, what a great tool. So easy to use and understand.” Boomers and Older Adults have consistently said their three top desires for technology would be to connect with loved ones, shop, and maintain cognitive health, and this tablet will help do that. Yet another part of me was thinking, “So basic. The RealPad would never be something I’d buy, as I am not intimidated at all by my various devices.”

What I really should have thought was, “I am not intimidated by things I have already learned.”

Cogntive Health

We have written many posts about the cognitive benefits from exercise, including these three:
Exercise Can Train Your Brain
Spark Your Brain with Exercise
Exercise Your Right to a Better Brain 

Learning new tasks is also a well-known way to maintain cognitive health. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “by increasing the complexity of the environment, these activities may increase cognitive reserve. In general, there appears to be support for a positive association between cognitive activity and cognitive functioning in late life.”  By this standard, I now have a huge reserve of smartness awaiting me in old age. Want to know why? (there is only one right answer)

pic of Canon Rebel T3

My birthday camera from Samy’s Camera

 

Steps to a New Skill

For my birthday I asked for a DSLR camera as I want to take better photos for the blog. I have never used anything but a point-and-shoot, nor have I ever had a photo class. And I have zero artistic sense. But right after receiving the Canon Rebel T3 I signed up for a photography class at our local community college. A week late. So I had some catching up to do. Which meant this:

 

 

* Get home Saturday night from the convention, leaving one day to prep for the Monday class
* Read the camera manual (which turned out to be totally different from “understand the manual”)
* Learn the computerized college system for finding, reading, and downloading info
* Download the Adobe Lightroom program/ app
* Watch tutorial videos on how to use Lightroom and the Canon
* Search Google repeatedly for help, as I got stuck a lot
* Figure out how to use the camera (I had to get 2 other people involved for a few places where I got stuck, when even Google was too advanced in its explanations)
* Take photos
* Take a self-portrait (which meant learning to use my tripod and the camera timer)
* Upload photos from my camera to the computer, then to the photo app
* Follow the professor’s instructions for labeling and sending the selected portrait to her
* Send the photo in by the deadline (and do the assigned reading, which assumed I already did all the above)

picture with Canon Rebel T3

My first homework assignment – a self-portrait

That is a lot of f***ing steps. I would have quit if I hadn’t signed up (and paid) for the class, as it was overwhelming to have so much to learn in just one day. But I know that about myself, which is why I signed up for an in-person class instead of just buying an online tutorial that I’d never actually get around to. I felt exhausted after spending most of the day just trying to get up to the baseline required just to take, save, and send a photo. I also felt smarter. Because I did it.

pic of AARP's RealPad

The RealPad from AARP & Intel

 

Which brings me back to the RealPad. I now remember how daunting it can be to learn computer skills. Actually, I tried to quit setting up my Twitter account in 2010, but a friend wouldn’t let me. She held my hand (telephonically) until I figured it out. So if you’re intimidated by the computer (or know someone who is, as you obviously know how to read this blog post online), the RealPad could be a very happy solution, as it truly is ready to use right out of the box. You can learn about it by clicking on this ———–> link.

After feeling incompetent and frustrated for much of the day, I actually ended the day feeling quite proud and smart. And tired. My brain needs a nap. The rest of me needs to move after sitting at the computer for too long. So this post is now over.

9

Sleep Your Way to A Better Brain & Body

Alexandra Williams, MA and Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

The Tooth and Nothing But the Tooth!

Just as toast goes perfectly with jam, so does sleep go with total fitness. When you’re asleep, numerous good things happen to your mind and body (including the occasional visit from the tooth fairy)!

Memory & Learning:
One very important benefit of proper sleep is the help it gives you with learning and memory. Whether you’re 60 and trying to navigate the intricacies of Facebook (the fastest growing segment of Facebook users in the past 2 years has been females aged 48-64), or a 20 year old college student trying to study for an exam, getting some sleep after going through the material will help you master the information.

Time for a nap!

In a 2010 Harvard study, volunteers learned a complex maze. Some of them then took a 90 minute nap. The only people who increased their performance on a second attempt at the maze were those who dreamed about it during their naps. The researchers concluded that the brain was reactivating and reorganizing the recently learned material during the nap.

Cat nap or Car nap?

 

 

But let’s face it – few people have 90 minutes in the day for a nap. If we did, we’d probably just get the 8-9 hours (20 year olds need 9-10) of sleep that our bodies actually need each night. Good news – a German study found that a short, six-minute nap helped participants recall a list of 30 words they had memorized earlier.

How can he sleep through those stripes?

 

Weight Loss:
In our recent post about the 3 stealth saboteurs of weight loss, we mentioned how less than 6 hours of sleep can be correlated with weight gain. According to research from the University of Michigan, an extra hour of sleep each night can help you drop 14 pounds per year. Maybe because you are sleeping instead of snacking! Also, hormones are a tricky thing, and being awake so much can rev up your appetite! And in a study that just came out today (Oct. 25, 2012), a review of 15 years of research “indicate an effect of partial sleep deprivation on body weight management.” Partial sleep deprivation, an energy imbalance, and weight gain prevention and weight loss promotion are all linked! More than 35 percent of American adults are obese and more than 28 percent sleep less than six hours a night, and the study authors found these two to be correlated.

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.

Creativity:
The Harvard study also discovered that those whose naps were long enough to enter REM sleep did 40% better on a test of creativity than nappers who didn’t get any REM sleep and non-nappers. That REM sleep gave the brain time and the ability to work creatively on the problems that had been posed for the test.

So forget the caffeine and alcohol; forget the all-nighters; and forget whatever it is you forgot because you’re overtired! Acting like “an adult” is just making us overweight, grumpy and dull. Better to act like a kindergartener and take a nap!

Stay awake long enough for your twitchy finger to press the subscription buttons for our YouTube channel and blog. Follow us on Twitter: AlexandraFunFit and KymberlyFunFit. Please also follow us on Instagram: KymberlyFunFit and AlexandraFunFit. Or click on the icons in the right sidebar.

Photo credits:  Melody Campbell (Dream Tree),  modenadude (Man in Car),  marsmet551 (woman with alarm clock),  AntEater Theater (man in striped shirt)