My New Favorite Podcast

Fair warning: I will gush in the post.  I am really and truly and madly in LOVE with this new podcast I discovered through a Facebook group I am in. Never have I found a podcast that so perfectly combines things that I love in such a joyful, creative, and inspiring way. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, and I eat up every last word. Ready for it? It’s called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.

From the description:  

What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? What would we learn? How might they change us? Harry Potter and the Sacred Text is a weekly podcast reading Harry Potter, the best-selling series of all time, as if it was a sacred text. Just as Christians read the Bible, Jews the Torah and Muslims read the Quran, we are embarking on a 199-episode journey (one chapter an episode, to be released weekly) to glean what wisdom and meaning we can make from J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels. We will read Harry Potter, not just as novels, but as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives.

Each episode has a theme, such as loneliness or commitment, that is explored through the chapter being read that week. It is simply amazing to think of Chapter One of Sorcerer’s Stone in the context of commitment and how the Dursleys demonstrate commitment to each other and to normalcy and to their son. Or Chapter Two (the zoo) through the lens of loneliness, with Harry and the snake both live in captivity and this very possibly being Harry’s first meaningful encounter with ANY person or creature since his parents died.  I can’t even! Ahhh! It is so perfect and delicious and intellectual and thoughtful! I love theology and religion, I absolutely LOVE Harry Potter, and I love the sincere and spiritual approach the two hosts bring to these topics.

Speaking of the hosts, they are both graduates of Harvard Divinity School working as spiritual leaders to non-religious folks. Um, that’s a thing. And I love that that’s a thing. I want to do that thing! I love that thing! But for now I will just continue to listen to these wonderful folks talk through 199 chapters of Happy Potter in their truly magical way.

I am so grateful for imaginative, creative, intelligent people for creating their masterpieces. This brings me so much JOY JOY JOY!

The down side of recipe blogs

I can resist everything except temptation.

I subscribe to a bunch of low-carb recipe blogs and I love them. Recently I stopped using my blog reader (Feedly) as much as I had in the past, so I decided to “Like” a lot of these recipe blogs on Facebook to keep up with them. At the time it seemed like a great idea because it helped change the tone of my Facebook feed to be more informative and enjoyable, which is really valuable in an election year!

But a few weeks into this new system I noticed that I was baking more sugar-free goodies and feeling lots of sugar cravings. I finally realized it’s because I was seeing all these desserts pop up in my Facebook feed all day long! Unfortunately, most low carb recipe blogs know that the most popular recipes are the desserts, so that’s what they push the most on Facebook. Every time I got on Facebook I was see pictures of cakes, cookies, bars, and other yummy goodies!

The number one rule of minimalism and intentional living is this: reduce exposure to media as much as possible. Resisting temptation is much easier when you aren’t exposing yourself to them! I use an ad blocker on Facebook so I don’t see any paid ads. What I never considered was that the blogs I followed on Facebook could influence my decision making in a negative way just like an advertisement would. As much as I love these blogs and use them when I want to bake something or try a new dinner recipe, I decided it was best for me to Unfollow them on Facebook to save myself from the exposure to sweets and desserts. If I’m not seeing pictures of cake all day long,  I will think about cake a whole lot less. It’s one of those obvious lessons in living a better life; you have to make it easy to make the right decisions. Seeing delicious desserts all day long made it much harder for me to make the decisions I wanted to make about healthy eating. Lesson learned.

The Resolution I’ve Kept Since January 1st

my

It’s the middle of August and yesterday I got curious about how long I had been meditating. I figured it was a couple months but when I checked my journal I realized that I had started my meditation habit as a New Year’s Resolution! Not only have I been meditating for 8 months but I’ve also been recording things I’m grateful for, waking up at a certain time every day (it was 5:30 during the school year then switched to 6AM in the summer), logging my exercise, recording things I did well and things I did poorly, and more. In other words, I have created intentional morning and evening routines. 

Recording My Morning and Evening Routines:

I started the year using a blank journal to record these things in the morning and the evening and then switched to my Five Minute Journal in the summer. Neither of these is working perfectly for me. I wanted to make the Five Minute Journal work because I already owned it but looking back over the last 8 months I think the blank journal was better. I was able to customize it depending on what I needed, like when I started recording Good Seeds and Bad Seeds after reading How Yoga Works (the seeds are karma, so good seeds are things you did that result in good karma like helping someone and bad seeds are things that harmed others, like saying something mean).

Some day I would love to create my own journal that has every category I need in it (I’m reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s virtue tracking). I’d like to try bullet journals since they are so customizable but for now I’m going to stick with the Five Minute Journal until it’s done.

Results and Thoughts on 8 Months of Intention:

The biggest change for me has come from adding meditation to my morning routine. It has truly changed me. I’m so much less reactive to situations like previously would have upset me or caused me to react defensively. Although I currently meditate first thing in the morning for 20 minutes, I started off with just 5 minutes a day and worked my way up. It is crazy that 20 minutes a day could make such a difference, especially when I feel like I am so TERRIBLE at meditating. If I can make it a 60 seconds without my mind wandering I feel like a champion, but the point of meditating is to just return to the breath and not judge your experience, so that’s what I do.

Waking up at the same time every day was something I did in an attempt to be proactive about preventing depression. I wanted to make sure each morning started with a purposeful routine, especially over the summertime when I might normally sleep in and then lose any chance I might have of time to myself for the whole day. Sleeping in is a trigger for me to feel listless and lazy and those feeling lead to despair upon waking, something I desperately want to avoid. There is nothing worse than waking up feeling like you don’t want to get out of bed. Waking up at the same time every day and doing a few intentional things has been a good way for me to keep that away. So simple!

I also think recording three things I am grateful for each morning and also recording three great things that happened every day in the evening along with my moment of joy is a habit I will keep for the rest of my life. I love looking back through these recordings and remembering the good in my days. I need this daily reminder that a good life is lived in day to day moments, not in the unique, big experiences that come around once in awhile.

I am so pleased by the changes I have made since January 1. It seems like just yesterday I started meditation and journaling but at the same time it feels like forever. I’m very pleased at how much these small additions to my day have improved the quality of my life and helped me stay out of out trouble with dreaded depression.

Challenges for August – Updates

August

This post contains an affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I might make a small commission.

This month my primary challenge was to follow Geneen Roth’s 7 Eating Guidelines from the book Women, Food, and God. I’m doing just ok with this. I was doing very well until we went out of town for a training camp the second weekend of the month. I found it required quite a bit of effort to only eat at the table and to eat without distraction but I managed it fine. Eating in a calm environment was not possible with a toddler many days but I did the best I could.

But since the trip I’ve fallen off a bit. Things at home have been a little hectic with the long weekend away for work, then the kid returning to school (except Jack) and then Andrew going out of town for a race. I’ve found myself reading while eating or eating in the kitchen when I have a spare moment. I need to refocus for the rest of the month because I think this challenge is totally worth it.

My secondary goal was to continue my no shopping challenge from last month. Today I took my kids clothes shopping and I also bought myself a paper planner this week. The kids needed the clothes and the planner is a work expense so I don’t feel bad about either of those. Just like last month, I’m mostly trying to stop any discretionary, unplanned purchases.

I just don’t really think about shopping anymore. I used to be a huge shopper and now I would consider myself an under-buyer. I enjoy thinking about how much my attitude towards consumption has changed over the years and how people in general can change.

I’ll update again at the end of the month.

Monthly Challenge for August: Eat Mindfully

This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you click on one of them, I may end up making a commission on any purchases you make.

 

August

For August, my monthly challenge is to follow the 7 Eating Guidelines outlined in Geneen Roth’s book Women, Food, and God. Here are the 7 Guidelines:

  1. Eat when you are hungry.
  2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment.
  3. Eat without distractions.
  4. Eat what your body wants.
  5. Eat until you are satisfied.
  6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.
  7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto, and pleasure.

Now, some notes on those guidelines:

  1. I often snack throughout the day out of boredom or just because I was triggered by seeing the kitchen. I’m working on eating less often and truly letting myself get hungry before my first meal of the day (this is about 13-15 hours after my dinner meal). Nothing flavors food more than hunger!
  2. This is a challenge for me with a toddler. I’ve been doing this challenge for three days and have yet to sit through breakfast without more than one disruption. But I do my best to stick to the spirit of the law.
  3. UGH, NO!!! This item is what has prevented me from trying this for many months. I always read when I am eating!!
  4. Gotta let go of the “shoulds” and the good/bad attitudes toward food.
  5. Not much of an issue for me, although I do tend to pick at my plate if it remains in front of me, even if I feel full.
  6. Not much of an issue for me but I know lots of people eat in secret.
  7. In other words, take the time to enjoy what you are eating! Embrace the pleasure of good food.

These are such simple rules, and not very challenging. So why make this a monthly challenge? Because there is enough of a behavior change involved for me that I think I will benefit and learn from this challenge. I don’t tend to eat in the car, hide my eating, or over-eat too much. But I do distract myself when I eat, I do nibble on dinner as I’m cooking (to the point that I often end up not eating the dinner once it’s on the table), I do have hang-ups about good food and bad food, and I could stand to be more mindful of eating and enjoy it more. This challenge is a way to be a little bit more intentional about my food consumption at a time when I am feeling I have gained a few pounds but don’t want to bend over backward to lose it. A slight course correction and attitude adjustment might be all it takes to right the ship.

 

Quote of the Day

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

This was the quote of the day in my Five Minute Journal and I can’t think of a quote that more precisely captures my worldview. I’m always questioning things, always assuming that the way everyone else does things and the way everyone else thinks is wrong and some deeper truth is hidden underneath common knowledge. I remember reading a prompt in a Peter Theil book that goes like this:

“Tell me something that’s true but that almost nobody agrees with you on”.

I LOVE this and I can think of a million answers. I think the food pyramid and American dietary common knowledge is completely wrong and has been since the 1980s. I believe there is a down side to early detection of some forms of cancer. I believe that possessions and consumerism make people unhappy. I don’t believe in helping my kids with their homework or logging into a computer system to keep track of their grades. I believe that psychedelic drugs should be legal to use under the care of a therapist. I believe that we should all be trying to prove ourselves wrong instead of proving ourselves right.

Those are just some of my answers. Reading is always teaching me the truth hidden from common knowledge on all sorts of topics, and I will never stop being fascinated with vocal and passionate minorities. Coming soon, I’ll post a list of books that helped me change my mind or see a truth that most people don’t believe.

No shopping challenge, continued: new rules

noshopping (1)

As July ends and August begins, I’m perfectly happy to continue my “no shopping” challenge from last month, but with soem changes to reflect what I learned in July. Here is what I intent to do:

Needs are allowed, but every effort must be made to purchase used. I can buy new light bulbs, but if I need shoes or the kids need a lunchbox, I try ebay or Craigslist first.

Wants are allowed if I sell an existing possession to pay for it (sell a book to buy a book, consign clothes to buy clothes, etc).

Eating out is allowed if it’s for a date or the whole family participates (this only happens a couple of times per year!).

I’ll report back again at the end of August along with my new challenge for August, which I will talk about next time.

My no shopping month

This post contains an affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I might make a small commission.

july

It’s July 30 and my month of trying not to spend any money is coming to a close. Andrew is the one that does our family budget (and does so wonderfully) so I don’t know how much money I saved. But I do know what the experience was like for me, what I learned, and what I have to consider going forward.

First, how I did. I wasn’t diligent about writing down the things I ended up spending money on but from memory here are the things I did buy:

  • 3 cups of coffee. I don’t have a space to work from home if other people are there, so in order to work I must leave the house. Sometimes my only option is a coffee shop (library doesn’t open until 10). $9.00
  • A pair of shoes for a child. Tom came home from band camp early in the first week with the sole of his shoe dangling by a thread. The whole sole had come off his 4 month old pair of Vans he bought with his own money! Off to the store we went.  $55.00
  • Out to lunch with Andrew for a day date after a work-related event.  $30.00
  • Library fines….50 cents
  • Used books for school. Alex needed two books to read for school before next week and the hold line was too long at the library. I found them used on Amazon and together they were $11.00.
  • Overage on a gift card purchase. I bought two lamps for our bedroom with a gift card but ended up still owing $9.00.
  • Three greeting cards. One for a sick family member and two to fulfill volunteer duties for the marching band (I could get reimbursed for these but I choose to absorb the cost myself). $5.00

Total: $114.50

Also, I did some spending that we had previously budgeted for related to housing expenses. Since the money is already set aside for this, I don’t count it as going against the spirit of this challenge. And in that same vein, we signed our new house contract but the money already existed for that. In fact, I think the lack of shopping gave me more time to focus on house projects. I repainted all of our kitchen cabinets, bought a new front door and scheduled it’s installation this month. I also sold a boatload of exercise equipment and cleaned out the garage.

What it was like.

Well, not hard. At times I wished I could take Jack out to eat or pop into Starbucks. It’s not like I’m normally spending big bucks on discretionary items but I do buy my fair share of used clothing and books. Even if I’m only spending $10.00 at Goodwill, it adds up. And honestly it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t being strict. As you can see, I did end up spending money on things when I felt it necessary. What I mostly eliminated was discretionary shopping purchases I might normally make on clothes, books, eating out, and things that jump in your cart mysteriously at Target.

Thoughts on the experiment:

I read a book yesterday called A Year Without a Purchase and one subject that I found particularly relevant to me was the link between consumerism/shopping and food consumption. The author made a mention of how he gained weight when he stopped buying things, as if he had traded the soothing from retail therapy for the soothing from eating. I can totally relate to that! Breaking up with one vice can often make another one intensify, so you aren’t really any better off. And all of this reminds me that these habits of eating poorly and consumerism are both attempts to resolve some level of anxiety or unhappiness we might be feeling. It takes work, hard work, to make your way through these issues and let go of the things that soothe but don’t improve us.

For years I told all my fitness clients that you can’t be healthy in this culture and be normal. Normal in the US right now is fat, on medication, depressed, and in debt. For those of us that don’t want to stand out and be weird it can be a long journey to embracing weirdness in the eyes of our friends and family in order to be healthy and financial secure, and you might lose some folks along the way. How many times a day (hundreds) will I see advertisements for junk foods or things to buy and have to remind myself that those aren’t for me anymore? The temporary boost in mood that comes from shopping or ice cream will have to come from somewhere else. Somewhere real and lasting, like exercise, giving, being with friends and family, and creative expression. I’m planning to continue this experiment for another month, to embrace the weird, because I think the journey is worth it. I’ll have some new rules, which I will share later, but the bottom line is I think a life without shopping is worth pursuing for more than one month!

 

 

 

My tidying hack

This post contains an affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I might make a small commission.

mytidyinghack

Last year I upped my decluttering/minimalism game by reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’ve given some thought to the lessons I learned from the book and from my own experience of getting rid of stuff and I was reminded of one of my key lessons recently by a Happier podcast. Each podcast episode of Happier includes a “Try This At Home” feature and in this episode it was “get rid of it as soon as it becomes useless”. As it relates to my own experience with minimizing and getting rid of stuff, here is my lesson: get rid of the storage containers when you get rid of the stuff inside!

It had never occurred to me before to get rid of my nice wicker baskets, storage cubes, or under-bed containers before. Sure, I had emptied them of stuff plenty of times. But by keeping them around I was only inviting more stuff to find it’s way into the containers again. Instead, now when I declutter and find myself with an empty container, I give it away as soon as it’s empty. I’m no longer looking for stuff to put into them and I’m reminding myself that I have enough stuff. If I add more stuff, I need to buy more containers and it’s very hard to do that when you know you just gave some away. It seems like a waste of money! I can’t tell you how much this made a difference in keeping my spaces permanently cleaner and my mindset on minimalism.

Storage containers cost money and it’s hard to give them away. They promise to hide your stuff, to give everything a home, to make everything seem organized. But nothing is better for organization than getting rid of stuff, and that includes storage containers.

The dark side of fitness

WeghtLoss

Recently I had a conversation with my therapist about body image issues and what he told me really struck me as important to share.

He mentioned that he has loads of clients that are Crossfit athletes that they ALL suffer from body image problems and anxiety/depression/serious issues with their physical bodies. I was floored by this. In particular, he gave an example of a woman who had lost tons of weight, dropped numerous clothing sizes, had a loving husband and two kids, and was now a trainer at a Crossfit gym. But she hated herself because she wasn’t as thin and ripped as the owner of the gym (who has a completely different body type than her). It sounds crazy but I totally related to her! I have a self-defeating habit of comparing myself to others. I can never win because there will always be someone better than me, and frankly the obsession with making myself smaller and beating myself up for a little bit of fat puffing out over my bra is ridiculous, pointless, silly, and terribly mean. My body is extraordinarily healthy. I have no major health issues, I’ve birthed 5 babies naturally, done 3 Ironmans and a few ultra-marathons, I’m attractive to my husband, and I feel good most of the time.

Yet the horrible things I say to myself because I’m currently wearing a size 6 instead of a 4, the horrible things I say to myself knowing that if I just showed more discipline with the my diet I would be a 4 again, the horrible self-consciousness I feel every day about how I look, the daily debate about whether I am fat or not, is all there and is all a major preoccupation that gets in the way of gratitude and enjoyment of what I have. It’s a moral weakness to be so self-obsessed, which is of course another mean thing I say to myself.

That conversation with my therapist was a wake-up call for me. There are a LOT of people out there suffering with these issues. It’s a secret epidemic of the fitness industry that nobody is talking about. It’s made worse by image-driven social media where the people with the genetic gifts are held up as the ideal, where those who are naturally muscular and thin are just assumed to be harder workers or more dedicated than us.

You know what? Being in the best shape of your life is a temporary condition! It is not something that can last forever unless you dedicate your entire life to it. And that life is boring. It’s boring to devote that much energy to how you look and how strong you are. It takes away from growing yourself in other ways. Sure, discipline and motivation are great. But devotion to physicality isn’t worthy of as much attention as it’s given.  And it’s got that horrible side effect of making people miserable.

What I see over and over is that people (including myself) always compare themselves to how they were when they were in the best shape of their life. Nothing but that brief time of physical perfection will ever be good enough. I know I’ve often set out to lose some weight and set my goal weight where it was when I was in the best shape of my life. But that’s totally unrealistic if I’m not in the mindset to make my life about nothing but getting in the best shape of my life again. If I want to have flexibility, be pleasant to be around, not waste time logging food and examining everything I put in my mouth, and devote more energy to other aspects of personal growth, then I shouldn’t be setting a goal that doesn’t allow for those things.

Additionally, I really believe there is a connection between dieting and depression. My last two depression cycles occurred while I was actively watching what I ate in order to lose weight. It’s very unclear to me if this is a physical issue with the diet (ketogenic) or a mental issue that is triggered by the focus on losing weight. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the correlation exists and it’s not just me. This needs to be talked about. People need to understand that body transformation projects come with risks. It can be a vulnerable time for many of us but since we don’t talk about this we all suffer alone and think it’s just us.

Please remember this the next time you set out to lose weight or get back to a previous ideal version of yourself. The best work you can do on your physical self is to remember that the only true transformation comes when you are 100% comfortable with being the size you are right now for the rest of your life. When you have accepted yourself just as you are and don’t feel the need to change, then things shift and you may find change occurring naturally. Messing around with change before that acceptance is a recipe for disaster and can make you worse off than when you started. Let’s get to a place where taking care of yourself means more than just looking good.