Summer 2017 Family Bucket List!

In an effort to not feel like the summer got away from me and we did nothing this year, I’ve created this list with the help of my family members. Some are easy, some take effort. Some are free, some will cost money. But they will ALL hopefully help us create a summer full of fun and memories as we get ready to send our second child off to college in August.

  • Visit Water Park
  • Visit Theme Park
  • Visit a Museum
  • Visit Nashville Murals
  • Visit 3 New Libraries
  • Visit 3 New Parks
  • Visit a Splash Pad
  • Visit Southern Living “Best Of” sites in Nashville
  • Make Homemade Ice Cream in a Florean Fortescue flavor
  • Go Hiking
  • Go to Movies
  • Go Bowling
  • Go Roller Skating
  • Host a Party
  • Play Board Games
  • Play Croquet
  • One Day Without Technology
  • Run a 5K
  • Go On a Road Trip
  • Eat a new type of cuisine
  • Walk to Dinner
  • Go to a Nashville Sounds Game
  • Go to a Concert
  • Visit the Farmer’s Market
  • Make Popsicles
  • Eat at a Food Truck
  • Catch Fireflies
  • Instagram Every Bucket List Item and Create Chat Book

Unstoppable and Unmovable

gift-voucherJust a couple of months ago I was in a decent routine with hot yoga, blogging, working on a side project, getting out for playdates, etc. But then suddenly it all fell apart, for no good reason other than it just did. I decided I needed to cut back on our budget so I stopped paying for the yoga studio and things cascaded from there. I went from a consistent and reliable schedule to no schedule, from 4 yoga classes per week at regular times to none, from blogging weekly to never, and from one side project to none but now with 3 different part time jobs AND a new side project AND a husband who is now out of the house instead of working from home! And all of this in about 2 months. My head is still spinning.

I’m learning just how critical good routines and habits are to happiness. As someone who has always been more of a spontaneous person, it’s very hard to maintain things like planners, to-do lists, and weekly routines. Not that they aren’t the best way to make sure I make time for the things that matter, but it just doesn’t come easily to me. So I find myself trying to re-establish some consistency but with a lot more moving parts now.

I read something about Enneagram 9s the other day that described how we are both unstoppable and unmovable. It’s very hard to get us started on something but once we get going we have to keep going and going and going. I totally get this and it’s why I can understand how I could go for quite a long time with a regular and consistent routine and then get derailed and find it close to impossible to get going again. Just two months ago I felt fine going to yoga 4 times per week even though it was a 2 hour commitment each time yet now that I stopped I have to convince myself again that I deserve that time for myself! It makes NO logical sense.

Slowly I am beginning to carve out a new schedule but it’s taking a long time since things keep getting added to the mix. But as of this week I at least know what my work commitments will be for the next few months and can try to start fitting in the healthy routines I need to feel like a person again, like I am thriving instead of surviving. Today was a good indication that I am making slow progress. I managed to do nothing while Jack napped besides write this blog and that felt pretty good.

My goal in the next two months is to find that sweet spot between work, family, and self and not feel as if any of them is suffering for lack of time or intention. I know I can get back there again. It just requires a little bit of giving grace to myself and not denying my own needs and wants for the sake of everything else, as I am always prone to do as a 9. A trip to the yoga studio is definitely overdue.

The Resolution I’ve Kept Since January 1st

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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.

No shopping challenge, continued: new rules

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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.

No Spending Month

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We have some financial things that will be changing in the next year so I decided to try a No Spending month in July to start setting aside a few extra dollars here and there for the things we are planning. The rules are simple: no spending money on anything discretionary. I can buy groceries but nothing extra like clothing, toys, eating out, or any shopping at all! It’s been 10 days and so far my failures are a $2.00 cup of coffee when I needed to work and the library wasn’t open yet and a potty chair for Jack so we could explore potty training him. We were also out of town for a few days and we bought some grocery items at Publix that weren’t necessary (protein bars).

So far the most difficult part has been not eating out. I can’t take Jack to play at Chik-Fil-A if it’s raining or get myself a coffee at Starbucks when I want to work (I really do miss my Americanos with steamed heavy cream). But these are minor issues and overall the challenge hasn’t been a hardship. I’m very curious to see what our budget looks like at the end of the month without any extra spending!

And by the way, one of my goals for 2016 was to not buy anything new. I haven’t been 100% strict with this but I have done very, very well. I might run into trouble later in the year due to the changes I mentioned in the opening paragraph, but I committed to buying used whenever it is possible and practical. I really love this rule because it automatically eliminates any impulse shopping I might do at Target or anywhere else. This July challenge is just stepping it up a bit an eliminating ALL spending, whether new or used.

3 Habit Tools: Goals, Challenges, and Rules

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If there is one thing I’ve learned about being a happy and successful person, it’s that the most important skill we can develop is control of our impulses. So much of what we struggle with in life, from overeating, exercising regularly, being happily married, being present with our children, or sticking with a new project requires nothing more than an awareness of how we respond unconsciously to our wants and desires and a commitment to mindfulness. In the service of mindfulness, which is simply bringing awareness to our impulsive and mostly unconscious desires and thoughts, I have used the following three tools to great effect.

Goals. 

I use goals mostly to help me build momentum on an on-going project that doesn’t necessarily require developing new habits or skills. An example would be starting a new business. I am currently in the beginning process of this goal and the best way for me to move forward, considering one of my biggest stumbling blocks is taking action over the long haul, is to set measurable short term and long term goals. These don’t require me to learn new skills like using WordPress or marketing. I already have enough of that knowledge to move forward. What I need to the momentum and accountability that goals provide. Other goals I have set:

  • Complete an ultra-marathon
  • Get house ready to sell by X date

Challenges

A close cousin of goals is Challenges, which I tend to use much more than goals but which can eventually evolve into goals. I use Challenges to start or stop habits for specific periods of time. I’ve done so many of these I can’t count anymore but some examples:

  • no sugar for 30 days
  • meditate every day
  • make bed every day
  • gratitude journal
  • read 100 books in a year

The example of “read 100 books in a year” is a good example of how close a challenge and a goal can be. It could be either one but I count this one as a challenge because I didn’t need the motivation to START reading like I might need the motivation to START training for a race. I did need it to remind myself that I wanted to see what would happen if I read a lot more than before.

Challenges help me test-drive new things to see if they have a place in my life long-term, at which point they move over to goals or rules. Before I gave up gluten for good I did a 30 day gluten free challenge. Long before I gave up sugar for good I did numerous sugar free challenges of various lengths. For me, challenges can be stepping stones to lasting change in an area where I have some level of resistance. It didn’t take much to convince me to give up gluten, but it took many sugar-free challenges to work up the mental strength to give it up for good.

Rules

Rules are the scaffolding over which everything else can get built. If your rules are set and followed, life becomes much simpler and the good things that seem small but make a huge difference don’t require any effort at all. Rules help us replace our impulsive, poor choices with automatic behaviors that we intentionally choose. It’s mindfully replacing mindless patterns. Rules are extremely powerful once they are truly ingrained and can possible change the quality of your life more than goals or challenges. Here are some of my rules:

  • wake up at 6AM every day
  • upon waking, meditate for 20 minutes, make bed, gratitude journal
  • no sugar or grains
  • spend time outside daily

In the above, you can see that most of my rules relate to my morning routine, which I developed over time but have diligently stuck with for about 5 months now. It’s made a huge impact on my happiness level, especially over the summer when I normally experience stress and depression due to lack of routine. Just getting up every day at 6am has made more of an impact than I ever could have imagined. That’s the magic of rules. They seem so simple and boring yet when they stick they are incredibly powerful. I now spend NO energy making the decision to wake up at 6 and can use that mental energy and willpower on other things.

If you want to explore these tools, I suggest starting with a Challenge. Try something new or quit something you are tired of and see how it feels for 30 days. Don’t just jump into a rule of No Sugar, for example if you have never tried it as a challenge.  Use a challenge to gain evidence that the change is good for you, THEN consider making it a rule. For goals, think of something that requires more diligence or attention than it is currently getting. Work, marriage, parenting, fitness, etc. Set some goals that are broken down into smaller stepping stones and see what the higher level of effort and attention does for you.

I promise you that using these tools can help you replace mindless impulse and desire with mindful cultivation of the good life. And I also promise you that it feels wonderful to be free of compulsions that once shackled me, like an addiction to sugar or the depressing feeling of not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. It all boils down to helping yourself do things today that you won’t regret tomorrow.

 

 

2016 Habits Update

A brief update on how my 2016 habits are going. The big habit is trying to maintain the “buy nothing new” challenge. Well……things didn’t go great in that area in January! While I did not buy myself anything new, I did end up buying a bunch of stuff for my kids, although I did try not to! I had to buy the following:

  • gym shorts for school (I looked at two Goodwill stored before buying and I didn’t not have time to shop online)
  • school supplies for the new semester
  • Lily’s birthday presents (new bedding, a new pillow, and 2 new pillow covers)
  • paint for Lily’s room

I will continue to strive for greater adherence to this challenge this month! I actually really enjoy the challenge and love how it mostly just stops me from buying stuff at all!

I also started a new journal in January to help me maintain my happiness habits. Each day I log what time I woke up, my meditation and exercise for the day, a gratitude list, and a moment of joy from the day. I didn’t manage to exercise every day but I did meditate and write my gratitude and joy moments each day. I know it’s these little habits, done with consistency, that make a big difference in our lives so I am determined to keep them going, for my own happiness and well being! On to February!

My 2016 Theme

This year I don’t have any goals or resolutions. I just don’t like that approach as it always leaves me feeling like I didn’t do enough. It’s even worse, though, to look back at a year in which you didn’t set any goals at all and feel like you did nothing, which is what I ended up doing in 2015. It’s not true that I did nothing, but since I had no path to follow, it felt in a way as if I had not taken a single step.

So this year I am going to have a theme. Themes, to me, are guidepost ideas that I will use to keep me centered on important ideals and values that I want to live more completely. My theme this year:

Eudaimonia

So, this big wonderful word is from ancient Greece and means happiness, but in the sense of the kind of happiness that comes from living a good life. I like to think of it as flourishing. My guide in seeking eudaimonia is Aristotle, who believed that happiness comes from three things:

Virtue (knowing what it right, character traits like patience, temperance, generosity).

Practical Wisdom (knowing what is required to do well and meet goals and succeed).

Moral Strength (having the will to use your knowledge, virtue, and practical wisdom most of the time).

Most people I know have some virtue and some practical knowledge but everyone i know (including myself) lacks moral strength in some areas. We know what it takes to succeed at business or weight loss or training for a race or saving money for that vacation but the temptations of modern life always drag us away from our path. The donuts someone brought into work, the impulse shopping, the desire to binge watch something on Netflix instead of going for your run, all those things in the MOMENT feel good but in the long term do not serve us and lead us away from flourishing. We are not living a good life if we constantly give in to temporary pleasures that are not in our own best interest. And yet our modern culture is fixated on temporary pleasures, so it takes a lot of energy to avoid them all.

Another point to make it that Aristotle recognized that happiness is a temporary, fleeting feeling and can change from moment to moment, while eudaimonia is a characteristic of your life in sum. You can’t flourish one moment and not the next. Also, humans flourish when they are living in their true nature as humans, just as animals flourish when they are living their true animal nature (hence, why animals in captivity, despite having no stress over acquiring food or safe shelter often do not flourish but instead become mentally ill). Aristotle thought that a human’s most true nature, what set it apart from all other animals, was reason. So eudaimonia comes from using reason to act according to your virtues. That’s pretty simple, right?

Here are Aristotle’s virtues, which are always the mean between two vices. For example, courage is the mean between rashness and cowardice.

Courage
Temperance
Liberality (open-mindedness, charity)
Magnificence (spark, radiance, zest)
Pride
Honor
Good Temper
Friendliness
Truthfulness
Wit
Friendship
Justice

Now, back to me and how I am using this as my theme for 2016.  Aristotle pointed out that through habit will begin to act our virtues automatically, rather than through force of will. One of my favorite quotes ever is from Aristotle:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is an act, but a habit.

My focus this year is on recognizing ways in which I frequently lack moral strength and make impulsive choices that are not in my overall best interest and to work on making better choices more frequently. Some of these are very small things, like staying on a low carb diet or exercising every day. Some of them are bigger, like not believing my own thoughts (try this for a day and you will see how many of our thoughts aren’t actually based in reality) or how I react when I feel anger. But they are all worth practicing and I look forward to using eudaimonia as my guide this year!

 

 

 

 

Buy Nothing New Challenge Update

I wrote about my decision to try a Buy Nothing New Challenge a few months ago. Well, for the most part it is going well, besides the holidays! I enjoyed the challenge and found that over time I really came to see it as a moral issue. If something exists in an already-made form, I feel obligated to find it rather than purchasing a new one. It seems so wasteful to buy new versions of things that are out there in great numbers already made and looking for a new home!

I have failed in many ways, like buying a new outfit from Fabletics, almost all the Christmas presents for my family, etc. But I have found some great places to buy used as well. Here are a few:

Facebook groups are GREAT places to buy high quality used clothing. I belong or have belonged to groups for Lululemon, Athleta, Stitch Fix, Anthropologie, and others. There are even BST (buy sell trade) groups for monogrammed items by letter!

I’ve also used Poshmark for high end used clothing, bought a used car on Carvana, and of course have used Ebay.

By far my most used resource is a local BST group of women just in my county. I use this site to buy and sell stuff all the time. It’s so much better than Craigslist because it’s local to my county and it’s women-only. I’ve bought Christmas presents, clothing, furniture, and more on there and sold my fair share of things as well. If you are looking to try this challenge, I really recommend you try to find a group like this on Facebook or Varage Sale.

I’m looking forward to continuing this challenge in 2016 and becoming more strict with it. It just feels right to keep this as an ongoing goal as there really is no downside. It benefits my family finances and prevents some small amount of goods being produced wastefully for my benefit.

Buy Nothing New Challenge

I love monthly challenges like no sugar, meditate every day, exercise every day, etc. I like to use monthly challenges as tests to see how certain lifestyle changes feel. Many times I will do something for one month that later becomes a more or less permanent lifestyle change for me. I’ve done that with giving up sugar, going ketogenic, and going gluten free.

My latest curiosity isn’t food related but finance and minimalist related. For the month of August I’ve been trying to buy nothing new (besides groceries). I’ve read lots of blogs of people who did this for a year or more and it really resonates with me. I like it for a couple of reasons:

1. Saves money

2. Puts a barrier between the instinct to buy and the action – I can’t just run to Target.

3. Uses what has already been made instead of increasing production of cheap, disposable goods.

4. It’s fun to be creative and resourceful.

August is just a test so I haven’t been 100% strict but as I get more comfortable with this idea I will decide whether to continue, at which point my expectation for myself will be 100% compliance.

Here are two other places to go to explore the idea for yourself:

Buy Nothing New.org

The Non-Consumer Advocate