A long December (and subsequent long post)

I think one of my first acts of the new year will be purchasing a new laptop… Not having one has really put a damper on my blogging, among other things.

Lately I’ve had the song “Long December” by the Counting Crows stuck in my head. Not that the month was particularly long or that 2015 was bad year necessarily. When it comes down to it, I think the year was a challenging one for me and more often than not, I felt like I was being reactive more than proactive. As a Type A control freak, you can imagine how that left me feeling most weeks. And I admittedly didn’t handle it well.

I’ve spent a lot of time (almost to the point of overthinking…) considering what my word should be for 2016. By noon yesterday, I had a list of about 15 words and started worrying. None of them stood out to me and I was running out of time. Seemed ironic that this approach and mentality was similar to how I’d done most things in 2015.

Thankfully (as I was scrolling through my facebook newsfeed of all things), I came across a word that struck me. I knew I’d found my word.

Create.

This year is about creating routines, habits, attitudes, opportunities and relationships that allow me to better create the kind of life I want. Last year I felt like I was consistently saying I didn’t have time, I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have a positive attitude. I want to reverse that this year and create them. I have more power than I give myself credit for sometimes and it’s time to put myself back in the driver seat, as it were.

Given I’ve only had my word for about 24 hours, I haven’t outlined specific goals (that will hopefully come this weekend). Really, though, I think this year will be about trial-and-error as I figure out what works best for me. How do I strike a better word-life balance? How can I push myself outside of my comfort zone without exhausting myself? Am I comfortable and satisfied with how I spend my time?

There are three things that I’m going to start implementing right off the bat for experimentation, all compliments of the little (one of the perks of our fantastic in-person visits!).

The first is a new nightly routine. Based on Gretchen Rubin’s latest book on habits, I’ve decided to set an alarm to signify that I need to start getting ready for bed during the week. I’m really bad about pushing myself up until the very end, wanting to soak up every minute of my time at home during the week nights.

Unfortunately this impacts my sleep. I’m also tired of putting pressure on myself to be productive all. the. time. That left me feeling anxious for most of the year, and I’m ready to shake that feeling.

To hopefully counter that, I’m going to set aside a solid 20 minutes each week night prior to going to bed to allow time for stretching, some minimal toning (planks, pushups, etc.), and a creative task — coloring, journaling, meditating, reading, etc. I’ve got a whole list to choose from and may even create a jar with those options on popsicle sticks for the nights when I can’t decide what to do. I’m hoping that helps prepare my mind and body for bed, not to mention the added perk of creating a more consistent (and earlier) bedtime for more natural energy in the mornings. Fingers crossed!

The second aspect I’m going to incorporate is utilizing the Day One app (or something similar, since my Mac died and I’m not sure I’ll be getting another Apple computer). I knew going into the new year that I wanted to have a gratitude journal of some sort, something to help me capture the positives in my life instead of continually being focused on what’s next or what hasn’t been accomplished. What’s great about this is I can include a photo with entries, making the journaling process a bit more unique and easier. Even better? You can export to PDF and have a printed copy of the year. This should be a good activity (perhaps even as part of my new nightly routine) to make sure I’ve taken some time to reflect on the day.

I’m probably most excited for my last experiment. The little introduced me to the Passion Planner, and within a day, the middle created us spiral-bound copies through the first three months so we could give it a shot. Although I’m not sure I’ll use the hourly schedule part of it (I already have my outlook calendar and a big calendar at the office), I’m really excited to set a focus for each day and even the week. The challenges for each week should also be helpful for making sure I’m on target in terms of not letting myself and my goals fall to the wayside. Less reactive, more proactive.

Putting all those into writing makes me feel a bit overwhelmed at what I’m introducing into my life in the next few days. That being said, I think it’s the change I need to start creating a life where I feel more balanced and less anxious. Last year was a challenging year, but I also had an incredible amount of lessons learned (particularly with the leadership institute). Now it’s time to start applying what I’ve learned to take things to the next level.

Bring on 2016!

Thankful Thursday #21

Last week was a very bucket-filling week for me from a career standpoint (followed by a great visit to see the parents over the weekend). Oddly enough, as the week wrapped up I found myself crafting a Thankful Thursday post in my head about my job/career, and I figure there’s no time like the present to make it happen.

It seemed somewhat fitting that one of my dad’s recent blog posts featured an article about passions and priorities. While we were skyping with the little on Saturday, she referenced this article my dad posted, saying it was basically one long, non-sugar coated lecture saying get your shit together. Naturally I had to read it.

This quote in particular stood out to me:

If you’re passionate about something, it will already feel like such an ingrained part of your life that you will have to be reminded by people that it’s not normal, that other people aren’t like that.

Last week essentially confirmed that for me. On Thursday I gave a day-long training to six local health departments about developing their evaluation plans for our grant and provided evaluation tools I’ve developed for our other grant. A majority of my tools are in Excel because I’m able to sort, filter, use fantastic functions, color-code, etc. One girl actually came up to me during the break and said she was having a fangirl moment over one of my tools.

Week. Made.

But how many people in the world get excited about things like that? I forget other people don’t think like I do or get energized over the exciting potential of a well-designed Excel file (assuming it has quality data, of course). Heck, a handful of people on Thursday alone made a “god bless evaluators” comment. They think it’s overwhelming and don’t even know where to begin.

I, on the other hand, literally become giddy when I think about developing surveys or conducting assessments or getting a new set of data to better understand programs, organizations and systems, particularly from a quality improvement perspective. And yet another meeting today confirmed I’m one of the few who actually gets excited about those opportunities.

After a great training, I got to spend the next day at a conference put on by our regional chapter of the American Evaluation Association. I kid you not, I was enthralled from the time the speaker started at 9 a.m. and was almost sad to have to duck out at 2 to get Hurley. One of the leading evaluators in the nation spoke about a newer framework of evaluation and I took pages upon pages of notes (and added about a dozen books to my ‘to-be-read’ list).

What was exciting for me is that I realized that his framework is inherently how I approach evaluations, and it’s very much how I function within our current program. Even a few of the evaluators in the room mentioned that this profession is getting to be less about having a set a technical skills (aka: knowing statistical packages) and moreso about facilitating, documenting, tracking and pulling varies pieces together to understand the full context of whatever it is we’re evaluating. That’s my bread and butter!

Sad or strange as it sounds, those two days I just kept thinking that people always talk about how “you just know” when you’ve found The One. That’s how I feel about my career. I honestly couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else — at least not at this juncture of my life or with this level of enthusiasm.

And I have to say that I’m beyond grateful for that. Not many people are as fortunate, and I certainly recognize that. I love that I’m using a skillset and mindset that comes naturally. Spending a day in excel and piecing together information to generate evaluation reports is energizing to me, which perplexes most people. But that’s also how I know that I’ve found what I’m passionate about (and the fact it’s paired with public health is just the cherry on top). Granted, it’s still hard to explain to others what it is I actually do…

Evaluators

Regardless, I’ve found myself growing exponentially grateful for the path that led me to evaluation, not to mention the handful of professors and mentors who’ve helped me hone my skills and abilities. Although don’t get me wrong — there are still good days and not so great days at the office. No job is perfect. But I do know that this type of position is perfect for me. That’s worth acknowledging everyday, not just Thankful Thursday!

Four months to go…

My old college roommate had a blog post last week about being six months away from turning 30. It hit me that my milestone birthday is only four months away — a good reminder to check in with my 30 Before 30 List.

I was a bit relieved to find that 21 are officially done. Even better, the remaining are at least in progress. Not that it would be a huge deal or disappointment if I didn’t fully cross those off the list (there might be one or two where I don’t meet the full goal, like number of new states visited). Really this was just my way to not be so overwhelmed at the prospect of turning 30.

Although I have to admit I’ve still been feeling a bit uneasy about this next birthday. In some ways I don’t feel like I’m where I’d like to be as I approach the big 3-0. I’m not married or even in a relationship, I don’t own my own house or have kids on the horizon. But lately I’ve been trying to focus on the silver lining.

Screen shot 2015-10-18 at 7.27.31 PM

I’m not necessarily where I envisioned being at this stage, but I’ve made immeasurable progress in recent years and when I look around, life is pretty damn good. My career is heading in a fantastic direction, I love the activities and organizations I’ve been able to participate in this past year or so, and I’m (clearly) crazy about my furbaby.

And in the meantime, there’s still lots more to accomplish and see in the world. Who knows — maybe I’ll even end up creating a 35 Before 35 List. Then again, maybe not….

Career
1. Explore the options for becoming a certified life coach In progress…I’ve got an excel file with my options and met with a life coach to talk through them
2. Publish in some capacity DONE!
3. Volunteer with a new nonprofit DONE! 
4. Find a work mentor DONE! 
5. Obtain a new job, ideally public health related DONE!
6. Reach out to nonprofit consultants to chart a path to get to that career DONE!
7. Join a professional organization DONE!
8. Look into joining a board of directors for a nonprofit I’m passionate about In progress…attending a panel discussion followed by a board matching event in a couple weeks

Health
1. Train for and run a 5K DONE! And did a second one, too!
2. Learn to meditate In progress…attending a class on Nov. 5
3. Buy a bike DONE!
4. Get a full physical / health assessment DONE!
5. Log 2,000 miles DONE! Hit my final mile for it on 10/17/15

One Time Events
1. Take a community education class DONE! And still taking quite a few
2. Adopt a dog DONE! By far the best accomplishment on this list ❤
3. Have a technology-free weekend DONE! 
4. Watch a movie in a theater by myself DONE! About to do this for a play, too
5. Donate blood DONE!
6. Do one random act of kindness for a stranger
7. Go to a non-work related conference DONE!
8. Type up my baby journals and publish into a book DONE!
9. Create and maintain the quotes/life lessons journal DONE!
10. Host a dinner/holiday party DONE!

On-Going Efforts
1. Read 90 books In progress…20 more to go
2. Find a way to permanently store/organize all my photo and mementos In progress…it would help if I would stop taking photos
3. Keep a gratitude journal for 30 days DONE!
4. Visit 7 new states so I’ll have visited 30 states total In progress…three more go visit
5. Write and send 30 homemade cards to family and friends In progress…9 more to write and send
6. Participate in a book club In progress…the one I was supposed to join in October got postponed
7. Hit 500 blog posts DONE! My thankful Thursday post on the leadership institute put me at 500

Thankful Thursday #20

Yesterday I “graduated” from the leadership institute I’ve referenced in a few of my blog posts, and quite honestly, I couldn’t think of a more deserving Thankful Thursday topic.

A little more than a year ago I showed up for the three-day kickoff retreat, unsure of what I was getting myself into. All I can say looking back is that I absolutely ended up being at the right place at the right time.

It almost seems like magic. Aside from the four individuals in my cohort who work in the state office building (who I now pow-wow with on a regular basis), I have literally spent all of 10 days over the course of three retreats with my cohort of 26. And somehow they feel like family.

What drives that is likely the depth and range of conversations we’ve had over the course of the year. To say we got up close and personal is an understatement. We took no less than five assessments (including a 360 assessment, which is intense in and of itself) to understand our personality, behavioral and thinking preferences. After receiving results, we dove into group discussions and pair-and-share conversations about what that means for ourselves and how it’s perceived by those around us.

Lame as it sounds, the leadership institute was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve done. Not in terms of the amount of work necessarily, but certainly the depth. It’s hard to be vulnerable with people you hardly know. It’s difficult to come face to face with your weaknesses, particularly in a “professional” setting. Each one of us was stretched beyond our comfort zone, and we became stronger for it.

What I loved about the institute is that it went beyond learning about our preferences and a specific set of skills, like crisis communication and conflict resolution. We were empowered to explore and then embrace our strengths and also our weaknesses. The whole experience felt like life coaching, career counseling, mentoring, leadership development and a support group all wrapped up in one.

I can’t even begin to articulate how thankful I am for the experiences I’ve had through this institute. The friendships gained, the lessons learned and the growth I’ve had in the last year is truly remarkable. For the first time, I’ve embraced what I bring to the table (and that includes being an introvert!) and recognize that value within teams. And for me, that’s huge.

leadership

It also didn’t hurt that my go-to lady in the institute also has an adorable yellow lab with an equally impressive vertical jump. I’m telling you — right place at the right time. ❤

Revisiting my intentions

I love fall. For some reason this time of year seems like a more appropriate time to make resolutions and goals, almost moreso than the first of the year (probably because by then I’m worn out from the holidays and ready for spring weather).

Two weeks ago I traveled for work. Although the training itself made for a long week, I lucked out in that I had the perfect travel companion. One of my co-workers is equally drawn to life chats and even life coaching, making for great conversations and opportunities for reflection.

During one of our dinners, we were talking about being intentional with our time, energy and tasks. I almost had a moment of panic when I realized that intention is my word for the year. Looking back, my life from late April to mid-September seems like such a blur that I feel like I’d failed in my intentions (nice play on words, huh?).

Now that I’ve had some down time, I’ve been making more of an effort to identify areas where I want to be more intentional, in part to reinvigorate my efforts for the remainder of the year. What’s interesting, though, is that I’ve shifted how I view my word, at least to some degree.

When I started the year, my efforts were more geared at myself and what results being intentional that would yield. How am I spending my time? In some ways I treated it like a quality improvement process for my life. How can I make it more efficient and effective? When I look back, I think it was more about creating another layer of accountability for myself. Unfortunately, that just seemed to create another layer of stress and internal pressure that, quite frankly, I don’t want weighing on me.

Thankfully, in part through the last few months, I think being intentional has become much bigger. It’s about making sure that I’m living out my values and being intentional with others.

feels good

Success is

There are two big areas where I have focused on being intentional these last few months, primarily due to all the deadlines and stress levels. The first is the notion that “well done is better than well said.” I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but it truly is one of my core values that I strive to be intentional about.

I’m big on accountability. I don’t want to just talk a good game — I want to deliver. It could be about professional matters, like meeting deadlines or accomplishing tasks, or it can be more personal in nature, like saying I’m going to get out to the east coast to see the little or eat healthy. As I’ve talked about before, I want to show up when and where I can.

Particularly with the help of my leadership institute director, I’ve been more intentional about the professional aspects. I take more time to consider what projects I take on and how I can set realistic goals and deadlines for myself. A big part of that has been learning to say no to other tasks that sneak up (and believe it or not, this people pleaser has said no to a few things!). This has been key to keeping my work load somewhat manageable and trying to have better work/life balance, recognizing that flexes over time.

The second area is one that I learned from my co-worker. She made a comment a number of weeks ago that really stuck with me: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

For some reason this was a big game changer for me, though it may seem like common sense. That’s actually why I included the other graphic above. In addition to liking what I do (my actions, decisions, projects, etc.), I want to like how I do it. And that means being intentional with my words, tone and actions. When I know I have to say no, for example, it’s how I say it that makes me feel okay about it. That’s not an easy task for me, so framing how I want to turn down something has made it feel better for me personally.

In some ways it helps that I’m an introvert. My tendency is to process and consider what I want to say or how to respond anyway. Mostly I think this approach has helped more from a people-pleasing perspective. I don’t have to say yes to every request. I don’t have to consistently put other people’s desires, wishes or expectations above my own. Knowing it’s not what I say but how I say it prevents me from constantly going along just to get along, which is great progress for me.

The downside to some of this is that most of my intentional efforts pertained to the more professional areas of my life (work and volunteer). My hope is that in the coming months I can better incorporate that into my personal life. But it does help to know I’m creating a life that’s more in alignment with who I am and my mode of operation, if you will. And isn’t that truly what my year should be about?

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 about intuitive eating

On Sunday as I was meal planning for the week, I came across a slow cooker creamy chicken crock pot recipe. It looked delicious and really simple to throw together. Plus it reminded me of a dish a friend made for me (with pasta instead of rice) during my last week in Columbia that I loved. (It’s hard to believe that was exactly a year ago!)

I did my typical, “okay, how healthy is this?” questioning before deciding whether to put it on the docket. I was torn since it called for cream of chicken and cream cheese (kind of selling points for me since it’s likely what makes it delicious…) and no vegetables (though they could be added). Should I find modifications? Find a different recipe?

And then to my surprise, I decided I didn’t care. I put it on the list and made it Monday evening. In addition to the can of cream of chicken, I also used cream of mushroom. (The blogger is right — with more chicken, two cans helps.) The smell alone when I walked into the house after spin class was worth it.

Why the shift? It’s primarily because in the last week or two, I’ve been focusing on intuitive eating (you could say it’s another area where I’m trying to be intentional). It’s something the little talked about while we were home for the holidays, and a rockstar I got my MPH with posted this article about it on her facebook page. (I rarely put plugs out there, but if you’re interested in healthy living topics, Real Nutrition and Fitness LLC is beyond fantastic!) The article drove home the point that by saying I probably shouldn’t have something because it wasn’t healthy, I was actually creating an unhealthy view of that food.

With intuitive eating, nothing is off-limits. It’s similar to the “everything in moderation” approach to eating without that moderation restriction. It’s about eating to fuel your body and knowing when you’re full. What I also love is that it’s about having a healthy relationship with food. I don’t need to beat myself up or somehow justify having a dish that had cream cheese (I don’t want to estimate how many times I’ve said or even written on my blog, “I know this isn’t all that healthy but…”).

Plus I was able to balance the meal out, and that’s what really counts. I paired the creamy chicken with brown rice mixed with quinoa (a genius idea from a co-worker!) and loaded up on veggies as a side. So really, the “unhealthy” thing I was torn about only constituted a portion of an otherwise healthy meal. And it was delicious to boot! Comfort food without being too heavy, which I always love.

creamy chicken

Last night I also did a balancing act of sorts (with trying to make half my plate veggies) when I tried an oven-roasted sausage, potatoes and peppers recipe. This is comparable to another recipe or two I’ve tried, but it’s the first time I’ve used banana peppers (which I love!).

I’ll confess that banana peppers were the only peppers I used, but it turned out to be just the right amount of flavor for me — primarily because I used chipotle and pepperjack chicken sausage. So delicious! The leftovers were equally great, too. What was really surprisingly is that I only used salt, pepper and garlic powder as seasonings. The strong flavor from the peppers and sausage made me a bit thankful I didn’t throw in red pepper flakes.

sausage potato pepper

I’d say intuitive eating is definitely winning this week (though it’s still an interesting mindset shift I’m trying to make). It also doesn’t hurt that I’m getting way more steps now that the weather is gorgeous and Hurley gets double the time walking. We don’t mess around with this spring weather and extra hour of sunlight!

Intentional goal setting

It’s time to switch gears from recipes again for a more life chatty post.

One really great thing I’ve done for myself this year as part of my focus on intention is get a life coach. Crazy, right?! But I figure if I aspire to be one, it wouldn’t hurt to go through the process to get a better understanding of it.

The larger reason for getting one, though, was to help me be more purposeful about the direction of life. I had a lot of life changes last year, many of them fantastic. I moved so that I’m much closer to family, I’ve got a fantastic furbaby, I’m finally in a house instead of an apartment, and in some ways I have the dream job I’d been working toward for six years. And yet I couldn’t help but think, “Now what?” It’s hard to be intentional about how you spend your time, money and energy when you don’t really know what’s next or what you’re working toward.

It’s a question that’s led to many interesting conversations. I’ve been so fortunate to find the life coach that I have. Typically sessions are supposed to be 45 minutes long, and I have yet to have one that’s less than an hour because of our rich discussions. We’re so similar in personalities (further confirming for me that becoming a life coach is a goal of mine) that she keeps imparting this advice to me — it’s okay to be comfortable and content for awhile. It’s something that’s taken her years to learn because, like me, she always felt like she needed to be working toward something bigger and better.

The most recent conversation was about those larger goals. I’m better learning to distinguish between what I actually want and what I wish I wanted. Do I want to be a mover and shaker in the community because it’s something I really aspire to, or in reality, would working toward that goal just exhaust me as an introvert with a relatively full plate already? Sometimes I have to recognize and accept that those goals are better suited for other people.

Earlier this week Liz Gilbert (who you all know I love) published an article almost about this very thing but with a slightly different take on it. Instead of striving to be perfect, we should accept that we’re going to stumble and fall. But it was this paragraph in particular that resonated most with me:

Let’s just anticipate that we (all of us) will disappoint ourselves somehow. Go ahead and let it happen. Let somebody else be a better mother than you for one afternoon. Let somebody else go to art school. Let somebody else have a happy marriage, while you foolishly pick the wrong guy. (Hell, I’ve done it; it’s survivable.) While you’re at it, take the wrong job. Move to the wrong city. Lose your temper in front of the boss, quit training for that marathon, wolf down a truckload of cupcakes the day after you start your diet. Blow it all catastrophically, in fact, and then start over with good cheer. This is what we all must learn to do, for this is how maps get charted — by taking wrong turns that lead to surprising passageways that open into spectacularly unexpected new worlds. So just march on.

That’s exactly what my life coach is trying to teach me. Let others take on those roles and goals (the ones that I just wish I wanted) instead of me. Or in the plain words of the little, “you do you, booboo.”

It’s hard not to feel a bit of jealousy when you see others around you aspiring to great goals — training for half marathons, joining a board of directors, purchasing a house, starting a business. And it’s hard not to be inspired by their energy and want to jump on that band wagon.

My life coach’s advice? Let them do their thing. Be excited for them, but don’t force that upon yourself unless it’s a craving you have for your life, too. It also helps to recognize that perhaps the person training for a half marathon has had this goal for years. Or it may signify something big in their life, a battle that they’ve overcome. I shouldn’t force myself to train for a half marathon just because others view that as a measure of success for themselves.

All of this is easier said than done, of course, but I’m making much better strides at looking at my goals and being honest about what I want to pursue and what’s perhaps not suited for me. Not only that, but I’m less likely to beat myself up for not having those goals for myself as well. It may seem like common sense, but it’s taking some great life coaching to be a more natural acceptance for me — finally!

Thankful Thursday #15

I really need to get better about this blog series…

Usually after the holidays, I’m in a bit of a funk. It’s cold, I have to get back into the daily grind and there isn’t a vacation/holiday/celebration on my radar. This year was no exception. I was somewhat dreading Monday, not wanting to face reality again (not to mention the single-digit weather).

Then Sunday morning, I changed my perspective (although admittedly it wasn’t intentional). Turns out at some point in the night, my furnace decided to stop working correctly. When I woke up, it was a chilly 55 degrees. I layered up, put on a large pot of coffee and reached out to my landlord.

Within a few hours I had heat again. And for some reason, all I could think was how lucky I was. I had the means and resources (even down to an incredibly responsive landlord) to warm up within just a few hours. How many things do I complain about, even if it’s just internally, that someone would love to have? How many things do I take for granted?

That’s what kicked off my gratitude/intention journal (I even found this baby on clearance!), which is something I’d had in mind anyway since it’s one of my 30 Before 30 goals.

intention journal

I didn’t want to restrict this to just things I’m feeling grateful for on a given day, in part because it’s more far-reaching than that. I’m also hoping to track successes, if you will, of being intentional with my attitude. If I go into work or a date thinking that it’s going to suck, then I’m likely going to have that outcome. My attitude has the capacity to make a situation better or worse, and ideally I’d like to have more of the former than the latter.

Back in November I attended a Happiness Summit in town. (Yes, I’m dedicated a Saturday to a free seminar on happiness. But it was so worth it — and let me cross something off my 30 Before 30 list!) Two things stood out to me that are very much in line with this topic.

The first was based on research from Sonja Lyubomirksy in The How of Happiness. Our level of happiness is generally based on three areas. One is genetics, which accounts for 50 percent. What’s interesting, though, is that only 10 percent of happiness is a result of your circumstances while the remaining 40 percent is based on intentional activity. My attitude and actions really can play a big role in how content I am, moreso than the circumstances I’m experiencing.

What was also interesting is one of the presenters (the author of What Happy People Know) spent a few minutes talking about gratitude. Specifically he outlined the difference between gratitude and appreciation, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since.

According to Dr. Baker, with being grateful there’s often a sense of obligation to someone or something. And that’s not meant to have a negative connotation. As an example, I’m incredibly grateful for my family. That comes with a sense of obligation in that I would be there for them at the drop of a hat, no questions asked. It’s like you want to reciprocate what this person or thing brought to your life. That’s what feeling gratitude is about.

Appreciation, on the other hand, doesn’t have any strings attached. You can appreciate, for example, a great piece of art or well-written article or green buds on the trees (if only we were so lucky!). I don’t have to do anything with that feeling other than enjoy it.

It probably just boils down to rhetoric, but somehow that distinction changed my perspective on maintaining a gratitude journal. I’ve often been really bad at keeping such journals because, let’s face it, some days are just crappy and it’s hard for me to channel an attitude of gratitude. But if I can find one thing that I appreciate — a good cup of coffee, a great quote from a book or even a working furnace — then perhaps I’ll see the good after all.

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