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This article first appeared as “Five Traits of Great Lawyers” on April 20, 2018 at Attorney@Work. It has been adapted below to apply to all people, not just lawyers. You can see the original post here.

What makes a great person? Is it intelligence, good people skills, effective communication? Of course, we must have a certain level of intelligence and motivation, along with experience and opportunities. But the truth is, the traits that transform a good person into a great person may not be the ones you think.

Here are five traits that make a person stand above the rest. Cultivating these traits provides the opportunity to really understand others and life, and lead an effective life.

1. Compassion

Compassion is an emotional response whereby one perceives another’s problem and authentically, genuinely wants to help resolve the problem. This is part of what people do: friends come to us with their problems, or to avoid future problems, and we help resolve or avoid the issues, whichever the case may be. If you don’t find yourself in this helpful position often, you may not think that compassion is important. But it is. The compassionate person focuses on how others feel and is accepting of their perspective, whether or not he ultimately agrees with it.

Compassion is the foundation for good people skills. Without compassion, you cannot put yourself in another person’s shoes or fully understand the problems they face. Without compassion, you cannot understand your adverse positions, anticipate what will happen, and take pre-emptive steps to avoid future problems. Without it, you cannot provide the best solutions.

2. Ability to Listen

Effective communication skills are essential to good relationships. One of the most important aspects of communication is listening. Of course, what we say, how we say it and when we say it are important. But we can only do it right if we listen first. Listen to the people that matter to you. Listen to your family, friends, adversaries, and colleagues. We must take in much information, analyze and synthesize it, and exercise good judgment to help. It starts with listening.

3. Assertiveness, Not Aggressiveness

I often hear people say, “She’s not aggressive enough to be effective.” That’s not right. You don’t need to be aggressive — though you must be assertive. Assertive people state their opinions and make themselves heard, while remaining respectful of others. Aggressive people attack or ignore others’ opinions in favor of their own.

Much like those who lack compassion, overly aggressive people cannot understand another’s position when it varies from their own. That makes them ineffective at understanding the problem and thus incapable of providing an effective solution. Even more detrimental, overly aggressive people act without respect for others. This damages interpersonal relationships, ultimately leading to an uncooperative environment that makes resolution or agreement impossible.

4. Creativity

We need to be creative to find real solutions to the issues that arise in life. Each problem is unique; each must be handled differently, and each solution carefully crafted. We must learn to think outside the box. The best way to create unique solutions is to approach each situation with compassionate listening, which enables you to really understand the issues and what is needed. That level of understanding can lead to long-lasting solutions that work for all interested parties. Stalemates often arise when one person fails to approach the problem with compassionate listening and, instead, becomes unnecessarily aggressive. Don’t be that way.

5. Perseverance

Success is achieved with perseverance. We must keep working, keep trying and keep going. We must be able to walk away when things are not working, take a break and come back fresh and ready to “fight,” negotiate or whatever life requires.

Now go out there and be great!

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Friday FiveA short Friday Five post at Attorney at Work that has five of my favorite productivity tips, gleaned from interviews with five successful people who are able to accomplish loads.

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A Matter of Time DownloadHere’s a recent article I wrote for Attorney at Work, a great blog. The article, like the blog, is geared toward lawyers, but the tips are helpful to anyone who is busy and trying to figure out how to make it all work! The article is part of their quarterly download, which is a really great e-zine. This one is called A Matter of Time. I hope you enjoy it!

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I thought this article was helpful and contained some great tips on nutrition to help ward off cold & flu this season. It’s at Scholastic magazine and lists superfoods, including (my favorite) sweet potato, salmon, broccoli, milk, oatmeal, and more.

sweet potato

Photo by Mark Lund at http://www.Scholastic.com

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Swim lessonMy toddler and I are returning to swim classes tomorrow. She loves the water and will be happy to be in swim lessons again. Which got me thinking about all the great benefits of swimming as a form of exercise.

According to Tay Stratton, head swim coach at the Little Rock Athletic Club, who was interviewed for a WebMD article, “Swimming recruits all the major muscle groups, including the shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips, and glutes, she says. And because water affords 12 times the resistance as air in every direction, it really helps to build strength.” In other words, swimming is unique because it is cardio and strength training simultaneously.

So how do you get started? The same as all new exercise routines: Start slowly. Try to swim for 10 minutes, then build up to a 30-minute workout, three to five times a week. And include a warm-up and a cool-down, just like you would on a treadmill or in another cardio workout. You can also join a swim club or work with a swim coach.

We’ll be in the pool tomorrow. How about you?

Source: WebMD article entitled “Fitness Basics: Swimming Is for Everyone

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Two weeks ago I posted on how to determine the right kind of food for you. I hope that you were able to keep your food diary and experiment and that you learned about what kinds of foods work best for you. Whether you learned that you need lots of protein or a lesser amount, here’s helpful information about why protein is important, how much to eat, and from which sources to get it.

Photo of food groupsWhy Protein is Important

Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of the human body.  These “building blocks” repair the body and largely control how you feel – both mentally and physically – on a daily basis.

For example, protein increases focus and energy by causing the body to produce dopamine and norepinephrine, two substances that make you feel more alert and full of energy.

Protein also causes the release of the hormone glucagon to regulate glucose (blood sugar) levels for proper brain function, which also regulates hunger and energy levels.

And because protein is more difficult to digest than carbohydrates and fats, its lasts longer in the body, suppressing hunger and satiating the appetite so you feel full after you eat and maintain that feeling for longer.

Understanding the importance of protein helps us to begin to understand how consuming inappropriate amounts of protein might lead to symptoms and problems that negatively affect us on a daily basis.

Symptoms and Problems Associated with Inappropriate Levels of Protein

The most common problems associated with a diet that is too low in protein are low energy, cravings for sweets and fats, constant hunger, and even emotional instability and depression.

Fatigue and emotional instability can be caused by inadequate consumption of protein because the muscles weaken and the immune system functions less effectively.  This weakened state causes the body to work harder to perform basic bodily functions.  This inefficiency leads to always being tired, feeling out of balance and unstable, and getting sick more easily.  This state of low energy and general unhealthiness can lead to depression.

Cravings are another tell-tale sign of inadequate protein in the diet.  For example, cravings for sweets plus fats can mean too little protein.  Similarly, feeling hungry less than 2 hours after a meal is also a symptom of eating too little protein.  Without adequate protein, your body is unable to maintain blood sugar levels, causing you to feel hungry no matter how much you eat.

It is clear that eating too little protein can cause serious problems, but too much of a good thing is not any better.  To the contrary, eating too much protein can cause constipation and sugar cravings (as opposed to sugar plus fat cravings).

Consumption of too much meat, a primary source of protein, can cause sugar cravings because meat is high in protein and fats but has no carbohydrates.  Sugar is the exact opposite: it is only carbohydrates.  The craving for sugar is the body’s attempt to balance.  But consuming lots of animal protein and sugar, neither of which contains water, can lead to constipation.

It should be clear to us now that eating the correct amount of protein is critical to our everyday health and success.  But how do we know what is the proper amount of protein?

The Proper Amount of Protein on a Daily Basis

There appears to be disagreement in the health community regarding what is the proper amount of protein on a daily basis.

The USDA recommends only 50 grams of protein per day.  Dr. Barry Sears, author of A Week in the Zone and the popular Zone Diet, disagrees and instead recommends a minimum of 75 grams per day for women and 100 grams per day for men, which should be part of a diet with a proportion of carbohydrates to fat to protein of 40%-30%-30%, respectively.  Yet, the accepted nutritional standard ratio of carbohydrates to fats to protein is 65%-15%-20%, respectively.

It would be easy to throw our hands up in frustration at this point, stating, “well, I might as well eat whatever I want since everyone disagrees as to what is a healthy diet.”  But if we look closely, we see that there is common ground: the correct daily amount of protein lies somewhere between 50-100 grams and 15-30% of our daily calories.

A range such as this is exactly as it should be.  As Dr. Frank Lipman states in his book Total Renewal, everyone has a distinct genetic make-up called “biochemical individuality,” which means variations in our metabolism and biochemistry differentiate us.  Because each person is different, no one diet or amount of protein is right for everyone.

In order to determine the proper amount of protein for your “biochemical individuality,” experiment with protein by increasing and decreasing the amount you consume for a week or two.  Pay attention to the impact on your body, energy, mental state, hunger, and sustainability.  Observe how your body responds to the food you eat and how you feel after you eat certain amounts of protein.  Again, keep your food diary, making sure to track your protein even if you aren’t recording the other foods that you eat.

The Proper Portion of Protein per Meal is Approximately the Same for Everyone

While the proper amount of protein on a daily basis may vary widely, the “per portion” amount is approximately the same for everyone: 4 ounces of meat/6 ounces of fish for men, and 3 ounces of meat/4.5 ounces of fish for women, per meal.  The body cannot utilize more protein than this at one time, unless you are very active (e.g. a serious athlete).

The easiest tool for determining the proper portion size is with you at all times: your hand.  Dr. Barry Sears recommends eating a piece of lean animal protein no bigger and no thicker than the palm of your hand to constitute the proper portion size of protein.

Sources of Protein

Now that you know how much protein you should eat at each meal, let’s discuss the great variety of protein sources and the approximate number of grams of protein in each of those sources so you can begin experimenting and ultimately determine the daily amount of protein right for you.

There are two sources of protein: animals and plants, and each has its benefits and disadvantages.

Animal-Sourced Protein

In The Zone Diet, Dr. Barry Sears advocates lean protein in the form of skinless chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef, fish, eggs and egg whites, and low-fat dairy (unless you have a diary intolerance).  Joshua Rosenthal of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and author of Integrative Nutrition, adds that all such sources should be organic and recommends that you “vary your protein routine.”  So, if you are going to consume animal protein, branch out and try duck, pheasant, buffalo, and lamb.

While animal-sourced food is high in protein, it has its disadvantages.  For example, meat is often full of saturated fat which can increase cholesterol, cause heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure.  Because animal protein has no fiber or water in it, it is difficult to digest and spends a long time in the digestive system, which can lead to cancers of the intestines and colon.  Meat can also be problematic because, unless it is organic, it likely contains hormones and antibiotics, which are toxic to the human body.

Plant-Sourced Protein

Many people completely forget that plants are a source of protein.  Beans and nuts are legitimate sources of protein.  Soybeans and soy products also provide a hearty source of protein.  Even whole grains and vegetables contain some protein.

All legumes are very high in protein on the plant-food scale.  Legumes include all beans and peanuts.  (Peanuts are not nuts; they are legumes.)  While beans are a great source of protein, many people have a hard time digesting them.  You can help remedy this problem by soaking the dry uncooked beans overnight in water, draining them, and cooking them longer than the recommended cooking time.  This process starts breaking down the beans.  When you eat beans, be sure to chew very well, another process in the break down that is digestion.

Of all legumes, the soybean is the highest in protein and is sometimes referred to as the “vegetable cow” because its proportion of amino acids is close to that of animal products and is thus considered to be a “complete protein” like meat.  Unfortunately, soy is the second most common food allergen behind wheat, and can be difficult to digest, except for edamame.  (Edamame is the young whole soybean and is relatively easy for the body to digest and assimilate.)  Try soy for yourself and see if it is a good choice for your body.

Because the protein found in plants is less “useable” by the body, it is beneficial to consume “complementary proteins.”  AnneMarie Colbin explains in her book Food and Healing that complementary proteins provide a higher amount of useable protein than merely eating the two sources of protein separately.  For example, wheat with 30 grams of protein and beans with 70 grams of protein, when combined, makes 133 grams of useable protein, not the 100 grams if eaten separately.  Common examples of complementary proteins are rice-and-beans, lentil-and-barley, cous-cous-and-chick-peas, and fava-beans-and-millet.  The traditional proportion is one part beans to two parts grain.  These are great sources of protein if you are vegetarian or are trying to cut back on your consumption of animal protein.

Nuts are also a good plant-source of protein.  Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios, contain good fats in addition to protein, but because they are rather high in fat, they are also high in calories, so you may want to limit your consumption of nuts if you are watching your weight.

Another easy source of protein is isolated protein powder.  It is primarily available as soy and whey.  Either is good (unless you have an allergy to milk products; if so, you should avoid whey).  They both have a long shelf life and can be added to many foods that would not otherwise contain much protein.  For example, shakes and smoothies, soups, oatmeal, stew, flour to make pancakes, muffins and cookies, and cake mixes.

Protein Calculator

In order to calculate how much protein you are eating each day, follow this guideline:

– 4 oz. meat or 6 oz. fish (again, use the palm of your hand to determine this portion size) = approximately 30 g protein

– 3 oz. meat or 4.5 oz. fish = approximately 20 g protein

– 3.5 oz. hard cheese = 21-26 g protein

– 3.5 oz. cooked red beans = 7-8 g protein

– 3.5 oz. milk = 3.5 g protein

– 3.5 oz. cooked brown rice = 2.5 g protein

So start experimenting with your protein.  Vary the amount of protein.  Vary the kind of protein.  Analyze your diet, and make changes if needed.  It just might change your life!

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Resources:

Atkins, Robert C., M.D., Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution: The Amazing No Hunger Weight-Loss Plan That Has Helped Millions Lose Weight and Keep It Off; Avon Books, 1992.

Colbin, AnneMarie, Food and Healing: How what you eat determines your health, your well-being, and the quality of your life, Ballantine Books, 1986.

Lipman, Frank, M.D., Total Renewal: 7 Steps to Resilience, Vitality, & Long-Term Health; Penguin, 2003.

Rosenthal, Joshua, Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health & Happiness; Integrative Nutrition Publishing, 2008.

Sears, Barry, Ph. D., A Week in the Zone; Harper Torch, 2000.

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I shared my article, “How to Stay Energized in Spite of Your Hectic Schedule,” back in 2009 but I recently revisited it and would like to share it with you again, in case you have forgotten the simple tips or if you didn’t see it before. It was written for an audience of attorneys but applies to everyone. It discusses four simple tips for staying energized: 1) drink more water; 2) limit your sugar intake; 3) take a daily multi-vitamin; and 4) get regular exercise.

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