Sunday, November 1, 2015

My Top 5 Podcast Picks

My commute has been transformed by something simple - podcasts! I find that I can deal with traffic much better when I am listening to a podcast interview that is thought-provoking and makes me reevaluate how I'm doing something or helps me focus on what is truly important in my life.

With that in mind, here is a list of my "go-to" podcasts! Download the iTunes Podcast app or Stitcher to get started.

1) Happier with Gretchen Rubin. I became familiar with Gretchen Rubin through reading her book The Happiness Project. Gretchen co-hosts this podcast with her sister Elizabeth Craft, and it is based largely on her research for her newest book Better Than Before, all about habits and what Gretchen calls the Four Tendencies which explains how we deal with internal and external expectations. I love this podcast because it's usually around 25 minutes which is perfect for getting me through most of my commute, and has a reliable rhythm to the show including going through happiness "gold stars" and "demerits" every week.

2) Smart and Simple Matters with Joel Zaslofsky. I came across Joel and his podcast when I began my journey into learning more about minimalism and simple living (see my blog post on my experiences with minimalism). Joel's main mission is to deliver value to his listeners, and he always delivers. I always learn something about how to look at simple living in a new and fresh way. One of his latest podcast episodes is about essentialism and he interviews Greg McKeown about his book of the same name. With Joel, I remember that freedom is needing little and wanting less.

3) The Slow Home Podcast with Brooke McAlary. Brooke is known in the simplicity world for her website Slow Your Home, all about how we can live slower, and more fulfilled lives and embrace the freedom to say "no" to over-commitment and being stretched too thin, and say yes to the things that matter most to us. Brooke is a great interviewer and also has hilarious interactions with her husband Ben at the beginning of each show. They don't take themselves too seriously, which is reflected by the fact that their young children once came on the show to tell everyone to "enjoy the pogpast" instead of "podcast" and now that's how they introduce each show.

4) Sounds Like a Movement with CJ Casciotta. CJ Casciotta reminds everyone that "you are a movement" and that everyone has something to say. He interviews a diverse group of creatives and thought leaders, including my favorite interview with Elle Luna, who talks about the crossroads of "should and must" and how she was inspired to live her passion.

5)  The One You Feed with Eric Zimmer. The One You Feed is based upon the parable of the good and bad wolf. It reminds us why what we think creates our reality, and that it's vitally important that we feed our "good wolf." This podcast focuses more on neuroscience and meditation than the other ones on my list, and is a great reminder to me to keep up with my daily meditation ritual!

What are your favorite podcasts? Leave your comment below!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Musings from the Acupuncture Table

Acupuncture is a key component of ancient Chinese medicine and therapy. It involves placing small needles in the skin along the body's energy pathways to manipulate blood and energy flow. It also invites the individual receiving treatment to experience deep relaxation.

Acupuncture also allows individuals to experience an "ancient" or "lost" art- the art of distraction-free quiet time. You are laying on a table with needles sticking out of you. You can't exactly get up and run away! No phone, no technology, only your breathing and your thoughts.

To some people, this may seem like a strange kind of torture that you pay to experience. But to me, the idea of being relaxed and alone for 30 minutes with nothing but thoughts for company seemed exciting and terrifying at the same time.

I started by focusing on deep breathing and repeating a mantra, similar to what I do with meditation. (My current mantra is "God help me to accept" on the in breath, and "that which I can't control" on the out breath.) But when my mind wanders during acupuncture, I allow it, as long as it doesn't go to my to-do list.

Recently, I was thinking about our individualistic culture that focuses on the self and how we as individuals navigate through life.

Just think about this: How many of your sentences every day start with "I"?

Thinking from the perspective of the individual is easy. What is more difficult is remembering the people and things that support our everyday existence. We'd like to think that we direct everything in our lives, but this is simply not true.

For example, during my last acupuncture session, it was easy to think, "I am lying down on this table."

But then I shifted my focus. What if the table wasn't there? I would fall to the floor with a "thump"! I was completely dependent on the table to support my entire body weight.

"The table is supporting me. Without it, I would fall."

Take a breath in. Now out. In. Now out. What is happening?

"I am breathing."


"Oxygen is filing my lungs and supporting my bodily functions."

How do we cultivate this mindset when it's so easy to get back into "I, me, my" mode?

The easiest answer to this is establishing a daily gratitude ritual. If you are thinking about what you are grateful for, you immediately go outside your own headspace.

When you wake up, blink your eyes open and think, "I am grateful for this bed." Stretch and be grateful for your body. Go to the bathroom and be grateful you can walk. Drink water and be grateful for clean water and its life-sustaining properties. In three minutes, you've shifted your approach to the day.

Meditation also encourages us to be aware of not only what is going on in our bodies, but also outside of our bodies. After closing your eyes and breathing slow and deep, shift your focus to the chair supporting your weight. Feel "grounded" with the floor under your feet. Feel every contact point and recognize how your weight is supported.

This mindset helps us to remember that we are not floating alone in space, but we are grounded to the people and things that support us and for that we should be grateful.

I for one am grateful for your support. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

My 54 (and growing?) Habits for a Healthy and Happy Life

I've been thinking a lot about habits lately. Part of this is due to the fact that I am a full six months into my Sea Change program through Zen Habits, which focuses on one area of habit formation every month. It's $10 a month and totally worth it! So far we've focused on meditation, healthy eating, decluttering, getting active, unprocrastination, and learning/studying. July is debt reduction/finances and while I don't have much in the way of debt, I am looking forward to taking control of my finances since this is a weak area for me.

The founder, Leo Babauta focuses on changing one habit each month and starting with just a few minutes a day. This makes it doable for anyone, even for people who say that they "don't have time" to do what they know will make them healthy and happy.

I've been successful in maintaining my good habits and doing something called "habit stacking" where you take a healthy habit and build upon it with other healthy habits. There are a few different resources about habit stacking that I would recommend, including:

One element of successful habit stacking is to look at EVERYTHING you do in a given day, and figure out where you can add a trigger for a new habit you want to incorporate into your life. For example, if you really want to incorporate stretching into your life, you can say, "When I make my coffee in the morning, I will stretch while the coffee is brewing." 

I decided to do an exercise where I look at everything I do in a given day, and then insert some other things that I want to be doing in a logical spot. My list is below- here are a few notes about it:
  • No, I did not include going to the bathroom, but of course it contributes to a healthy life :)
  • This is my normal weekday routine if I don't have anything going on after work. If I have an evening activity, I try to adjust my evening walk/exercise and e-mail checking accordingly.
  • It's just me and my husband and we don't have pets or kids. I realize that your day may look a little different than mine, but this is where I'm at right now!
  • Items in red are habits I am not currently doing, but those which I will add starting immediately.
  • Items that are bolded are those that I think contribute the most to my overall happiness and well-being.
  • A few of these items could have been broken out more into separate habits but they're typically things that I do together in a habit "cluster".
Ready to peek into my wonderful day filled with happiness habits? Here you are!
  1. Alarm goes off at 5:00 AM
  2. Cuddle/snooze for 20 minutes
  3. Brush teeth while making bed
  4. Put in contacts
  5. Put on workout gear (set out the night before)
  6. Walk or run with my husband- usually 1.5-2 miles
  7. Do 10-15 minutes of yoga (YouTube video)
  8. Check e-mail as time allows
  9. Scan documents in Evernote and shred paper once scanned as time allows
  10. Read one chapter from Bible
  11. Shower
  12. Take vitamin
  13. Put on make up, deodorant
  14. Put on clothes and jewelry (set out the night before)
  15. Comb hair
  16. Pray before breakfast- gratitude moment
  17. Eat breakfast and put dishes in dishwasher
  18. Dry hair
  19. Pack workout bag if applicable
  20. Fill up water bottle
  21. Get lunch out of fridge (packed the night before)
  22. Drive to work- pray during drive
  23. Once arriving at work, turn on computer, make tea and put lunch in fridge, fill up water bottle
  24. Log food from breakfast in Evernote
  25. Create Most Important Things (MIT) list (3 things I absolutely want to accomplish that day and will make a priority)
  26. Review calendar to make sure I don’t have a meeting first thing in the morning
  27. If no meeting, complete one of the MIT’s before checking e-mail and voice mail
  28. Check voice mail and make notes in Evernote
  29. Check e-mail and move all e-mails into appropriate action folder, unless they can be responded to within 2 minutes or less
  30. Work on MIT’s and other tasks as time allows
  31. Eat snacks throughout morning and afternoon
  32. Drink at least 3 water bottles worth of water throughout the day
  33. Pray before lunch- gratitude moment
  34. Eat lunch in the lunchroom (not at desk!)
  35. During lunch, chat with friends or read minimalism blogs. Also track food in Evernote.
  36. Work on MIT’s and other tasks as time allows
  37. Workout at end of workday, otherwise drive home (leave by 6:15 PM) and listen to podcasts
  38. Kiss my husband as soon as I see him
  39. Pray before dinner- gratitude moment
  40. Eat dinner with my husband
  41. Take a walk with my husband (usually 1 mile- try to get a total of 10,000 steps a day)
  42. Pack lunch
  43. Check e-mail as needed and complete other projects for volunteer activities
  44. Call a friend/family member for 10 minutes or send an e-mail to them
  45. Enter all receipt information into Moneydance
  46. Send an e-mail report to my accountability buddy about what foods I ate, total number of steps (thanks to FitBit!), time spent meditating, and time spent doing yoga
  47. Lay out workout gear and clothes for the next day
  48. Brush and floss teeth
  49. Unmake bed
  50. Take out contacts
  51. Wash face
  52. Meditate for 5-10 minutes
  53. Set alarm for 5 AM
  54. Lights out between 9:30 and 10:00 latestSLEEP
A few questions you may have: 

Question: How do you do all that in the morning? It seems like a lot.
Answer: I pack my lunch and set out my workout and work clothes the night before, so I'm not wasting time in the morning. This allows me to go on a walk/run and do at least 10 minutes of yoga before I'm out the door at 7:30 AM. 

Question: Where is the TV watching? How about the Netflix marathons?
Answer: I don't watch TV during the week. We got rid of cable and I haven't started watching any new shows. I don't miss it at all. It gives me time to do other things that I think better contribute to my health and happiness.

Question: Where is the time online checking social media and watching YouTube clips?
Answer: I minimize this as much as possible and only if I have time after checking personal e-mails in the morning and evening and taking care of priority projects. 

Question: Why do you go to bed so early?
Answer: I get up at 5 AM and I have found that I need 7-8 hours of sleep to feel fully rested and happy. It may not work for you, but if you have trouble getting to sleep as early as you want to, take this tip from Gretchen Rubin and set an alarm to go to bed. This gives you an audible notification that you should wrap up whatever you are doing and start your bedtime routine (especially since we don't have our parents to do this for us anymore!) More ideas about how to encourage good sleep (like not looking at your smart phone or watching TV right before bed) can be found here

If you want to know more about my habit journey, let me know! I'll keep you updated on the ones I'm adding in red above, including flexing my gratitude muscles and maintaining relationships with my friends and family. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What Minimalism Means to Me

I recently became introduced to a concept called "minimalism" which has drastically shifted my view of material possessions and the value I attribute to them, how I spend my time, and how distraction and "clutter" impacts my daily life. The word "minimalism" evokes emotions of fear and loss and visions of empty walls and cupboards. But in fact, minimalism doesn't mean selling all your stuff or eschewing the pleasures of life. So what does it mean exactly?

Well, I'm still figuring that out but I thought I would start with the opinions of people who have been living and loving the minimalist lifestyle.

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are known as "The Minimalists." Their blog by the same name is extremely popular and their book, Everything That Remains, shifted my perspective considerably about what "The American Dream" really means. They define minimalism as "a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution." Millburn and Nicodemus boil the broken American Dream down to this: "Happiness: buy stuff, and it will come." But even though we inherently know that "stuff" does not make us happier in the long-term, we keep buying things hoping that this will change. Inevitably we are disappointed or overwhelmed by the stuff we purchased, never used, and now have to keep track of and manage. Or, as Edward Norton stated in the movie The Fight Club, "We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like."

Another popular blog about minimalism is Becoming Minimalist by Joshua Becker. Joshua defines minimalism as "the intentional promoting of everything that adds value and removing what distracts from it." He also sees the American Dream as broken, stating that, "We all know that possessions do not equal happiness. It’s just that we’ve been told this lie for so long that we start to believe it, our hearts start to buy into it, and it begins to affect the way we live our lives.”

So how do we understand and promote everything that adds value to our lives? Well, for me it was easiest to start with intentional questioning about what didn't add value to my life. Here are some of the ways that I have been unpacking minimalism over the past several weeks:

1) Room by room, drawer by drawer, I have taken out each of my material possessions and have asked myself, "Does this currently add value to my life?" Now, I'm not throwing away all my summer clothes because it's currently winter, but the idea is to first make a concrete value decision of each material possession, and then decide whether to keep it, throw it away, sell it, or donate it. Anything I keep has to have a specific "home" so that you always know where to find it. Anything thrown away, donated, or sold has to be completed within a one week period. If you are really on the fence about an item because you want to keep it "just in case," put it in a box in a closet out of sight and set a reminder on your calendar for 30 days from now. Then see whether you even remember it's there and whether it still has the same value it did 30 days ago. This is especially the case for clothes, which brings me to my next point.

2) I have gone through my closet, tried everything on, and asked myself whether I love the way I look and feel in it NOW. Not when I lose a few pounds, not when I have an occasion to where it. NOW. This has already streamlined my closet considerably. Now when I pick out clothes to wear in the morning, I am energized rather than overwhelmed. Courtney Carver from Be More With Less started Project 333, where you dress with only 33 items for three months. I'm seriously considering it and would love to have a "capsule wardrobe" buddy to try it out! 

3) I see my finances as freedom. As The Minimalists point out, "One principal I live by is questioning all my purchases. It takes time to earn money, and my time is my freedom, so by giving up my money I’m giving up small pieces of my freedom. Before I make a purchase (even for a cup of coffee) I say to myself, 'Is this cup of coffee worth $2 of my freedom?' This has significantly changed my mindset." Now, before I make any purchase, I carefully consider whether I am using it as a pacifier because I'm hungry, bored, stressed, I feel like I "deserve" it, because it's on sale, or whether it is a mindful choice.

4) By focusing on things of value to me and surrounding myself by those items, I am able to focus my time on things that are of value to me and to recognize "time pacifiers." I no longer watch TV to relax, or spend hour(s) on Facebook or other social media. I'm not saying these things are inherently bad, but the issue is that we are a culture of consumers rather than creators. If you're constantly consuming, what value are you bringing to this world? So I limit my time with TV and social media by setting a timer for these activities and focusing on things that bring value to my life (like writing a blog post!) even when it would be easier to just sit in front of a screen and consume. 

There are more aspects of minimalism that I will address in future posts, but I think this is a good start- don't you? :) Let me know if you have any specific questions and I will answer them the best I can. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 19, 2015

12,544 days lived, at least 17,113 to go...

I've been thinking a lot about time lately. I guess we all think about it quite a lot throughout our day. Our alarms wake us up in the morning. Our phones and computers remind us of how our time is being spent throughout the day. We're a culture of over-schedulers, in our work and personal lives. In my work day, I typically feel harried and distracted. I'm constantly interrupted by my Outlook calendar telling me that I have 15 minutes to be on a conference call or in a meeting. At home, my volunteer commitments make me feel connected to something outside of myself but oftentimes require meetings and phone calls which take up my evening hours.

My church's current sermon series is called 28,000 days, since the average American lives that long- about 76.6 years. The most recent data that came out in October 2014 is slightly more optimistic, and especially for women. I can expect to live a total of 81.2 years. Since I've lived about 12,544 days thus far, I have 17,113 to go! (Although I am so blessed to have a grandmother in her mid-nineties, so I am hoping that number will be improved by good genes!) The number of days we have left can be exciting or depressing depending on how you think about it. When I think about the number of hours I spend sleeping, eating, driving, and working, the remaining time seems even more precious.

I've successfully distracted myself throughout the first part of January 2015 by not taking the time to think- really think- about how I want to spend this time. New Year's Resolutions have never been my favorite thing to do because there's an inevitable anxiety about not being able to "keep up" with your resolution. But this year, instead of worrying about letting myself down, my main resolution is to follow some general guidelines/guideposts and above all, give myself some slack! So here are some of the ways I want to spend the next year and my remaining 17,113 days:

1) Write more.
2) Dance free.
3) Speak up for those who can't (or won't).
4) Shut up when the words I want to say might hurt someone.
5) Reach out to those who need someone, and who may need me.
6) Look up to see the world around me and to marvel in its wonder.
7) Look down to bow my head, pray, and thank God for everything in my life.
8) Practice perfect patience.
9) Open my ears and truly listen.
10) Love myself like I'm worthy and love others with grace.

How do you want to spend the rest of your days?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Happiness Experiment

Remember January 2014?  I do...the New Year held so much promise! Resolutions seemed attainable (like me writing blog posts more frequently...we see how well that's turned out!) During our company holiday party, I heard a catchy song I had never heard before named "Happy" by Pharrell Williams. Now it's played at nauseum on Top 40 radio stations, but remember, this was back in January!

I liked the song so much that I watched the video, and saw it was essentially everyday people shaking their groove thing and dancing however they liked. So I started dancing along. And then I thought, what would happen if I danced to this song every day for 30 days? Would it make me any happier? Would I start the day with a literal spring in my step?

Part of my inspiration was from Gretchen Rubin, who has written several books on happiness including The Happiness Project and Happiness at Home. She is also writing a book about happiness and habit forming which intrigued me. If it takes 21 days to form a habit, how long does it take for a happiness-inducing habit to form? And when would I actually start feeling happier?

So every morning for 30 days (except for a few days where I doubled up) I danced. And shimmied. And swiveled. And all those things normally reserved for describing Elvis' hips. And during the process I was 1) out of breath, 2) energized, and 3) really enjoying myself! At 5:45 in the morning, I was starting my day on a happier note. Even on the days when I was tired, or just in a bad mood, I thought to myself, "Just get started and see where it goes." Every time I ended up finishing the song and smiling.

As I started choreographing moves and developing a routine, I was reminded of when I was in elementary school and made up dance routines to records playing on my Fisher Price record player, and then to cassette tapes (Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul, mostly). I was reminded of a time when I felt free to create, when I didn't really care what I looked like because I was expressing myself in a truly authentic way. Why is that so hard to do as an adult? Why is it so SCARY?

Of course, if that is where the story ended, it would be an OK happiness experiment, right? I mean, I ended up feeling happier so I achieved my desired result. But what I wanted from all of this was something more. I wanted to share my expression with others and to put something that was truly mine out into the universe to see what happened. Enter Jen Garrott and Vault Productions, who listened to my crazy idea and made it a reality. She did a fantastic job, I must say!

Sometimes being brave means taking something from the basement at 5:45 in the morning to broad daylight and not apologizing for it. So here is the result of my happiness experiment and an experiment in bravery as well. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's the end of January- but I'm just getting WARRMD up!

Some of you who read this title may think that I neglected to use Spell Check before I posted. What an amateur! But actually, I created an acronym to help me remember the things I want to focus on in 2014. I'm not sure if I'm the only one who thinks that New Year's Resolutions are somewhat depressing, since it always seems that I get sick of trying to follow through with them by the end of January. My brother's girlfriend bought me a FitBit and while I've been trying to clip it to my hip every minute of the day (except when I shower of course) to track my activity, I have occasionally wanted to throw it against the wall or just hide it in a drawer, especially when it's sticking its tongue out at me. But that's another post for another day :)

So the reason that I say that I'm getting WARRMD up in January is that I have decided that 2014 is the year of doing more of the things that I want to do, the things that inspire me and make me truly happy! I would invite you to sit down and really think about the things that make you happy and make you feel most alive, where life feels like it's flowing and you lose track of time. Then commit to doing at least one of those things per day, even if it's just for two or three minutes. Here are some of my ideas I hope you can learn from:

Write: As you can see I've been a little lax in my blog postings, mostly because I have felt that inner judge and gremlin tell me that I don't have anything interesting to say. Quieting that inner critic is not going to happen overnight, but I know that if I just start writing the words will flow. Some of you know that I enjoy writing poetry, but what you may not know is that when I get inspired to write poetry my heart starts beating really fast and I just have to get what I want to say down on paper. It's like a puzzle that I have to solve before I can move onto anything else. I'm energized and can't wait to share my poem with someone right away (usually my poor husband!) If writing is something I love and is a gift that God has granted me with, it would be a waste to not use it as often as I can. That means that you'll probably see more blog posts from me (if anyone is reading this anyway!)

Art: I am not what you'd consider a crafty person, nor do I frequent Pinterest. However, I still feel that I can and should express myself in artistic ways. For example, one of my goals is to put together a photo album from our Japan trip in September 2013. The album seems daunting, but once I start working on it I find that I'm inspired to find creative backgrounds and arrange the pictures in a fun and colorful way. (By the way, I'm using Mixbook and I really like it.) When I hang out with kids I sometimes get the opportunity to color in coloring books, and I realize that it's quite relaxing. So why not buy coloring books and color on my own time? Even if it's for a few minutes a day, it relaxes my mind and energizes me for the rest of my day.

Relax: Speaking of relaxing, that's another daily goal of mine. Sometimes this just means taking deep breaths when I'm feeling overwhelmed. Or enjoying the little things in life. One of the best gifts I got for Christmas was body wash and scrub that smells like chocolate. They actually have a warning on the bottle telling you not to eat it, and I understand why! It smells AMAZING. Chocolate-scented bubbles are a great way to have a small indulgence before I start or end a busy day.

Reflect: I have made meditation and prayer a part of my daily life, and have also committed to thinking of (or even better, writing down) one thing I am grateful for every day. See my previous post about gratitude here. It's so incredibly easy to think about what is not going well for us, what we don't have, or what we want. I'm committed to shifting my perception to reflect on the abundance of life and the things that are going well, as well as thinking of and praying for others.

Music: Having a husband who is a professional musician is somewhat intimidating, but he is always very supportive when I sit down to the piano to play. I'm so grateful that my mom taught me piano when I was young because it's something I can always go back to that relaxes, energizes, and inspires me. Also I feel like I'm clearing out the cobwebs in my brain that are formed from work and the cycles of every day life. My goal is to play piano at least once a week, even if it's only for five minutes.

Dance: I LOVE to dance, but I don't do it nearly enough. I'm not really a "club" type of person and much prefer the dancing that occurs at weddings, but I haven't been invited to any weddings lately. But that shouldn't stop me from dancing around my basement and honing my mad dancing skillz (also not a Spell Check error) for when they're needed, right? You never know when there's going to be a dance off and it's always good to be prepared :) But seriously, dancing is something that makes me feel relaxed, energized and free.

I hope that these have given you some ideas of how to have a more enjoyable 2014! I'll see you on the dance floor, and you better BRING IT!