Habits I’m Keeping for the New Year

Our year started out wobbly. We all got sick and have passed around a terrible cold that’s going on three weeks. We’ve canceled plans, hunkered down, and lived on a soup diet. While our routines have been off, I’ve been thankful for habits I’ve formed over the past year or so.

While the new year is often a time to start new habits, I wanted to reflect one ones that have been working and that I’ll continue using in this coming year.

Mapping Out My Time
I’ve only done this twice so I’m not sure it can be included as a habit yet but in September and then again last week, I spent a few minutes creating the ideal week. My week rarely goes as planned but I like blocking out times I’ll have to myself and listing possible things to do. I block out other times when I know I’ll be with Elle. Blocking my week like this helps me manage my expectations and keeps me on track when I have moments of space.

Getting Up Early
I feel like I need to start with this one because for so many years, I wanted to create this habit and it felt as if the universe was against me. I’d read books about waking early to write or spend time with God or just to be and I found all the advice so discouraging. But then something shifted. The girls, while still early risers, learned to stay in bed until 6:30. With Bea starting school at 8:00, I found that being ready for the day before everyone rose made such a difference. I get up just 45 minutes before the girls an in that time am able to read, sometimes journal, get ready for the day, and have my bed made. I love knowing that the rest of the day could go completely wrong but those having those things done first thing means even the worst day has started with successes.

Starting the Day with Water and Ending it with Tea
I’ve been drinking a glass of water first thing since I was pregnant with Bea but this year, I started keeping a covered cup next to my reading chair in my bedroom. I fill it up at night and it’s ready to go when I wake up in the morning. Sipping this first glass while I read has changed drinking water from something I need to do quickly before I have coffee and breakfast to something that is slowly part of my wakeup routine.

At the end of the day, after putting the girls to bed, I brew a mug of tea. I started doing this when I went through a bout of insomnia a couple years ago. I was trying anything to trigger nighttime feelings. While the tea wasn’t a magical cure, I did like the way it signaled the end of the day. I sip that mug and either check my phone on last time or read a bit in a book before Frank and I watch an evening show together.

Using Screentime Settings
I’ve started using Screentime and Downtime settings on my phone and they’ve helped me be more aware of my consumption. For apps I enjoy but also know can be a waste of time, I set limits for the day’s usage. At 8:00 all my apps go to sleep and Frank and I spend that hour before bedtime reading or watching a show together on our television in the basement. Staying off my phone for that hour and a half before bedtime has helped in the wind-down process.

What about you? What are some old habits you’re keeping for this new year?

Advertisement

The Habit of Learning Hope

One of Bea’s rituals is to run through the front yard, waving to Frank as he drives off to work. Barefoot and in her nightgown, she’ll yell before the neighborhood is awake, I love you! You can count on me!!

img_2106
Cultivating the habit of thankfulness

The other morning, Frank got up early to try to get in before any of us woke up. I was still in bed when I heard little feet race down the stairs and the front door open. Bea had raced out to the car as Frank was pulling out. Even though he had just taken over a week off of work, she clung to him saying, I miss you so much when you’re gone!

I would have thought that an entire week in Philadelphia plus a long weekend at home after that would have filled her daddy-time tank. It’s amazing how quickly we remember and revert to old habits.

During our last week of the Whole30 reintroduction, we meticulously meal planned to the final day. And then, our cupboards were bare and we ate horribly. It was as though we had learned nothing from a month and a half of healthy eating and meal planning.

Monday was the last day of the Write 31 Days challenge and it’s been nice not to have to write every day or to check in with social media. I’ve enjoyed this small break, and was mentally preparing to take at least a week off.

Here’s the thing with habits. They’re formed with good intention and easily broken so quickly. I realized that, while I simply can’t commit to posting every day, if I took too long of a break, I would easily be in a similar slump to what I felt at the beginning of the challenge.

I think that’s the hardest part of forming habits. For a month, it’s not bad and even fun to keep an intentional practice. But to make it a daily, long lasting change? That’s hard! I want to eat all the Halloween candy and enjoy wine with dinner. I want to write when the spirit moves, without sitting down and being disciplined. I want to watch TV that takes us past our 9:00 bedtime.

And sometimes, I totally break these habits. We’ll choose to watch a show or I’ll choose to sneak a pack of M&Ms out of Bea’s pumpkin. But I also have to choose to return to a healthier way of living. I know that I’m more energized and a better mom when I go to bed early. I know I feel better when I eat healthfully.

I guess that’s the biggest downside to making life-changing choices: It means changing my lifestyle to continue them.

Then I see the girls and how our modeling intentional habits reflects into their lives. Elle loves climbing in my lap with a pen to do her own “writing.” The other day, Bea said she didn’t think candy was “Whole30 Compliant.” Maybe they don’t see us going to bed early, but they see the effects of having brighter and happier parents in the morning.

For now, the high of a great achievement is wearing off and I’m faced with the mundane reminder that keeping habits is work. Not bad work, but work.

I’m reminded of what Brené Brown says in Gifts of Imperfection:

Hope is learned! … Children most often learn hope from their parents…. [They] need relationships that are characterized by boundaries, consistency, and support. I think it’s so empowering to know that I have the ability to teach my children how to hope (66).

In this climate of hopelessness, this paragraph hit home for me. The habits and boundaries that I set for my own life and well-being are modeled to my children. If I can’t set boundaries for myself, how can I set them for the girls? And without these parameters and the safety that comes with them, hope cannot be learned.

I can’t change the political climate or the injustices of this world as easily as I can instill hope in our own home.

So, here’s to a season of boundaries, of keeping habits, and of the underlying lessons of hope that come because of that.

How do you practice hopefulness? Any tips for keeping good habits going?

The Habit of Forming Habits

This fall has been filled with 30-day challenges. From our Whole30 cleanse to setting an alarm at 9:00 each night for bedtime to this Write 31 Days challenge, I’m liking the benefits of these short-term, habit changers.

livinSetting a goal and sticking to it these days is a challenge in itself. There were many days this past month I wasn’t sure I’d have the time or patience or energy to write. I tried to keep about two days ahead in my posts, knowing that life would get in the way. Even with this buffer, half of the challenge happened during the tax extension deadline, leaving me alone with the girls a lot more. Add a week-long trip to visit Frank’s family to the mix, and I was reminded why I always declined to participate in this challenge in the past.

But when is there a perfect time? When am I going to have time every single day for an entire month to write in solitude and when creativity strikes at the right moment? Never. Like any challenge, there is no good time to begin. When we looked at the calendar for the Whole30, we realized that there would always be a reason not to do it – barbecues and holidays and family events happen all the time. So, we picked a start date and went for it.

That’s what I’ve learned most from these challenges – life continues to swirl around us, whether or not we’re committed to being intentional. The choice is creating space for the discipline of writing, of eating better, of going to bed early.

Creating a start and end date is human nature, I think. I’ve read quite a few books in the past few years about taking a set amount of time to live out experiments: 7 by Jen Hatmaker, A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, Loving My Actual Life by Alexandra Kuykendall all take an overarching idea and set aside one-month intervals to complete an experiment. These books are successful because we recognize the need and benefit to setting short-term goals that result in life-changing practices.

Before starting this Write 31 Days challenge, I was in a slump here on the blog. For a couple years, I had faithfully been writing at least twice per week but over the summer, lethargy set in and I had trouble getting ideas pinned down. I’d write on the fly, I got lazy, and cycled back to “taking a break,” even though that break wasn’t intentional. This month of writing and the accountability of announcing that goal reset my creativity. Even though I won’t commit to writing every day, I hope to bring more intention to the days I do write. I want to stick to a schedule, to plan ahead, and to balance fun, intention, and the casual nature of blogging.

As for taking a month to really look at my strengths, I would highly recommend this. Whether or not you’re in the StrengthsFinder camp, take some time with your favorite personality test. Write out real-life stories of how you see these attributes at work in your own life. This month was a rediscovery into how I best function as a human being, and I’m glad I took the time to really delve into that. It’s been a good awareness reminder of all that I can offer to my communities.

One of my goals in November is to map out 2017 with habits and goals for myself. What are things I’d like to do better? (Laura Tremaine did this a few years ago. I may need to reread her series for inspiration.) You can pretty much do anything for 30 days and I’d like to start living a life of intention, of self-improvement, and of always-learning. Maybe creating life-giving habits is the habit I need to form most.

What are some habits you’d like to form? What are your thoughts on short-term goals?

Thank you for joining me on this month of self-discovery! I’ve so appreciated your comments,  engagement, and encouragement!

livin

This post is Day 31 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Processing as a Habit

I was talking with a friend the other day about how excited I was for a weekend to myself. I was planning on reading, napping, and talking minimally with others. His first question was, So you’re an introvert?

I’ve always struggled with the introvert-extrovert scale. I love people; I love entertaining; I love not talking to anyone for an entire day; I love time to recharge. As I was reading the description for Intellection, my fifth strength, this phrase stuck out:

You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. You are introspective. StrengthsFinder , pg 129

That’s what has been the most challenging thing for me as a mom. I have to squeeze any reflective time into the margins – from journaling and Bible study to reflecting on life decisions. A lot of my reflective time before kids happened in my 20-minute commute to and from work. I was able to drive in silence, processing the day. Now, I don’t have a commute, so I process on the fly, when I can.

I think it’s an unrealistic expectation to have enough quiet time – that’s certainly not a “mom” problem but a “we live a full life” problem. Carving out time is equally difficult for Frank or for my friends without kids.

I was talking with friends about prayer time the other day – when do you do it? How do you set aside time? The answer is, I don’t. But I try to listen to the nudging of prayer during my daily activities. At our old house, whenever I would clean a certain corner of our kitchen, my cousin’s wife came to mind. So I stopped an prayed. Now, several years and a move later, I still pray for her as a clean the kitchen. It’s a habit. Another friend came to mind as I tidied the tub after bath time. Now, each time I clean up the bath toys, pray for my friend and her own little girls.

I guess processing life is like that, too. Sometimes I’ll have a whole blissful weekend to myself. But the majority of my time is filled with other things – good, important things – but quiet isn’t one of them. So, I’m learning to train myself to process at certain times, while brushing teeth or before bed or after nap and quiet rest. I’m learning that habits are formed no matter how much or little time there is to devote.

Hopefully, just as forming good eating and sleeping habits take time, the time spent on recognizing my need to process will eventually become a habit. One that I can practice even in the midst of this precious-yet-chaotic season.

Are you a processor? How do you find time to stop and think about decisions in the midst of a busy life?

livinThis post is Day 2 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page

Five Things I Learned On Whole30

Today is our last day of the Whole30 cleanse. On Day 2, I accidentally licked peanut butter off my finger while making Bea’s lunch and midway through, I had a bite of corn before realizing my breakfast side was “noncompliant.” But otherwise? We stuck to it and didn’t veer off course.

Whole30-Instagram-square-design-tiger-blood-low-res-300x300.jpg
Image source: Whole30.com

I feel pretty proud of us. There were challenging parts – especially with extra meal prep falling right when the neighborhood kids came outside to bike. But, I learned how to anticipate and prep ahead. We weren’t the most unhealthy eaters before this month, but sticking to the routine and following the guidelines definitely made us more cognizant of what we were buying and why we were choosing to eat certain things.

Tomorrow we enter the reintroduction phase, slowly adding in “sensitive” foods to see how we feel. But for now, I thought I’d share 5 Things We Learned while doing this Whole30 plan.

1) Meal Planning is Worth It
We were loose meal planners before – targeting Monday-Thursday. This meant Fridays were often hasty, pizza driven meals. The first two weeks of Whole30, we planned every single meal, every single day. As the days went by, we slowed down to dinners (breakfasts were an egg dish and lunches were either leftovers or my uniform meal of salad.) Last week, we planned Monday-Friday but left the weekend open for leftovers or simple grilling. I see that as a sustainable plan: Weekday planning; Weekend spontaneity.

I also kept track of every single meal I ate during the month. I certainly won’t keep that up, but as I highlighted the snacks I added, looking through my days made me more aware of patterns and choices I was making. This was especially helpful as I distinguished between hunger-snacking and boredom-snacking.

2) So Much Meat
We weren’t vegetarians before this month but we didn’t eat meat every day. I am so, so tired of animal products. Eggs for breakfast. Shredded chicken in my salad at lunch. Some sort of meat (and I count chicken and fish as meat) for dinner. So much.

It probably didn’t help that I’ve been reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer during this month. Or maybe it was perfect timing. In any case, going along with meal planning, we’ve decided to be more thoughtful about what we plan. Our schedule after this will be: 1 day Vegan, 3 days Vegetarian, 3 days Meat. Hopefully this makes us think more about our eating choices.

3) Emotional Eating Isn’t Always Bad
There’s never a good time to start a diet or cleanse – Frank has been working late hours on the tax extension deadlines; I went on a retreat in the midst of this – so we knew there would be some tough moments when we wished for a glass of wine or a nibble of a lemon poppyseed cookie. For the most part, it was fine not snacking or drinking. Would a glass of wine been nice on my weekend away? Yes. Did it change the restfulness of the weekend itself? No.

We were chatting with friends about how, at the end of a long week, a beer sounds awfully good. And that’s not a bad thing. We are holistic beings – of course food is linked to emotions and memories. I guess the balance is recognizing why we choose to eat or drink certain things before doing it mindlessly.

4) Dinner Parties are Still Fun
Our supper group met twice while we were on Whole30 and we still had a wonderful time. We found food to eat and were able to converse and laugh with our friends without any adult beverages or tasty desserts. At our last meeting, two couples were doing Whole30 and one couple was doing Weight Watchers and it sparked a great conversation about food restrictions and hospitality. Eating in community. The fact that many people have restrictions that aren’t voluntary but a real allergy. It gave me a bit of empathy for people who must eat outside the mainstream.

5) Thirty Days Isn’t That Long
A couple days seemed to last an eternity, but I’m amazed that we’re already finished. All in all, this month passed quickly. It took that time to take our habits from a quick reset to (hopefully) sustainable changes. I don’t miss sugar or bread like I thought I would. I dream about plain Greek yogurt, not the creamy sugary ones we had been in the habit of getting. (Because they were local so we were being conscientious!)

We’ve already talked about other Thirty Day habits we’d like to form. Next month, I’ll be writing every day for 31 days. We want to spend the next month going to bed by 9:00 since Elle has decided to form the habit of getting up at 5:30 each morning. I like the idea of taking time to be intentional, to add good habits to our life, and to remember that if it doesn’t work out, 30 days isn’t really that long.

I’m glad we did this particular challenge. I know there are better ones for weight loss or blood pressure or environmental health, but Whole30 was what we needed in this moment. It helped us recalibrate and really look at our food choices in ways we just weren’t before. It kept us accountable and gave us an end date, which is nice.

Even though it extends the challenge by 15 days, I’m looking forward to the next two weeks of reintroduction. I’m hoping I don’t have any sensitivities but am interested to see what comes up and how we’ll readjust our eating habits in response.

Mostly, I’m glad we took the time to be intentional. It was a lifestyle reminder that it’s so easy to just go day-to-day without thinking too much about the whys behind our choices. As we move forward, whatever we keep or readjust or lose altogether from this past month, I hope the intentionality is the most sustaining part.

Have you ever done Whole30? What was your experience? What’s your favorite food recalibration? How do you best form habits?

Sometimes You Just Need a New Cookbook

We’ve never done a diet or a cleanse together. My view on healthy eating is just that: Use common sense and eat healthfully. Of course whole, homemade foods are best. Moderation is key. And sweets are rarely good.

This tax season was probably our best for meal planning. Of course, we cheated and ate out much more than usual. But on the whole, we were consistent and felt much better at the end.

And then, we stopped. For whatever reason, when we actually had time to cook and plan together, we didn’t. It was easy to get Costco pre-made meals or pick something up on the way home.

Many of our friends have joined the Whole30 fad and it seemed like a good restart – part cleanse, part diet, part common sense. (Well, mostly. I’m having trouble getting behind the no peanut butter rule…) We bought the book, eager to learn more. And then looked at our schedule and realized between visitors and camping and travel, we didn’t have the required 40 days to commit to this plan.

So, we decided to use this book to meal plan. We’ve been using the recipes just for dinners and not following the plan as a whole. And, it’s been awesome! We’ve been eating healthier, more consciously, and the way we know we should be.

It’s been the kick-start we needed to get back on track. I still have my toast, peanut butter, and yogurt for breakfast, but we’ve cut out weekday wine (weekends are fair game) and have been more intentional with our dinners.

IMG_1249
Coloring with Aunt M

Perhaps one day we’ll commit to doing the 40 days. I’ve always been interested in a cleanse and this seems as good as any. But really, it’s amazing what a new cookbook – whatever it happens to be – can do.

It made me think about life and our family. I’ve talked about our lack of date nights and wishing for more. And then my sister-in-law came to visit and gave us a night, just the two of us. We went out to dinner, browsed at Barnes and Nobel, and talked. It was a weeknight. We weren’t out super-late. Bea totally manipulated the bedtime routine. But, it was a good kick-start back on track.

It made me recognize this need. Elle doesn’t love being left, but she survived and she’s old enough to do it without worry. We’re emerging from the infant stage, leaving this first year of intensity behind, and we need to remember that now is the time to restart some of the habits we were able to form when Bea was an only child.

We have some trips coming up, some craziness to our usually quiet schedule and it seems silly to try and start a new habit now. But, if we don’t now, when is the best time? So, we’re cooking whole dinners and planning date nights. Neither are with superb regularity, but perhaps starting these goals will turn them into habits.

What are some habits you wish you had the time to form? Do you just start a new routine or idea a bit haphazardly, hoping to make it regular or do you wait until you can do it right?

Celebrating Strong Women: Five Minutes to Happiness

unnamed-1This week’s strong woman is Valerie Brown, a friend who lives out generosity and compassion. Valerie has been a Colorado Native since 1982.  She has a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and has a career with helping people with tax issues.  In addition, she also helps people through her public speaking for weight loss and weight management.  

She is a dedicated mother of one son, a wife for nearly 20 years, a daughter and a friend.  Her hobbies include hiking, volunteer speaking, reading and spending time with her friends and family.  She’s a full time working woman always trying to seek that balance between her personal life, her work life and herself.  

Five Minutes to Happiness

Over the course of a year and a half I have lost 135 pounds.  The first question everyone asks me is, “What’s your secret?” They look at me with wide, anticipating eyes waiting for me to deliver the most poetic, beautiful and miraculous piece of wisdom they have ever heard.  They think there HAS to be some secret to weight loss they have overlooked somehow.  I can almost hear the game show failure buzzer (whah whah) going off in their head when I tell them the age old answer…diet and exercise.

Diet and exercise — that is how one loses 135 pounds.  But why did my diet and exercise suddenly work?  I have to admit, this attempt at diet and exercise was probably attempt 147.  Prior to this attempt I was one of those people always looking for the miracle answer myself.  146 attempts later I finally figured something out…in order to be successful at diet and exercise you have to stop beating yourself up and take it in small steps and put some new habits into place.  

First came the diet.  Of course I wanted to eat those delicious yummy foods that had given me such pleasure in my 39 years of life.  How could I break this habit of not turning to food in my time of sorrow, boredom, happiness, or needing a reward?  I decided to break it up into small time increments.  I told myself, I’m going to stick to my diet today.  If temptation arises, I will give myself 5 minutes to decide if I REALLY want that doughnut, cheeseburger, pizza, etc.  After 5 minutes if I still want it, I’ll eat it.  No guilt, no punishment, I’ll eat it; I’ll log it in my food journal and move on.  What I started to discover is that after 5 minutes of distraction…I forgot about my craving.  So the first days of diet 147 had days filled with at least 20 five minute food challenges.  Gradually over time and as the weight started coming off, my five minutes challenges decreased.  I found I didn’t need the 5 minute challenge.  This new diet slowly started to became a habit.  

Second is the exercise.  Same concept.  In the beginning I would tell myself…get your rear end on that treadmill for 5 minutes.  No matter how much I weighed or was out of shape I figured I could at least walk for 5 minutes.  At the end of my 5 minutes if I felt my workout was complete, I gave myself permission to stop and be done.   Oh my, I was horribly out of shape.  There were actually days that 5 minutes WAS all I could do.  But somehow or another, 5 minutes turned into 10 turned into 20 and so on and then I didn’t have to challenge myself at all to exercise.  It became habit.

Annie’s husband Frank gave me a book about habits and how that is pretty much the key concept to success on many different levels.  I wholeheartedly believe this to be true.  No matter what you are attempting to conquer or overcome, you probably have to put some new habits in place.  Give yourself permission to fail as long as you tell yourself you will give them another try.  So maybe I failed my five minute test at lunch and ate that piece of pizza in the break room…it’s okay, I’m going to attempt this again at dinner with whatever temptation arises.   It won’t be long before many failures turn into success just because of the repetitive motion of performing the act itself.  It will become habit and soon you won’t even be thinking about it. 

I’m sure this is a broad oversimplification of a very complex theory.  But I urge you to give it a try the next time you are faced with a difficult situation of any sort.  Give yourself five minutes to try something different.  My hopes are that after a while you will start to see a new habit starting to form and won’t need the miracle, poetic, beautiful answer to your problem.  You had it in you all along!