Navigating with purpose

James E. Mattson | 07/17/2015

Even if it requires recalculation from time to time, live intentionally. 

Situated as it is in the Sonoran Desert of the American Southwest and northwestern Mexico—the only region in the world where saguaro cacti grow naturally—the Valley of the Sun, home to Phoenix, Arizona, USA, is knownfor its dry heat. The average high in December, the coldest month, is 67 degrees Fahrenheit and, this time of year, 106. If you clicked on the foregoing hyperlink, you may have noticed that the average annual snowfall is represented by a hyphen, meaning zero, zip, zilch, nada.
JEM_ID_embed_SFWDespite the valley’s dearth of white and fluffy precipitation, my wife, Mary Ellen, and I have found that it’s a great place to cross-country ski. Almost every weekday morning, we go skiing together, accompanied by a 46-minute-long iTunes playlist that includes “Don’t Fence Me In,” by Willie Nelson; “There Is No Arizona,” by Jamie O’Neal; and “Mama’s Table,” by the Oak Ridge Boys. We don’t change the music, because the songs tell us how far we’ve traveled. When the music ends, the skiing stops, and we dismount our NordicTrack Classic Pro Skiers. Perhaps I should have mentioned that we do our skiing on cross-country simulators and that the term “cross country” may be a stretch, because the machines' squared-off ski tips never leave the confines of the spare bedroom that serves as our exercise room.
When we purchased our machines in the previous century, they weren’t advertised as classic. That nomenclature has come with time, as it has for Mary Ellen and me. The term is not without technical merit, however, in that classic cross-country skiing is done in a prepared track, as opposed to Nordic skiing done skating style. These skiers, constructed of oak, definitely have prepared tracks. If we tried to ski skate-style with these machines, we’d risk our feet getting stuck in the patented flywheel, our arms becoming entangled in the arm exerciser ropes, and our ears burning as Nordic ancestors disapprovingly declare, “Uff-da!” Fortunately, vinyl-covered abdominal pads provide helpful support while gently cradling our rock-hard abs.
JEM_49_article1_embed_SFWAlthough we’ve had these machines for years, we have not always been so disciplined in their use. As with much exercise equipment, these skiers have sometimes served as places to hang clothes and other things, but, for the past six years or so, they have been part of our daily regimen. Besides their cardiovascular benefits, they contribute significantly to mental alertness, energy, and weight loss. Weight loss isn’t the primary benefit, but it is an important secondary one.
Aided by a free calorie-counting app available at, Mary Ellen has lost 60 pounds in the past 18 months, her “daily 46” on the skier helping her stick to her monthly weight-loss goals. (We started at 20 minutes and gradually increased to the present 46.) By burning calories through exercise, she earns more calories to spend. Her self-discipline hasn’t hurt me any, either. We exercise more faithfully, eat less at restaurants by taking portions home, and avoid some foods we used to eat occasionally but now don’t eat at all, so my weight has also dropped some. (It’s easier for me to lose weight than it is for Mary Ellen.) In addition to Nordic skiing in a bedroom, we also earn calories by hiking several miles in San Tan Mountain Regional Park, a diverse desert environment just a few miles from our home, and by going on shorter jaunts with Tofu, our people-loving, exercise-loving Shih-Tzu. If we want to meet neighbors, we take Tofu, our goodwill ambassador. Everyone who sees him smiles. Well, almost everyone.
JEM_49_article2_embed_SFWMany people think counting calories is the worst way to go, and we’re amused by the unenthusiastic response Mary Ellen gets when she tells people how she has lost so much weight. But for her, counting calories has been the best approach. She enjoys the daily feedback she gets from the Web-based program, the challenge of finding the right food with a moderate number of calories, and, of course, weighing in once a month to check her progress—which, most of the time, has been the predicted monthly four-pound loss she set initially as a short-term goal to reach her long-term objective. When she sometimes comes up a little short on her short-term monthly goal, she doesn’t lose heart. Like the man in our vehicle’s GPS navigator who says “Recalculate” when he thinks we should have taken a different route, she doesn’t give up. The question isn’t if she will reach her destination but when. The Garmin man never says, “Fuhgeddaboudit!”
Mary Ellen’s weight gain occurred over a significant period of time, despite overall moderation in her diet. For example, since 1995, we have avoided soda, except on very rare occasions. Before that, we purchased numerous two-liter bottles of soda weekly—pop, as it’s known in the Upper Midwest of the United States. Going cold turkey on carbonated beverages didn’t hurt us—health-wise—but it didn’t result in significant weight loss, either. Another time, we went on a diet that avoided certain combinations of foods, and it worked. We lost weight, but, after a while, depriving ourselves of foods we enjoyed that were nutritious but not on the approved list because of their glycemic index became old, and, eventually, the plan was abandoned.
Mary Ellen’s weight loss began when, prompted by a photo of herself that she didn’t like, she made a decision and took steps to follow through on it. In other words, her change in direction was intentional. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I don’t think it’s paved at all, and if it is, it’s probably paved with neglect. They also say, “Aim for nothing, and you’ll hit it every time.” Now, that one makes sense to me. Mary Ellen set a goal, aimed for it, and it won’t be long before she achieves it. She has done an outstanding job at following through on her decision, and I’m very proud of her.
Someone else who believes in intentional living is RNL blogger Cynthia “Cindy” Clark, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN. She recently made a major career change that she tells about in the latest post to her blog, “Musing of the great blue.” She writes: “Some say the decision to pursue the next leg of my professional journey was swift. But those in the know are keenly aware that I was methodical and purposeful, carefully and strategically considering each aspect of my career change.” Like Mary Ellen, Cindy recognized her need for change and intentionally established goals and took steps to achieve them. I hope you take time to read “The next great adventure.” 
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James E. Mattson is editor of Reflections on Nursing Leadership.
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