The Art of of Self -Care

stock-photo-48674142-artist-brush-painting-picture-of-beautiful-landscapeIt has in fact occurred to me that not everyone is as passionate about simplifying as I am. Not everyone thinks that organizing a closet or an office is fun. Therefore, someone can like the idea of simplifying, but not actually ever do it. Which is perfectly fine if the idea of it is only mildly appealing anyhow.

Like so many things- exercising, losing weight, getting healthy, changing careers, creating a beloved project, giving up sugar- it is easy to like the idea of it, and quite a bit harder to do it. I suspect that to make any lasting change, we first need to fall in love with the idea of it.

We all know that doing something new, even if it’s for the best, requires bypassing that well-worn groove our old habits have created in our brain, in order to start on a new path. The new path can be steep and muddy, thick with brush, a tangle of overgrowth. We haven’t been here before, so the first hundred steps are difficult, prickly and tiring. It requires so much energy, so much of our will.

If the reason for starting down this path is not compelling enough, then who in their right mind would bother? It’s too much damn effort and life can be challenging enough without forcing ourselves to do unpleasant things on a regular basis.

If the reason for starting is not compelling enough…

The goal has to be compelling. We have to be able to envision what we want and to feel excited about the possibility. What would it look like? What would it feel like? Whatever our desire or goal is, big or small, I think that we  have to believe it will feel fantastic to reach it.

We are creatures of habit, and if we cannot imagine the rewards of something different, then that well-trodden path, the one of least resistance, will pull us back every time. Why wouldn’t it? It’s familiar, easy, and takes very little effort to travel that way. These samskaras as they are called in yoga, are deeply embedded patterns and they usually don’t change easily.

I like to think of self-care as an art. This implies that we are the artists of our own lives and have the liberty to choose our medium. Maybe simplifying does not appeal to you, but maybe something else does. (I would argue that simplifying will help you reach any goal, whatever that is, but I don’t want to be too pushy here).

I use the term self-care because I think that anything we really want that doesn’t do harm to ourselves or others is by its very nature, self-care. Greater fulfillment, a better relationship, more energy, resources, a sense of peace, a fit body, an aesthetically pleasing environment, writing a book or painting a masterpiece; getting more sleep or earning more money or having more time…..you fill in the blank… It is all self-care.

So here comes my pep talk for making your desired result more compelling:

Self-care–meeting all of your needs- does feel amazing.

It is worth it. The rewards are great.

What are they? Feeling lighter, freer, healthier and clearer, more in control of your life. Intuition is heightened, energy is increased, the right opportunities and people and ideas show up in your life.

And the momentum! One step down that new path, then another and another and it starts getting easier and then other good things get easier. For example, have you ever noticed when you work out you want to eat healthy afterwards? Or if you get rid of clutter in one room you want to go on to the next? When you get enough sleep you are clear headed and efficient, and everything goes more smoothly. One positive choice leads to the next, moving you forward. You gain traction, you notice little miracles, you put your life in order.

Momentum is awesome.

And then instead of trying to figure out how to get rid of the patterns you don’t want in your life, they are simply being replaced, or squeezed out, by the new things that you do want.

Full disclosure: Left to my own devices, or my natural temperament, I am the worst at breaking old habits and creating new ones. I have an Inner Brat who wants what she wants when she wants it (ice cream for lunch, while I sit around getting nothing done and make my blood sugar level rise? Yes please!)

I often want absolute convincing that a new pathway will be greatly rewarding before I will begin something new and good. I need research and experience and even signs from a divine source that this new way will be amazing. But the problem with this is that rewards often don’t become apparent until we’ve begun. We can’t experience it until we experience it.

I needed to know that writing and exercising nearly every day, even when I don’t feel like it, as well as mindfully choosing what I eat, and including meditation or yoga because that is what keeps my on the path-will be worth the effort.

But I couldn’t know it for sure until I did it.

And when I don’t do it, my day feels lacking, I am out-of-sorts, dissatisfied.

So if you have some desire for something new and better, whatever that is (you get to pick! ) I want to save you weeks or even years of resistance. I want to tell you that whatever it is you want, if it comes from your Better Self, your Higher Self, your Real Self, it will be so freakin’ worth it!  It can’t not be. I want to tell you that the burdensome path you may be avoiding is covered in gold, but you won’t see it until you are on it.

Self-care in every form will never let you down. Positive change is exciting and rewarding every single time, even when it starts out scary or daunting or difficult- perhaps especially when it starts out that way.

The act- the actual physical act– of beginning down that difficult new path, whatever that is, is pretty quickly rewarded. You won’t have to wait long to notice the fabulous results, and as you continue, step by step, the whole landscape comes into view, your own sweet masterpiece.

A little joy goes a long way

I don’t know why it took me so long to add music to my cell phone, but now it has made the difference between going for a jog or not. Though I love yoga, I need something else too, some consistent cardio in my routine. I love the simplicity of a jog- put on sneakers, walk out the door, back in forty-five minutes. I only jog about half of my route, and walk the other half, but it’s enough. I like how I feel after the jog. But I just didn’t like doing it.

Problem was, my inner rebel (or is it my inner sloth?) would put her foot down at the mere thought of jogging.

It’s too hard.

It’s too hot out, cold out, wet out. (She has a point)

It’s boring.

I don’t even like running.

Turns out, I just had to add a little joy. A little joy goes a long way.

When my kids were little, they made a game out trying on the next season’s clothing to see what still fit (named the fashion game). Cleaning up or helping to prepare meals could be fun. Learning, when it’s organic and unforced, is full of joy. Brushing and flossing teeth before bed was often a sisterly ritual, one that sometimes had to be hurried along as their chitchat continued past bedtime. And to this day, my youngest daughter plays her favorite music when she has a lot of laundry to put away, to make it a pleasant task.

It’s easy to figure out kids are more cooperative when there is joy involved. But guess what? Adults aren’t much different. We need joy too, and lots of it.

Tasks that are often tedious really can be fun.   Joy can make all the difference.

It turns out music was the joyful, magic ingredient to my morning jogs.

Oh Spotify, how I love thee. I named my first playlist Jogging. How much more enjoyable it has become to put one foot in front of the other while the Dixie Chicks, Darius Rucker, Toby Keith and Tom Petty are belting out their tunes. Oh Joy! Now my brain associates lacing up my sneakers with hearing some of my favorite music. And as a bonus, I often return from these jog-walks with an idea for an article drafted in my head.

I like dessert. I really like dessert. Which brings me to more joy.

I’ve cut those addictive sweets out of my life, as told in this post: https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/farewell-my-sweets/

Say what?! Nooooo.

Enter the joy of Dessert Substitutes. I am having fun finding dessert recipes that are sugar free and gluten free (the two ingredients that make me tired, unhealthy, creatively blocked and yet make me want more, more, more).

I have made delicious, flour-free cookies sweetened with stevia, and smoothies made with greek yogurt, frozen fruit and veggies. But there are so many more recipes for healthy desserts to try, I will never grow bored.

20150701_173611My latest joyful discovery is the very simple banana “ice cream”. I think I may be the last person to find this on the internet, but just in case you haven’t tried it yet and want to: Just slice and freeze bananas for a couple hours, put them through a blender (add peanut butter or cocoa if you desire, or both for a chocolate-peanut butter-banana flavor). Once you have a smooth texture, put into small bowls and freeze for several more hours or overnight. The high pectin content in bananas cause them to freeze into a creamy, rich dessert.20150701_174741

The joy of this discovery has eased the craving of the more traditional desserts that I miss.

So my point is, when faced with something we want to desire to do, but really don’t feel like doing, asking “What would add joy?” is sometimes hugely helpful. A dose of joy just might be the difference between the change we are looking for, or staying stuck.

But still, sometimes tasks are just going to be tedious, for children and adults alike, and we just have to do them anyway.   I doubt many people have found  joy in emptying the trash or taking the SATs.  The joy is simply in getting it done. But when we have the option of adding joy, why not?

Go Joy.

Happiness begins with a good morning

You’ve got to wake up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.   -George Lorimer stock-photo-33581722-cloudy-sunset-over-field-with-sunflowers

An extraordinary life is all about daily, continuous improvements in the areas that matter most.  –Robin Sharma

Remember, the moment you accept total responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you claim the power to change anything in your life. –Hal Elrod, author of the Miracle Morning

stock-photo-26537865-footpath-in-the-mountain-plateauMorning sets the tone for the rest of the day and habits affect every area of our lives. I am pretty attached to my own morning routine, and interested in the making and breaking of habits. Periodically, I get a little bit obsessed over how routines can be improved upon to help us reach our goals or just to feel more fulfilled in general.

So when a book called “the Miracle Morning” caught my eye, I couldn’t resist reading it. I’m glad I did. The author, Hal Elrod shares my enthusiasm for the power of a good morning routine and he pours his thoughts and knowledge into this easy read. Better still, he shares his website where you can access a sample of the book.

If you go to miraclemorning.com you can sign up to instantly have the first two chapters of his book, a video and audio program sent to your email address. In addition, he includes the link to the Miracle Morning inspired Facebook community. So if your interest is piqued, here is his link. Enjoy! http://miraclemorning.com/

Agenda is the new bible

  Let all things be done decently and in order  (1 Corinthians 14:40)

For many years, I  looked at the family calendar hanging on our kitchen wall each morning to stay aware of who had what, when and where.  My kids were good about keeping track of their own schedules, but it helped to know when I’d be the driver for an appointment, or when my husband’s work days shifted, and also to see what my upcoming commitments outside our family were.

Time moves on and kids grow up and now I’ve “graduated” from the family calendar to my own agenda. My daughters have all sung the praises for these books-of-the-organized which have helped them keep track of high school and college assignments, tests, performances, and any other important dates.  I could not live without my agenda are words that I heard uttered more than once in our home, and with utter conviction.

20141101_081457National Novel Writing Month has inspired me to fill my own agenda with the things that would help ensure a successful month of creativity.  Since writing and living well are intertwined for me, what serves one serves the other.  I took my time choosing an agenda, because it had to be the right agenda. It would symbolize order and commitment not only for November, but for the months ahead.  I wanted one with the days written left to write, like a book. I also wanted to be able see a whole month at a glance. When I found the perfect one, I penned in my schedule for the entire month.  At least for me, there is power in writing things down.

Writing group meetings, solo writing time, yoga classes (roughly the same time every couple days to keep it routine) fill my month.   I can glance at my agenda and see clearly when exercise takes place, and when writing takes place . Thanksgiving preparations, attending my daughter’s performance,  and my wedding anniversary celebration all have their precise times.   When it’s in writing, I don’t take it lightly or waste energy deciding what to do or in what order; there it is in black and white.  My agenda is like insurance for the habits and routine I want to live by all month, keeping me focused on my top priorities. 20141101_081348

Here is the most valuable thing I’ve learned:  we can allow life to flow through us, in all its perfect energy, or we can stay blocked.  Each day we are choosing one or the other.  It’s in the big choices but also in the seemingly small ones.  There is a magnificent order in the universe, but to tap into it, it helps to put our own lives in order.  When we do, we feel it and everything works better.  Choosing a plan and sticking to it is no easy gig for some, but figuring out what works best is part of the fun.  So here’s to agendas and the order that they symbolize. Here’s to choices set in ink. November may appear dreary and cold, but it is really full of potential and miracles if we can just make our way into that current.

Routine and the precious commodity of time

 

A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods. –Mason Currey

 I think a lack of routine leaves room for our time to be filled aimlessly, like the tide rushing in to fill the sandy grooves leading to the castle. Sometimes necessary things fill in the grooves of time, like dental appointments and grocery shopping, and work. But there are also those other things- the optional ones such as all that information, streaming in, all the time, everywhere, by mail and web, radio, and by osmosis. The Time magazines that seem to be floating around my home, reminding me I haven’t read them yet. And the newspaper, black ink scolding me for only skimming – This is the world for crying out loud! Read it all!

 Instead I’ve been reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, a book about renowned artists’ and authors’ work routines. I am thoroughly enjoying this book and picking up some good tips. But I’m also noticing the daily life stuff is suspiciously missing from the pages. The routines look a lot like “wake up early, have coffee, go for a walk, write until lunch, resume writing until late afternoon, break for dinner with friends” etc. Nowhere am I reading anything like this: did six loads of laundry, called the insurance company, prepared dinner, picked up the dry cleaning, brought dog to the groomer, paid the bills, made doctor appointment, shopped for birthday gift, called mother, answered emails, scrubbed the toilets, swept and vacuumed, bought groceries, took out the trash, got a haircut, went to Target, the vet, the dentist, the post office and the gas station. Exercised. Squeezed in a little writing.

 And I can only assume none of them had kids because there was also no mention of took my kids to the dentist, doctor, playground, school, soccer, ballet, went to school meeting, spent quality time with kids, helped with homework, discussed curfew, toured colleges, met new boyfriend, quietly fretted, analyzed and obsessed over choices and futures and goals, mine and theirs, but mostly theirs, doled out chores because it is really nice not to empty the dishwasher for the second time in one day.

  Perhaps they had an unmentioned, designated time of day or week that they called all the stuff I have to do if I am to consider myself a functioning adult. And all the stuff I want to do because I am a parent. Being successful artists and authors, they surely made their work the top priority, and somehow fit everything else in around that, not the other way around. Life is so full of all the extraneous stuff that can fill in our precious time, as well as the important stuff that keeps us whole. There are limited hours in a day and a finite number of days in a year. This forces us to pick and choose what the important stuff is. We just don’t have time for everything. Therefore, here is my short bucket list:
1. Finish and publish current book.
2. Write several more.

That’s it. Some other things, such as traveling to Finland or meeting Stephen King, (I’ve only read his memoir, but this was enough to make me love him) would just be pleasant bonuses.

And speaking of Steven King, here are just two of his 20 Rules for Writers:
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. The least of all (your concerns) should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
Good news. What a relief. Such a time saver too.
10. You have three months. The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.
Not so good news. Three months? I am way, way behind. How about three years? Maybe I’ll hit my stride by book two and quicken my pace. For now, I’m setting new deadlines and a firmer routine so when the tide rushes in, which it always does, the big stuff won’t get washed away.

The complete list of Stephen King’s 20 rules are here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/stephen-kings-top-20-rules-for-writers/

 

Habits, routines and apps, oh my!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how daily habits can really make or break you, so to speak. I have found that if I put off my top priorities for ‘later in the day’, they don’t always happen.   What I do first thing in the morning has everything to do with what kind of day follows. So I gave my routine a mini overhaul. Now I walk-jog before breakfast, and start in on my writing shortly afterwards.  No matter what takes place the rest of the day, if I’ve exercised and written, I am invincible.

I appreciate the words of fiction writer Anna Quindlen when she describes the importance of her own routine.  During her interview with Gretchen Rubin (author of the Happiness Project), Quindlen says: I have a picket fence of habits to keep me on track.  I neither like nor dislike them; I just need them to do my work. I really like how she compares her habits to a picket fence- keeping productivity in and wasted time and energy out.  Her habits include eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day so as not to spend brain power on such decisions. This sounded rigid to me, until I recalled the many times I floundered for breakfast. Oatmeal? An egg? No, yogurt with fruit. Hmm, but we have this new cereal…

I think the key to forming lasting habits is to know yourself and what will actually work for you. Then do it. The beauty of a well formed habit is that we no longer have to think about it. We can use our precious energy for other things- things that really matter to us. Although I am not one of them, I understand that many people thrive on finding and using more and better technology for their everyday needs. Therefore, I did a simple search on some top habit forming apps available on iTunes.  Here are a few:

Carrot– This one is definitely the most amusing. It’s introduction is “Don’t Suck at Life”.  This app is your tough love coach- oh and it has a gender- it’s a girl. She will reward you and punish you, depending on how you are doing. You can earn points or carrots, or whatever she calls them. Those familiar with video games will speak her language.  If you like competition, and do well with negative reinforcement, this one is for you. Also, I read that it does not overload you with options when you start, so you probably won’t spend more time figuring out the features than you will engaging in the desired habit.

The Way of Life- The Ultimate Habit Maker-This one sounds very basic, and is data driven. The free version limits you to three habits, and you simply type them in and check off boxes each time that you meet your goal. You will get a visual of how you are doing as you go along.

Lift– If you are looking for short term support, this one lasts for just seven days, and it somehow involves community support.

Whatever your habit-forming style is, there is a way to succeed.  The distance between feeling like you suck at life, and feeling on top of the world, may just be a few simple habits away!