Around four years ago, I was passing through a Starbucks drive-thru. It was November, typically a time of year where charitable people give more of their time and money due to the natural pull of a holiday like Thanksgiving.
A car pulled up behind me as I was paying for my coffee and I told the barista I wanted to pay for them as well.
I repeated this behavior for the better part of the holiday season because it felt like a good thing to do. Besides, in most cases, we’re talking about $3-4 to put a smile on a stranger’s face. It seemed like a no-brainer.
Several months later, I was buying less from Starbucks because I was making more coffee at home and bringing a mug with me to work.
I started looking for other ways to give a small kindness to someone unexpectedly.
It transitioned into an sporadic meal I’d buy for someone at a restaurant. Typically, someone I would see eating by themselves. I wanted no fanfare. It was more important (and special) for me to be anonymous.
Even today, if I donate to someone or something, I prefer that only the donor know. Beyond what I’m writing as I craft this article, really only my wife has known of me doing these things.
A quote I came across at some point seemed to define the intention: “I learned to give not because I have much, but because I know exactly how it feels to have nothing.” -Anonymous
And while I’ve never been in-the-gutter poor, I’ve known what it’s like to have the deck stacked against me, living paycheck to paycheck and wondering how I would pay a bill to get by.
Thankfully, those days seem further and further in my rearview.
Mostly, I wanted to do these things because I know what it’s been like to be on the receiving end of a random act of kindness. It’s one of those feelings that you carry with you for days, if not longer.
Can anyone have too much happiness?
Maybe there is truth to a karmic effect of our behavior: the more good we do, the more good we receive. That’s my anecdotal belief at least.
And it’s why I randomly wanted to write this article in the middle of February instead of November or December when it might be more seasonally appropriate.
There is never a wrong time to give. There is no amount too small. And even if you only have a couple of dollars to toss someone’s way for a cup of coffee, it starts your day on a high note.
Several weeks ago, Marissa, Sebastian and I were at a favorite restaurant of ours having breakfast. We were under no financial strain to go there. A gentleman was sitting behind us eating breakfast by himself. Marissa and Sebastian stepped away from the table temporarily as the man was finishing his meal. In a kind British accent, he said “I have these vouchers for a free breakfast. I’d like to give these to you.”
I was understandably stunned. I don’t perform random acts of kindness while simultaneously holding my other hand out waiting for reciprocation.
The gift is to give. So, I honor that.
Nevertheless, I haven’t stopped thinking about the gesture ever since. It is part of what inspired this post.
Many times we get lost in our own relative chaos and busyness that we forget to do something small for someone unexpectedly.
It’s my hope that you’ll find more opportune times to do so as well.
And if you haven’t the financial means to do so, perhaps you have some volunteer time to offer in places of need for an extra hand or an extra shoulder to lean on.
Or maybe you’re in an emotional funk and you take this opportunity to step outside of your own mind for a few moments and feel the joy of doing something selflessly for others.
I wish I could quantify for you all the good that giving can do.
Instead, I’ll use this post as a way to inspire you to give a little bit more than you’re used to at intervals and times more frequently than you’re used to and see how it benefits your life (and someone else’s) as a result.
Below is Jackson last week at Valentine’s exercising his own demonstration of giving for the holiday.
She was in my Top 5 most downloaded shows of 2018 and Heather Robertson of Half Size Me returns this week for another great episode. We troubleshoot some common themes in weight loss and also discuss the importance of understanding and embracing the concepts of periodic weight and dietary maintenance. To learn more about Heather’s work, visit www.halfsizeme.com To learn more about your host, check out www.jasonleenaarts.com and www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.
I have owned my personal training facility for nearly ten years.
I have been lifting weights in some capacity for nearly twenty years.
And at no point can I confidently tell you that I have loved exercise.
“But Jason…How can I expect you to inspire me to improve myself if you don’t even enjoy exercise??!!??”
I know it seems counter to a lot of what you hear from our industry.
You might hear things like: “Find what you love to do!”, “Fall in love with the process!”, “Wait til you try CrossFit!” (okay, that’s kind of snarky…I digress.)
I won’t tell you those statements don’t have merit. They do. And I believe for a certain individual, those philosophies can be helpful reminders.
For me, exercise has never been about loving what I do or falling in love with a process. Exercise has always been something I’ve considered a non-negotiable.
For frame of reference, I started lifting weights when I was 23. I had no sincere athletic background and no one to show me the ropes. What I learned was from magazines (at the time.)
I was thinner than I am today (shocker, I know) and I was three years into my ten year addiction to drugs. Exercise was just a way to get me feeling and looking better because I was not psychologically ready to give up drugs.
Throughout the last twenty years of lifting, I have found portions of my training that I do enjoy. I like seeing weights go up over time. I like adding an extra rep or an extra set when I have a regimented program.
And, by and large, I like what I see when I step out of the shower.
Mind you, I don’t LOVE what I see…but that’s another conversation entirely.
I treat exercise the way I treat things like: brushing my teeth, doing the dishes, and doing laundry. It HAS to be done. There is no out. And just like those tasks, I don’t approach them with any level of resentment. Just like exercise, they are non-negotiable.
And in the years that RevFit has been open, I’ve come across more and more clients who, like me, really don’t LOVE exercise. But they do like how we approach it, so they stick with us, follow the plans we make and get to see the results despite not being married to the gym.
So, if this has resonated with you thus far, here’s a list of eight things you’ll want to consider to keep training in your life even if you’re a recalcitrant athlete like me.
Show Up. I know it seems a foregone conclusion but you have to make a commitment to show up for yourself. No one else is going to lift the weights for you so you can’t look good by osmosis. I will say there is a fair amount of truth to the statement “But you’ll feel so much better AFTER you workout!” I find this occurs more often than not. Even my clients who drag in after a long day’s work or after not having a great night’s sleep generally feel better and more accomplished once they show up and put the work in.
Never Use Exercise For Punishment. Did you have more slices of pizza than you intended to? No problem! Since you’re likely not going to “un-eat” those slices, don’t chain yourself to the treadmill in efforts to burn off those extra calories. I don’t know a soul who benefited psychologically from that approach. Treat exercise as the buddy who puts his arm around you and says “You’ll do better at the next meal, let’s just get some reps in at the gym and call it a day.” No guilt, no shame, no drama.
Embrace The Exercises You Hate The Least. If you’re with us, we keep a dialogue going of what our clients like to keep in or subtract out from their training regimen. Sure, there may be some beneficial exercises that not everyone falls in love with but if you know it’s only a small percentage of your training and training time, it’s easy to overcome the mental barrier of having to do it. Even the clients of mine who proclaim to dislike exercise the most, can tell me their favorite things to do with us and the exercises they look forward to each week.
Find Data Points That Feed Your Motivation. I am one of the least competitive people I know. So the thought of competing against others is usually a turn off for me. However, when I started posting up the Top 5 best lifters in our studio across the big lifts (Traplift/Deadlift, Squat and Bench Press) it sparked a lot of great conversation. Now, there isn’t a week that goes by where one of my clients doesn’t talk to me about where they are on the board OR what it will take for them to get there. So many people thrive on competition! For instance, if you’re someone who is only going to the gym for weight loss, having a scale in your life can be a love/hate relationship (despite it giving you feedback about what’s happening with your diet.) I find that many of our weight loss clients find a new kind of peace and motivation in seeing how strong they can get. It then fosters a different behavioral pattern: If I eat well, I lift well so if I can focus on both, the scale weight drops too! WIN-WIN-WIN.
Be Forgiving Of Imperfection. It happens to all of us. Some days you have great workouts, some days you have awful ones. Some days you have limitless energy and some days you just want to stay in bed. This is normal! Referring back to point number 1, the best thing you can do is just “Show Up.” However, there will be times when you have a legitimate reason not to: like being sick or having a family emergency. If you’re sick, my advice is to rest up, hydrate and eat to the best of your ability. If you have to miss your training session for any other reason, use that time away for a short at-home workout (squats and push-ups work just fine) or take the ample time for recovery or meal prep. When you can treat missed sessions as quality time to focus on another area of your health, it’s still a victory. And believe me, the more we focus on our victories, the better the mental and physical outcome.
Learn To Work Around The Pain, Not Through It. It’s probably going to happen at some point in your days of lifting weights: an injury. Granted, some are sustained in the gym and some outside of the gym. Either way, you would be best served to learn how to train around the pain source instead of fighting your way valiantly through it. It can be easy to give up on yourself if you have a nagging lower back, wonky shoulder or a knee injury. Look to your training session and determine what can be done that doesn’t utilize or at least minimizes the use of that area of your body. This keeps the needle of progress moving forward until the aggravated area can recover.
Find Your People. Weight Watchers (WW) has support groups, those in 12-step recovery programs do as well. There’s a reason. We thrive with a like-minded community. My clients have access to an online community with each other so we can talk about our struggles and ways we overcome them. They are my people and I am theirs. We are in it together. When you know you have other people in the same boat heading to the same destination, it makes the “journey of health and wellness” much easier to endure.
Own Your Time. What’s the one obstacle I hear about keeping people from exercise? Not enough time. That’s why most of our workouts can be done in 30-40 minutes. There is no magic number of exercises, sets or reps that HAVE to be done if you’re just trying to make improvements for your health. Granted, if you are training for an event, there are systems in place to keep you from spinning your wheels but the smartest thing I ever did for my business was get my clients in and out in a shorter time frame so they could get back to their busy lives and know that the training portion was solved. Contrary to old advice, you don’t need to train for an hour to get a great workout and there are even highly effective workouts you can do in twenty minutes if that’s all the time you have.
Below is Laura. This will be her fifth year training with me. At no point in that time has she come into her workouts doing cartwheels and somersaults and telling me how much she loves to exercise. That aside, like me, she realizes that having it in her life is a non-negotiable. She has every reason in the world to not show up. She wakes up every day at 3am to get ready for work, works at least 12 hours a day and is on her feet from bell-to-bell. That’s a prime recipe for someone who could easily just say “I don’t want to exercise!” However, she knows what life was like when she weighed something she could not live with and she refuses to go back to that place. It’s also some added motivation that she’s getting married this summer so we’re fully committed to giving her an awesome body for her special day. She’s down 22 pounds as of the writing of this article. Can I get a “Hell Yeah!” for Laura?
After hearing Greg Nuckols excellent presentation at The Fitness Summit in 2018, I knew I had to finally get him on the show. Greg is the head of Stronger By Science and also oversees the monthly research review MASS with Eric Helms and Mike Zourdos. In this episode we cover a wide array of topics related to general population women in strength training. There’s a little bit of science, a little bit of ranting and a ton of great information! To learn more about Greg’s work, check out www.strongerbyscience.com and to subscribe to MASS, check out www.strongerbyscience.com/mass To connect with Greg directly, check out www.facebook.com/gregory.nuckols and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/gregnuckols To learn more about your host, visit www.jasonleenaarts.com and www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.
For as long as I have owned this business (circa 2009), the mere thought of a food challenge has made me cringe.
Without fail, when you see something like this pinned on Pinterest or turned into an infographic on Instagram it’s paired with these jaw-dropping anecdotes of improved health, pounds lost, better sleep, better sex, you name it.
And I’ll be damned if the placebo effect can’t be a convincing bastard.
If by some chance you don’t know what I’m referencing, it goes something like this:
Said source gives a list of no-no foods that should be temporarily removed from the diet. It helps if these are hot button foods with alleged (and legitimate) sensitivities: gluten, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, flour, “processed foods”, dairy, etc.
A timeline is given to remove these foods and await the joys of your newfound health. The heavens part, the angels sing, leprechauns dance across your front yard (it’s quite a spectacle by the way!)
And ideally when the challenge is done, you assume some degree of re-introducing these foods back in to the diet with a modicum of restraint.
But something about these challenges had always rubbed me wrong. For me, it was all the hope and promise that came with them or some astronomically long list of foods to remove that managed to steal every morsel of joy from your life.
For that, since 2009 we never ran a challenge like this.
Until this year.
I watched the way my clients attempted to rebound from all of the holiday eating and, frankly it was kind of painful to see. Many of my clients couldn’t resume their sense of normal before November and December rolled around.
I also read about a slightly less insane version of a food challenge that removed flour, sugar and alcohol from the diet for about two weeks.
We were a week into 2019 and I thought: “I wonder if my clients would be okay with this until the end of the month?” (Just over three weeks.)
So, I rolled the offer out.
Many clients jumped at the chance to start, many others gave an emphatic “Oh Hell No!” and of course, many remained quiet.
I kindly reminded my clients not to assume magical qualities from embarking on this challenge. Contrary to social media belief the heavens would probably not part, no angels would sing and there would be no dancing leprechauns (well, maybe in an acid flashback…)
The most important thing that I wanted to impress on my clients was that it was really meant to give feedback:
-How did you feel without these items in your diet?
-How did you substitute the removed foods with other foods?
-What improved in energy, sleep, workouts, body weight, etc.?
-What did you notice about your patterns and prevalence of these items after removing them?
And I’d like to give you some glimpses into how the RevFit fam did over three weeks as well as how the challenge affected me.
I had a small handful of clients who were spot-on perfect with the challenge. Once it began, they got focused, they got creative and they hung in for the whole shebang. All of these clients lost weight, all reported feeling significantly better despite “missing” the removed foods.
I had another group of clients who adhered pretty closely to the diet. Maybe they removed flour and alcohol but left trace amounts of sugar or they removed flour and sugar but saved a couple of drinks for a Saturday night.
That, of course, was 100% okay. What I encouraged was that despite the “rules”, ultimately it was the client’s choice how rigid they chose to be.
Bill said: “It started out kind of rough. I really missed flour products but that went away and I got into a nice zone. I also limited my daily intake to no more than 1600 calories over the last few weeks and I lost 6-7 lbs since it started. I feel great and plan on continuing with this until I hit my goal weight….although not as “militant”. I am looking forward to having a bourbon this weekend – that’s for sure and an occasional small sweet treat to keep me going. I learned that my diet was way too dependent on all three of the challenge items and will curve my intake even after I stop adhering to it. I feel great and very glad I participated!
Linda said: I lost my cravings for sugar after about 3 days. I do have more energy (which is great). I saw a weight loss of 6 pounds doing this challenge. I will say that I was also focusing more on calorie deficit since January 1. I think adding bread back into my diet is going to be first because I bake my own and I love sandwiches. I’m going to set a goal to eat my dark chocolate only one day per week in order to control the yo yo effect that sugar gives me. This was a great challenge to kick off the new year.
Theresa said: I am the last person on earth who thought she could go 3 weeks without carbs and sugar, staples of my diet. I was prepared to be a complete failure but wanted to give it a try. I would say I adhered to it 95% of the time. I learned to eat tuna, eggs and peanut butter without bread. I found creative ways to bake, a favorite pastime and stress reliever, without white flour and sugar. Most creations were edible and satisfied my sweet tooth. This challenge made me much more aware of what I was eating and when. I also discovered how many foods contain hidden sugar and I think that was the hardest part. Overall I feel SO much better! I don’t have the sugar rush or feel jittery in the morning from a carb-filled dinner the night before. You told me to drink more water and thanks, I’m running to the bathroom 80 times a day! My skin tone and clarity have really improved also. This challenge was a REAL challenge for someone like me but it was so worth it in terms of how much better I feel physically. The only downfall is I felt hungry sometimes which is mainly attributed to my work schedule, so that is where the 5% non-adherence comes in. Sometimes you just need to eat a damn sandwich! Thank you, Jason, for expanding my horizons both physically and mentally.
And, not surprisingly, there were many clients who just couldn’t vibe with this challenge at all. I fault no one. It was called a challenge for a reason, because following it would be anything but easy. It was my sincere hope that even those who elected not to embark on it still had some valuable feedback and insight into themselves to determine what areas of their diet may be taking priority and, should they elect to do so, could try a challenge of their own later on.
For one, I was not doing this challenge for weight loss. I did it to support my clients and to gain some insight into my own diet (which I typically will do in some fashion a few times each year anyway.)
The first most notable change for myself was not having my nightly drink with dinner. I tend to favor a beer or a shot of bourbon and only ever one. I didn’t think it would be particularly missed.
I should have known myself better than that.
Being a recovering addict, patterns, rituals and habits become ingrained for me with a fair amount of ease. When I got home from work the first night of the challenge, I had to remind myself that there would be no drinking for awhile. That took a few days to get used to and then I didn’t seem to miss drinking as much.
While I’ve always had something of a sweet tooth, I would say the occasional sweet or maybe some daily dark chocolate was the next thing I missed. That also went away after a few days.
In place of flour, I ate more rice and potatoes. This did fine for me in complementing a meal but grains seem to help my digestive system so the absence of that type of fiber took some getting used to.
Other things I noted was that by removing all of these products from my diet, I started to eat a lot more fruit and nuts/nut butters. The fruit of course is no issue but I did find myself overconsuming on nuts simply because I chose to not moderate them.
For myself, I can’t say that I necessarily “felt” better on the challenge but I liked having something different to focus on.
Another thing that I found somewhat interesting was that added sugar is in damn near everything. I went to buy a bag of dry roasted almonds and sugar was the second ingredient! Mind you, it wasn’t a lot of sugar but on principle it was mildly frustrating.
Oddly enough, I was able to find natural peanut butters with just peanuts and salt and for some reason, they satisfied my sweet tooth when fruit wasn’t around. Apparently, my taste buds changed slightly in absence of the removed foods.
As I write this, the challenge has ended and I have put all three foods back into my diet in relatively small amounts. The challenge gave me insight into how I feel with (or without) certain foods or combinations therein. I’ll continue to play with different combinations as I let my body readjust. I lost about 3 lbs on this challenge which was not the goal but it happened any way.
For anyone reading this who elects to try this challenge or another, I would offer a kind reminder. Don’t treat it like a “detox”, a “reset” or anything of that nature. You could simply look at areas of your diet which may be problematic and try going without for a while. Many of my clients do something similar for Lent but not everyone is religiously involved in that way.
All in all, I’m glad we did it. I’m glad that so many of my clients found their feedback valuable and, of course, I’m glad so many saw great results.
We have no magic tricks around here. Just camaraderie, suggestions, insight and feedback to guide us through.
Below is a line up of some of our savages. I won’t say which ones tried the challenge and which ones didn’t. But maybe Dan gave himself away with the hand gestures 🙂
If you set a weight loss goal for yourself as a New Year’s Resolution, I commend you.
How has that work been going for you thus far?
If you trust the statistics, you’ll see discouraging numbers that claim most who set these resolutions have already failed at maintaining them by this time.
Box gyms flourish during this time of year and many will continue to pay for memberships in gyms they rarely show up in.
There is a conversation I’ll have with potential clients that I want to highlight.
When someone comes to me for weight loss, they are typically at a low point in both esteem and hope for success. Maybe they’ve been referred to me from a client who has been happy with their results. Or maybe they came upon our location through a Google search.
It’s always my initial hope that I can take a look at someone’s current diet and lifestyle, find one to two little tweaks, affectionately bring them to the surface and work with the client to keep lifestyle as “normal” as possible without a complete upheaval.
That hope does not always come to fruition.
If you resonate with that person who is low in self esteem and hope for success, there is a difficult conversation you will need to have with yourself.
I think of the title of the business book by Marshall Goldsmith “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” and I see an interesting parallel that tends to be most realistic for a client in this situation.
Whatever life has been like up to this point needs to change. Dramatically, convincingly, permanently.
Which means that the way you ate before you came here will have to change. The way you trained before you came here will have to change. The way your self-talk would bury you in doubt will have to change.
And you can’t ever go back there again.
At it’s foundation, weight loss generally boils down to the simple element of removing enough calories and expending enough energy (more calories) to attain a given number.
Simple, not easy to execute.
And while you’re valiantly working to achieve that number, you have to look at some of the variables that can influence it:
-How are you sleeping?
-Does your spouse completely support your efforts and not sabotage you in moments of vulnerability?
-Do your friends stand by your side, lift you up and help you achieve those numbers or do they beg and plead with you to come and join them for the weekend, goals be damned and ease up on your health commitments?
-Do you take medication(s) that can affect your hunger signals and make you eat more than you intend despite your best efforts to remain on path?
-Have you raised your activity level significantly and focused on some combination of high intensity work and low intensity work to burn more calories aside from dietary intake?
-Are you involved in strength training where you can plot your progress and see that the numbers are trending upward?
-Are you surrounded by hyper-palatable (easy to consume and overeat) foods that are always within easy reach?
-Are you coping with an emotional stressor that requires the help of a qualified therapist?
All of these factors matter and sometimes, even with the best of intentions, people believe if they “just” eat less and exercise more that all of the magical weight loss goals will be realized and they’ll never regain the weight.
But that’s not reality, is it?
For the vast majority of the people I’ll sit down with in efforts to get them to their goals, all of the above questions will have to be answered.
It may slow down your progress.
You might lose “friends.”
You might piss off your spouse.
You might have to dramatically shift your social life to put the work in and get some momentum.
This is normal. These are your goals and you’re the only one who can hit them.
And when you take a peek in your rearview mirror and look at all of the choices that led to the number on the scale you couldn’t deal with anymore or the size of pants you determined you could not go beyond, you have to ask yourself the painful questions:
Am I okay with this? Was I living a life of my best self? What am I willing to do for MY goals?
And when you’ve had that conversation, and asked those frequently uncomfortable questions, take another look in that rearview mirror (blink twice) and burn that bridge down.
That person, who undoubtedly had characteristics that you want to remain intact, has to change. That change will not always please people around you. Some people will even tell you they liked you better “When…”
That will be an uncomfortable thing to hear.
But your goals and the realization of those goals will need a focus you haven’t given them before.
Take one last look in that rearview mirror, take the lessons from every experience you brought over the bridge before you burned it down, and remind yourself that a new chapter has to be written.
In this episode, I welcome vegan powerlifter and bodybuilder, Dr. Anastasia Zinchenko to the show. We cover an area of nutrition which I have previously found lacking with regard to protein considerations in vegan lifters. Anastasia brings her experience as a competitive lifter and biochemist to the table to explain in greater detail how vegans can raise their protein requirements up to appropriate amounts for their respective goals. Her love of cooking highlights her creativity to get the proper balance of amino acids into the diet so that her physique and respective strength flourish. You can learn more about her work at http://www.sciencestrength.com and by following her on Instagram at http://www.instagram.com/sciencestrength. To learn more about your host, visit http://www.jasonleenaarts.com andhttp://www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.
Going back to Episode 84 was Scott Baptie’s first appearance on the show. He returns this week so we can discuss a handful of tips from his brand new book “101 Ways To Lose Weight And Never Find It Again.” I really liked the way Scott kept things simple and realistic in this book and he let me pick some of my favorite points to chat about and get more insight on. To learn more about the book and purchase your copy, visit www.weightlossbook.co.uk and to learn more about Scott’s great work to date visit www.foodforfitness.co.uk To learn more about your host, check out www.jasonleenaarts.com and www.revfittherapy.com You can also like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/revolutionaryou Download, subscribe, share with your friends and please take a moment to leave us an iTunes review.
My oldest son, Jackson, turns 11 this week. Another year passes and I wonder, “Where on earth did these 11 years go?”
And I can’t write really anything about my son in good conscience without crediting his mother, Megan, for how she’s raised him. He’s always been a wonderful little boy but I guess I have to get more comfortable saying, “He’s a wonderful big boy.”
Jackson was diagnosed with autism around 3 years of age. It would be foolish of me to look at his attributes and mislead you by saying that anyone with autism or on the autism spectrum is exactly like him. The adage within the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) community is that: When you’ve met someone with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. The degrees are very different and no two individuals with autism will be identical.
That aside, to my fellow parents of children or adults with autism, you will probably understand and nod your head in agreement with much of what you’ll read below.
Specifically, in Jackson’s case, he is high functioning, he has low verbal skills and is most challenged by reading and reading comprehension. He has no mental retardation.
Like many people, I had no clear knowledge of ASD before Jackson was diagnosed with it. Most of what I knew at that point had been reasonably demonstrated by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man.
In tribute to my big boy, here are 11 ways that loving someone with autism can make you a better human being.
You Learn Tolerance. It’s easy to attempt to put things into nice pretty boxes in life. This is black, this is white, this is straight, this is crooked. With autism, it’s never really that easy. Things go left when you think they should go right. Things falls apart when they seem so well put together. Once upon a time, I would have been one of those people who would carelessly use the term “retarded” to describe something that was “silly”, “dumb” or “unorthodox.” How wrong I was. When you love someone with autism you learn how sensitive and inflammatory of a word “retarded” can be. It makes it seem that something is “less than” which is far from the truth. The term within the autism community is more accurately put “Different Not Less.” Different is accurate but if Jackson has taught me nothing else, it’s that in no way, shape or form is he less of anything. He is more than I’ll ever be. And while I was fortunate to be raised by parents who taught me to be tolerant of all religions, all sexual preferences and all cultures and creeds, Jackson taught me how to be tolerant of all people in general. We all have our respective battles, neurotypical or not, and those battles deserve their place and their recognition.
You Learn Patience. My mother will be the first to tell you that I do not have patience in spades. Maybe that was credit to being an only child and basically getting what I wanted when I wanted it. I remember vividly my mother saying “Patience is a virtue.” It would take me decades of life to understand this. While I do believe I exhibit far more patience at this stage of life, I credit the last 11 years with Jackson heavily for helping me with that. Jackson is almost oblivious to time. So, what might be a rush and a push to get things done on my time schedule, Jackson could care less. As I’ve been known to say: It’s Jackson’s world, we’re just passing through. There are certain things that Jax does efficiently but he mostly is a very laid back and chill personality. It’s forced me to ease up a lot and let him do things at his pace. When you love someone with autism, you learn to breathe differently, take a step back and let things happen of their own accord and not always forcing them. Patience is also something that would come in handy with the next attribute.
You Gain A Different Meaning Of Progress. One of our first clues that Jackson had challenges which needed diagnosis was when we realized he wasn’t speaking as early as other children. Once the diagnosis came into play, it all made sense. At 11 years of age, most of Jackson’s speech comes from “scripting.” In other words, if he hears a line from a song or from a movie, he’ll repeat it. Sometimes, he’ll repeat it over and over again (this is often referred to as “looping.”) While I cannot speak for his mother in this regard, I will tell you that in all of his life, I have only ever heard Jackson speak a full sentence that was not directly from a movie, video or song one time. That sentence went like this: “Dad?” “Yes, Jax?” “Can I have a drink of water?” My heart jumped. I almost started crying. “Buddy, of course you can. You can have anything you like if you speak like that.” It may sound silly to some people. Jackson might have been 9 or 10 when that happened. I’m sure most people wish their three year old wouldn’t talk as much as they do. Not me. The thought of holding a conversation with Jackson gets me all emotional. It just doesn’t happen. Most of his responses are monosyllabic in nature. You ask a close-ended question, you get a short one or two word response. That’s how it works. When you love someone with autism, you learn that progress means different things to different people. This has been a tremendously valuable lesson to learn as I have owned RevFit. You celebrate the little things. You give them proper importance. They all count.
You Gain A Different Meaning Of Happiness. I am blessed in this regard. I have not one, but two sons, who I can say exude happiness. As Jackson was my first born, he taught me that happiness can often come just from being lost in yourself. Sometimes, Jackson will just start giggling for no reason. He may not be watching anything on TV or the computer. He may not be playing on his iPad. He just starts giggling. It makes me wonder “What’s going through that mind of his?” And of course, I have to ask “What’s so funny, Jax?” I never get a response to that. He usually just giggles some more. I’m okay with that. When you love someone with autism, you learn that entertainment and happiness don’t have to come from an obvious place. It can simply exist. I’ll reference this in a point later in this post but if autism has done nothing else, it has almost insulated Jackson from the opinions and feedback of others. So, if he’s going to be happy, nothing will stand in his way. I’d say that sounds like a really magical place to be.
You’re Reminded Of The Power Of Song. Jackson takes after his Dad. I was never much of an athlete but I have always been deeply connected to music. Jackson has almost no athletic prowess but music is something he has always been drawn to. Despite his mother’s appropriate attempts to get him involved in different sports, he just never really had the interest. But Jackson has always loved singing. So, the big shift happened when, at the encouragement of many of us in the family, Megan got Jackson enrolled in piano and voice lessons. It was a game changer. When you love someone with autism, you learn that there tends to be an area where your loved one really thrives. For Jackson, music has been one of those pivotal areas. I don’t want to say much more about that but I will encourage you to read this post I made last year that highlights it better than anything. Grab your tissue and turn up the volume.
You’re Reminded Of The Joy Of Dance. We started taking Jackson to the movies pretty regularly around the age of 5. Even back then, he had this interesting little thing he would do. He would watch the entire movie and then when the movie would end and the end credits would roll, he would burst out of his seat and start dancing. Here we are all these years later and it’s not changed a bit (well, his dance moves have.) When we take him to any of the handful of animated movies that come out in a given year, he’ll bolt out of his seat and start dancing all the way through the end credits. Sometimes, he’ll stay right in front of his seat and sometimes he’ll march all the way down to the front of the screen and dance to his little heart’s content. The dancing won’t stop until the credits end. At first, it was a little bit alarming. I didn’t want him to attract unwanted attention. As time went on, you saw his whole body light up when he would do it. Jackson could care less if you’re watching him. He’ll dance until he’s good and ready to stop. When you love someone with autism, you find that certain things give them endless amounts of joy. For Jax, his choreography during the movie’s end credits certainly qualify. Even when we ultimately buy the DVD of the same movie, the same thing applies in the living room. Jackson will dance away in front of the TV until the movie resets itself to the menu screen.
You Learn To Communicate Better. When you have a child who speaks as little as Jackson does, communication takes on a whole new meaning. You have to learn to read between the lines. When he’s sad or angry, we don’t always know the true reason. He obviously can’t find the words to express it. This is where the monosyllabic responses or otherwise short responses become a challenge. Sometimes, we just have to get him calmed down and assume it’s all nothing serious. When you love someone with autism, you learn that communication can come from many different places. Sometimes, all you have to work with is facial expressions. Where speech fails the relationship, we have to step outside of conventional dialogue and probe deeper to get a problem solved.
You Learn The Importance Of Independence. Jackson has always been uniquely self-sufficient. He learned early on how to get what he wanted using as few words as possible since they likely weren’t going to form anyway. As a result, much of his strength as an individual comes from what he is able to do without the help of others. While this can be somewhat frustrating when you take into consideration the things a parent might teach you that you can work on together, it has actually helped him form more of his own identity. When you love someone with autism, you learn that not everything that constitutes progress happens as part of a parent-child team. Jackson tends to do most of his great work in play or in his respective growth with activities that require only his own input. The drawback of course is not appreciating the value of having the help of others. The advantage is learning the skills you need to advance all by yourself.
You Savor Every Word. As I mentioned a few moments ago with regard to communication, Jackson can go spans of time in complete silence. He might be engaged in a task that has his full attention or he hasn’t found the need to communicate in an audible fashion. But for me, any word that comes out of his mouth is a welcome one. If you’re reading this, chances are you are neurotypical and not on the spectrum. It’s amazing how many words we waste that never really communicate what we want effectively to begin with. When you love someone with autism, whether you love someone with high verbal skills, low or none at all you’re keenly aware of this. But those of you included in that statement like myself, know that every word is a gift.
You Understand The Importance Of Touch. If you ask Jackson to give someone a hug, he generally will. He’s a loving guy. But he won’t initiate that interaction. Many times, when he goes towards someone’s arms (even a family member), he’ll turn himself around so that his back is turned to them and he’s not embracing in return. So, it’s always especially sweet when he does initiate the point of contact. Sometimes, we’ll be at a restaurant and he’ll just lay his head into my arm or my lap, pull my arm around him and just want to cuddle. I’ll stroke his hair, rub his back or what not just to give him the affection he may need at that time. Much like a weighted blanket can be a comfort for many individuals on the spectrum, Jackson won’t always ask for the contact but you can tell it’s what he needs at that moment. When you love someone with autism, you learn their limits and their individual needs for affection and attention. Sometimes, it’s just the warmth of an embrace that they need at that time to make them feel safe.
You Learn That The Outside World Means (Almost) Nothing. I reference this in the post I linked to earlier but Jackson, in his world, is nearly oblivious to outside influence. I don’t think that he notices or cares to notice what others are doing around him. If someone were making fun of him (which I shudder to think about), I’m not even sure it would register. He’s made almost a cocoon of indifference around himself. I think about what my own life would be like if I had not a care in the world about what others thought about me: How would I behave differently? What would my actions be? Could I accomplish more if I was immune to the opinions of others? Jackson tends to live within that mindset. He just acts. It’s his world, his rules, his playbook. There is rarely an act of deceit or malice. Nearly everything comes from a place of innocence and curiosity. If there were any attribute of his that I would wish never diminishes, it might be this one. If I could impress upon him that it is such a gift to not be discouraged by the criticism of others or to be held back by someone’s interpretation of what he can and can’t do, I might be inclined to do so. Granted, sometimes we need the feedback of others to help us on to the next great place in life. When you love someone with autism, you learn that their world matters. Their control over that world matters. Every routine, every schedule, every habit plays into their ability to function within that world. It doesn’t mean that there can’t be deviations (this is life and life is not predictable.) But it means that sometimes, the influence of the outside world is the least likely thing to help us be our greatest selves.
To my son, Jackson, everything I write about you, I write in the hopes that someday you might read it. That someday, you might understand it. Until that day comes, know that all of us in your family love you through and through. You are more than just a special boy. You are happiness to the nth degree. You are a wonderful big brother. Sebastian is so lucky to have you, as we all are. You have made me want to work harder every day to be the Dad you deserve to have. I don’t always get it right but you teach me more and more all the time that it’s worth the effort in trying. Some day, maybe I will have tipped the scales more in balance by giving you all that you have given me. Happy Birthday, my handsome boy. Dad loves you.