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Bernie Armada is passionate about many things — his family, his work, his music, his health. But barely a year ago, the 41-year-old professor was letting them all go. Exhausted, stressed and diffident, he was in an emotional funk that left him with little enthusiasm for anything.

On sabbatical from his teaching job, Armada found himself wasting too many hours watching television, playing video games and sleeping. He frequently snapped at his three young children and began putting on weight as a result of his lackluster eating and exercise habits.

It wasn’t that Armada didn’t want to change, he just didn’t have a clue how to overcome the emotional and physical obstacles he faced. So he turned to the Internet and stumbled upon Live Dynamite, a Twin Cities–based personal-development program. (Experience Life profiled the firm in a January/February 2008 feature, “Resolutions Workshop 2008: Support Tactics.”) Intrigued, Armada decided to give it a try.

It was a wise choice. In just 12 months, he’s done an emotional 180 and rediscovered his enthusiasm for his work, family and music. He’s also made his health and
fitness a priority, losing 25 pounds and lowering his cholesterol by 26 points, while strengthening his body — as well as his mind and soul.

Achiever to Procrastinator

Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., Armada always pursued his passions. At 11, he learned to play piano and immediately fell in love with classical music. Three years later, he successfully auditioned for a slot at New York’s prestigious High School of Performing Arts, where he dedicated countless hours to perfecting his skills.

In college, he pursued degrees in both music and communications, and eventually earned his PhD in speech communications. His dissertation won a national award in 2001, the same year he married his wife, Gina. Life was good.

But in 2003, things took a turn when Armada assumed the chair of his department at a private, liberal arts university in St. Paul, Minn., where he’d taught for six years. Administrative duties, interpersonal conflicts and a rigorous teaching load sapped his energy and multiplied his stress. “The four years I chaired my department were the toughest professional years I had ever had,” he recalls.

Gina held a challenging job as well, and together the couple juggled the demands of parenthood as they started a family, welcoming Alex in 2004 and twins Maria and Sabrina in 2006.

By the time Armada began his sabbatical in August 2007, he wasn’t himself. When he wasn’t totally withdrawn from his family, he was reactive and short-tempered with his children. His trademark sense of humor had disappeared. He still dabbled in improvisational comedy and music, but they had little effect on his malaise.

Worse, a nagging foot injury prevented Armada from running. He loved to jog while listening to music, considering it both a stress reliever and a “socially acceptable form of dancing in the streets.” But even after his foot healed, he couldn’t find the motivation to maintain a consistent exercise program. He also neglected his diet, which contributed to the extra 20 pounds on his previously lean 6-foot frame.

Still more dispiriting, Armada procrastinated on a major goal for his sabbatical: to turn a chapter of his dissertation into an academic article.

Chasing Dreams

Desperate to reverse the emotional and physical erosion of the previous four years, Armada signed up for the Live Dynamite program in January 2008 and set to work on his Playbook, the hybrid journal and planner that forms the backbone of Live Dynamite’s program.

He also attended his first group session, where program co-creator Maryanne O’Brien asked each participant to make two lists: things that made them feel grateful and achievements that made them feel proud. Realizing how much he had already accomplished, Armada had his first real breakthrough.

He began diligently following the program’s exercises and soon produced a stack of cards displaying his short- and long-term goals: publish his paper, get up early to see the sun rise and exercise, start lifting weights, be more patient with his kids, and take jazz and blues piano lessons in hopes of playing in a band.

He read the cards at the start and end of each day, a practice O’Brien said would help banish negative thoughts and retrain the brain to expect great things. As Armada began reaching his small goals, he gained the confidence he needed for taking even bolder action.

About four months into the program, things really started to click. He submitted his article to a journal and soon had it accepted for publication. He started jazz piano lessons and joined a band. And he learned strategies for staying calm around his kids, which allowed him to more fully enjoy his time with them.

Feeling more like his old self, Armada was ready to tackle his physical health. He started running again and began lifting weights twice a week, gradually working up to a six-day-a-week intensive exercise program in preparation for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. In October, he crossed the finish line in 4:46:48, carrying 25 fewer pounds. Though a back injury briefly slowed his training, he credits Live Dynamite’s tenets with keeping him upbeat and motivated.

Life at Its Fullest

The changes in Armada are obvious to everyone around him, especially his family. Gina notes his more positive, can-do outlook — which inspired her to try Live Dynamite’s program, too. “Before, Bernie would tend to see the downsides of things more than he does now,” she says. “Now he commits to things I’m surprised he commits to, like the exercise program, and he goes at them full force.”

Though all of the soul searching and emotional and physical change was hard work, Armada managed to make his sabbatical year a success. He renewed himself — mind, body and spirit — and learned new tools for living purposefully. Plus, he got back in shape and is on track to meet his exercise goals. “Now,” he says, “I’m seeing
possibilities, whereas before I only saw obstacles.”

Suzy Frisch is a freelance writer based in the Twin Cities.

Success Summary

Meet: Bernie Armada, 41, an associate professor of communications from St. Paul, Minn.

Big achievements: Learning effective strategies for setting attainable goals and accomplishing them; ditching bad habits like procrastinating.

Big inspiration: Live Dynamite — the self-development program taught him how to recognize his positive qualities and achievements, then make plans to reach his goals.

What worked: Having a plan for every day and a strategy for sticking with projects; surrounding himself with caring, positive people.

What didn’t: Trying to get motivated solo, without the guidance and wisdom of others; procrastinating; using an old injury as an excuse for not exercising; eating poorly.

Words of Wisdom: “For many years of my life, I lived with obstacles and fear. By changing your mindset from one of obstacles to one of possibilities, you can get yourself to a place where you see the immense possibilities that life has to offer.”

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