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.

Anxiety Triggers: Diet and Caffeine

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Let’s talk about anxiety for a moment. Six years ago I was going through a depression spell and decided to get back on my tried and true medication, Wellbutrin. As often happens with anti-depressants, after a couple cycles of using it and stopping it stopped working for me the way it used to. What it did instead was give me horrible anxiety that mostly presented itself as constant butterflies in my stomach.

That first week of anxiety is still so clear in my mind. I had never experienced anything like it and it was terrifying. I stopped taking the Wellbutrin but unfortunately the physical manifestation of anxiety that started then has been with me ever since, although it now varies in intensity and comes and goes, although unpredictably.

It took me many years to feel comfortable calling this feeling anxiety. Honestly, it’s only been the last year that I have become comfortable considering that I have anxiety, and that was only at the urging of my therapist. I guess I just didn’t want another THING to add to my list of problems and unfortunately I feel some shame and embarrassment about it, despite knowing how common it is.

I have done some detective work to try to discover what lifestyle choices might increase or decrease symptoms of anxiety for me. And the last 10 days have brought some of these ideas into clear focus, so I want to share them today.

#1: Very low carb diet. I decided to get back to eating a ketogenic diet about two weeks ago because I was feeling a little chubby (I don’t weigh myself so this is totally subjective). Within a couple of days I could feel that I was in ketosis (my head feels a little buzzy) and with it came a huge increase in my nervous stomach. After a few days of eating more carbs, it subsided.

#2: Caffeine. I have a couple of cups of coffee every morning. For the past few months I have been reading about other folks giving up caffeine to help with anxiety so when my anxiety went through the roof last week, I decided it was a good time to quit the caffeine and see what happened. It’s been about 4 days now and I’m recovering from the exhaustion of the first few days and feeling fine. Is it helping? I think so. I was noticing an increase in anxiety right after my morning coffee was done and I think the lack of caffeine has evened me out. The physical sensation of anxiety is never really gone but it’s not as strong and acute as it was. As much as I love coffee, I think this might be a permanent break-up if I feel it’s helping at all with the dreaded nervous stomach.

Maybe some day I will be free of the physical symptoms of anxiety but for now that’s not the case. To the extent possible I want to minimize the strength of these symptoms and learn everything I can about other lifestyle modifications that might help. For now that means no caffeine and no extremes in diet.

Moments of Joy

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A few months ago I read something by Elizabeth Gilbert about writing a daily moment of joy on a scrap of paper and putting it into a “Joy Jar”. I adopted that idea in my journal and every day write one moment of joy. They are never momentous things. They are every-day moments like watching deer in the backyard or getting done with an audiobook and having 2 weeks of podcasts waiting to be heard or seeing Jack play with his grandparents. These are the moments that make life literally joyful, and they happen EVERY DAY.

Now more than ever I am reminded that these daily moments are important to hold on to as a kind of grounding in optimism. Life is full of opportunities to be present and mindful of joy yet until I started this journaling practice I was blind to them. With this simple practice I have had my eyes opened to a world I am living but which can so easily stay invisible, not brought into awareness and appreciated as they are happening. Knowing that I will have to write down one moment of joy every night, I am now watching for them and aware of them AS THEY HAPPEN. And that is a wonderful gift.

Standard of Living Vs Standard of Luxury

I’m a big fan of minimalism, reducing clutter, being debt free, and living below your means. I think most of us spend too much time buying stuff we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. I believe we can greatly improve our quality of life by reducing our consumerist/materialist habits.

I just read a great little book on this topic that I got at the library called Lose 200 Pounds This Weekend (if you click on the image or the links it will take you to the Amazon page where you can get the Kindle edition for FREE).. If you need the motivation to get rid of stuff and remake not only your physical space but your health and happiness, I think you will find plenty of it in this book. It’s not a how-to book, it’s a how-come book. It will tell you WHY you should declutter but won’t really tell you how. For that I recommend The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which you can also get at the library or on Amazon.

Anyway,  Lose 200 Pounds This Weekend had a good comparison of what it means to have a high standard of living versus a high standard of luxury. From the book:

A High Standard of Living Is:

  • Freedom
  • Good health
  • High self-esteem
  • Being debt free
  • A stable family
  • A satisfying marriage

A High Standard of Luxury Is:

Having all the conveniences and comforts we think will eliminate effort and strain – those gadgets and extras of all kinds they keep coming up with and we keep accumulating.

Big difference, right? Personally, I think the high standard of luxury is a trap. You will never get to the finish line and you will never appreciate what you have because the whole point is the new, the missing, the unattainable. Yet that high standard of living can be had for a steal! All it takes is commitment to focusing on the things that really matter and bring high levels of return. Usually those things take time, effort, and intention, not money. They are things that will continue to pay you back for years to come and won’t lose their shine, their trendiness, or their cache a year after they have been purchased.

Lose 200 Pounds This Weekend is 16 years old and talks about concepts that have now been defined by neuroscience and psychology and can be found in many modern popular science books and articles. Clearly, before science took interest in habits, spending, and happiness these topics were still important and the behaviors were the same. So if you want to read how an insightful guy described things that today would be labeled “hedonic treadmill” or “choice architecture”, give this simple and down to earth book a few hours of your time and prepare to be inspired!

Self care and self comfort

The past few weeks have been very difficult. I’ve found myself torn to pieces and shedding tears not only over the many tragic news stories that have occurred but also the despairing lack of empathy and compassion these events elicit from people on Facebook. People seem so fearfully attached to comforting beliefs and ideologies that they can’t react with care or concern for their fellow citizens and instead blame, ignore the human tragedy, and post memes of political and ideological propaganda. No healing occurs, wounds can’t heal, divisions are deepened.

There isn’t much I can do about this besides commit to being a source of compassion not only for those who have been at the center of these news stories, but also for those many people I know on Facebook who seem closed to empathy. I can also take care of myself so I don’t get dragged down by the chaos in our country and can continue to be the person I strive to be.

What does it look like for me to take care of myself? Right now it’s sitting on my floor, enjoying the peace of toddler nap-time and indulging in a simple, comforting pleasure: watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Picard could save us!). This is self comfort: a small indulgence, like a heated seat in a car, that boosts your mood and feels relaxing.

I also took Jack to the YMCA today so I could exercise and sit in the sauna. The sauna is one of the best ways for me to boost my mood and I certainly needed it today. Time alone is also critical for me, as are time outside, reading and writing, and quiet. These are self-care items, necessary to optimal functioning like oil in your car engine.

Some things I am trying not to do that I would have done in the past: shop, eat, bake, sleep excessively. The more I delve into habit making to improve my happiness level, the more I see that the way to happiness is in these small pleasures and good habits, these moments of caring for myself with a few hours alone or sitting outside in the early morning with a hot cup of coffee and a book.  Or watching 1990s TV on a rare day when I am alone in the house (or at least alone with a sleeping child).

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.

 

 

The Owner’s Manual for Humans

I heard a comment recently about how nice it would be if humans came with an owner’s manual. We are born as helpless little things and yet come without instructions. We spend our entire lives trying to figure out how to care for ourselves and others, how to manage our physical bodies, how to optimize our operating system. If we are lucky, over the years we start to figure some things out. How cool would it be if we actually created an owner’s manual for ourselves as we learned more about how we work?

Of course some people already do this. They are called journals. Or blogs. Or autobiographies. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that grand in scope. What if you just imagined that you were going to be left in the care of aliens and they needed instructions on how to care for you properly? What would one or two pages of instruction look like for YOU?

Here is what mine would look like:

Food: Please feed me a variety of meats and plant matter lightly cooked with fat and salt. Give me water to drink and hot coffee in the morning. Warning: any foods that are made in a factory, contain sugar, or have grains in them are likely to prevent me from performing optimally. Feed me twice a day, at roughly 11 and 5. Once in awhile, I should eat fat, meat, and greens only for 1-4 weeks and go without anything but water for 3-5 days. Once in awhile I should also have a 3-5 day binge on fruit or sugar. And once in awhile I will require a grilled cheese sandwich, a brownie, and a glass or orange juice.

Rest and Energy: I need 8-9 hours of sleep per night, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. If you require me to interact with strangers or perform novel tasks, I will need additional rest during the day, from 20-60 minutes. I will need a blanket and a pillow but can sleep on the floor or a mattress. I will perform optimally if I am allowed ample time outside in the sunshine and given time to meditate. I also need a 60 minute session of exercise most days in order to maintain my health and vigor. If this is done outside, you can kill two birds with one stone. I prefer yoga, running, and weights.

Socialization and Fulfillment: I need to be able to talk to others and have close relationships in order to work properly. But I also need to be able to separate and spend time alone when needed, so don’t put me in a room with a bunch of other humans all the time. Make sure I have jobs to do so I feel like I’m needed. Optimally, they will be meaningful to me and challenging (but not too hard). Give me lots of books to read and a notebook to write in. Tell me I am doing a good job once in awhile. Act happy to see me. A bathtub would be great. Or a sauna.

Other: I do not respond well to noisy environments. I need a pleasant living space that’s not cluttered. Let me wander around and travel and see all the stuff. I wouldn’t mind a pet cat if it’s nice and not needy. I’ll need some music but not all the time.

Pretty simple. I suppose if the aliens were going to keep me for a long time I might have to be more specific, but I think I could do pretty well with the above instructions, and they are less than a page long!

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.