Pizz-servere in the New Year

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other” – Walter Elliot

When it’s -10° outside everything seems more difficult.  It’s harder to crawl out of bed, harder to get motivated and even harder to order a pizza, with higher volumes of people ordering for delivery. With a couple months of seasonal depression looming, we all have times when we simply don’t feel like doing anything.  In these moments when we are losing our passion, it’s more important than ever to persevere.

Fortunately, it’s always easy to eat pizza, and a cozy New Years Eve bash has me reflecting on small, simple daily wins we can give ourselves to endure and see our commitments through.

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Emil’s Pepperoni

Enduring the cold with Emil’s.

This New Years Eve with a bitter cold outside and the thought of staying out late partying looking bleak, Tess and I opted to watch the ball drop with a couple friends and some frozen pizzas. Emil’s frozen pizzas that is (my friends have long debated the correct pronunciation of Emil’s, with some claiming an emphasis on the E, like E mills (Kane I’m looking at you) or on the Em, like Em ills or even Em eals).

As midnight approached we were accompanied by one of our favorite couples Steve and Rachel.  We shared some laughs as we picked slices from a three course round of frozens and played “Heads Up!” on Tess’s phone.  Steve and Rachel know my passion for pizza well, and in anticipation of our little New Years celebration provided the pizzas (thank you Steve and Rachel, excellent selections and execution).  That night they also introduced me to Urban Pie Brady Street Eight Cheeses and Creamy Garlic Alfredo Sauce pizza, but that earns its own post later on.

I’m a big fan of Emil’s not just because my Great Grandfather shared the same name, but because they are native to Watertown, WI and are delicious.  Emil’s are typically served-up out of those old-school boxy metal pizza ovens in taverns and bowling alleys all across Wisconsin.  They bake great at home too and are found in many freezer sections.  Emil’s is always a solid choice loaded with a unique mozzarella/colby cheese blend and a thin yet flaky crust.

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Emil’s was my New Years Eve inspiration.  

Just as it can be increasingly difficult to muster the energy for a night of partying on New Years Eve in the cold, sometimes commitments in our life can feel equally as taxing. Even though I have an insatiable appetite for pizza, some days I just don’t feel like taking pictures of pizza or writing about it and I just want to eat it in peace.

When I start to feel like hibernating I know that if I just take bite size chunks out of my endeavors everyday I will feel accomplished.  That’s the magic of perseverance; we can break up tasks into small, manageable portions.  “Winning the daily private victory” was what Stephen R. Covey the best selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said. If we see our passions through we will have an internal pride and contentment within ourselves.

Here are some reminders I gave myself to get off my butt and write this blog (applicable to any situation where you need to get off your butt).

  1. Aim for small wins to build momentum. By continually chipping away at our goals we slowly but surely create a snowball effect and end up where we want to be. Our efforts compound.
  2. Visualize the big picture.  Imagine how great you will feel when you stick to your guns and get stuff done.  The end victory is more rewarding than any instant gratification.
  3. Remember a sense of purpose.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of the “why?” in why we do what we do.  For me, writing this blog is about the daily practice of honing my skills with writing, challenging my creative thinking and problem solving. Committing to this discipline is fulfilling to me, so I just have to remember that “why”.

What pizza taught me:

Our perseverance is rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. We can find warmth in knowing  we didn’t stray from our path in the glum winter days and that pizza delivery times will only get shorter.

What I’m eating:  Emil’s pepperoni and Emil’s sausage & mushroom pizzas

What I’m reading: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People -Stephen R. Covey

 

Pizza as a Present

“The best gifts are those we not only cherish but put to use” Les Brown

Tis the season for giving and I can think of no better way to show someone you care than with the greatest gift of all; pizza.  A co-worker at my office actually received a large pizza as their Secret Santa present this year and I was taken aback by the sheer awesomeness of that gift idea.

I have to admit as I witnessed the pizza delivered to my co-workers desk, I was silently wishing that somehow there was a mix up and the pizza was intended for me.  I think this was apparent to my colleagues too as I bashfully asked to take pictures of the pizza. Beyond my extreme jealously though, I also felt inspired by the genius of the innovative offering. The potential gift giving possibilities of pizza began to flourish in my mind.

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The Secret Santa pizza.

I will never dodge a Secret Santa sign up again.

Approaching this years’ holiday season I had already been pondering the idea of giving and receiving pizza. I had even asked my Mom for a Gus’ Pizza as my Xmas gift, but she seemed to shrug it off, thinking I was just being silly. (I love your gifts Mom, thanks!)

In reality though I would be delighted to find a pizza under the Christmas tree; not only because I love pizza, but because holiday giving is all about bringing joy to others no matter the form of the gift.

Taking inventory. 

As I unpack the gifts I received this year, I feel so grateful as I consider all the thought that went into the gifts.  A gift is a reflection of how much we care for others.  It shows the details we picked up on throughout the year, whether it be in conversation or simply observing behaviors.

It feels great when others recognize our interests and deliver a gift that suites our interests perfectly.  For example, I couldn’t wait to give my brother a gift box that included a cheese I knew he would love- the perfect combination of aged cheddar and blue cheese. Or, the fidget cube Tess gave me for my desk wrapped in a holiday themed pizza bag.

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What pizza taught me:

The best feeling is realizing someone has been mentally taking notes throughout the year to show you they care.  Holiday giving is all about those warm and fuzzies you get when you see your recipient light up.

What I wish I was eating: Roman Candle large pizza delivered to my desk at work as a Secret Santa gift.

What I’m reading: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less –Greg McKeown

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson in Leadership from Legendary New York Style Pizza

“Leadership is a choice, it is not a rank” -Simon Sinek

On my recent trek to New York City I was on the prowl for the quintessential New York street slice.  I was looking to find the best of the best, and figured there is no better place to explore than the heart of the big apple, Manhattan.  After searching online and taking the advice of friends I found the authentic slice I was looking for at Joe’s Pizza on Carmine.

Joe’s Pizza has been around for 40 years and is referred to as a “Greenwich Village institution”.  New York Magazine hails Joe’s Pizza as “the best of New York” and by the line out the door you can tell many other people agree.  The place is frequented by a wide array of celebrities from Bill Murray to Leonardo DiCaprio, and there is proof from a collage of photos on the wall.  From my understanding it’s about as classic New York pizza as you can get and it seems to set the standard for the classic New York slice joint.

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Joe’s Pizza is on another level. 

Joe’s Pizza isn’t the prettiest place, it’s actually really small, it’s simple, but it executes. There are no frills or gimmicks that generate the constant line out the door, it’s just great pizza churned out on white paper plates for cash.

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The menu is as barebones as it gets; cheese slice, pepperoni slice, fresh mozzarella slice and Sicilian slice. That’s it, four options.  The pizza is the same way; composed of simple high quality ingredients that have been prepared the same way for decades.  The crust is very thin yet chewy and can barely hold the cheese; thus the classic New York fold is necessary. The sauce is vibrant and not over loaded with spices.  The pizza and menu are basic, but the quality is exceptional.

“Pizza is made from your heart” says the third generation owner Sal Pozzuoli in a video on Gold Belly where you can have their pizza delivered to you nationwide (a great Christmas gift).  He speaks alongside his Grandfather who opened the infamous pizza joint and they discuss the values that have made them a leader in the competitive New York pizza scene.

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Smooth operators. 

After four days of pizza eating in Manhattan, the mecca for pizza, it’s clear Joe’s is the the top dog.  Not only is their pizza fantastic, but I was fascinated by how they ran the tiny shop.

During my visit the place was a madhouse with a line winding out the door onto the sidewalk.  As I approached the counter I observed an older fellow I imagined was a manager or owner smoothly running the show.  He calmly did about five things at once.  He coached employees stretching dough balls, tended the oven, delegated counting the till, all while keeping a warm demeanor as he welcomed and took orders from a huge rush of customers.

We can all take a lesson from Joe’s Pizza.   

In between blissful memories of New York slices the size of my head I’ve contemplated several practices that comprise a solid leader.

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Working on my fold
  • Lead by example:  The manager at Joe’s was on the front line during the busy rush with his team. He set an example with his organization, hustle and pleasant customer service.
  • Motivate:  Everyone should be inspired to keep the pizzas flowing and the customers smiling.  Employees need an understanding of the big picture in any work environment in order to excel.
  • Delegate:  A single person can’t run a whole pizza shop during a busy rush.  A leader has to rely on a team to get the job done and know when to pass the pizza cutter.
  • Build trust: Others have to respect and trust you if your going to get any slices out the door.  The easiest way to build trust is to communicate and be transparent.  John C Maxwell leadership expert says “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”.
  • Be decisive:  How many pizza’s do we need in the oven for this dinner rush?  How many dough balls do we need for tomorrow? A leader has to make decisions and see them through.

What pizza taught me:

We can all think of ourselves as leaders and apply basic leadership principles to any area of our lives.  There’s no better place to start learning than from the best of the best.  Thank you Joe’s Pizza for a delicious lesson.

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What I’m eating: Joe’s Pizza on Carmine, Greenwich Village NY, cheese slice and pepperoni slice.

What I’m reading: Advanced Selling Strategies Brian Tracy

Pizza Always Has a Place

“A tradition is kept alive only by something being added to it” -Henry James

Thanksgiving is the ultimate day of gratitude and eating, so where’s the pizza?  The way I see it, on a day devoted to giving thanks and indulging on carb-loaded delicacies, pizza is a natural fit.  I know it doesn’t necessarily fit the traditional flavors of the Thanksgiving spread and doesn’t exactly match the classic ambiance we envision at the table with Grandma, but I believe there is a place for pizza somewhere.

It turns out many other people feel the same way.  And no, I’m not suggesting I was the weirdo that brought a pizza to the Thanksgiving dinner table (though I’ve considered it).  I’m talking about the pizza eating that takes place around the holidays when we are surrounded by family and friends.

Finding a place for some pie. 

Many people enjoy their pizza the night before Thanksgiving to avoid cooking or to recharge after drinks with old friends.  My Aunt Karen used it as an easy meal for traveling relatives with busy schedules in the days following Thanksgiving.  She explained that she had limited time to connect everyone before they departed; pizza was the most viable option.

My pizza indulgence takes place the night of Thanksgiving, long after the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes have made their appearance, when a faint glimpse of hunger starts to resurface.  I’ll be back at home, snuggled into my spot on the couch and while many may grab for the leftover Turkey sandwich, I spring for some pizza.

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Pizza brings a little more zest to round-two.  

For many years my brother Jeff and I have had a “pizza on Thanksgiving night” tradition. With all of the restaurants closed we always had to pick our pizza from the freezer section of our local grocery store or gas station (which ever was open).

Now after all these years I’ve swapped my brother for my my wonderful wife Tess. With this years festivities approaching we contemplated our frozen pizza options and decided to mix things up.

One of my favorite evolutions to take place in the frozen pizza aisle is the addition of cheese sticks.   The cheese stick is basically a sauceless pizza crust, basted with garlic butter, smothered in cheese, cut in strips and dunked into sides of sauce.  Over the years they’ve seemed to become more prevalent in restaurants (Toppers is king, but that’s a whole ‘nother post) and are now to my excitement even popping up the freezer section.

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Portesi Cheese Fries.

So, with a hankering for some cheese sticks and with Toppers my normal go to closed on Thanksgiving day (they are only closed 2 days a year), I went with Portesi thin crust Cheese Fries.  The Portesi Cheese Fries are native to central Wisconsin and hail from Stevens Point.  I originally found out about the Cheese Fries from a friend Steve, who has a serious passion for the garlicky, cheesy breadsticks and firmly suggests you have to go thin crust (there is a rising crust option).

The Cheese Fries are loaded with more cheese than your typical item from the frozen section. They come prepackaged with a marinara sauce for dipping, but with the generous portion of mozzarella and garlic butter base it’s almost unnecessary.

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Time to pop in a movie and preheat the oven.

The debut of the Portesi Cheese Fries into my Thanksgiving routine reminds me that the joy we take from such traditions is up to us and it’s fun to switch things up every now and again.  Our lives will inevitably change and if we cling to traditions too much we can end up disappointed.

The entry for November 23 (Thanksgiving) in Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic is fitting “The things we are attached to can come and go, our reasoned choice is resilient and adaptable.  The sooner we become aware of this the better.  The easier it will be to accept and adapt to what does happen.”

What pizza taught me:

Embracing a tradition can bring a lot of warm nostalgia, but we shouldn’t be bound by old ways.  We can change locations, invite new guests, or add some pizza, all that matters is that we enjoy ourselves and our favorite people.

What I’m eating: Portesi thin crust Cheese Fries

What I’m reading: Ryan Holiday The Daily Stoic

 

 

Communication is as Key as the Crust

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives”-Tony Robbins

Recently I had the extraordinary honor to be the best man in my brother Jeff’s wedding.  In true Luther fashion we couldn’t let a life-time milestone pass us by without some pizza.  Jeff and his bride Jaime not only had some amazing wood-fired pizza at the rehearsal dinner, but even surprised everyone with late night Dominos at the reception.  They know how to pizza party.

In preparation for my best man speech I contemplated the qualities of a lasting relationship. As I swept my mind for the characteristics that keep two people together forever, I kept circling back to communication.  Sharing pizza with our loved ones is a no-brainer, but it’s even more important to share our feelings with them as well.

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I’m a proud member of the pizza planning committee.

At Oakfire Pizza in Lake Geneva a long table of family and friends reminisce and enjoy some laughs around an elegant spread of neapolitan style pizzas.  Love is in the air as we excitedly share in anticipation with the bride and groom and some thin chewy pizza.

Little did everyone know that thoughtful planning went into the array of pizzas before them.  My favorite best man duty was working with my brother and Jaime to pick out the pizzas for the rehearsal dinner.  I was delighted and deeply honored that my brother asked me to help finalize the pizza selection

Putting our heads together for the perfect pizza spread.  

We took into account everyone’s likes and dislikes we delivered a feast of pizzas for the whole family.  Of course a classic cheese option was necessary, so we went with a Margherita that consisted of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, pecorino romano and olive oil.  The sauce was vibrant and was a nice contrast with the subtle smoothness of the fresh mozzarella.

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Slice of Margherita

My personal favorite was the Diavola which was basically a pepperoni option that came with soppressata (spicy italian salami), mozzarella, fresh basil and pecorino romano.  The spicy italian salami, had a nice spicy kick and seemed to be a hit at my end of the table.  Another fan fave was the Bosco; a sausage and mushroom pie with mozzarella, fresh basil and pecorino romano.  The sausage was crumbly and savory.

It was a beautiful sight to see our ideas come to life as the pies were plucked out of a big wood-fired oven and served right before our eyes.  We communicated effectively to provide a dinner that would suit everyone’s tastes, we even had a gluten free option. Of course Jeff and Jaime were the stars of the rehearsal dinner, but the pizza we brainstormed up was definitely a highlight.

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The Diavola

Communication is key.  

According to best selling author and speaker Brian Tracy in his book Advanced Selling Strategies “Most of your success in life will depend on your ability to get along well with others, and on the quality of your relationships. Phycologist Sidney Jourard found that 85 percent of a person’s happiness in life comes from happy interactions with other people.”

Several communication practices I’ve adopted that have helped me in my own relationships.  

  1. Listen.  Great communication is more about listening than speaking.  When we actively listen to those around us we become invested in them, and in turn they build trust in us.   Jeff, Jaime and I realized we needed a gluten free option, a cheese option and a pepperoni by taking into account everyones desires.
  2. Keep it simple. We can take note from the Margarita pizza and remember sometimes less is more.  Often a clear cut, concise message is more effective.
  3. It’s all in the delivery. We need to be mindful of the way our message is received.  Our message can be drastically misconstrued by the tone of our voice and the pace of our delivery.  We don’t want to come off harsh, impatient or sarcastic.
  4. Give more than you take.  When we open up to others it should be to benefit one another and compromise. We should accommodate and work to solve problems, so both parties end up happy.

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What pizza taught me:

In a solid relationship communication is key.  Just as important as sharing our pizza, is sharing our thoughts and feelings with the people in our lives.  Congrats Jeff and Jaime!

What I’m eating:  Oakfire Pizza; The Diavola; soppressata (Spicy Italian Salami), mozzarella, fresh basil, pecorino romano

What I’m reading:  TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking Chris Anderson

The Faithful Frozen

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”-Aristotle

When we order pizza at a restaurant, we are at their mercy. Our satisfaction largely depends on interactions with staff, the preparation of the pizza and the delivery of it.  Whether we encounter a rude employee or a cold pizza, there is a lot that can go wrong and it almost seems the odds are stacked against us.  

The frozen pizza on the other hand is in our control and is the perfect example of consistency. When you tear off that plastic wrapping, you know exactly what you’re in for.  You may have to rearrange a few pepperonis, but after 12 minutes in the oven, you and that pizza are golden.

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The pizza you can count on. 

The frozen has been a staple my whole life; comforting me at grade school sleep-overs, nourishing me as an afternoon snack in High School, and coming to the rescue at the wee hours of the morning in college. Even now into my 30’s the frozen pizza offers a platform to bond and connect with old friends.

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As a safety measure to avoid burning down our cabin we cooked our frozen pizza’s outside in a toaster oven. 

At a rented cabin in the North woods of Wisconsin a smörgåsbord of Jack’s and Tombstone frozen pizza’s helped feed my brothers bachelor party. We took turns tending a little toaster oven that continually churned out frozens all weekend long.

“What would you like on your Tombstone?”

One of the highlights for me was digging into a Tombstone classic sausage pizza.  The pizza was sprinkled with pea-gravel sized sausage that became embedded in a melty layer of cheese upon baking. 

The Tombstone original has a slightly thicker crust than most thin crust frozen pizza’s. When it comes out of our toaster oven the crust is a golden brown around the edges.  The middle is pooled with white melty cheese and grease from the toppings.  Sauce bubbles up through cracks created by the running of the pizza cutter.

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Consistent as the crunch of the corner piece.

The frozen pizza is a timeless classic because you get the same trusty pizza every time. If we take a lesson from the frozen pizza and we are consistent and disciplined in our positive behaviors, we improve.  We become reliable.  Retired Navy Seal, author and podcaster Jocko Willink says it well and simply with the title of his new book: “Discipline Equals Freedom”.

Willink describes how we have a psychological advantage when we consistently set ourselves up for success.  When we have the right mental attitude and follow healthy routines we feel in control, and it’s freeing.

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How can we begin to reach frozen pizza level consistency?  

  1. Be dependable. The frozen pizza is available 24/7, it’s reliable and pretty darn tasty.  We can be that rock for the people in our lives. Trust is everything.
  2. Stick to a routine.  There’s a certain level of comfort that comes from the predictability of a routine. When I make a Tombstone pizza I know what I’m going to get.    
  3. Follow through on goals. When we know our target, we can continually take steps to hit it. The outcome of the frozen pizza is up to us. We’ll end up with a properly cooked pizza if we preheat the oven correctly and set the timer.
  4. Reward yourself. When our pepperoni’s are in order, the oven is set at a proper 425º and we pull out a perfect bubbling pizza, that’s magic.  Take a moment and bask in it’s excellence.

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What pizza taught me:

We can take a lesson from the faithful frozen pizza by consistently sticking to positive practices. With rountines we can become as reliable as the frozen. 

What I’m eating: Tombstone-Classic Sausage Pizza

What I’m reading: Ryan Holiday The Obstacle is the Way

 

 

 

Cheat Day with Extra Cheese, Please

“Everything in moderation, including moderation” -Oscar Wilde

All hail the magnificent cheat day, where we can indulge in guilt-free pizza with extra cheese and extra pepperoni, because we’ve earned it. Whether we’ve persevered through a week of work or stuck to our exercise and diet routines, the cheat day can be the light at the end of the tunnel and we should take full advantage of it.

Pizza and the wonderful cheat day go hand-in-hand. This perfect match both soothes us and nurtures us, simultaneously reminding us to unwind and have some fun.  For me, it’s hard to fathom letting a cheat day pass without some form of pizza making an appearance.

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Pizza, pizza.

On a crisp fall Saturday afternoon I decided to cheat to my heart out.  I’ve worked out, eaten clean and put in extra effort at work all week, so now it’s time to pizza party.  This cheat day I passed a Little Caesar’s and spontaneously pulled a u-turn for a “Hot N’ Ready”  I haven’t had Little Caesar’s since college and a cheap greasy pizza sounded like it would hit the spot. The power of the cheat day took affect, anything goes.

I picked up a “Hot N’ Ready” and in true cheat day fashion I splurged, spent an extra $1 and got the “Extra Most Bestest” which is an extra cheese and extra pepperoni pizza.  I even got an order of “Crazy Bread”.

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Many may argue against the likes of Little Caesar’s, but I do not discriminate. That Saturday afternoon Little Caesar’s, the notoriously cheapest pizza of them all was exactly what I wanted and that’s all that matters in a quality cheat day.  The point of cheat day is to fulfill your desires and indulge on your every whim.

Now and again we need to give ourselves a break.

Taking some time off is just as important as the hard work we put in.  Having a good balance in life keeps us sane and makes all of our efforts feel worth it.  By allowing ourselves to take a breather, we can stay focused and avoid burnout. We can reflect on our accomplishments and rejuvenate, so we can get back at it again.IMG_0688

Not only is the cheat day soothing for the soul, but it can also be good for us physically.  Tim Ferris references the cheat day in his book The Four Hour Body “I make myself a little sick each Saturday and don’t want to look at any junk for the rest of the week.  Paradoxically, dramatically spiking caloric intake in this way once per week increases fat-loss by ensuring that your metabolic rate (thyroid function and conversion of T4 to T3, etc) doesn’t downshift from extended caloric restriction.

That’s right: eating pure crap can help you lose fat. Welcome to Utopia.”

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Recharging the batteries

The cheat day after some hard work is truly a beautiful occurrence.  I believe there are  several components to setting yourself up for a righteous cheat:

  1. Work hard, eat pizza hard.  Make the cheat day a goal at the end of the week.  A cheat day has to be earned, otherwise it doesn’t mean much.  Likewise you have to commit to yourself to return to your normal routine/work habits following the amazing day.
  2. Take mental notes: I’m a planner, so I like taking note of all the cravings that have teased me all week and I try to make them happen in some shape or form.  This leaves me feeling satisfied after my cheat day has come and gone.
  3. No regrets: Be prepared to forgive yourself for whatever debauchery occurs on cheat day. Tim Ferriss says “There are no limits or boundaries during this day of gluttonous enjoyment”.
  4. Live in the moment.  Feel gratitude for the day you get to indulge in.  Let go of last week’s worries and future anxieties and enjoy the present. Go with the flow, eat whatever pizza your heart desires.
  5. Let yourself off the hook.  Don’t worry about other people and just do what you want; satisfy that craving with pizza your partner or friends don’t normally care for. Go easy on yourself for a day.

What pizza taught me:

We have to have balance in our lives. A healthy dose of relaxation is just as important as the hard work we put towards a goal. There is no better occasion than the cheat day to enjoy some guilt-free pizza.

What I’m eating: Little Caesar’s Hot N’ Ready “Extra most Bestest”.

What I’m reading:  The Four Hour Body -Tim Ferriss