“I wash my hands of this weirdness.” – Jack Sparrow

handwashing 2

While visiting my hometown recently, I drove by the local hospital which displayed a digital sign that read:

Staff hand washing compliance

95%

My first thought when reading that sign was, “Is the hospital bragging about the 95% compliance rate for hand washing or is it trying to shame the 5% who were not compliant by making them feeling like outliers?”

My second thought when reading that sign was, “Is this metric self-reported and therefore likelier lower than 95%, or did the hospital have cameras set up in washrooms to measure how many people washed their hands?  How can the hospital be confident in the 95% statistic?”

My third thought when reading that sign was that it is amazing that in 2015, in a developed country where fresh, clean water is plentiful, 100% compliance with hand washing in a hospital isn’t a given.  95%?  Really?  Yikes.  I’d hate to be the patient who gets to be treated or fed by the 5% who didn’t wash their hands.

In 1847, Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that the simple act of washing hands prior to birthing babies decreased mortality rates by 90%.  Just that one simple act.  Since then (or at least since Semmelweis’ death, given doctors didn’t believe his assertion while he was alive), the World Health Organization and medical professionals have touted proper hand washing as the single most effective way of reducing health care-associated infections and incidents of flu, and of generally staying healthy.  In light of this, it’s amazing that there is even hesitation in doing something that we know is good for all of us.

But we humans are a funny animal.  Despite knowing better, we resist or avoid simple acts that can have a positive effect on our well-being and happiness.  30 minutes of exercise a day helps to keep us healthy, yet how many excuses do we give for not exercising on a daily basis?  Each day has 1440 minutes: even setting aside 8 hours a day for sleep (ha!) and 8 hours a day for work, we are left with 480 minutes.  Surely we can exercise for 30 of them.*

Did I mention sleep?  7 to 9 hours per night are needed so that we  can be productive and safe and even stave off aging, but many of us frequently give up sleep in order to watch a marathon session of Orange is the New Black on Netflix, to scroll through images of people’s dinner on Instagram or to catch up on the million errands that never have an end.  We are a nation (or nations) of walking zombies because we’re too tired to set the right priorities on our health and well-being.

So how can we enhance our well-being?

1.  Measure it by the numbers:  20 seconds of hand washing, 30 minutes of exercise, and 7 hours of sleep can do more for our overall health than most of the more expensive and time-consuming alternatives.  Just think about how much money our health care system could save if we all just followed these few simple ideas.

2.  Take time to take care of yourself.  We trade our sleep or other simple health initiatives for other priorities, but if you don’t make time to take care of yourself now, how will you find time to take care of yourself if you’re sick?

3. Think positively and practise gratitude.   A positive attitude helps build a healthier immune system and boosts overall health and studies show that happiness is related to feeling grateful for what we already have.  People who keep a gratitude journal, writing down 3 things a day or a week that they are grateful for,  feel better and tend to be more optimistic about their lives as a whole.

Now to convince the other 5%.

* More than 30 minutes is required for weight loss or for preparing to participate in athletic pursuits such as marathon races and competitive ballroom dancing, but for general overall health, 30 minutes does it.

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My Smartphone, My Self

Blog smartphone photo

Yesterday, I had driven three minutes away from my house and was running late for an appointment when that scary shower theme from Psycho started playing in my head.  I had Forgotten. My. Smartphone.

On a road with no easy exit, it would have taken me 20 minutes out of my way to turn back to get it.  Worse, I was not quite sure how to get to my destination, and I normally would have used my phone’s GPS app to find my way.  So the dilemma was, do I forge on and possibly make it on time, or go back for my phone and most certainly be late?

I soldiered on, the memory of my phone sitting on the kitchen counter taunting me.  What if there was an emergency and no one could reach me?  What if I wanted to capture a moment and tweet about it or post it on Instagram?  What if I needed to look something up on Google?  How would I survive the day without my Blackberry?*

But amazingly, without my smartphone appendage, a funny thing happened:

  • I made it to my destination without relying on GPS.
  • I performed with a dance troupe at a festival.
  • I chatted in person with the family and friends who were with me, rather than by text with those who are far away.
  • I shopped for flowers.
  • I planted herbs.
  • I sat out in the sunshine and enjoyed the view.
  • I read a chapter of my book.
  • I wrote out a list of things I needed to do in the coming week.
  • I planned out the design of my invitations for an upcoming birthday party.
  • I cooked supper.
  • I purged my closet of old clothes that no longer fit me.

Turned out, I was so involved in being present and enjoying the day that I actually forgot to retrieve my phone even when I got home.  By the time I remembered it, 9 hours had passed and I realized I hadn’t missed a thing, but I had been filled with so much. I couldn’t believe how much I had accomplished, freed from the distraction of checking for messages and the constant updates on Facebook.

All this, because I forgot my phone.

The day had felt good and purposeful.  Fulfilling.  Satisfying.

And this is what I learned:

1.  Just as turning the TV off can give you back hours in a day to accomplish things, so can setting boundaries around how much and how often you’ll check your phone.  Every moment of the day does not need to be spent with the head down staring at a screen, but should be enjoyed with the head up being present in the world.

2.  Relying on my smartphone has made me lazy about simple things like remembering driving directions or how to spell certain words.  I’d been to my destination before and knew the address, so the GPS lady was not really necessary.  And I used to be a champion speller in elementary school; surely I haven’t forgotten it all already?!

3.  The world will not stop revolving just because someone can’t text you, or because you weren’t able to post that photo of your lunch on Instagram.  We survived before smartphones and, yes, we can survive a few hours detached from them throughout the day.

Yesterday was such a lovely day that, who knows, I may “accidentally” forget my phone at home tomorrow, too.

* (OK.  Stop laughing.  I happen to like my Blackberry.  Yes, I’m retro.)