Shifting health gears

Fruitless as it may seem given we’re only a few weeks away from another holiday, I decided to get back on the health wagon. Thanksgiving was a much needed break with lots of indulging — even for Hurley and the family dogs.

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What was also nice is I was able to listen to a great audiobook on my drive up and back. The book (It Was Me All Along) caught my eye while I was in Cape Cod and it seemed to be what I needed to light a fire under me again (and it was incredibly relatable given my own weight loss journey). In fact, I even skipped my normal spin class last night to go to BodyPump with my favorite combat instructor! I won’t lie, my entire body hurts right now and stairs are a real struggle. However, it was well worth it. Time to mix things up with my health routine.

In some ways this renewed focus also impacted what I chose for recipes this week. I knew I wanted to focus more on protein since I’d really been indulging and carbs (not to mention sweets). Sunday night I put a BBQ chicken quinoa recipe in the crockpot. It was relatively simple to throw together, and I loved how well the chicken shredded after just three hours in the crockpot. It may not look all that appetizing, but I can assure you that it was.

BBQ chicken

I should mention the olives were just something I threw on the plate because I was craving them… They didn’t particularly fit the flavor, but I didn’t care.

My recipe the following night, though, did allow for green olives. I was nervous having two similar recipes back-to-back, but I really wanted to try the slow cooker enchilada quinoa recipe.

To mix it up slightly, I actually used a beef roast instead of chicken (great choice, in hindsight!). I also minimized the cream cheese given the recent experiences I’d had with my crockpot dishes calling for cream cheese. I didn’t want it to dominate since I love Mexican food without too much cheese in general.

It took a bit longer for the beef to cook, so I almost wish I would have started that on its own. What was great, though, is that I seasoned it the night before so it had the perfect mix of spices.

In part because I wanted a bit more heartiness to it, I did half a cup of quinoa and half a cup of brown rice. (The other reason I’d done that is because that’s all the quinoa I had left…). I barely even noticed the rice when all was said and done, so I might add more of that in the future.

Enchilada

It was like a thoroughly mixed burrito bowl, and in my opinion you can’t go wrong there. The less healthy addition is the lime tortilla chips I used. All in moderation, though…

This week I’ve also decided that I’d like to make more of an effort to branch out of my cooking rut as well. Although the crockpot can be a lifesaver during the week, I also miss cooking. Thanksgiving certainly reminded me of that, but so did the dishes I made this week (though they were quite delicious).

In a crockpot, all the flavors blend together and nothing really stands out, and oddly enough it was the audiobook that made me come to that realization. The author talked about balsamic glazed vegetables and feta cheese sprinkled on spinach salad and buffalo chicken pizza. It sounded so delicious and…clean, for lack of a better word. Crockpot recipes, while convenient and often delicious, don’t feel as fresh and light to me. It might take a bit more planning on my part, but I’m hoping I start limiting my crockpot use.

Beyond that, I’m also aiming to be more intentional (given that is my word for the year…) about where I’m finding my recipes. Don’t get me wrong, Pinterest is great and will still be where I start my recipe search. But I also recognize that I hate and am terrible at tracking what I eat. It seems like such a chore to me and I get really bitter about it. That being said, I feel like if I can be more cognizant of  the nutritional content of dishes before I make them, it might make at least a small difference.

We’ll see how these efforts go. As I said, it may be a bit fruitless given the holiday season is upon us. But sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot, and my motivation certainly peaked thanks to this book.

Busy badge

I have to admit that I hate the busy badge, and yet it’s something I seem to wear constantly and with pride. My standard response to “How are you?” is “Busy, but good.” Who doesn’t claim to be busy in this day and age?

To some degree it’s about perception. On a more personal level, though, it very much relates to this blog post I read last week about being busy:

“If I’m being honest, I like staying busy. It’s comfortable to me. I’m happiest when I have my nice little to-do lists organized neatly on post-it notes, with tiny little tasks I can efficiently check off. By the end of the day, I feel so happy and in control, like life is CRAZY, but I have totally CONQUERED it. “

Preach it! Who doesn’t like that feeling at the end of the day?

But busy doesn’t always mean productive or meaningful, and that’s the part that’s been making me question my busy badge tendencies. This mindset shift actually started a couple months ago when I had a call with my leadership institute director, and when similar messages start popping up in my life, I know it’s time to start paying attention.

Part of my struggle in being busy is that I often go into autopilot mode (which is a fantastic descriptor I got from the leadership director). At the beginning of the day or week, I recognize I need to get X, Y and Z done, so I structure my schedule and tasks accordingly. Given my Type A, people-pleasing personality, there’s often not a lot of deviation from that plan.

It’s not bad, necessarily, but it often means I’m a product of my schedule and, to some degree, other people’s needs or requests. It’s less about being in the moment and more about crossing something off my list so that I can move on to the next task, be it a work project, volunteer assignment or something as simple as mowing the lawn or walking Hurley. That’s not how I want to live.

As I mentioned in my post about the sisters trip, a focus we had in some of our conversations got back to priorities, schedules and meaningful work. Am I making time for the things that matter? At the end of the day, it’s not about whether the work got done but whether the right work got done.

That’s why, when I saw this as we shopped in Cape Cod, I damn near bought this bracelet. Talk about driving the message home.

enough time

In each day and throughout our lives, we have just enough time for the important things. How am I stacking up?

I was probably more apt to notice those given the book I’ve been reading this month –  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. (I’ll be honest that I won’t quite finish it since it’s due at the library and I can’t renew it since someone else has it on hold.) This is one of those books that I thought I would just skim but instead got hooked right off the bat:

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.” (pg. 5)

Let that last sentence sink in for a second. Trivial? Not vital? I was half tempted to jump into defense mode.

But it makes sense.

There are so many causes and organizations and activities and work assignments and DIY projects and…you get the picture. How do you choose what’s really worth investing your time, resources and energy into? And what is it that only you could bring to the table? My role with the Alzheimer’s Association, while great, could easily be done by dozens of people in the community. Is it vital that I’m in that position? What draws me to the opportunity in the first place?

What I loved about the book is that it was quick to drive home that it’s not about taking on less or simplifying your schedule. Rather, it’s about taking an honest look at your life to see if you’re committing to the right things. If the Alzheimer’s Association is important to me, than I should certainly keep that in my life. But do I need to accept every meeting request or social invitation? Can I nix a gym class or two to take my dog on a long walk instead, particularly while the weather is nice?

That brings up the other struggle with busyness. As the blog post I referenced earlier pointed out, busyness is a choice we make — often as a crutch. It’s the need to feel as though we’re more in control (ding ding ding!) and valued than we may feel on the inside. It’s even worse for people pleasers. What will the volunteer coordinator think if I don’t show up to a meeting? Everyone else seems to juggle it all, why can’t I?

But what I’m learning is that it’s not about doing it all. It’s about doing the things that are important to you, which is a decision only you can make. When everything is a priority, nothing is.

What goes on my schedule for the day or week should be dependent on me, and I’m finally reaching a point where I’m not saying “yes” to everything. I’m weighing the pros and cons. Is my input needed at this meeting? Do they need my skill set for this project? Will it take time away from Hurley, and would I be okay with that?

That’s what my year of being intentional is about – diving into those hard questions. What are the negotiables in my schedule and how can I scale back on those to focus on what really matters, both personally and professionally?

Quite frankly, I’m tired of going a million miles an hour, fueled on caffeine and stress. I have just enough time in life for doing the things that are important to me and/or allow me to utilize my unique gifts, talents and skills. It’s time to start being more accountable to myself and setting up those boundaries.

The funny thing is, I think if I were to make the shift, I’d feel much more fulfill and in control than I do when I’m “busy.” Ain’t that something.

It’s going to be tough, but I think it’s time to ditch the busy badge, one stitch at a time!

Beauty in Books 8 and the secret of life

I couldn’t entirely decide which direction to take this post, so I can’t promise it will be cohesive or flow well (and it definitely won’t be short). But it’s something that I’m slowly connecting the dots on in my own mind and wanted to share.

About a week ago the middle and I were watching Girl Meets World (you can laugh, but the show is surprisingly good and very reminiscent of our TGIF days). One of the episodes focused on discovering the secret of life, which Cory Matthews claims is simply that “People change people.”

In some ways that’s very true. I couldn’t even begin to count how many people have shaped and influenced me, whether they’re family members, teachers, colleagues or even dogs. Throughout my entire life, people have absolutely changed me.

I’d argue, though, that another big secret of life (and one I think we often forget) is that you can change yourself.

A few years ago, when I was probably 40 pounds heavier and hadn’t fallen in love with group fitness classes, I asked the middle if she could ever see me, honestly and realistically, running a 5K. After a few moments passed, she said no. I can’t remember her exact explanation, but it essentially boiled down to the fact that while I probably physically could someday, I didn’t seem to have the gumption to actually train and accomplish it. And she was right. At my size, I honestly didn’t believe I could.

Liz

(As a total side note, I sent this to the middle and the little about two years ago as part of our Woof Wednesday health motivation emails. The little replied with a “From what corner of hell are you dragging these out?” Reading it still cracks me up! And I should probably apologize for now making it public…)

Flash forward to yesterday, where the middle and I ran a 5K together. It’s my second one, though this one had far less training on my part but surprisingly a much faster time. That’s change, my friends.

Kolor Run

I firmly believe you can change yourself, but I think it’s important to know yourself first. A co-worker and fellow life chatter of mine has a quote on her desk that we often reflect on that, in some ways, applies here — to be a good leader, you have to know people. To know people, you have to know yourself.

In comes Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. It essentially outlines a range of research about building and sustaining habits, in part based on your personality. This is a succinct version, but I was struck by the four tendencies she outlines at the beginning of the book. Not surprisingly, I’m an obliger. (The middle is likely a rebel, which is why she did a whopping two runs before showing up for the 5K yet still kicked butt.)

That’s when things started clicking for me. A little more than a year ago I posted about my weightloss journey and mentioned a big part of my success has been because of group fitness classes. Finding physical activity I love to do did make a big difference. But do you know what I think made a bigger difference? Having that external accountability from the instructor and others in the class.

“Because Obligers resist inner expectations, it’s difficult for them to self-motivate — to work on a PhD thesis, to attend networking events, to get their car serviced. Obligers depend on external accountability, with consequences such a deadlines, late fees, or the fear of letting other people down. … Obligers need external accountability even for activities that they want to do.” (pg. 22)

Even though I love kickboxing and spin, a huge motivator for me is knowing I’ve got instructors who will ask where I’ve been if I’ve missed one too many classes. Heck, I love that my old kickboxing instructor in Columbia “likes” all the activities I log on MyFitnessPal. It’s why I religiously track my workouts in Excel and love my FitBit. I need that external accountability. In the case of the 5K, it was having a specific date for the run and knowing the middle was counting on me.  That’s what works for me (though knowing this years ago likely would have saved me a lot of time and energy…).

There’s another concept within the book that really resonated with me as well. It’s this notion that often our habits and behavior are in line with what others think of us and what we think of ourselves.

“Research shows that we tend to believe what we hear ourselves say, and the way we describe ourselves influences our view of our identify, and from there, our habits. If I say, ‘I’m lazy,’ ‘I can’t resist a sale,’ ‘I’ll try anything once,’ ‘I never start work until the last minute,’ or ‘I’m lucky,’ those ideas become part of my identity, which in turn influences my actions.” (pg. 239)

Just a few sentences later I had another a-ha moment: “For years, I thought of myself as someone who ‘hates exercise,’ but at some point I realized that I hated sports. … Thinking of myself as someone who ‘enjoys exercise’ allowed me to change the way I viewed my nature, and that helped me to become a regular exerciser.” (pg. 240)

That’s exactly how I was. It required a mindset shift on my part. Just because I disliked sports and gym class growing up didn’t mean I had to dislike all exercise for the rest of my life. Hell, I’ve reached a point where I almost identify myself as a jogger (and I say jogger because running still seems a bit too intense and implies that I’m fast, which is again an identity thing). It almost reminds me of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Continually tell yourself you’re not able to do a 5K and, chances are, you’re not going to be able to.

It’s all incredibly fascinating to me, but the thing I always want to keep in mind is that it’s still up to me to make that change. I show up. I push myself. I make it part of my life. I’ve had and still have people supporting and motivating me, but ultimately it was me that had to change. And I think that’s why Rubin’s book resonated with me so much. It’s about recognizing your preferences, identifying potential pitfalls and barriers, then finding ways to work around it so that you can create an environment and lifestyle that’s consistent with your goals.

Perhaps knowing that you can change yourself isn’t such a big secret to life. Maybe it’s just that we need a few tricks up our sleeve and reminders of our amazing capability to do so. And I definitely had a good reminder of that yesterday.

Beauty in Books 7

I’d been pondering the best way to talk about my experience at the leadership institute two weeks ago, but it’s hard to put into words. This weekend I read Scary Close by Donald Miller, and that seemed to be fantastic springboard to reflect on another way I hope to start being more intentional this year.

Prior to going to the mid-year retreat for the leadership institute, we read Immunity to Change. (Technically this post could almost be Beauty in Books 7 and 8!) It has a number of case studies, which made it a long and somewhat repetitive read, but it’s been fascinating to put some of the principles into practice.

Essentially the authors contend that there are two ways we can approach change. The first (and most common because it’s easier) is a technical fix. If we’re bad at public speaking, the technical change would be attending a workshop or signing up for more speaking engagements. If you’re trying to lose weight, the technical fix is eating less and exercising more.

Generally, though, those technical changes fall short of what we really need to make a true change. Instead we should be seeking an adaptive change, which is more focused on the mindset. More specifically, you start to explore those underlying fears and assumptions that make you hesitant in the first place. What holds you back from public speaking? Are you afraid of coming off as dumb? Of not appearing well-versed or eloquent? And where did some of those fears originate?

The authors encourage individuals to find those underlying (and often false) assumptions and beliefs so that they can begin to start challenging those in small ways. It’s a way of asking yourself “what’s the worst that could happen for speaking up?” and over time realizing it’s typically not the worst case scenario you envisioned.

How does all of this relate to the leadership institute? On the second day we got the results of a 360 leadership assessment, which is feedback on eight specific domains from your boss’s boss, boss, peers, direct reports and an “other” category. Using that information, we each identified our “blind spots” for leadership, selected one particular area to work on and dove into discovering what our underlying assumptions are that hold us back within that area.

The catch and challenge is that we did this in groups of four. Three times. We actually had to vocalize our weaknesses and explain where they came from, often delving into emotional territory.

But let me tell you, this was life changing. It’s a huge opportunity to practice vulnerability and authenticity.

That’s why Scary Close seemed like such a fitting read for me. It’s hard to show up and be seen for who you really are, not just the mask you sometimes wear. As Miller did and captures throughout his book, it’s important to explore why you wear a mask in the first place. His book, to me, was almost a memoir of putting Daring Greatly and Immunity to Change into practice. And this statement seemed to illustrate why it’s so important to me:

“Can you imagine coming to the end of your life, being surrounded by people who loved you, only to realize they never fully knew you?” (pg. 140).

Similar to that, Miller also mentioned that “if we live behind the mask we can impress but we can’t connect.” (pg. 171) It really makes me stop and think about how I’m presenting myself to the world, and even those close to me. My 360 results shows that above all else, I place a high value on my relationships with people. But to what degree am I genuinely connecting versus impressing and trying to have all the answers? And if I’m not showing my real self, why?

It’s still a work in progress for me. As Miller points out time and again, this is not an easy feat. “It involves deconstructing old habits, overcoming the desire to please people, telling the truth, and finding satisfaction in a daily portion of real love.” (pg. 217) But it’s so worth it. Slowly be surely, I’m learning that it’s okay to let my guard down and that real love (with anyone, not just in the romantic sense) isn’t conditional. That alone has been a bit lesson for me.

And if there’s one thing I’ve really learned from this whole experience, it’s this:

“Sometimes the story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” (pg. 22)

Somehow we just have to muster the courage to put it out there and be seen. And that’s what I’m hoping to be more intentional about moving forward.

Intentional scheduling

As I’m trying to establish somewhat of a new routine, my focus of being intentional is shifting from my house to my schedule. (Primarily because I no longer have to dedicate my free time to packing or unpacking boxes!) I’m trying to be more strategic in how I schedule my days to hopefully maximize my productivity and balance.

A few weeks ago my life coach had me track my energy levels throughout the week. Using the energy levels log template I found on this website, I created my own tracking system in excel (naturally…) and was really surprised by the results. I actually found that on days when I work out at 5:30/6 p.m., I’m usually at a level 7 or 8 while I’m working out. The hour leading up to it, though, I’m only at a 2 or 3. No wonder I have to muster up a lot of motivation and accountability to get myself to the gym!

Having this information allows me to be more intentional about when I tackle certain things in my life. I shouldn’t aim to start a new project at work or make a personal budget on a day or during a period of time when I naturally have lower levels of energy. Those are the times when I can focus on less draining activities, like laundry or organizing my work inbox.

Not that there is always that flexibility or option, though. I can’t schedule every meeting I have during periods of high energy/engagement. But I can make small tweaks. I’ve noticed, for example, that my energy level really drops right before lunch. My solution? Scheduling my walking break with a co-worker around that time.

What was also an interesting discovery for me is that there were times when I would have high energy levels (in part due to coffee…) but couldn’t really capitalize on it because I didn’t have much focus. Those were times when I’d try to tackle half a dozen things but not really accomplish anything (probably because I got overwhelmed by having four draft emails, two excel spreadsheets and three word documents open).

As luck should have it, I was reflecting on all of this around the time that I was reading Life Makeovers by Cheryl Richardson. (My life coach was inspired to become a life coach because of this woman, so naturally I had to read a few of her books, too.) It helped me have another “a-ha!” moment when it came to focus and my need to cultivate that more:

“Teaching yourself to stay focused on one project, goal or opportunity at a time will not only allow you to be more productive and effective, it can also challenge you to go more deeply into the task at hand and bring forth more creative insight and wisdom. Too often we try to ‘cover all the bases,’ respond to every opportunity, or provide every possible service that someone might need, in hopes of striking success. But the truth is, long-term, sustainable success often comes from the ability to stay focused on one project or goal at a time.”

That’s what I’m hoping to be more intentional about in the coming weeks, particularly at work. On any given day, I’m dealing with at least five different program areas. On Thursday afternoon, for example, I had back-to-back meetings. The first focused on evaluating early childcare education nutrition standards, the second on data collection for our diabetes prevention program evaluation plan and the final on patient-centered medical home clinic transformation.

I don’t mention that to complain or toot my own horn. I love the diversity of my job and the fact that I’m helping evaluate so many different facets of chronic disease prevention and control that collectively could help individuals lead healthier lives. But I can tell you it takes a toll on my energy levels and what I feel I’m giving to each program.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t always control when all my meetings or webinars are scheduled. What I can control, though, is how I spend my non-meeting time at work. Perhaps on Mondays I focus just on school health and on Tuesday I look at our diabetes prevention programs. Would creating a structure like that enable me to be more intentional and focused with the projects I’ve got at a given time?

That will be my area of focus for the next couple of weeks. Then I’ll move on to the larger focus of my life schedule since it does extend beyond just work. I love that Richardson mentioned that we try to cover all our basis and offer any service to others in hopes to gaining success. Hello, well-rounded over-achiever! In fact, one of the current “assignments” from my life coach is to identify all the balls I’m juggling and look at which ones (whether it’s volunteer opportunities or specific classes at the gym) I might be able to drop. I’ll have to plan for that activity when I’ve got a higher level of energy…

Beauty in Books #6

I promise the lack of Beauty in Book posts doesn’t mean I’m not reading. Some books haven’t warranted a full post, and I’ve got another two on deck to write posts about in the near future. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day…

Thankfully, my travels last week gave me solid, uninterrupted blocks of time to read (one of the perks of flying). I started The In-Between on my second flight to Atlanta and finished it on the way back. It’s been a bit strange reading writers who fall in the same pack, if you will. The forward was written by an author I’d read recently, the book was mentioned in Packing Light. It’s like they’ve got their own writing clique of sorts.

But that’s neither here nor there, other than to say they deliver similar messages. I don’t know if it’s because my life has calmed down pretty substantially on an emotional front and I’m more open to the message or if the universe is trying to tell me something.

Regardless, it’s a message I didn’t mind hearing again.

Just this morning, I opened my laptop to check email, and as my messages began to download, I opened a web browser. While that loaded, I checked Twitter on my phone. Incapable of wasting a single second, to simply sit still and soak in my surroundings, I must always do something. I must squeeze the most out of every moment, unaware that this leaves little left to savor. I blame TV for what it’s done to my brain, the Internet for how it’s made me impatient. But the truth is, I’m the one who chooses to be restless, the one who gives in to temptations to find the next thrill, while refusing the joy of what’s in front of me. (pg. 25)

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this concept before (and probably will again…). I think what helped is that I was traveling, thus giving me an opportunity to put it into practice. Instead of pulling out my phone while waiting for another session to start or while the cab driver was taking us to our next location, I observed. I looked a beautiful buildings, brightly colored trees and a variety of people. I took in the sights and sounds, reminding myself of how fortunate I am (did I mention my career fangirl moment?!).

My hope is that this appreciation and stillness, for lack of a better word, can carry over into my everyday life. I wrote just a couple days ago that finally my life had some sense of normalcy. But what do I find myself doing? Trying to find new community education classes to enroll in, reaching out to new organizations for volunteer opportunities (more on that in another post) and scouring the meetup group website to see if any social outings catch my eye.

I feel like I need to constantly be making the most of my time and on the go, not realizing that sometimes the best use of my time is slowing down.

A life filled with movement, with constant motion and no rest stops, isn’t a life at all. It’s tourism. Life’s mundane moments – ordinary times of TV-watching and breakfast-eating – can be embraced as a slow, deliberate, beautiful way of life if we pay attention and see what’s really there. (pg. 39)

I love that concept, in part because it’s so true. Granted, I’m still going to chase those thrills and attempt to make the most of each day and week. And that’s okay. Essentially the concept of the in-between was to realize and, perhaps more importantly, be okay with the times when it feels like life isn’t progressing – at least not in the way you might want it to or at the pace you want. It will eventually. Change is inevitable, and those pauses in life allow us to catch our breath.

Last fall and winter I was smack dab in the middle of that in-between stage. I felt stuck, frustrated and despite every attempt at making progress, nothing changed. But let me tell you, it’s a hell of a time for some good self-reflection and introspection. Fast forward not even a year, and my mundane moments of reading while Hurley snoozes next to me is as beautiful as life gets.

As enticing as it may seem at times, I don’t want a life filled with constant movement. I read this book at a good time in that it reminded me that I don’t have to be a tourist in Lincoln. I don’t have to pack my schedule full of social activities, networking functions, volunteer opportunities and more. I can just enjoy this new in-between stage of sorts and take things as they come. It might not be at the pace I normally like to go in life (read: top speed), but at least this way I get to better appreciate all the beauty and joy around me.

Making it happen

(Preface: This is one of those posts that I’m not overly happy with, but it’s been sitting in my post queue for about three weeks now. I keep making edits and revamping it, and then there reaches a point where you just have to hit “publish” or “delete” and be done with it…)

I went back and forth about whether to make this part of my Beauty in Books series, but I only really wanted to talk about one particular segment of The Noticer.

The book itself is a bit hard to explain, but essentially each chapter features a story where a man named Jones coincidentally runs into an individual or couple  needing new perspective and wisdom. It was a book I primarily skimmed except for this particular passage:

‘Five seagulls are sitting on a dock. One of them decides to fly away. How many seagulls are left?’
‘Well…four.’
‘No,’ Jones responded. ‘There are still five. Deciding to fly away and actually flying away are two very different things. Listen carefully to me. Despite popular belief to the contrary, there is absolutely no power in intention. The seagull may intend to fly away, may decide to do so, may talk with the other seagulls about how wonderful it is to fly, but until the seagull flaps his wings and takes to the air, he is still on the dock. There’s no difference between that gull and all the others. Likewise, there is no difference in the person who intends to do things differently and the one who never thinks about it in the first place. Have you ever considered how often we judge ourselves by our intentions while we judge others by their actions? Yet intention without action is an insult to those who expect the best from you.’

I’ve always been a fan of the adage “well done is better than well said,” which I think is why I loved that passage so much. Despite being a big proponent of it, even I get hung up on not moving past intention. I don’t even want to count how many times a week I say I’m going to do something and either don’t follow through or half ass it.

The day after reading that chapter, I saw an article by Liz Gilbert (she’s at Brene Brown level in terms of how much I love her perspective and writing). There was a paragraph in the article that immediately made me highlight, copy and paste it so I wouldn’t forget the message.

The hurdle, however, is that asking for what you really want—whether it’s a job as a writer or a discount on tires—can be difficult. Especially for women. First of all, you must know what you really want, which can be hard if you were raised to please others. Secondly, you must believe that what you want is worthy—again, a tricky prospect for women long trained in the dark arts of self-deprecation. Thirdly, you must face the possibility of rejection. That’s the worst of it. Women don’t like being turned down (we get enough of that in our personal lives), and so, like trial lawyers, we often ask only questions to which we already know the answers. Which means: no risk. Which further means: no reward.

Needless to say, my mind was spinning. There’s no power in intention. There’s no risk or reward in not asking. In both scenarios, it’s about playing it safe.

Moving beyond intention and going after what I want was the big motivation when I decided my word for the year would be daring. I think what these two quotes helped me remember is that it’s not just the big things (my career, wanting to be a consultant, personal growth) that need attention and action. It’s also about the daily things, the small things that, in the end, can actually make a huge difference.

I got to thinking about all my good intentions throughout an average week or month. And let me tell you, I’d be one rich lady if I got even a penny for every time I said something like, “I really need to start eating healthier” or “I should really give up Diet Coke.”

It goes beyond health, too. It wasn’t until I attended a financial/retirement planning seminar two weeks ago that I start taking action on budgeting/creating a new retirement account and getting a bank in Lincoln (six months after I moved here…). All the intention in the world is going to get me a bank account in town or money for retirement. It requires action.

From that financial seminar I also gained a different perspective on that first quote. Intention without action is an insult to those who expect the best from you. You know who that is? Me, myself and I. The financial advisor kept stressing you need to look in the mirror and have that staff meeting to really assess if you’re taking the actions you need to take. In the end, waiting another month to not budget or start eating healthier hurts myself.

I can’t say this post has a real purpose other than giving me an opportunity to reinvigorate my efforts to keep daring myself — to act on and ask for what I want, whether it’s big or small. Plus it’s part of living the good life, right? It’s not always easy, but in the end I’d say it’s worth it.

Beauty in Books #5

I hadn’t intended on blogging about the book I finished most recently, but given it’s been on my mind ever since I finished reading it three days ago, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Last weekend I picked up 10% Happier in the same manner I’d picked up my previous book (it wasn’t until after I posted that I realized I forgot to give you the title — 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess). In other words, I thought I would skim a few pages or read a chapter or two before calling it good, allowing me to move on to the next book on my to-read stack. Instead, I got hooked.

I’ll be honest that I didn’t read the portions about his journalism career as closely. But it was his journalism background and training, if you will, that made me appreciate the book. As many of the goodreads reviewers noted, it was nice to have that objective look at self-help theories, programs, etc. He was able to talk about, through interviews and research, which self-help concepts seemed legit and which ones are primarily (pardon my French) bullshit.

Like others, I was also surprised by his genuine interest in meditation and personal growth throughout the memoir. It’s something I’ve toyed with over the years, and I think the author got me back on board for trying it again in the near future. His insights made me see it in a new light in that it’s not all about that zen feeling.

“It’s not that I never got annoyed anymore. In fact, when you’re mindful, you actually feel irritation more keenly. However, once you unburden yourself from the delusion that people are deliberately trying to screw you, it’s easier to stop getting carried away. As the Buddhists liked to point out, everyone wants the same thing – happiness – but we all go about it with varying levels of skill.”

And isn’t that what navigating the good life is really about? At least for me, anyway. And how many times have I talked about finding (and perhaps more importantly keeping) balance in my life?

“In the midst of these intense work sprints, when I had less time to sleep, exercise, and meditate, I could feel my inner monologue getting testier, too – and I didn’t have the wherewithal to not take the voice in my head so seriously. I looked tired in my live shot this morning. I need a haircut. I can’t believe that Facebook commenter called me a ‘major clown.’ The ego, that slippery son of a bitch, would use fatigue as an opportunity to sneak past my weakened defenses.” (pg. 204)

Not that I think about it in terms of the ego, but it’s something I can absolutely relate to (though minus the meditation aspect). When I’m not getting enough sleep (which sadly happens more often than not, despite the at times staggering numbers on my FitBit) or when I’m not working out consistently, my attitude and mental state is less than stellar.

Mostly I think this book was a good reminder to find a way, whether it’s through meditation or journaling or physical activity, to stay balanced and in the present. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the to-do list and worries and insecurities. But as one of my favorite quotes found on pinterest goes, you can feel those emotions without unpacking and living in them. Life doesn’t necessarily have to be as hard as I make it out to be. Sometimes you just need to breathe, using whatever skills brings you happiness. Perhaps meditation will be mine someday after all.

Beauty in Books #4

This book (7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess) by Jen Hatmaker was a unique read for me. Although I was interested in the subject, I picked this out of my library stack first because I was fairly certain I’d give up on it and be able to move on to the other books in my stack (seven, to be exact). I was wrong.

Instead, I stayed up an hour later than I normally do for a couple nights to keep reading. I love the humor, I love the bluntness, I love the perspective…and I also love that she’s a coffee addict to the degree that I am:

“The only possible way I could act more disturbing is if I ground up some beans, made a line with a razor blade, and snorted it in the middle of aisle 9. My gosh. I think I have a problem. A friend asked if I was quitting coffee after this month was up. I told her I’d considered renouncing coffee exactly zero times, and if she ever brought up such foolishness again, I was going to quit her. Yeah. I definitely have a problem.” (pg. 34)

I’m not sure that I could fully buy into or embark on this concept in the way that I could with The Happiness Project. That being said, it’s a theory that made a lot of sense to me and there are ways I would like to make small changes in that direction.

During her first month she limits herself to seven foods. Seven. Props to her for making it through the month! But then when I stop to think about it…couldn’t I benefit from scaling back? How many random ingredients have I bought because I’m always on a quest to find a new recipe? How much food have I thrown out because I didn’t end up liking it or it went bad before I could do something with it? It’s more than I care to count.

That’s what set the stage for the rest of the memoir for me. It forced me to take a closer look at my possessions and spending habits (I even counted my clothes like the author did, though I probably should have done that before I bought three new shirts yesterday…). I think the author pointed out perspectives I’ve probably thought about, but only for about five sections before rationalizing another purchase.

“Vast consumption is so ordinary that its absence was shocking. I didn’t realize how casually I ‘grab lunch’ or ‘run through the bookstore’ or ‘pick up that little scarf.’ I admit” I have a compulsion to buy something somewhere. My craving is nonspecific; it just involves being in a store or restaurant and handing my debit card over and getting something back.” (pg. 175)

Ultimately, the book is about removing the excess and putting your life back into perspective. Even things like too much time spent in front of the television or computer. Instead of watching another episode of The West Wing (my current obsession, albeit I’m a bit late to the party), I could read two chapters in a book or take Hurley for an evening stroll.

As even my post may suggest, at times the book can get a little preachy and toward the end I wasn’t as invested in the book. But I do appreciate that even the author admits we’re all human. There are times where I’m going to be a bit reckless in how I spend my time (hello, lazy Sunday!) or money (did I mention the three shirts I bought yesterday?). It’s not so much about striving for perfection as it is being more conscious of our choices.

If nothing else, that’s what this book did for me. Sometimes less is more, and I need to remember that from time to time (though I should have took that to heart on the 4th of July when I showed up with two side dishes, two fruit options and dessert for five people…).

Beauty in Books #3

I came across Bittersweet through the “if you like this, also consider…” listing based on the two previous books I’ve talked about on my blog. While I wasn’t as enamored with this one, going back through the passages I underlined makes me think that I came away with more than I thought.

What’s interesting is that my take on the book might have been very different a year ago. Usually I pursue book reviews on goodreads once I’ve finished reading a book (in part because I don’t want it to taint my view or experience with the book). A few of the comments pertaining to Bittersweet mentioned that they came across the book at a good time in their life because it was a message they needed to hear. I feel the same, but for opposite reasons.

The premise, as one might surmise, is about how life is bittersweet. Many of the reviewers read it while they were going through a rough patch and found comfort in the book. I’m relatively certain that I would have done a lot of eye-rolling if I’d read it six months to a year ago. Case in point:

“Life hands us opportunities at every turn to get over ourselves, to get outside ourselves, to wake up from our own bad dreams and realize that really lovely things are happening all the time.” (pg. 138)

At least for me, being in the midst of a bitter moment makes it hard to see those lovely things. You’re still waiting to wake up from the bad dream. And what I appreciated about the author is she talks about how she became a person she didn’t particularly enjoy during her season of change. “I began to live a much smaller story, and that story was only about me. I wanted an answer, a timeline, and a map.” (pg 17)

Been there, done that.

For that reason, I’m glad I had ended up reading the book during a more sweet moment in my life. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how far I’ve come. I couldn’t help but nod in agreement and chuckle at her statement, “And while I certainly didn’t thrive on the process, I’m really thankful for the result. I’m thankful for what change forced me to face within myself” (pg. 19).

My hope is that this book gives me a better understanding for how to approach the next bitter moment in life, which will inevitably happen. I likely won’t thrive in the process, but I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two along the way to still see more of the sweet instead of focusing primarily on the bitter.

And I will say that some things would have resonated with me regardless of when I read the book. I can certainly relate to this all too well, and have for years.

“One of my core fears is that someone would think I can’t handle as much as the next person. It’s fundamental to my understanding of myself for me to be the strong one, the capable one, the busy one, the one who can bail you out, not make a fuss, bring a meal, add a few more things to the list. For me, everything becomes a lifestyle. Everything is an addiction.” (pg. 56)

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether that helps or hurts both the bitter and sweet moments…

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