Archive for August, 2012

August 31, 2012

Lessons Learned While Preparing For The Next Challenge

The days are clicking by, summer is coming to a close and there are only two days left until the next 8 Weeks to a Better You! challenge begins.

As you might guess, I’ve been mulling it all over in my mind as to how I’m going to approach this challenge.  How can I learn from the last challenge and prepare myself for this challenge with my new perspective?

Now, as corny as this may sound, as I’ve been preparing for the new challenge, I keep thinking of the book,  “Eat, Pray, Love:One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I first read this book a few years ago, and while it may not be the deepest of books, Elizabeth’s reactions to the experiences she had throughout her journeys made me laugh out loud because I could envision myself having the same reaction in the situations she encountered.

The specific portion of the memoir that I keep thinking about is Elizabeth’s trip to India.  As I near the Day 1 of the challenge, and keep hearing the voice in the back of my mind telling me I can’t do it, I keep recalling the part of the book that Elizabeth first attempted meditation.  She had to remain still and silent for an extended period of time.  She had a hard time focusing, struggled to stay still, her mind wandered.  She wrote about her thoughts, her frustrations, the thought that went through her mind, the thoughts questioning the thoughts that went through her mind… The way she wrote it was both humorous and painful in that “experiencing something new” kind of way.  I keep telling myself that if she could travel to India by herself, sit in complete silence for hours on end and overcome her challenges then surely I can do the same at home.  (Although I do question whether it might be easier to practice without distractions.)

As I prepare myself for the next challenge I’m anticipating there will be struggles.  Even though I’ve done two 4-week challenges before, this feels like an entirely different challenge.  It seems bigger, I’m doubting myself less and feel more excitement about what I will learn.  I feel like I’m embarking on a new adventure.  The tools ( rules regarding journaling, reading, exercise, eating, sleeping, etc.) are not new, but by changing my perspective on the challenge I feel like I’ve just been given the first paragraph of the instruction manual on how to properly use them!  (The rest of the book is filled with blank pages, mind you, but right now that doesn’t bother me because I feel like I at least know how to get started.)

The mental preparation for this hasn’t been easy though.  In addition to excitement, I have also found myself getting anxious, questioning whether I’m doing the right thing by doing another challenge and broadcasting it to my blog readers (I didn’t do well on the last challenge and this one is twice as long).  I’ve been trying to figure out ways to make it better, more successful.

As part of this process I started thinking about a post that Bhavna Hinduja wrote about simplifying cooking on her blog a couple of weeks ago, step 2 was a wake-up call for me.

Set the mood before you begin: When you get home from a long day at work, take 5 to 10 minutes to settle down before throwing on that apron and grabbing the knife as if you were on a kill. Pour yourself a refreshing beverage – wine, iced tea, or just water – and keep hydrated. Get changed and play some music. I’d stay away from turning the television on to reduce distractions. Remember this is supposed to be therapeutic and enjoyable so try to be in the element as much as you can.

I can’t tell you how often I buzz from one activity to another throughout the day thinking, “Okay, that’s done.  What’s next?”  Then I start that activity without even taking a breath.  That’s the key.  Stopping.  Taking a breath between jobs, tasks and activities.  Pausing and thinking about what it is that you’re about to do.  Essentially, taking step 1 to doing that activity mindfully.  That’s when I realized… It’s not so much about what you do as how you do it.   In other words, stop focusing on “making dinner” and instead focus on how I’m making dinner.  Am I thinking about the food, where it came from and what it does for my body?  Am I thinking about what I’m doing as I prepare the food or am I just chopping and letting my mind wander?  Am I just chugging water to get my 8 glasses in a day or am I thinking about hydrating my body, thinking about the water, its source, being thankful that we have it so readily available and being mindful not to waste it?

So my personal goal for this challenge is to practice checking back.  When I find myself getting lost in the competition, lost in the points, what I’ve done or not done, I will try to remind myself of the reason I’m doing that particular part of the challenge.  Sleeping 7 hours (making sure I get enough rest).  Not eating sugar, white flour and junk food (making sure I’m giving my body the nutrients it needs each day).  Practice living mindfully.

Until next time,


August 23, 2012

Mindful Living Challenge

Have you ever been in a room, listened to a speaker with a group of friends or co-workers, then come out of the room to find you all heard something different?  Only one person spoke to the group, everyone heard the same words, yet each person went away with a different experience.  Why?  Because we all have different perspectives and life experiences which impact what we hear.

Over the summer I experience this exact thing, only this time there were only two people in the audience and both of them were me.

Here’s how it happened.  Back in June I attempted to do the summer 4 week mini-challenge offered through the 8 Weeks To A Better You! blog.  I thought I was ready.  I’d made pretty good progress in the previous challenge, so I figured another one would only improve things.  Although I started off strong and was eager to do the challenge, one thing after another happened and it ended up not going so well.  To say I crashed and burned would be an understatement.  It was so bad that I quit tracking my points and eventually quit trying altogether.  I’d done so poorly that I figured there was no point in even trying to finish it. I beat myself up quite a bit over my outcome, so much so that I was pretty certain that I would never do another challenge.

But time passed, which gave me time to reflect on the experience and figure out what went wrong.   A week or so ago I saw a blog post notifying that there will be another challenge starting Sunday, September 2nd.  This time it’s not a 4-week mini-challenge, but a full, 8-week challenge.

At first I thought, “No way, not again!”  But then something clicked.  My perspective changed.  I realized that what went wrong on the last one was that I was coming from the wrong place, doing it for the wrong reasons.  I was trying to improve myself, but not with the right frame of mind, I wasn’t doing it mindfully.

Confused?  I was looking at the challenge with the goal of checking things off, so the outcome, or shall we say, side-effect, would be to become a better person.  At the end of the day I would tally, “… didn’t eat sugar, didn’t eat junk food, got 45 minutes of exercise, did something nice for someone else…  done, done, done and done. Cool, 10 points for the day.  Good for me.  Look what I can do.”  Although I did get something out of the challenge, like I said, it was more of a side-effect than the focus.  Some days it clicked, some days I just went through the motions.  My goal was on the destination, not the journey, to get everything done, not to actually experience doing them.

With that perspective in mind, I realized that this new, 8-week challenge is a perfect opportunity to practice living mindfully.  The core of the challenge, while worded differently, is to live mindfully.  Be mindful of what you eat, be mindful that you’re getting enough exercise and rest, be mindful to spend a few minutes each day to enrich your faith, be mindful to take a few minutes for yourself to reflect and be mindful of how you interact with others.

Funny, isn’t it?  The challenge is the same but since my perspective has changed, it feels like an entirely new challenge.  So, yes, I will be doing the 8 Weeks to a Better You Challenge, but this time I’m going to take the challenge with a different perspective.  And when I read the word “challenge” I’ll think “practice”.

With this new perspective on the challenge I’m very optimistic that it will go well and while I’m excited for the new challenge to begin, it’s a different excitement.  This time I’m excited for the opportunity to practice living mindfully for 8 weeks.


August 16, 2012

Mindful Living: Inner Strength

When you dream about your future, what do you dream?  Is it about having your dream job? Traveling the world? Running a marathon?  Meeting the love of your life?  Marriage?  Kids?  Happily ever after?  Retiring in the Caribbean or in a cabin in the woods?

Or do you dream in Grimm fashion?  About being laid off, losing your house, getting divorced, losing a loved one and struggling?

Chances are you don’t dream about the latter.  But sometimes, in the game of life, we get thrown a curve ball.  I grew up Catholic, and when things got tough, I often heard people say, “God doesn’t give you anything He thinks you can’t handle.”  For a long time I believed this.  I thought, “Okay, this stinks, but pick yourself up and move on.”  But a few years ago I heard a twist on this, “God gives you things you think you can’t handle to bring you back to Him.”  And while my beliefs are no longer solely embedded in Catholicism, that makes more sense to me.  Whether you’re Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish or Buddhist, I think the message is the same:  we aren’t meant to deal with life on our own.  When things get hard, its okay to lean on friends, family and whatever higher being you believe in.

When I began meditation, one of the most impactful moments was the very beginning.  We sat still.  We checked in with ourselves and essentially said, “Self, how are you doing today?  How are you feeling?”.  After our check-in, we were to acknowledge our feelings and move on.  We weren’t to beat ourselves up for feeling one way or another, but just acknowledge them.

This really resonated with me.  I’d never checked in with myself like that before.  And although it felt a little awkward at first, I realized that it’s really important to ask ourselves how we are doing.  And more importantly, accept those feelings and not judge them.  If you’ve never thought this way before, it can be very freeing.  It brought me a lot of peace and taught me that it’s okay to feel whatever it is that I’m feeling.  It’s a part of being human.

A key part of mindful living is being present in everything you do.  Not just being present as in being in the room, but truly being present.  Truly listening to others instead of letting our minds wander.  Driving, focusing on traffic, not the radio or our phone.  Petting our dog or cat and truly being with them while we do it rather than just patting them on the head.  But equally important is to truly be with our own emotions.  If we are going through good times, absorb it, enjoy it, let it all in and savor it.  And when we are going through tough times, again, be with our emotions, experience them.  It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to feel disappointment or anger.  It’s okay to have days where you just want to cry.  It’s okay to truly “be”.  I realize the sadness and disappointment doesn’t feel as good as joyful moments, but they are equally important in our life.  And putting off those emotions for a later day really only makes it worse later.

I used to think the term “inner strength” meant “power through”, for me that meant stop crying, chin up and pretend it didn’t happen.  Now I think “inner strength” means “have the courage to be with your feelings”.

Inner strength is that part of us that pushes us to do things when we think we can’t.  It can give us courage to feel pain when we’re afraid we can’t handle it.  It will tell us to rest when we don’t want to acknowledge that we’re tired.  It will tell us to reach out and lean on our friends, family and higher being when we just want to hibernate.  It will also tell us when we’re strong enough to move forward.

To me, inner strength is no longer “powering through”, but having the courage to be present in every part of life because being present is what has truly made me a stronger person.


August 4, 2012

The Things You Learn In A Garden

Have you ever had one of those days that starts off rough, where you have so many things go wrong before you even leave the house that you’re pretty certain that you’re not going to make it home again at the end of the day, but then something happens that day that takes you back, calms you down and grounds you?

Friday was one of those days for me.  Saying I got up on the wrong side of the bed was an understatement.  Everything triggered a reaction in me.  It started with pouring what I thought was the last cup of day-old coffee and discovering I only had 2/3 of a cup.  I immediately started grumbling to myself,  “Seriously?!?  I’m the only one in the house that drinks coffee!  It’s a 10-cup pot, when, exactly, did I pour 1/3 of a cup preventing me from starting my day with a full, reheated, cup that would tide me over until a new pot was brewed?  Ohhhhhh, whatever!”  I punched the buttons on the microwave and grumbled away.  My husband, trying to be nice, asked what I wanted for breakfast, or rather if I wanted what he was getting for our son.  This question seemed daunting.  The pressure was immense.  You’d think he’d asked what I want to do with the rest of my life.  I mustered up as much tact as I could, then coolly responded, “I don’t know.  I can’t think about that right now.”  The microwave beeped.  Whew!  Coffee was done.  I opened the microwave door to discover I’d set the microwave to reheat a full cup of coffee and my 2/3 cup of coffee had blown-up all over the microwave.  “Perfect.”  I must warn you, usually when I say “perfect”, it’s not in a joyous tone, instead it’s in the “I can’t say what I really want to say because my son is sitting there watching all of this go down” voice.

And so it continued.  I was dropping things, banging into things spilling things, until I finally got out the door.  I carefully drove to drop-off my son, because I was pretty sure the stars were lined up perfectly for me to get into an accident, which would then end up with me either in jail or a mental institution, neither of which would be good.

That morning I was heading to my son’s school garden and honestly I have to say I wasn’t looking forward to it.  That is, until I got there.  Magically, when I stepped out of my car, things seemed to correct themselves.  It was a nice morning, well, a little overcast, but after over a month of 90+ degree days, was pretty nice.  I was meeting a friend at the garden to clean-up some weeds that somehow had grown out of control, do some planting and planning.  During our time together we covered a lot in conversation about our families, our dreams for our kids, our dreams for the school, dreams for the garden and parenting.

“Be the person your kids think you are.”

It was during one of those conversations that my calming, grounding moment came.  My friend and I were talking about our kids and what guides us, my friend mentioned that someone once told her, “Be the person your kids think you are.”  That really struck me.  What a powerful statement.  Whether it’s in our actions or our words, we should take a moment and reflect on whether we are being the person our kids think we are.  Before saying a word, before talking about someone, before making a snide comment, before posting something (that our kids will someday be able to read) on Facebook.  Even if we don’t have any children of our own, we can think about our future child, or a niece, or a nephew or even a child in the neighborhood.

Kids put us on a pedestal, they adore us, they look up to us, don’t let them down.

Great advise.  Thanks, Julie!  I learned a lot in the garden on Friday.