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June 11, 2022

sweet dreams

8:57 am - Posted by Gregg

I have a childhood memory of sitting in a circle with other kids my age, each taking turns stating what we wanted to be when we grew up. When it was finally my turn, I blurted out, “Movie star,” which was greeted with guffaws, snarky remarks, and even the supervising teacher suggesting I, “Rethink that.”

Let me save you the trouble of Googling my name. I am not a movie star. Although I do work behind-the-scenes in show business as a writer and producer. But my path to a career I love didn’t come from rethinking wanting to be a performer. At the time I enthusiastically shared my goal, that’s what I really wanted to be. And I was even working toward it by appearing in school and community theatre productions. For an introverted, extremely overweight child living on a military base, this was a fairly major achievement. And yet, anytime I shared my goals as they related to Hollywood, I was quickly dismissed. Even by my parents.

Why do we sometimes disparage childhood dreams? Do we think we’re doing children a favor by cautioning them to be more realistic? Why not greet whatever aspiration they have with, “Tell me more about that,” which can inspire them to explore the idea logically?

Encouraging children to imagine their futures without boundaries doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to have their aspirations crushed. Sure, there are going to be challenges, distractions, and detours along the way. But this will be as true for someone who wants to be a mechanic as it will be for someone who wants to see their name in lights. Just as it will be true for any life goal—whether it has to do with career, relationships, or something else entirely. To limit a child’s capacity to dream can potentially stunt their ability to imagine or even to think cognitively (i.e. “How do I get to there from here?”).

Because I still shudder at the memory of kids making fun of my career goal and the teacher allowing it, I decided that along with the TV shows, movies, and occasional books I write, I would add a children’s book to the mix. Biron The Bee Who Couldn’t specifically speaks to a child’s ability to dream big with a message that aspirations should never be discouraged (not even by our own selves).

Setting limits in life is never very productive. Dreaming is being. And sure, there will always be surprises along the way—twists and turns we didn’t see coming.

One such adulthood “dream” of mine turned out differently when writing my movie A Heavenly Christmas. While working on the script, I imagined the role of Pearl, a sassy guardian angel, being portrayed by actor Megan Mullally, who played the role of Karen on Will & Grace. Many would consider that to be a far reach since I was writing the movie for Hallmark Channel, which didn’t usually feature stars of that caliber in their movies. Imagine my surprise when my casting idea took a turn and Shirley MacLaine ended up playing the part. She even told interviewers that she felt like the role of Pearl was written for her. As you now know, it wasn’t. But the result of my dream casting, although not specifically realized, ended up being even better than what I imagined. Who’s to say the realization of someone very talented appearing in the movie didn’t start with what many would have considered unrealistic aspirations?

And lest anyone reading this think I’m writing about magical thinking or manifestation. I’m simply referring to holding onto hope that exciting life events lie ahead for each of us. So, while we can be more cognizant of encouraging the children in our lives to always dream big and never set limits on themselves or their life goals, perhaps we might do the same for ourselves. The New York Times recently published an article touting the virtues of embracing more anticipation in life (chronicling how looking forward to something can be almost as good as experiencing it).

As a helpful teacher (who happens to be a hummingbird) reminds the lead character (a sprightly bee who doesn’t want to make honey) in my children’s book, “There will always be others flitting about, who dismiss dreams or sow seeds of bee-doubt. But having bee-dreams is bee-fabulous because, thinking outside the hive creates the most buzz.”

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December 11, 2021

Not-So-Secret Santa

10:40 am - Posted by Gregg

As a young child growing up on overseas military bases, I never had the same Christmas experience as my homeland counterparts. There was no department store Santa to sit on the lap of. No shopping mall to peruse. No American toy store with a big window display to inspire visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.

We did, however, have the Sears and JCPenney catalogs, which my sister and I would thumb through in exhaustive fashion to make a list for Santa’s elves. We were even kind enough to include page and item numbers on our lists, assuming that the North Pole subscribed to the same catalogs we did.

The joy of those makeshift Christmas lists infuses my psyche to this day. And friends who know me well are surprised I love the holiday season as much as I do. That’s because there was a dark side to my specific military base life that included severe physical and mental abuse from my sister’s and my unwell parents. But the love of giving and sharing glad tidings has become a part of who I am and has even resulted in my writing one of Hallmark Channel’s highest-rated movies to date.

These days, I do my best to impart the magic of the holidays beyond December. I’ve found this to be very necessary during recent years as our society has been plagued not only by political divisions but also by the seemingly endless ways that the Coronavirus is affecting life as we know it. Suddenly we aren’t able to extend generosity to our fellow man (or woman) as easily as we used to.

Thus, about a year and a half ago, I decided I was going to be a Secret Santa all year long. And this edict was quite simple to carry out. Anytime I would go to our local farmers market, I would pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers and lay them on one of my immediate neighbors’ porches (without a note, an explanation, or any specific occasion).

I would try and be as sly about this as possible (not so easy in an age of Ring cameras and video recording doorbells). But often, I would be able to sneak by, drop off the flowers, and then peek out my own window until the flowers were eventually discovered by whomever I’d left them for.

I must admit it wasn’t long before I started receiving pictures via text messages from these neighbors—showing off their newly acquired flowers in a vase or somehow on display in their homes. I’d been found out. But being discovered hasn’t stopped me from performing this random act of kindness often.

For me, fresh flowers are a lovely way to let people know they’re appreciated—and perhaps even a way to even turn a frown upside-down. Because these flowers are from local farmers, they aren’t expensive. And they arrive with no frills (or even baby’s breath). But they do herald a reminder that life can be beautiful no matter what any of us might be facing.

One time I placed sunflowers on a particular neighbor’s porch. They’d recently lost their precious golden retriever, Sunny, and were in deep mourning (all on top of other stresses, as one of them is an essential worker). Upon receiving the sunflowers, they created a little shrine to their wonderful companion—placing the flowers at the center of it and declaring them to be Sunny-flowers. They sent me pictures of the flowers daily. And in one subsequent shot, I noticed that a small photograph of my family and I had been added to the shrine.

Out of despair came hope. Out of hope came reverence. Out of reverence came joy. And suddenly two households that were respectfully keeping their distance because of the Coronavirus, found themselves forever connected in a way they hadn’t been even when hugs were easier to distribute. All from a random act of kindness that helped hearts grow three sizes that day. (Forgive me… Christmas addict here, remember?)

Perhaps there’s a way that you can add a little joy to someone’s life who’s not expecting it. Even if you don’t have any funds to spare, you could create a homemade greeting card, write a poem, or even bake some cookies that someone nearby might not be expecting. Being surprised can awaken the childlike wonder—and hope—that’s still alive in all of us. Sometimes we just have to be reminded they’re there.

Random acts of kindness don’t have to take a lot of time. Nor do they have to take a lot of money, or be performed only in December. All that’s required is a little thought—one that just might turn into Christmas magic. Perhaps the kind that will help mend a broken heart and last well into the new year.

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8:50 am - Posted by Gregg

We hear a lot these days about “Fight or flight,” a concept credited to American physiologist Walter Cannon, and described as an internal response to the perception of a potentially harmful event. While this reaction to stress was perhaps useful during days when Neanderthals needed to quickly assess whether to flee from oncoming peril, its overuse in modern society can sometimes result in self-harm when we’re misperceiving a happening as a threat that could endanger our lives. For those of us who are adult survivors of child abuse, which includes me, this can be even more true.

There was a time in my life when I relied on my internal fight or flight response to survive. I didn’t describe it like this at the time. I was very young and acting purely on instinct. But there were many occasions that my and my younger sister’s lives were in literal danger, and I had to react quickly and succinctly to stave off what could have been very grave results.

But that was then. This is now. And I have come to learn that my internal panic button (or fight or flight response) gets “hit” all too often—even sometimes when reacting to seemingly mundane situations. This has led to what’s been perceived as overreactions on my part that have resulted in the loss of a friendship or a professional setback. Yes, stuff happens that we don’t like. But we’re not always in severe jeopardy. This thought-out assessment isn’t always available to those of us who, as young children, were put into dangerous situations that could have resulted in real harm if we couldn’t somehow navigate our way out of them.

Recently, a friend of mine who also happens to be an adult survivor of child abuse was notified that a meeting had been scheduled between her and the head of her department at the end of the day, on the last day of the month. My friend was sure this equated to her being fired. She couldn’t imagine why. But she just knew that meeting with her department head with this kind of timing spelled “Clean out your desk and don’t show up for work tomorrow.”

Despite being a savvy individual, my friend panicked—even as I and others tried to help her to be present and breathe through the situation. In other words, we were encouraging her to not overreact. Well, she didn’t want our encouragement. Aside from logging onto LinkedIn and sending out a few resumes, she also began to belittle her company and her department head. My friend became ugly in her discourse and suddenly everything was about getting revenge on this organization that was taking her for granted and unceremoniously dumping her.

Cut to the meeting, when my friend was told by the department head that her direct supervisors knew how hard she (my friend) was working and wanted to know if she needed any additional staff. They were so impressed and happy with her output, they wanted to do anything they could to make her position with the company more satisfying.

No dumping. No contempt. No taking my friend for granted. Yet her internal panic button (or fight or flight response) had indicated otherwise. In this case, she hadn’t verbalized her anger to her supervisors before the meeting. And she hadn’t enacted any of her revenge tactics on the company—but she had certainly planned them out. And while there was no harm done to her or her career in the long run, the mental state she was in for the days leading up to the meeting was very detrimental to her, both mentally and physically, in regard to stress on her body.

As I coached my friend through this situation, I recognized myself in many of her actions. As children being raised under extremely abusive conditions, we learned we could rely only on ourselves (often after seeking help from others). I remember there was a time when I was younger that I called the police to report my extremely abusive parents and ask for help. Not only didn’t the authorities believe me and refuse to intercede, but when I hung up the phone, I discovered my mother lurking nearby, fuming over what she had just heard. This memory gives me chills to this day. And reminds me why my own fight or flight instinct remains so prevalent.

But that doesn’t mean I should give in to it. This instinct can confuse us, lie to us, and even cause us to perform actions that result in us harming ourselves, friendships, family, career, or even our own health. Never has the need to be present and not necessarily respond in the way our initial impulses tell us to been more necessary.

calmer and more accepting mind can create better solutions. And sometimes solutions aren’t even warranted as in the case of my friend who thought her career was over when the exact opposite was the case.

A first step can be recognizing when we’re hitting our own internal panic buttons too frequently. Our initial reactions aren’t always the most reliable. Just being aware that this might be a pattern is a beautiful first step. And this can be done without shaming ourselves for using an internal instinct that perhaps saved our lives long ago. Compassion for ourselves is as mandatory as not reacting to perceived obstacles quite so quickly. Only then can we begin to truly assess a situation and what might be done to resolve it.

Photo Credit: Anna Tarazevich

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March 23, 2020

Self Quarantining 101

11:19 am - Posted by Gregg

For years I’ve been belaboring the negative side effects of a society that’s glued to its phones and the perils of social media distracting us from genuine human interaction. Although the online arena has opened up a whole new world (the ability to research something in a split second, locate long lost friends or do something as trivial as see how the captain of our high school football team has aged in comparison to ourselves), it’s also created a lot of virtual “single-lane highways,” which have encouraged many of us to narrow our tolerance of people who we might deem as different.

The ugly side effects of being more sole focused have been pervasive in recent years and something I’ve worked hard to overcome—both personally and for others who are open to breaking out of these virtual self-imposed prisons that limit free (and often kind) thought.

And now to add to our solace-addicted society comes the coronavirus and the need to self-isolate (and/or quarantine depending on which hashtags float your boat). Social distancing is necessary and will hopefully help us contain this potentially out of control pandemic. But we need to also pay attention to the side effects of having to shelter in place. To close ourselves off even more from others (extended family, friends and even strangers on the street) has the potential to further harm our society and how we treat one another as a whole. Not to mention how we treat ourselves.

What’s perhaps even worse about this international crisis is that there is no immediate end in sight. We continue to get different messages based on the latest information. Some of it is valid. Much of it is guesswork. Never has “Wait and see” taken on such prominence.

The good news is that there are some helpful tactics we can take on in order to help avoid some of the prolonged side effects of this mandatory alone time.

For starters, everyone can instill a little peace of mind into their daily lives. If you don’t have a meditation practice, now’s a great time to begin one. There are plenty of apps that can lead us through different guided meditations of our choosing. Many offer the ability to choose a time length and even a subject matter. We can also simply sit down, close our eyes and take deep breaths—thinking “in” as we breathe in, and “out” as we breathe out. A gentle pause between the ‘in’ and ‘out’ breaths will add even more to the experience.

When our brains and our breathing get into sync, our minds calm and we can approach life with a little more thoughtfulness and presence. I’d even encourage you to practice meditation with everyone you’re quarantined with. Even young children get the concept. They might think of it as more of a game (can they be quiet long enough to participate?)—but they can still reap the rewards of a little self-imposed silence. There’s also a free resource being offered by Eckhart Tolle that you can click to for inspiration; as well as Well Being and Healing in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic video you can watch from Deepak Chopra.

Another fun and centering activity for everyone (young and old) is to color in coloring books together. Amazon and other online resources offer coloring books for every interest. There are car coloring books for gearheads. Dinosaur coloring books for explorers. Unicorn coloring books for dreamers, snarky coloring books for adults and even Christmas coloring books for yours truly (I admit it, I’m a Christmas addict every day of the year). You can add a giant box of crayons, which you can place at the center of a dining table. Then everyone in your household can choose a page of their favorite coloring book and create their own masterwork. (I suggest everyone sign and date their works of art as well.)

This simple practice of “creating” while spending time together can be spirit building—even if no one feels the need to talk during the coloring fest. Although certainly there can be a groan or two offered in regard to trying to “Color within the lines.”

People can even use FaceTime on their phones to have coloring book parties with long distance relatives (or even neighbors across the street). You could even put together a coloring book and crayon gift package through an online vendor to send to your favorite people across town or across the country. Trust me when I assure you that even those who participate by rolling their eyes will probably enjoy this ritual (a ritual that can be done daily).

Another fun “at home adventure” for the family could be to celebrate Christmas all over again. Pull out the decorations, the fake trees, the tangled up lights and turn your living room into a magical winter wonderland. (Who couldn’t use a little extra sparkle right about now?)

And there’s never been a better time for cleaning out closets and/or organizing (and digitizing) old photographs and videotapes.

For people who live alone, now could be a great time to foster or adopt a pet. You can also have virtual get-togethers with friends near and far via FaceTime. (Virtual charades, anyone?)

Last but not least, I encourage all of us to keep a journal that lists what we look forward to doing once we can “return to normal.” Normal being the keyword. Encourage kids, friends and other family members to do this as well. Maybe you’ll list a goal of joining a bowling league. Or auditioning for a community theatre troupe. Or eating hot dogs from a kiosk at the zoo. Or even surprising a stranger behind you in line by paying for their drink order at a coffee shop.

Whatever it is, make a list of the simple pleasures we once took for granted and look forward to partaking in again. Don’t be sad about the fact that most of these activities are on hold. Be joyful that we could partake of these pleasures very recently and that, in time, we can enjoy them again. Perhaps with more gratitude and joy than we did in the past.

It’s up to us as a society to preserve a way of life that celebrate strangers participating in community activities. To see a movie together. To stand in line with one another at a grocery store without judging one another. And to pass a stranger on the street and offer a smile.

Or even—and just go with me here—start a conversation and invite them to your next kitchen table coloring book party.

Image Source: CNN

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February 19, 2020

Guest Post: Food Freedom

12:10 pm - Posted by Gregg

Guest Post by Lisa Goldberg, Certified Dietician & Nutrition Specialist

How are your 2020 new year resolutions going? Sadly, most people give up on their weight loss resolutions by mid-February. Only a month and a half into the New Year!

Has this happened to you? You start off motivated and ready to go and then slowly lose steam. And even worse, you’re exasperated from trying to figure out why this keeps happening. Then self-doubt begins to creep back in and you wonder why you just can’t stay the course.

Maybe you chose a plan that wasn’t sustainable for the long term or you didn’t have anyone keeping you accountable. What I’ve found is that the most people that want to make a change and fail over and over, never address the crucial piece to the puzzle: Changing the habits, behaviors and mindset that got you to be overweight in the first place.

Imagine what it would feel like to:

  • Feel confident and in control of your body and food choices
  • Break the habit of emotional eating, overeating or bingeing for good
  • Have more energy to spend on the things that matter most to you in your life instead of obsessing about food
  • Stop self-sabotaging your weight loss efforts time after time
  • Feel proud of yourself instead of constantly beating yourself up about not eating ‘perfectly’.

To demonstrate how readers of the Just Stop Eating So Much! blog can get there, I’ve created a 5-day challenge called Master Your Mindset for Lasting Food Freedom, which begins on Thursday, February 27th. If food, weight and dieting is a struggle for you, click here to take a health step towards real food freedom.

About the Guest Blogger: 
Lisa Goldberg
 is a nutritionist with a Masters degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. In addition, her certifications and Licenses include: Certified Nutrition Specialist, Certified Dietician/Nutritionist licensed by New York State, Certified in Adult Weight Management by the ADA. Lisa is also a personal trainer certified by the American Counsel on Exercise since 1994. She was the Nutritionist at the New York Stock Exchange from 2003-2007 and for 10 years served as the nutritionist to traders on Wall Street. Anyone who would like to discuss their weight loss goals with Lisa can schedule a free 30-minute weight loss consultation with her by clicking here. (Simply let Lisa know you found out about her on the Just Stop! blog.)

A Note from Gregg:
As some of you Just Stoppers might remember, I have been lucky enough to be a guest in nutrition rockstar Lisa Goldberg’s recent weight loss summits not once, but several times. I love Lisa’s total approach to wellness, which not only includes getting to a healthy weight, but also enjoying life and learning to love and appreciate yourself in the process. Any Just Stopper who wants to find out more information (without any obligation), can click here to schedule a free 30-minute Discovery Session with Lisa herself to find out more about the upcoming Master Your Mindset for Lasting Food Freedom Lisa writes about above.

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