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Upgrading Your Memory: It’s Not Just RAM We’re Talking About

Photo courtesy of digitalART2

This is the second post in our Mindful Mondays series, where we will focus on improving mental clarity, memory and mood.

All week I’ve continued toward improving my mental clarity. I incorporated all of the items I listed out for you last week, hoping to have a somewhat clearer head by today. I have meditated every single day for over an hour. I spent time outdoors and had no alcohol or aspartame. I did better at eating smaller meals but I still have to improve in that area. I was able to continue to live my life drama-free with limited television time.

I failed miserably at getting eight hours of sleep each night though. Some nights I almost managed, but not every night, and that meant I fell asleep during meditation a few times. That is not the desired outcome of meditation, so I must make a concerted effort to ensure that my sleeping is done during the appropriate hours in order for my brain to function at full capacity.

Despite not sleeping as much as I should, I have already noticed a difference in my brain function. I find that I’m not “searching” for words as often as I used to. I have also felt myself taking what I can only describe as mental stops. It’s as if I’m in a movie and everyone else continues to move while I remain still. I just enjoy the action, feeling completely absorbed in the moment. Long after time has sped up again, I still have great retention of what happened during those mental stops.

I’ve been diligently researching the next steps in my Better Memory Mission, and this week, along with continuing the behavioral changes I’ve already implemented, I will be adding supplements to my diet. Here is what I will be taking, and why:

  • Gingko biloba – As a well documented treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease, Gingko has also been shown to improve normal age-related memory loss as well as boosting memory in the young.
  • Ginger extract – Along with soothing upset stomachs, ginger has now been shown to improve memory and cognitive function in middle aged women.
  • B-Complex – Low levels of vitamin B6 and B12 have been associated with impaired cognitive function.
  • L-theanine – Shown to have a calming effect on the brain, allowing it to focus, L-theanine is available as a supplement but can also be found in green tea, which is how I will be taking it.

I’ve also ordered some organic oat straw tea, as I’ve been reading a lot about its benefits on attention and focus and I’m going to be ramping up my intake of healthier foods in general, and cutting out as much sugar as possible. Overall, I think I’ve got a fairly solid plan to move forward. I’m pretty psyched that I’ve already made progress!

That pesky little matter of sleeping enough at night is going to be my biggest hurdle, but I am going to make a stupendous effort this week to get back on track. I had an excuse last week – I got an iPhone and I stayed up way too late trying to figure out just how it got so smart.

Much like Apple, we should all work to upgrade our memory and capabilities regularly. After all, if basic phones are null and void, what good is a basic brain?

 

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How a Puppy Helped Me Recover From a Hysterectomy

Photo courtesy of LipBomb

In June 2011 I took my puppy to a local vet to be spayed. I had no idea that watching a puppy heal after her surgery would be so pertinent for me in just a year’s time.

When the puppy came home after surgery, she didn’t move much, and she slept a lot. She was not eating much – only small portions of soft food.  The vet told us she shouldn’t play hard for a few weeks to avoid injury.  The puppy curled up and protected her abdomen much of the time and stretched carefully before taking any steps. When attempting to move, she would whine so that I would help her.  One week after the surgery, she was moving better, but I noticed that when we had more commotion in the house, she moved into a quieter room to be alone.

As I write this, I am recovering from a Laparoscopic Subtotal Hysterectomy with a Salpingo Oophorectomy, which means that I was spayed just like the puppy. My uterus and fallopian tubes were also removed. It has been a year since the puppy’s procedure. I am reclining with a pillow protecting my abdomen, trying to finish a few ounces of a protein shake.  The pain killers are wearing off and I need to go to the bathroom.  When I first try to get up, the puppy, who is now bigger, begins to whine so that my friend will assist me.  I remember how the puppy stretched gingerly after her surgery, and now I completely understand why.

After a week, I am fatigued as I cannot sleep on my back without erupting into painful coughs and the incisions are on my abdomen and sides, preventing me from lying prone.  I am antsy and achey. I’m tense most of the time, bracing against anything that might use my abdominal muscles. After the second week, I am well enough to attend a Fourth of July party, but called it an early night so I could curl up and sleep – I couldn’t take the all of commotion.  The doctor tells me this is normal, but I feel like I’m missing something.

I finally realized I have been neglecting my wellness routine since the surgery! I was amazed at how much better I felt overall after just two days of starting it up again again. Here, I will share with you what keeps me feeling well as I continue to recover:

1. Restraint.  Just because you have a ‘good’ day does not mean that you should do more than the doctor ordered!  It takes a few more weeks for the incisions to heal all the way through, so try to be a patient patient.

2. Asking for help.  Prepare your friends and family what you will specifically need their help with.  You may need to prepare yourself to ask for help if this is something that is difficult for you.

3. Daily meditation.  I have a reminder set on my calendar to take a break and meditate for an hour every day.  In the past, this has increased my productiveness and energy levels tremendously.  After surgery, I didn’t have to be productive so I let my meditation slip. However, my body is working harder than ever, and meditation helps healing too.

4. Drinking water.  I normally drink at least a gallon every day.  After surgery, I just wasn’t drinking it.  As soon as I increased my water intake, I was much less fatigued and the pain seemed to decrease more quickly.

5. Eating every few hours.  Try to eat every 3-4 hours. Make sure to get lots of protein. Over-eating right after surgery makes your body work too hard for digestion when it should be focusing on healing. Balance your diet as much as possible, and include acidophilus if you’re taking antibiotics.

6. Maintaining a calm environment.  Friends and family will want to help, but if they bring drama, commotion, or unhealthy foods that aren’t good for the healing process, they’ll cause more harm than good.  Feel confident telling people you need to be alone to rest.  Friends who really care will understand and won’t be offended.

7. Reframing your thoughts.  Instead of thinking, “It has been TWO FULL WEEKS since my surgery! Will I ever heal?” try thinking, “It has ONLY been two weeks since my surgery and my body is still in the beginning stages of the healing process.” Mentally prepare yourself to ease back into your activities very slowly.

It may not seem like it, but you will make it to the end of the healing process. Make it a little less painful by following the above 7 steps. Having a four-legged friend by your side helps too. :)

Laurie Sherazee is a woman in the middle of a journey in search of her Authentic Self.  In her day job, she works as a Lead National Deployment Engineer for a major cable company. She also runs an eCommerce business. Laurie is constantly striving toward self-improvement, which led her here to DailyPath.

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Make the Most of Your Mind by Improving Your Mental Clarity

Photo courtesy of Daigo Tanaka

Today’s post is the first in our series entitled Mindful Mondays, where we will focus on improving mental clarity, memory and mood.

The older I get, the more I struggle with maintaining a clear head. It seems that thoughts swirl around in my brain, causing a whirlwind of mental activity that ultimately leads to overload. Things I really need to remember get caught up in the storm of my subconscious and end up lost.

Although there is a widespread myth that we only use 10% of our brains, that has since been dispelled. In fact, we use most parts of our brain every day, but the key is how we use it.

The problem with how most of us think is that we simply over work the part of the brain that is responsible for memory - the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The reason that part of our brains gets so over worked is because it is also responsible for planning, organization, regulation of intellectual functions and lying. Because so many of us spend our days planning and organizing projects that involve intellect, memory ends up taking a back seat.

I wrote earlier about improving memory, but have since learned even more on the subject. While it’s extremely possible to boost our ability to remember, the first thing we need to address is our mental clarity. Over the years, our brains have taken in a lot of useful information. Along with it came a lot of mental “junk” that we don’t need. We are constantly bombarded by information in this technologically advanced age. As the first step toward improving memory, we must first improve how that area of the brain is functioning. We have to oil the cogs and blow out the cobwebs.

Here are some of my first steps to improving mental clarity:

  • Becoming a meditation master This has made the biggest difference so far.
  • Spending time each and every day in nature – This offers me a respite from information overload and also boosts my vitamin D.
  • Limiting my television viewing time – The less I bombard my brain with, the better it will handle its business.
  • Eliminating alcohol and aspartame – These have both been shown to inhibit overall brain function.
  • Preventing blood sugar extremes – When I have a low blood sugar event, cohesive thought is next to impossible. I am trying to prevent this by eating a bunch of small meals throughout the day.
  • Avoiding situations that stress me out – Emotional stress really sends our brains into a tailspin. When I say that I’m living my life drama-free, I mean it.
  • Getting 8 hours of sleep each night – For me, this involves a sleep aid. Some would argue that the sleep aid inhibits memory, but I find it more beneficial to get adequate sleep than to be completely drug free.

As I move closer to the level of mental clarity I am comfortable with, I will begin incorporating more memory boosting activities. Please share with us in the comments or via email if you have any suggestions for improving brain function, and stay tuned for next week’s Mindful Monday.

 

 

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Can Taking a Mental Health Day Get You Fired?

Photo courtesy of Jinx!

Taking a sick day when you’re feeling physically horrible is generally considered acceptable by most employers, as long as it doesn’t happen all the time. However, tending to your mental health can be slightly more controversial if not handled correctly.

Nearly every job entails some amount of stress.  Add to that the high paced personal lives that many Americans are living, and you end up with a very mentally weary workforce, pushing themselves day after day to make it to their jobs. If you’re not physically ill –  is it ok to call in “sick?”

The answer doesn’t seem to be very cut-and-dried in very many employee handbooks.

If you’re feeling mentally drained, your workplace probably won’t benefit from your presence anyway, so taking an unscheduled day at home recovering your brainpower might be really beneficial. Just keep a few things in mind:

  • Remember to call your boss.
    Forgetting to let your superiors know that you won’t be at work is definitely not a good start to a relaxing day off. Call (don’t text) any and all management who need to know of your absence.
  • Use generalities.
    Explain that you are just not feeling well and that it would be best if you did not come in to the office that day. Avoid saying that you are sick so that you aren’t actually lying and to avoid the day after ”How are you feeling?” conversations.
  • Choose your day appropriately.
    Taking a day off when the office is already understaffed or super-busy will irritate co-workers who have to pick up your slack. Choose a slow day to take a mental rest.
  • Plan ahead.
    Avoid anything stressful on your mental health day - figure out how you’re going to spend your time before the actual day. Rent movies, borrow books, buy that ice cream you want to indulge in. Have everything on hand so that you don’t even have to leave the house.
  • Unplug.
    If you must, give yourself 30 minutes to answer personal emails, and then disconnect from the outside world. Turn off your computer and cell phone in order to focus entirely on relaxation.
  • Choose your company wisely.
    Spending your mental health day with a friend might possibly lead to drama or conflict. Don’t take that chance on your day off. Go solo and make all of the decisions yourself.
  • Don’t be seen in public.
    Why take the risk of being spotted by a coworker or superior? Stay at home, where you can recover your mental clarity while staying out of the spotlight.

The bottom line is this: your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and although a small number of managers still expect their employees to tough it out, many employers today understand the value of a mental health day. In order to limit your need for excessive absences, though, make sure you are constantly making tiny improvements in your everyday life, leaving you better equipped to handle stressors without becoming overloaded.

 

 

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How to Wake Up on the Right Side of the Bed

Is there anything more painful than waking up on the wrong side of the bed?  I can think of a couple, but they all involve the dentist.  We wake up every day, but few of us know the right way to wake up.  How we wake up sets the tone for the next 12+ hours and determines whether we accomplish anything, so you want to be sure you do this right!

This is easy when you’ve spent the night dreaming that you’re touring with your favorite band and are looking forward to a day at the beach … but what do you do when you wake up with a stiff back and a temper?

First, know that even successful people wake up grumpy, so don’t let a temporary state of being ruin your day.  Second, an alarm clock is useless when you’re half-dead.  Historically, I’ve relied on 2 alarm clocks, not because they work but out of a desperate hope that they would.  I’ve since learned that even a cattle prod can’t get me moving unless I’m in the right frame of mind.

Here are some tricks for overcoming this small but important hurdle in your day:

1. What are you grateful for?  Before you leave the bed, pump yourself up.  Tell yourself why you and your life rock.  Don’t overlook the small things – if having sushi for lunch will make your day, mention it.  If you’re dreading something, spin it in a positive light: “I have that project due today, but I have great coworkers who will help me, and then after work I’m going for a walk.”

2. Welcome your body back to the waking world.  Invest in nice sheets.  When you wake up, really touch and feel them, and as you do so, become more and more aware of your body, especially your feet and hands.  This helps energize your body and is more soothing than an alarm clock.  The wall next to my bed has a very pebbly texture, so I’ll press my hand against it to feel it.  It’s a gentle way of reminding my body that I’m waking up.

3. Movement is key.  If you’re feeling grumpy, trick your body by jumping out of bed and dancing across the room, or at least changing up your footsteps.  Do something unexpected to shock yourself out of lethargy, even if it’s a little hopping motion.  If you like music, sing or hum.  Your first steps out of bed can determine your mood for the rest of the day, so make sure they’re good ones.

4. If you can’t change your mood, stay in bed.  It may sound counter intuitive, but if you can’t change how you’re feeling, don’t get up until it shifts.  This may take a while, but it’s better than a bad day.

5. Resist the temptation to invest in a cat.  When it comes to waking you up in the morning, cats are actually more unforgiving than cattle prods.

Remember, waking up well is not done through willpower but a system that supports you and your mood.  Use these cheat codes to build that system for yourself, or create your own.

Today’s post was written by DailyPath reader Carolynn Ananian. Carolynn is an energy healer and teacher of metaphysics.  Based in New Jersey, she travels internationally helping people feel better so they can follow their dreams and leave their mark on the world.

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Why the Crazy Cat Lady Might be Saner Than You Think

Photo courtesy of Adrienne McGuire
Last month, our family bid goodbye to our beloved 12-year-old pug, Bruno. That’s him in the picture. He was quite an amazing dog, full of personality and attitude. He demanded attention and would howl in sadness anytime we left the house without him. My children never knew a life without a fluffy, pug-nosed friend following them around. He lived a good life, but last month his health quickly deteriorated. Losing our two-foot tall faithful companion was extremely sad, indeed.

I admit that having a pet is a huge responsibility, but the rewards are definitely worth it. Pet owners put a lot of time and effort into ensuring that their pets are healthy, well cared for, and happy. What they might not realize is, that time and effort will be returned tenfold because of the positive effects of bonding with their pet. Spending only 15 minutes cuddling with a furry friend causes the level of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body to drop, and boosts serotonin (a happy hormone). Blood pressure and heart rates are lower in pet owners too.

I know that spending time with Bruno definitely helped me when I was feeling sad, because I always had a really good listener to talk to. Pets love us unconditionally, and will offer us emotional support no matter what life throws at us. Also, the act of caring for and walking our pets forces us to move around and stop brooding, and, in fact, studies have shown that dog owners actually have a much easier time recovering from both physically and emotionally traumatic events.

A dog who gets walked everyday undoubtedly has a healthier human holding the leash! And, cat owners have great circulation and fewer strokes than the rest of us. It seems that cat owners, while lavishing their kitty with love and attention, divert themselves from other stressful triggers. Additionally, pet owners usually enjoy talking with other pet owners. This leads to more healthy interaction with other people, which is essential for keeping a healthy mind and can lead to improvements in other areas of life as well, professionally and personally.

Since my children grew up with Bruno, they are less likely to develop allergies, and more likely to have a stronger immune system. This will ideally lead to less sick days for them when they reach adulthood, which, for at least one of my children, might entail working with animals! He says he would like to help sick animals or teach service dogs how to help sick humans. (Animal lover through and through.) Service dogs can be trained to pick up dropped items, open doors, and warn their owner about impending dangers.

It’s clear that adopting a pet benefits both animals and humans. They help us to stay physically active, mentally balanced and happier overall, which makes finding success in other areas of our lives that much easier. If you have ever considered bringing a pet into your home, maybe now is the time to go for it. I know Bruno and I were both much better off for having known each other.

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You Can’t Keep a Bad Day Down. Or Can You?

Photo courtesy of Roy Costello
For me, today was one of those days where it felt like no matter what I did, the world was conspiring against me. I felt almost invisible and powerless to stop the cascading negative events that just kept coming. Now it is nearing evening and I am going to attempt to change course in order to end on a good note. I’m not sure if it’s going to work, but I am really, really hoping it does, mostly because I like feeling happy, but also because I like to feel in control of how my day plays out, and not the other way around.

Let’s face it: for some of us – having a bad day can easily affect our motivation and drive. It’s all too easy to throw in the towel and let one bad day snowball into a serious setback. Without making a conscious effort to pull ourselves out of the funk, the quicksand-like pull of the blahs can easily suck us into an endless case of the drearies. I know some people who never seem to get downhearted, no matter what life throws at them, but I am not so lucky. When I have a crap-tastic day, I need to work hard to improve my mood in order to stop the negative domino effect from ruining an entire week or more.

Over the years, I have developed strategies for rescuing myself from the quicksand before it gets a secure hold on me.  Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize that you’re having a bad day until you’re at your boiling point and about to scream.  Ideally, we want to have enough self-awareness to note that the day is quickly deteriorating, and take steps to improve it before it is a lost cause. Some of the things I do in an attempt to maintain a semblance of sanity might also work for you.

  •  Give yourself a break.
    When good days go bad, don’t expect anything too demanding from yourself, and ask for some time alone if possible.
  • Think about how much worse it could be.
     Picture yourself in a much more hopeless situation, and try to remind yourself that your day really wasn’t a total disaster, and that there are people suffering from much more significant problems than the not-so-awesome day you are having.
  • Don’t rehash.
    Instead of repeating the ill-fated events over and over again, stay in the present.  Try enjoying that time alone I mentioned above without stewing about all of the things that put you in this mood.  If you need to vent, choose one person, let it all out, and then stop talking about it.
  • Release.
    Pay particular attention to your thought process during this time; recognize troubling thoughts as you have them, and simply release them. Tell them they can go away now; you are done with them and they don’t affect you anymore.

It helps to have a plan in place that you can refer to during difficult times.  Try writing down the above steps and anything additional that helps you personally when you’re feeling desperate. On bad days,  consciously take yourself through each step, making a real effort to be mindful of the fact that the person ultimately controlling your mood is you.

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How to Play When the Deck is Stacked Against You


Photo courtesy of ccarlstead

During my chiropractic appointment today, I got to talking with the good doc about the condition of my spine and the fact that most of the joints in my body are degenerating prematurely due to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. After we briefly discussed my diagnosis, he sat down quite abruptly and said, “I can always tell within 5 minutes of meeting someone whether they are going to let their problems overtake them or if they are going to rise up and live life in spite of them. Adrienne – you are a determined person and you have a realistic attitude toward your condition. Embrace your problems and resolve to enjoy your life anyway.”

Of course, he’s right, but it is easy for anyone to lose focus when any part of your life is dragging you down and it seems like the world is against you. Regardless of the nature of your struggles, there is a lot you can do to move toward enjoying your life again, and it’s not as simple as having a good attitude! Although it can be difficult to stay motivated and engaged in life when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, one thing you definitely do NOT want to do is to adopt the “woe is me” approach. You might not always feel positively thrilled with the circumstances of your life, but try to steer clear of drowning in self-pity. This step alone will keep you afloat while you try to adapt your life accordingly.

Be proactive. Make a clear plan that sets out the goals you hope to achieve, whether personal, physical, emotional, or professional.  Be sure that you have specific goals and a clear plan of action that will allow you to accomplish them. Difficult times test our motivation levels, and staying focused on the end game will push you to persevere even when you really don’t want to.  Choose to spend your time with people who buoy your self-confidence and don’t bring you down further.  Eliminate “problem people” from your life and surround yourself with those who make you feel understood and encouraged during hard times.

As I have learned, sometimes life is less about trading in your cards and more about accepting the hand you have been dealt.  No matter what life has thrown at you, believe in yourself.   Have confidence that you can move through life and enjoy the awesome parts to the fullest. And, instead of battling your inner demons, hold hands with them and invite them along for the ride.

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How Your Health is Affecting Your Professional Success


Photo courtesy of idovermani

Once I decided to start working for myself from home, my diet admittedly became less than optimal.  I mean, the kitchen is right there. That delicious Easter candy is so close I can smell that Reese’s peanut butter cup. I began eating whatever was appealing to me on any particular day, instead of being forced to eat the healthy lunch I had packed for my previous office job. I began to realize that this whole “working for myself” thing, while ultimately the best choice for my particular situation, might be taking a toll on certain aspects of my health.

Bloggers, writers and other work-from-home entrepreneurs tend to do a lot of activities that can cause us to be less active than most people. We spend many hours a day coding, typing, reading, proofreading, emailing, posting, marketing, editing websites….and although we love what we do, it is extremely important to keep our bodies running well so that our minds can continue to produce the creativity that makes what we do possible. Additionally, our businesses could possibly skyrocket to a whole new level if we work on optimizing our overal general health.

We can take a look at the foods that we are fueling our minds with, and make some easy changes by cutting out sugary drinks and processed foods all day long. These will sap our energy and our creative levels will plummet.  Taking regular breaks to eat healthy meals and snacks is vital and can really energize productivity levels.  Making time during the work day for brief exercise breaks is a good idea too.  A benefit of working for yourself means that you don’t have totally set hours! Take a half hour in the middle of your work day for a yoga session or a walk around the neighborhood.

Of course, this applies to everyone who is employed, no matter what your job title is, and regardless of who is the boss.  However, working for yourself means that you have to impose many rules and routines onto yourself, without someone telling you, “You will now take a break and eat.” We have a lot to be in charge of as entrepreneurs, and sometimes we put our physical health on the back burner.  Put your health on the front burner! You’ll see a rise in your motivation level, your productivity will increase, and your business will be more successful than ever.

 

 

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How Full Catastrophe Living Can Change Your Life

Photo courtesy of Hape_Gera

A few months ago, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III, a painful connective tissue disorder that makes many everyday activities impossible, including working outside of the home. I had to resign from my well-paying office job and I began to feel that my life as I knew it was over. I didn’t know what I was going to do, if I could pay my bills, or if I could still manage to be a good enough parent. I was also in quite a great deal of physical pain which just kept getting worse. I spiraled downward into a pit of self loathing and despair until I hit a hard rock bottom and realized there was nowhere left to go but up.

I clawed my way out of my depression long enough to crawl into the lap of my new therapist, who recommended that I read the book Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I began reading it as soon as it arrived at my front door in that familiar brown packaging I have come to love. In the book, Zinn describes the experiences of his patients during his ten years of teaching an eight-week course called the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Over 4,000 people ultimately took the course, which teaches mindfulness as an effective way to develop control over our own lives, despite all of the catastrophes we may be presented with on a regular basis.

During my reading of the book, I began to put some of his suggestions into practice in my own life and I started to see a change in the way I faced difficulties. Mindfulness involves using our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness and insight, and becomes a form of ‘walking meditation’ as you move throughout your daily activities. Your focus moves from “doing” to “being” as you learn how to concentrate on the foundations of mindfulness: non-judging, patience, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go. This transformation is reached through a combination of breathing, various forms of meditation, body scans and yoga.

Throughout my experience with practicing full catastrophe living, I have learned how to watch my thoughts rather than getting caught up in them. By allowing my body and mind to rest in the moment I have become more adept at tuning into life’s basic experiences. I am now able to be in the moment with everything exactly as it is, without wanting to change a thing. Daily, I have been practicing mindfulness by concentrating on what is happening now rather than things in the past or future, and I have gained a deep appreciation for the present. I have realized that I have a limited time on this earth and in this body, so I’m taking it all in. Every. Single. Moment.

If you’re anything like me, and have been dealing with an increased amount of stressors in your life, give the concept of mindfulness a try.  You’ll be surprised at how much of life you’ve been missing.

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