Part I: What I learned from taking a month off

My first day back to work after taking a month off to get my head on straight.

My first day back to work after taking a month off to reboot my health and mind.

AFTER GETTING A physical and having my blood drawn on a recent Monday morning, I stopped halfway between my Toyota 4-Runner in the parking lot and the doctor’s office.

While looking up in the bright blue sky, I smiled, even laughed a little. Sun rays drenched me with their warmth. It felt like a hug from the heavens.

A simple thought popped into my head.

“I’m happy.”

This burst of happiness wasn’t merely due to the fact that Doctor E told me he didn’t have to do the part of the medical check-up that requires plastic gloves and caused Chevy Chase to sing “Moon River” in Fletch.

Not experiencing that was obviously an added bonus.

I was in a good mood the rest of the day, despite a few reasons that might indicate the opposite should be the case. It was Monday. I was returning to work after an extended vacation. And it was Day 6 of being off of Diet Coke and caffeine.

It’s not like I’d never been happy before or even in a constantly bad mood. But in the past few years, I’ve just kind of been there, experiencing moments ranging from happiness to boredom to feelings of sadness, crankiness, anxiety over things like my kids’ safety, finances, guilt, bitterness, regret for gaining a crazy amount of weight and financial worries to uncertainty about my core beliefs in God and religion.

But that Monday morning, it felt like my attitude was as bright as the morning sun. It was wonderful.

I had taken the previous four weeks off of work — writing about the Utah Jazz for the Deseret News — even though it was a busy time. The NBA season was about to enter its final month when my boss and I decided that I desperately needed a break. At first, I gasped in disapproval when my sports editor, Kent Condon, suggested I take extra time off. After thinking about it, I knew a mental, physical and spiritual reboot was in order as I’d struggled on multiple levels for some time. (Click here to read what I wrote about that.)

It was interesting in that delightful moment after my physical. The difference in my emotional state following the mini-sabbatical was such a stark contrast to where I’d been in the previous months, even years.

Now, let me write some questions likely asked about my time off.

IMG_98051. What did you do for four weeks?

2. How much weight did you lose?

3. Did you donate that glorious beard to Locks of Love?

4. How was it to have zero work responsibility, no deadline pressure, no crazy hours and no travel for a whole month!?

5. Can you please go back on a Twitter hiatus because your posts are again clogging up our timelines!?

6. What did you learn?

To answer that last question: a lot. In fact, there were at least 12 things (in no particular order) that I learned during JODY’S 28-DAY REBOOT CHALLENGE!:

1. People are awesome

If I were an artist, I would draw a picture of me in boxing trunks in the ring with hundreds of people in my corner. It feels like I have the biggest support crew in the world. The outpouring of compassion, concern and well-wishes was phenomenal.

After writing my column about taking time off, I received so many emails, so many texts, so many private/direct messages, so many tweets, so many phone calls, and even a personal visit from a concerned guy in my neighborhood who I didn’t even know that well.

Family members, friends, acquaintances, writers from around the world, basketball fans who don’t even know me, strangers, readers of my articles/tweets, NBA executives, my kind boss, sports editor Kent Condon and his boss, Deseret News managing editor Rick Hall, all reached out to let me know they wanted to help or let me know they’re pulling for me.

It was incredible to see how much people care. So many were/are willing to try to help lift me up from the rut I’d fallen into.

I tried to write everybody back – and will if I haven’t gotten to you yet — but I just want to say thank you for the tremendous support. I kind of felt like I was at my own funeral.

I hope to be able to repay that kindness.

2. The names of my kids

OK, I did know the names of my four children, ages 2 … um, 5 or 6 … and let’s see, there’s that cute freckled-face girl who looks like she might be in the second grade and the older boy who’s, wait, I’ll be right back after asking my wife, Henrietta. Or was it Helga? Ahhh, yes. Heather!

1240492_10151833248476505_1699477007_nSome of the more memorable moments in that month happened with my family.

• My oldest son, 10-year-old Ethan! (see, I learned), helped me fix the garage door. He also collaborated with me to pull a fast one on my wife and the rest of the family, pretending that we were going to buy lacrosse cleats when in reality he was an accomplice who videoed me getting a long-overdue shave and haircut.

• Ethan and Sydney, my adorable, freckly daughter, also got to attend LDS General Conference with me at the church’s Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. They probably won’t remember a word said by our religious leaders, but I bet you they remember going with Aunt Natalie and me. Making it extra cool for them was sitting on the front row of the upper balcony.

“I can’t believe I’m here,” Sydney told me as we entered the cavernous 20,000-plus seat auditorium. “It’s more beautifuler in person than on TV.”

• Sydney and our wild child, 6-year-old Aidan, also helped me take a trailer full of stuff from our house to the D.I. Syd was rewarded for helping donate things to charity with an ice cream cone. Aider Tater wouldn’t accept my funds. He was beyond excited to buy his own slushy with his money.

• I helped Aidan get his Avengers bike back in working order. As a reward (for both of us), he managed to learn how to ride without training wheels as I proudly watched in the driveway.

“I can’t believe I’m really good!” he exclaimed.

• Baby Jack, when he wasn’t frightened of me following my hair transformation, got to cuddle with me and tell me “I need you” far more than he ever would have had I been working.

Although we drove each other nuts at times, it was great to just be in their company. It was fun to drive them to their practices. It was nice to be together.

It was good to feel like a dad.

3. Intelligence is inspiring

My friend Sarah was among the people who sent me great messages of support. She introduced me to Dr. Brené Brown, who gave one of the most popular talks in TED history. (FYI, TED is a conference in which Mensa types share ideas about everything. Think of it as Brainiac Con.)

Dr. Brown’s speech about vulnerability hit close to home.  She talked of the need to belong and to be connected and how vulnerability plays a key role in that process. She included results from her study:

There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy. And to me, the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection. …

These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness. … (And) these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.

— Dr. Brené Brown

My wife often reminds me that I need to stop sabotaging my own efforts to succeed. The day after I returned to work I began seeing a therapist, who also counseled me along those lines. Our goal is to find the reason(s) why I’m set on punishing myself, which is one huge reason why I allow myself to overeat and underexercise (a new word I just made up).

I kind of became a TED junkie during my time off. I binged on talks about motivation, shame, dinosaurs, fascinating creatures, math magic, how to kill dreams, 3D printing, and more. Psychologist Guy Winch gave one of my favorite talks, “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid.”

Here’s one particularly powerful thought from Winch:

We sustain psychological injuries even more often than we do physical ones, injuries like failure or rejection or loneliness. And they can also get worse if we ignore them, and they can impact our lives in dramatic ways. And yet, even though there are scientifically proven techniques we could use to treat these kinds of psychological injuries, we don’t. It doesn’t even occur to us that we should. “Oh, you’re feeling depressed? Just shake it off; it’s all in your head.” Can you imagine saying that to somebody with a broken leg: “Oh, just walk it off; it’s all in your leg.” It is time we closed the gap between our physical and our psychological health. It’s time we made them more equal, more like twins.

This really struck a chord with me. He went on to elaborate on how we need to better deal with loneliness, failure, our self-esteem, negative thinking. His final message was one of hope, that we can heal psychological wounds, feel better about ourselves, become more empowered and thrive with a higher quality of life.

All aboard!

4. Life exists outside of Twitter

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 2.44.15 PMI have a Twitter problem. A big one. I use it for my job, as a place to report and share article links and as a brainstorming spot. I’ve made some great friends there. I thoroughly enjoy bantering back and forth with other people and reading insights and opinions, jokes, news, sporting updates, etc.

But over the years, it has also become the place where I go to hide from everything else. I interact with some people on Twitter far more than I do anybody in my family, my wife included.

The biggest problem is that I just waste too much time there. It sounds weird to write and/or say, but I really am addicted to Twitter.

I learned how much when I decided to take my break. I’d joked about needing to take Twitter breaks before, and then I’d respond to a question or think of a clever 140-character thought and, WHOA!, I was back in a matter of minutes.

This time, I decided that I’d not tweet anything for the full 28 days. And I didn’t. Not one single tweet! (That’s saying something for a guy who’s posted 48,000ish tweets in the past five years. You do the math. It’s a lot per day.)

So, the NCAA Tournament came and went, and the sporting world didn’t get one peep or tweet from me. The Jazz went on a four-game losing streak, and I was silent. Former Jazz center Enes Kanter visited Utah and popped off, and mum was my word.

For the first few days, I did “favorite” tweets of support. I also sent some direct messages to people who’d sent me DMs. Nothing public, though.

Staying off of Twitter was a whole ‘nother battle. It’s almost embarrassing to admit this, but there was only one day in the entire four weeks that I didn’t get onto Twitter. A good chunk of those visits was unintentional.

My Twitter addiction is so strong, I simply toggle and type “tw” and hit enter without even thinking. I got upset at myself multiple times when I absentmindedly ended up on Twitter. This would even happen when I’d vowed to stay away. I’d be on one website and then — WHAT THE HECK!? — I’d be on Twitter again. And then again. And again. UGH!

In an effort to avoid Twitter, I even deleted the app from my phone. That worked great — until I found out another shortcut to Twitter from my phone’s Internet browser.

Hey, at least I tried. And didn’t tweet even when I was tempted to.

Some things I learned from my Twitter silence:

• I can do hard things.

• I genuinely like (and missed) many of the people I interact with/follow on Twitter.

• The world (or at least my 13,300 followers) probably doesn’t need to read every thought I think or everything I believe might be funny.

• It’s kind of liberating to not be tied down to expectations of tweeting all the time.

• I had extra time to focus on far more important things. You know, like those crazy kids of mine. The same ones who’d sometimes take a backseat to Twitter in the past few years while I was trying to find acceptance and happiness in the wrong place.

I still tweet a lot, but I will certainly be more cognizant of how often and make sure to keep priorities straight. Same goes for those silly Vines (short videos) I’ve done for the past six months.

5. Taking control is powerful

700385173I once was a Weight Watchers centerfold. I went from weighing 371 pounds down to 198 pounds over the course of multiple years (a true weight-loss rollercoaster ride). During that time, I heard a saying that stuck.

If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.

— Wise Weight Watcher leader

In other words, as has also been said, nothing changes if nothing changes. If you want something, get out there and do it, get it, grab it, win it, earn it. Don’t just wait for your Fairy Godmother to give it to you, which, quite frankly, was what I’ve been doing for far too long.

It became evident early on in my month off that I was again falling into my old pattern.

I’d committed to losing weight and exercising.

I talked about it.

I wrote about it.

A huge cheering section showed up from everywhere.

And then?

Hey, how about this spring weather!? Isn’t it something?

In the days leading up to my time off, I had envisioned the possibilities of what I could achieve during that time off. I’d have all the time in the world to accomplish big things. For a month, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether a Jazz player scored 75 points in a game or ended up in jail. I wouldn’t have to open up my laptop or look at work email or try to beat my buddies at The Salt Lake Tribune to the latest scoop about this NBA organization.

I WOULDN’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING!

Ahhhhhh.

It was exciting to think about jumpstarting my diet and dream about how much weight I could lose in 28 days. I would have 24 hours each day to devote to working out hard enough to make Jillian and Bob smile, eat well enough to write a diet book and drop maybe 25 pounds or so.

SPOILER ALERT: That didn’t happen.

If I judged my time off only by weight loss, I’d be disappointed. I only lost four or five pounds. For my weight of about 340 (was 351 in February), that’s really nothing to write home about. (Enter joke about how some of my meals weigh more than that.)

BUT — and, yes, I like big BUTs — I decided at the beginning of my break that it might be most beneficial to focus on things other than my diet and exercise at first. I’ve started many diets and exercise regimens out with a bang only to fall off the bandwagon and regain weight.

I wanted to work things out internally before fixing things externally — get my mind straight before worrying about my body.

I also convinced myself it was OK to not begin exercising, but that was just my clever and fine-tuned way of procrastinating and giving myself an excuse. Despite my grandiose plans, I only went on one walk with a good friend during my time off.

BUT (see previous admission) I’ve started a lot of diets and had a lot of success right out of the gate losing weight and exercising only to have it come back as soon as I fell off the diet. This time, I had the desire to reach deeper and try to work some things out internally before fixing things externally.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.43.11 AM(Funny enough, I toggled over to Twitter really quickly and this was the first tweet I saw.)

This will continue to be an issue I’ll have to face for the rest of my life.

It’s not enough to know it. I also have to do it.

It makes me happy, like on that sunny Monday morning, to take control and to be trying again.

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In Part II, I’ll explore these equally important topics: Taking small steps; Getting rid of chaos; A fresh start: Bidding farewell to Diet Coke: Allowing myself to be happy; (Re)turning to God.

P.S. Check out my latest weight-loss vlog!