Saturday, January 18, 2020
January has always been one of my favorite months. There is something beautiful about the quiet emptiness between the holidays and spring. I love blank calendars and early darkness and soup. So much soup.
But it can be hard of you suffer from seasonal depression or dread the holiday bills coming in the mail.
Let's put January in some context.
Like most gardeners and beekeepers I am all about rhythms, seasons, and cycles. In the natural world, we see time for growth, fullness, waning, and loss, and emptiness.
Our ancestors, who lived closer to and worked with nature, were better equipped in their understanding of the world's natural phase. In our hyper-connected, tech-saturated lives it's all about constant growth and increased numbers whether that's sales or likes on Instagram. We live in a world where loss, pulling back, emptiness, and rest are not only not considered things to be desired but in many cases are demonized.
I have a serious problem with anyone who demonizes rest.
It is in this frame of mind that we meet January. January with its empty squares on the calendar and early darkness. Add to that the real issues of seasonal depression and lack of vitamin D from sunlight and many people are keen for winter to be over as soon as possible.
So what can we do if this is where we find ourselves on long dark nights and days of perpetual gloom?
Let's see January, or winter if you want to think of it in those terms, as a time for self-care. If you have kids at home August through Christmas were probably a mad rush of school supplies, Halloween costume dilemmas, and Christmas craziness. In the spring, all the sports will start along with the monster of standardized testing and the end of the school year. But right now, in the bleak mid-winter, when less is expected, you can take some time for yourself.
Now is the perfect time to light a candle and try meditation. Schedule a massage or plan a spa night at home. Read that book you meant to get to last year. Write a letter to a friend. Sit quietly and contemplate the outline of a bare tree. Watch birds. Imagine hibernating animals cozy in their winter dens. How can you not love winter if you picture a chipmunk asleep amid the pile of acorns she collected last fall? Stay in your pajamas all day on Saturday. Do nothing, without guilt. You are restoring yourself and gathering energy for spring like a tulip bulb.
Most of all, remember, it's a season. The furious rush of spring is coming! Planting, growing, Easter, Mother's Day, long lines at the garden center, sports, weddings, graduations--it's all on the way. So don't discount your restful January or despise your quiet winter.
Accept the gift of time for renewal.
Our bodies and minds are meant to acknowledge seasons, both in nature and in life. If you haven't ever thought about the ebb and flow of life I hope this helps you make it to those first daffodil blossoms!
Please note that this advice is for feeling blue or unhappy but still able to function. If you find yourself in such a state of depression that you cannot practice self-care on even the most basic level or feel completely hopeless I urge you to get outside help. On my darkest days, I have found a therapist, who can provide unbiased advice, to be the best road to take. If you feel your depression is spiraling, I beg you not to suffer alone.
Friday, January 17, 2020
Two of the most common resolutions every year are losing weight and/or getting fit. We all focus a tremendous amount of time and money on diet and exercise but we consistently neglect a key piece of the health puzzle, sleep.
Two words: Circadian Rhythm.
One thing that happens is that we can feel so tired that we just keep sitting in front of the TV or computer because we feel too tired to get up and do our evening bedtime routine. Meanwhile, we only get more exhausted by the minute and bedtime is getting pushed further and further back costing us precious sleep time. If this is you set a timer on your phone to chime one hour before you want to go to bed. It's a helpful prompt to remind you that in about 20 minutes you could be ready for bed.
We actually have a limited amount of decision making capability for the entire day. By the time bedtime rolls around your mind and energy are depleted. That's why it's so important to have a bedtime routine in order. You will literally be able to move through it and get everything done without making any decisions. I've already done the work for you. Read Building Your Bedtime Routine for your basic bedtime routine checklist
Here are some helpful tips.
No screen time in bed. Not even the Kindle. Light from all our devices signals to our brains we should stay awake. Bedtime means reading a physical book and that the TV, phone, and laptop are banished to the den, dining room, and studio.
No news before bed. Just no. 10:00 news. Worst idea ever.
End your day on a positive note. Before turning out the light you might want to jot down notes for things to do tomorrow to clear your mind, journal about your day (also clears the mind) or write in your gratitude journal.
Use a diffuser with lavender next to the bed and a noise app or machine. When traveling I have a white noise app on my phone. Drowning out random noise is very helpful and lavender is a calming fragrance.
Don't wait until you feel tired and/or sleepy to go to bed. Bedtime is the same regardless of how you feel. This is the main mistake most adults make, they don't see the need to go to bed until they feel like it. An overactive overstimulated mind at the computer or watching TV is a terrible barometer of how much sleep the body needs.
Think of bedtime routine as pampering and self-care.
Don't keep any business-y type things in the bedroom. That's what the office and a desk are for. Anything that looks like it might promote over-thinking or worry is banished. Do all work someplace else. Who wants the energy of unpaid bills in the bedroom?
Unless you're sick the bed is only for a couple of things and one of them is sleep. We don't have a TV in the bedroom. Our brains need to associate going to bed with being in a mindset for sleep.
If you wake up and can't go back to sleep within 20 minutes get up, get some water, maybe read a bit, then go back to bed. You might also try prayer, meditation, and counting your blessings.
If you are feeling sick, run-down, and exhausted changing your sleep routine is a good place to begin getting yourself to a healthier state.
If you only make one resolution this year, creating and maintaining a healthy sleep pattern is going to do the most good in every other area of your life.
Thursday, January 16, 2020
Bedtime is an event when you are a child or a parent of small children. After dinner there is a bath, cozy clean pajamas, reading a book with Mom or Dad. It's a routine and everyone knows what to expect every night. It's so special that it is a key scene in TV shows and movies regarding families. You probably have your own special memories from your own childhood or from your child's.
But something happens as we get older. At some point, we throw out the comforting ritual. We watch late-night television or prowl Facebook until we nearly pass out from exhaustion and then fall into bed. As a nation, we complain about our inability to sleep or wear our lack of sleep as a badge of honor.
Let's make being tucked in at night a grown-up thing. If you were a child you remember how to do this, right? And if you have raised kids of your own, you just have no excuse not to be treating yourself to a goodnight ritual.
Your inner child is going to revolt! "But I wanna stay up and stalk Harry and Meghan on social media!"
To which you will reply "I know. But whenever you don't get to bed on time you feel out of sorts the next day and it's hard to focus at work. So, off to bed."
If it takes treating yourself like a toddler to create better habits that's okay.
You might want to refer back to your Fresh Start Tool Kit
Tucking yourself in:
Step 1. Set a bedtime and stick with it. No matter how much your inner toddler whines to stay up late to see George Clooney on Jimmy Kimmel, you are going to stand strong. It's okay to give yourself a window: my bedtime is between ten and ten-thirty. Choose the right time for you. I'm a lark so my time is pretty early. If you are an owl just make sure to give yourself 8 hours before the alarm goes off the next morning.
Step 2. If you are a nighttime shower person do that. If you are a morning shower person, wash your face and moisturize. I brush my teeth immediately after dinner in order to signal to my brain we're done eating for the day. We are learning more about the benefits of intermittent fasting, so the earlier the better.
Step 3. Put on your favorite cozy pajamas.
Step 4. Dim the lights around the house.
Step 5. If you are having alcohol in the evening keep it earlier, closer to dinnertime. It can interfere with sleep in the early morning hours. For bedtime, drinks stick to decaf tea or water or any of the teas that promote sleep.
Step 6. Turn off all the screens. This is where your inner tween will start wailing but remember, you are the adult now. Have a little self-control. No screens the last 20 minutes before you actually get in bed. It should really be an hour but let's be realistic.
Step 7. A bedtime story! Yay! It's the best part and you can choose whatever you want. But be careful. I've been reading War and Peace for eleven years or something. By the time I get to this point my brain is thinking "Time to go to sleep!" This isn't the time for a page-turner. Classics and personal development work nicely. Just like we primed our brain for our day, now we are priming it for sleep. You'll want to end the day on a good note.
Step 8. Prayers. Meditations. Affirmations. Gratitude. Reflections on the day.
A note about sleep aids: I take Melatonin about an hour before I climb into bed. Be careful with things like certain allergy meds that have been linked to dementia as well as anything that requires a prescription. Like a lot of things in life, the simplest solution is the best one. We don't want to mess around too much with our body's natural ability to do its job.
Okay, I know there's more to it because your mom isn't fixing the coffee pot for you and your dad isn't going around locking all the doors. You might need to let the animals out one last time, charge your phone, or pick out clothes for tomorrow.
Work all of those things in and around your bedtime routine as it works for you. I make the coffee after dinner if I remember but more often it's in there somewhere between a glass of water and wrangling my testy inner tween. But the overall process happens every night. I'm sure it does for you too your version just might need a little you-centric tweaking to make the most of it.
But what about the weekend?
Bad news. Your body doesn't know it's Friday night. So while you might veer off schedule occasionally for big events or special nights out, sticking as closely as you can to a regular plan is going to improve your sleep. Perfectly adhering to a system isn't our goal. Make sure that you are caring for yourself with kindness and love most of the time. That means giving your body plenty of rest. Guilt-free.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Let's add a mindful practice to get our mind and spirit on track when things are frustrating. Which, if you have to get in your car and drive anywhere or come in contact with other humans, has a high likelihood of happening.
I'm about to share some life-changing advice with you. Are you ready?
Stop ascribing intention to other people's actions.
A few years ago I was checking out at the grocery and the cashier was rude. I mean not speaking, not making eye contact--I'll bet you've been there. I was getting more irritated by the minute. By the time we got to the part where you pay and get a receipt, I was seriously feeling like I might find a manager. Okay, so that's not me and I was really just going to go home and complain to my husband about it and feel slighted in some way for the rest of the day. Humans can be so petty, can't we?
As she handed me my receipt she looked me in the eye for the first time and said, "I'm sorry about my attitude but this is the anniversary of my son's death and I'm not quite myself."
Kick to the gut. I felt like the most insensitive ass ever. I assured her that it was fine and that I was sorry for her loss and did the entitled walk of shame to my car. But in reality, this is the situation all the time.
Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle
From what I can see in the culture and what I've noticed in my own life here's a quick and dirty trick to try today when someone cuts you off in traffic or is rude at the checkout.
Think of 5 legitimate reasons someone would be driving like a jerk other than them just being a jerk. Sure you can curse them and call them names and imagine that they also strangle kittens and steal ice cream from little kids.
Question: How does that make you feel? Because here's the thing-- what you think isn't affecting the other driver at all. You, however, are tightening your muscles, clenching your jaw, and increasing your blood pressure.
How differently would you feel if you knew that the driver just found out his teenage son had been in an accident and was on the way to the hospital? Or that his wife is having a baby? Or that he spent 5 extra minutes at home with his kids but that his boss really is a jerk who berates him when he's late?
"But," you may say, "what if he really is a complete jackass and you are just lying to yourself?" Exactly. Either way, his impact on you is the same. It's your perception that is making you unhappy, so change it.
This kind of storytelling to ourselves builds our capacity for empathy and compassion. In case you haven't been paying attention these are things society and the world are in desperate need of. The fact is that we have no idea why other people do some of the things they do. Assuming the worst only hurts us and damages our health.
Asking "how does this impact me?" is also another great tool as is "Will this matter in 100 years?" Or 10? Or a year from now?
We waste a lot of emotional energy taking offense to so much that we could encounter and then move on from. If you want to be calmer, happier, and possibly live longer here's today's take away:
Ask yourself if it matters to you personally.
Will it matter years from now?
Make up the kind of story you'd want someone to think about you when you aren't your best self.
I don't know about you but I need that kind of grace every day. If I want it then I certainly need to be willing to give it. I'm not there yet but I'm working on it.
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
If you have your basic morning routine (BMR) down you can start working on mastering your morning mindset. Your BMR is outside work, for the most part, your morning mindset is where we do the inside work. Your physical preparations allow the mind to focus on the big stuff.
Visualize how you want your day to go. Visualization is a tool used by entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and world-class athletes. "As a man thinks so he is" is the truth. We must train our minds to focus on the outcome we want and be able to picture it in order to go in that direction. Visualization coaches and sports psychologists command huge fees for their services because the practice provides results. If you have your vision board completed then you can spend some time looking at that too.
Stop imagining all that can go wrong. Seriously. Just stop. Worry is exhausting. Remember, you have the power to turn off your monkey mind and refocus your mind on your visualization of how you want your day to go.
Speak kind words. To yourself. I am so saddened sometimes by the way I hear women talk to themselves and about themselves. I get it. During a recent drama, I was telling my husband what a failure I am and in the middle of the words coming out of my mouth, I thought "No. That's not true. I'm just upset. This is what my mind says when it's upset and frustrated." Notice I didn't let that thought run around in my mind for long. You may even have to say "No." out loud to yourself. That's okay. Whatever it takes to tame the negative thinking and get back on track.
Work a puzzle. An easy crossword puzzle is a great way to wake up your thinking ability in the morning. Or choose any other mind-stimulating activity to get your brain firing
Put on some music. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a morning person but I'm not really a music person. I have never hit the snooze button and can actually count the times the alarm has woken me up on one hand. If you have trouble getting going in the morning, and it can be difficult during the short days of winter. Music can help. I prefer silence to start the day, but remember this is all about YOU and your sustainable choices to create good habits. Music is an outside contributor we can use to change our mood. Create a playlist of music that gets you moving or puts you in a good mood so you don't have to try to find something every morning.
Let some light in. Your brain is wired to interpret light as an indication that it is time to wake up and start the day. Don't hunker down in the dark like it's a WWII blackout. Open the curtains and shades, turn on some lights, sit in the room of your house that faces east so you don't miss the sunrise. If moving your body includes a walk that's a great way to get some early daylight.
Create something. According to neuroscientists our brains are most creative directly following sleep. The first three hours you are awake are the most creative you are going to be all day. If you don't have time to do a lengthy creative process before heading out to work or dropping off the kids at school then journal to capture thoughts and ideas you can return to later in the day.
You can do all or some of these things. But they are all proven components for preparing our minds for whatever the day holds. In order to get the most done we need to get ourselves in a positive place before we come up against everyone else's agenda for our day.
Monday, January 13, 2020
I have good news and bad news. Your morning is going to determine how your day goes.
In every interview, book, or article I've ever read by or about any successful entrepreneur, thought leader, or athlete when asked how they start their day, not one time have I ever heard anyone say they hit the snooze button or drank a Coke with a doughnut. Successful people from the world's most successful CEOs to the most on top of it moms know that a morning routine is key.
Win the morning and win the day.
We want to be at the top of our game whether we are homeschooling moms or corporate executives so let's dive into what the world's most successful people all seem to agree make for a great morning strategy. The number one most important thing is to have a routine.
“Routine is a condition of survival.” ~ Flannery O'Connor
Most people do have a sort of morning routine but let's break down key components for a daily regimen to get us into a mental and physical state of mind for a positive and productive day.
Building Your Morning Routine:
1. Get up early.
I know. I know. I can hear the night owls groaning, but it's what every single person at the top of their game does. According to billionaire and owner of Virgin, Richard Branson, in order to get a head start on the rest of the world he gets up at 5 A.M. every day no matter where he is in the world. If you are a mom you know that having your feet on the floor first is a survival tactic. That first hour or two when your house or your part of the world is still asleep is a magical golden time that is incredibly productive.
I'm not saying you have to wake up at 5:00, I let myself sleep later than that sometimes in winter, because we're empty nesters, but you do need to have a regular time that you get up and try not to deviate from it too much on weekends or vacations.
So we're up. Now what?
2. Hydrate. Drink a full glass of room temperature water with a squeeze of lemon.
Your body has been without water all night and most people are mildly dehydrated anyway so start here. I do this with a handful of vitamins and supplements. This falls between brushing my teeth ( the very first thing I do) and feeding dogs and letting them out. This is literally the easiest thing you can do to improve your health and wellbeing immediately.
3. Move your body. This is probably the hardest one for me because I'm most creative when I first wake up and if I'm going to write I'm playing beat the clock to get any writing done. For me, moving my body initially looks like some stretching and deep breathing. Later in the morning I lift weights and walk. I'd love to say I am religious about the weights and walking. It's a struggle. But the stretching is non-negotiable.
4. Read something positive. This can be your spiritual reading or any personal development book, whatever gets you in a good headspace for the day. Every successful person reads. It's a common denominator.
5. Organize your thoughts. Journal. Morning pages. Intention for the day.
I've made this list as simple as possible for people who may not have any kind of regular routine other than getting coffee and turning on the Today Show. Just doing these things will absolutely transform the rest of your day. You may not get to hit everything one hundred percent of the time but what we do most of the time is more important than what we do once in a while. The effects of these small changes are cumulative. The more you do them the more results you'll see.
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Yesterday we played with the idea of creating an empty space. Today we'll do the opposite and fill something up. That's because sometimes emptiness feels like spaciousness and freedom, all light and airy, allowing us space to breathe.
But it can also feel empty or scarce.
Today fill something that needs filling or refilling. Your gas tank. Your empty veggie crisper in the fridge, your vision board, an empty shampoo bottle, a page in your journal, a blank wall, the diaper bag, your stash of batteries, or your calendar for the month, a grocery list. Add some money to your bank account, fill your water bottle, or stock your car with things you always need like wipes or tissues. Fill an empty flower vase or candle holder.
Compare how you feel when thinking about these concepts and ideas of empty and full. Take a few moments to think about which areas of your house make you feel comforted when they are full or induce a feeling of scarcity and worry when they are empty.
For me, full closets cause me to feel stressed and cramped while a full pantry gives me a feeling of being prepared and reduces stress around food.
Take a moment to explore why you might have some of these feelings. I know that my need for food security comes from living on a gravel road in Indiana as a small child and the message that my mother imparted to us that not having a well-stocked pantry was an actual danger should we be snowed in, which often happened on county roads that got plowed last. As an adult, I'm still making sure that the inner child who worries feels secure.
Empty shelves and drawers make me feel light and in control but an empty refrigerator makes me anxious. We all know how uncomfortable an empty gas tank and cell phone battery make us feel.
If you've flirted with minimalism, as I have, you know that there is a threshold for the amount of things that make you feel comforted and safe and going beyond that can create some feelings of unease. It's not about having everything or nothing it's about having the right amount of things for you. For most of us that is far more than what we have right now but the quest for the right amount can take some work to uncover.
The opposite of more is not less. The opposite of more is enough. ~ Unknown
Saturday, January 11, 2020
We've been working on our mindset so far in our Fresh Start Field Guide Series. The next few posts will be simple assignments. Don't worry. We are not going to be emptying all the contents of your house into the living room floor in order to see what sparks joy.
Today you are simply going to empty something.
It can be anything you want. A sink full of dirty dishes, or the junk drawer, or a shelf in the garage. The trash. Your car. The dishwasher.
One thin shelf in the medicine cabinet.
Maybe it's an hour in your calendar this week.
Empty one thing of your choosing and see how a small bit of empty space makes you feel like you have a little more breathing room in your life.
Let's embrace that everything isn't about more.
Friday, January 10, 2020
This week we've been trying to spark new ideas and add some creativity to our lives. If you feel like you would like to try something but don't know what here are a few ideas to try this weekend.
1. Write down 10 creative ideas. They don't have to be things you'd actually do, the point is to start feeling creative. So while you might not paint a giant mural of your grandson's face on the side of your house, you can write that down. Plan a trip around the world where you visit all the best bookstores, invent an app to solve a problem you have, or you could be all original and put down "write a book."
2. Doodle. You might already do this while you are on the phone or in a boring meeting at work. I'm sorry if you have to sit in boring meetings especially if there is fluorescent lighting. But start to pay attention to what you are doing and be a little more intentional. Maybe even buy a special notebook for your doodles.
3. Rearrange the stuff in your house. Moving furniture to new locations and taking pictures down to rethink how things are put together is a great way to start thinking about things in a new way.
4. Paint something. Don't panic I'm not talking about traveling to the countryside with your easel and beret. But that certainly sounds like a plan! Sometimes painting something practical like a room or piece of furniture can spark seeing how different color alone can make things. You aren't painting the Sistine Chapel! Just start on a small table or nightstand. If changing the color of a whole room makes you queazy just introduce color on an accent wall.
5. Put together new outfits. You don't have to go shopping. Try putting together things you own in a new way. Or do it virtually by downloading one of several free wardrobe apps. I use Pureple. Take pictures of all your clothes and accessories. If you want to create a dream wardrobe then screenshot your favorite clothes from websites. Use the app to put together outfits complete with all the jewelry and accessories. It feels like paper dolls for grown-ups.
Remember, no matter what else you are working on fostering creativity can help you think outside the box and puzzle together new solutions. A more imaginative mind is helpful in every area of life. There are only two ways to approach a problem, creatively or non-creativley. Which one do you think serves us better in life?
Thursday, January 9, 2020
Let's talk about how busy we are. I mean we all just love to talk about it, right? It's the answer now when people ask you how you are.
Once when my son was three he was playing with Legos in his room, I knew this because I could hear the clattery churning of thousands of those little bricks in a giant tub as his little arm disappeared in there looking for the perfect piece, I yelled up the stairs, "Dinner!"
The one-word reply came back, "Busy!"
From a three-year-old wearing nothing but a pair of 101 Dalmations briefs.
Maybe this is you. You get an invite to a party, or a girls weekend getaway, or to a movie in the middle of an afternoon, and you reply, "Busy!"
Which kind of busy are you?
There are a couple of ways that people manifest this in life. One is the person who feels super important, smug, and slightly superior because they are so busy doing important things that make them successful and they don't know what kind of loser you are that you can actually go around creating free time in your schedule for doing the stuff you actually want to do.
And then there are the people who say it with less smugness and more exhaustion. They'd love to join you. Heck, they'd love to sit in the corner of the bathroom and read the back of the shower cleaner label rather than do the stuff they are doing. These are the people who cannot or will not say no.
To clarify, there's nothing wrong with having a full schedule and lots of stuff on your plate. I know the Type-A Overachievering among you feed on that and gain energy from it. I'm talking about when you reach the tipping point and that is different for every single person.
Where are my introverts?
Let's just be honest. It's harder for us. As a grade-A first-class introvert I have always known that as a means of survival I had to create breathing space in my schedule. I simply do not function well without time to process things. Invite me to your party and I'll be there! I'll just have to go home and spend the next three days avoiding people to recover from it.
If you are an introvert you get it. We recharge by being alone. And social situations, while we can enjoy them, require recovery time. I can hear the extroverts laughing as they go from party to party avoiding solitude and silence at all cost. And guess what. That's okay. It's all okay. Take care of yourself however you need to.
The key is to get the most done, in the way that is most effective for you, without fostering the belief that being busy makes you a better person, or not lazy, or successful. The goal is to get all the important things done while recognizing the urgent may need to wait, or that other people are giving you their homework. You can politely learn to say no.
Break the cycle
Maybe you are saying, "Oh sure. That sounds great. How do I do that between teaching my teenager how to drive, working full time, and trying to save the world? Because that's what women do, right?
1. Sit quietly. That's it. Just sit there. Girl. If you have little kids at home go in the bathroom and lock the door. Shut the door to your office. Hide in your car. Whatever it takes to get some quiet time. Notice how the earth doesn't spin off its axis because you are sitting down and are doing nothing. Huh. I wonder what else wouldn't fall apart if you stopped doing it?
2. After you sit there for a few minutes begin to think of things you would like to do. Not things you should do or need to do, but things you would like to do. For yourself. Just because. Not big things that require multiple steps like taking an art class, or starting a book club. But something you can do right now like go outside in your bare feet and walk in the grass or pet the dog, or read a book. You are going to have to start small if you have been enslaved to being busy.
Reimagine it all.
Think about Japanese design or an art museum. There's a calmness there because every space is not filled. There is negative space where nothing exists. This makes the things you are there to see more noticeable and enjoyable. Imagine going to an art museum that was decorated like the inside of a Victorian English Cottage with patterned wallpaper and heavy carpets and knick-knacks covering every flat surface. Instead of being relaxing and inspiring it would create stress and make it hard to focus.
Imagine your schedule like you are curating the museum. Now everyone is going to have a different level of the number of masterpieces they can tolerate in their museum. You might like one thing per wall while your overachieving friend may want to hang that art from the floor to the ceiling. That's all personal preference. But we aren't going to let other people come in and start stacking their boxes on the floor.
Create the exact level of busyness that energizes and motivates you but still gives you time to feed your soul, get plenty of rest, and stare at the sunset. Or as the saying goes, if it's not a "Hell yeah!" then say no to whatever it is.