You Created It–Label It!

I love the way the sun goes down each night and comes up again each morning. It provides predictable breaks in the flow of time, creating the manageable, bite-sized periods of life that we call “days.” Can you imagine how it would be to not have days, but just a free-flowing expanse of time? Without the contrast, without the natural endings and beginnings provided by day and night? I literally cannot imagine it. But sometimes, in my mind, I operate as though this were the case. Maybe you do too.

Do you sometimes feel like each of your days bleeds into the ones before and after until they become meshed together in one blob? Do you ever wake up in the morning already feeling burdened and overwhelmed by Yesterday rather than energized and eager to begin a fresh new Today? Does it ever seem like Tomorrow never really comes because you just keep living Yesterday all over again Today? In this post I will provide you with a very simple tool to help you leave the past where it belongs–in the past–so that you’re free to create each new day the way you wish. Sound good?

Most humans spend around 95% of their time in the land of “Has Been.” Our minds like to dwell on what has already happened in the past, because it’s concrete, certain, and we have evidence to show what happened and why and how. It seems more real than the land of “Will Be.” A lot of the time, when we think our minds are focused on Tomorrow and all the things we need to do and what’s coming up in life, we’re actually still in “Has Been” land because it’s all generally the same stuff we did Yesterday.

It is uncomfortable to truly spend time in the land of “Will Be” because it’s uncertain, we have no concrete evidence for how things will work out, we don’t have control over it, and it seems almost fake. Our brains don’t like this unpredictability, but our spirits love it and crave it. That’s because our spirits yearn to Create, and you can’t create in the land of Has Been. Everything we have yet to create is in the land of Will Be. And the only time we can ever create in is Today.

I don’t know about you, but I have ruined so many Todays by letting them become polluted by the mistakes and failures of Yesterday. I think things like, “That was such a stupid thing to do!” “I can’t believe I said that.” “What did I even do all day?” “If only I had ______ then things would be so much better.” “Why don’t I ever learn?” These thoughts, which are all from the land of “Has Been,” are so burdensome that the energy needed to accomplish my goals ends up going towards re-creating Yesterday’s failures. But with a new mindset, you can free yourself from this tyrrany.

The tool is simply this: at the end of each day (or first thing the next day if you forget), label that day with just one word, and write it down somewhere. You can write it in a journal, on a calendar, on a document on your computer, or use the Notes app on your phone (which is what I do). That’s it. Just one word for the day. It only takes a few seconds! You can always write more, and I usually do, but I can feel successful even if the one word is all I write. This tool is so simple and easy that you will probably think it can’t possibly be powerful. But give it a try and see what it does for your mind. I learned it at a training ten days ago, put it into practice, and have already seen my mindset improve, which has created more energy, less stress, and better results in my life!

Try to settle on the label that best encapsulates most of the day, or something significant from the day. And please be more creative than just the words “Good” or “Bad.” Those labels have little meaning. I love positive labels, such as Amazing, Accomplished, Connected, Powerful, Peaceful, Fun, Vibrant, Decisive, Inspiring, Treasured, Relaxing, Clarity, Fulfilling, Generous, Influential,  Reverent, Meaningful, Growth, etc. If the day wasn’t so great, you can use a negative label, for example: Frustrating, Disappointing, Lonely, Blah, Hopeless, Exhausting, Loss, Despondent, Confusing, Dramatic, Tired, Strange, Indolent, Flurried, Complacent, etc. Neutral labels can be useful too, like Quiet, Independent, Unbelievable, Interesting, Wow, Unexpected, Busy, Nostalgic, Extreme, Low-key, Alert, or Unforgettable. (It’s not easy to think of neutral ones, but I like how they can go either way. Please comment with more that I and other readers can use!)

So why does this work? Giving names to things makes them real in our minds. It’s hard for us to even think about things until they have a label, or name, or category of some kind. If it has a label, suddenly it Exists as Something. (You might argue that each day already has a name, such as Sunday, April 30, but dates are arbitrary and not personally meaningful in and of themselves.) Giving a label to the day separates it as distinct in your mind from other days that have gone before, and makes it feel “finished.” You don’t have to worry about it or dwell on it anymore because its creation has been completed. Those days with negative labels can be put behind you and filed away along with the lessons you learned. The days with positive labels can be celebrated as a great accomplishment and an example for future tomorrows. And the other days…well, they’ll count for whatever meaning they held for you, instead of just disappearing into oblivion forever.

Since I’ve started doing this, I automatically start out each morning thinking about what kind of day I want to create, rather than just letting the day “happen to” me. This makes it more likely that I will consciously and intentionally take the actions needed to get my desired results. Labeling each day causes our minds to become more aware all day long of what we are creating, and that awareness multiplies the choices in front of us about how we show up in each moment. If the way I’m showing up isn’t aligned with what I’m wanting to create, I can course-correct and salvage the rest of the day.

Recently in church we studied the account of the Creation in the book of Genesis and other scripture, and I noticed that the principle of labeling or naming what you create is an important part of the process of creation. God exemplified it first. He calls each segment in the creation of the Earth “The First Day,” “The Second Day,” and so on through “The Sixth Day.” And He also looks at what He created and says that it was good. Do we do this? Do we acknowledge that what we put forth effort to create is good? I think that one reason we don’t is because we don’t want to seem boasting or prideful. But we need to acknowledge, celebrate even, the good things we create and accomplish! In that acknowledgment we find closure for that particular creation and gain the accomplishment energy to go on to what we’ll create next. It’s a beautiful upward spiral.

So I challenge you to try labeling each day! It really is so easy to do. Just set an alarm on your phone if you think you might forget to do it. Make note in the comment section if you’re committed, to add some accountability. Also come back here and let me and the other readers know what your results are with this so we can celebrate with you! Or just comment with some awesome words that would make good labels. Let’s get a dialogue going!

(photo credit: David Swindler, Action Photo Tours)

Taking Stock of 2016

It’s New Year’s Eve, and 2016 has officially wrapped up. Last January I posted the following 15 of my goals for the year. It’s helpful to take stock of previous goals before diving into new ones, so here goes. I totally completed 7 or 8 of my goals, so half of them! It makes me feel really good to look at what I’ve accomplished and how I’m improving. Of the remaining 7 or 8, I got about half of those half the time, and a few I barely did anything with at all. But I’m not beating myself up about the ones I didn’t get, because that would make me want to give up on goal-setting altogether, which would be the only actual failure. Instead, I’m looking into how I can recommit to and/or tweak the ones I struggled with to have more success in those areas next year.

Health:

  • I am craving healthy, nutritious foods, only indulging in treats/desserts once a month.
  • I am achieving my ideal weight of 120 pounds by July 1.
  • I am exercising for at least 20 minutes daily. (yoga, P90X3, walk/jog)

I’m feeling really good about my health right now. I’ve gotten into a solid habit of going to the gym every school day and finding other ways to exercise on the weekends, and usually work out for way longer than the minimum 20 minutes! Also, I’m actually below my weight goal by now, even below my most recent pre-pregnancy weight. The interesting thing was that the first time I saw 120 on the scale was on the day of July 1! (even if it was actually 120.9!) 😉 As far as treats and desserts go, I did great the first half of the year, but have slipped back into old snacking habits. I’m recommitting to this important goal for next year. Sugar cravings steal my energy, and I feel so much healthier and better without sweets. I won’t alter the once a month timing because that’s just long enough to lose the cravings, but not feel deprived.

Family:

  • I am spending an hour of quality one-on-one time with each child once a week.
  • I am having 20 minutes of quality time with my husband every night.
  • I am planning the next week’s meals every Saturday.
  • I am involving my children in family history and journaling every Sunday.
  • I am traveling to Destin, Florida with my husband and/or children in September.

My husband, baby and I went to Florida, in August actually. We wish we’d taken the whole family, but could get free flights on only 2 seats. Still, I’m so glad we made it happen because our friends who live in a beach house in Destin will be moving away next year. Another success has been quality time with my husband. Not every night, but it’s a lot more consistent than before. Quality time with my children has been hit and miss. I’m going to focus on making this into a habit by doing it at the same time each day, and letting my kids remind me. Tweaking it to just 30 mins. each day, alternating kids, feels more doable, even though it’s pretty much the same thing. I have not been planning meals very regularly, but since I do okay winging it, I’m not keeping this goal. Family history and journaling are important, but every Sunday seems like a lot, so I never actually did it. I think I’ll focus on this with the kids just on the first Sunday of each month. If I feel like I can realistically be successful, I’m more likely to follow through.

Mentoring:

  • I am holding a mentoring appointment every week by Dec. 1.
  • I am posting to my blog at least 3 times each month.
  • I am spending at least 2 hours a week in training or study.

I’ve been spending a lot more than 2 hours a week in training or study, which has been awesome! I love to learn and can’t get enough. As far as blogging, it’s been really hard to sit at the computer for long enough stretches of time to hold a coherent train of thought, with a clingy baby constantly wanting to be held and who barely naps at all. I had a couple months where I posted to this blog 3 times, but usually it was just once or twice. I’m tweaking this goal to twice a month. And though I wasn’t mentoring every week by the first of Dec., I got this goal by the middle of the month! Now I’m tweaking next year’s goal to be, “I am regularly working with at least 3 clients at any given time,” because the number of appointments in a week isn’t important, but the lives I’m able to influence. I get back way more energy than I put in to mentoring, and it benefits all other areas of my life. I’m so grateful to be able to pursue my passion and add value to other people’s lives.

Personal habits:

  • I am meditating every morning for 180 days straight.
  • I am using empowerment tools every morning and evening (vision board, declarations, goals review, etc.)
  • I am writing in my journal every evening.
  • I am reading scriptures every morning and memorizing one scripture every week.

All of these personal habits have been hit and miss. When I wake up early, I’m able to get most of them in, but I haven’t been very self-disciplined in this. Now that the baby is sleeping through the night consistently, I’m left without excuse, so I’m committing to a morning “power hour” as well as an evening routine. In past years, having these habits in place has made my days go so much smoother. I’m excited to invest these important periods of time in myself each day and see my personal power go way up.

How did you do on your goals this past year? I’d love to hear any success stories with goals you may have!

Spending Freeze Challenge–Part 2

My husband and I decided to halt almost all our variable spending throughout the month of September. (If you haven’t read Spending Freeze Challenge–Part 1, go there first. I explain the rationale behind this challenge.) September really is the perfect month for our family to do this, and not just because it’s only 30 days! There are no holidays or family birthdays. School supplies are usually all bought in August. We get fresh produce from our garden and the weekly farm basket that we paid for months ago. The weather is nice enough that we can do fun things outside rather than paying for entertainment and recreation. And with the new school year, it just seems like a good time for a fresh start, for a habit reset.

So here are some specifics on our version of this challenge:

  • The only grocery items we buy during the month are milk, basic bread, and eggs. (If you take on this challenge, choose up to 5 staple items that your family can’t go without, and confine yourself to this list at the grocery store.) It feels amazing to have only spent a total of $25 on food this whole month! It’s also nice to use up freezer and pantry food that’s been sitting there way too long.
  • We still pay all our utility and phone bills and make payments on our loans.
  • We have chosen not to limit our auto fuel expenses (but if you’d like more rigor during your challenge, I’d encourage you to only drive when necessary).
  • We only eat out when we can pay with a gift card or voucher that was purchased previously.
  • Instead of hiring our regular babysitters, we ask family to help or arrange to swap with friends who have young kids.
  • I pull gifts for friends’ birthday parties and baby showers from a collection I’ve previously bought and stashed.
  • We always have a large stash of household necessities, like toilet paper and diapers, but if we didn’t, we would justify buying the bare minimum during the challenge.
  • We are still paying for our daughter’s music lessons this month. It seems unwise to halt her progress and partly waste what we’ve been investing in for the past year.
  • If our cars needed repairs in order to run, we would go ahead with it, but are putting off routine maintenance until next month.
  • We don’t pay for any entertainment subscriptions. The only movies we watch are DVDs from the library. We stream Amazon Prime music, which we already paid for earlier in the year.

So basically, we’re not buying any clothing, toys, event tickets, food (beyond the staples), furnishings, or anything else that’s not necessary. (I’m really excited to see the credit card bill come back after this month, and for the bank statements to confirm the financial value of this challenge.) If you try this, come up with your own rules. Even if you only alter one category of spending, it can still be a valuable experience. Any progress, no matter how small, can move you in the right direction.

I’m not going to say that this hasn’t been hard. I bought a lot of school clothes last month, so I racked up Children’s Place cash and Old Navy super cash. It was hard to let that go to waste, but I had to, since you have to spend a certain amount first before those discounts can be applied. And it was disappointing to see some amazing Kohl’s coupons come in the mail and not be able to use them. Also, planning meals and making dinner has taken more time and energy because I’ve had to improvise, but I’ve learned a lot, too. One more thing: after our vacation last month, I was gung-ho about decorating our bathroom in a beach theme, but I’ve had to put that enthusiasm on hold–for now.

Overall, this experience has been liberating. The time savings alone, that I would have spent shopping and looking for good deals, has added value. I’ve used that time to read, learn important things, reflect, exercise, and be with my family. One of the biggest advantages of this challenge has been knowing that I am in control of my spending. It doesn’t control me. Money is simply a tool, and we don’t need to fear it or be anxious about it. I’m just so grateful for the experiences and security that money provides. Sometimes it takes going without to bring greater appreciation and gratitude for what we already have!

A challenge does no good if it doesn’t ultimately result in altered behavior. Here are the goals I’m shooting for, following this challenge:

  • Be more vigilant about monitoring my spending. What you track, you are consciously aware of, and thus able to control. I commit to go over our budget and look at our spending every week and talk about it with my husband biweekly.
  • Decide if something is a need or a want before I buy it. Wants are okay every now and then; I just need to acknowledge it as such.
  • Check the freezer and pantry when meal planning and before going grocery shopping so I can use what we already have before buying more.

Check out these other tips that may help you curb your spending habits: (from credit.com)

spendingfreezegraphic

Spending Freeze Challenge–Part 1: Breaking the Habit

Lately I’ve been super stressed about finances. We recently had our large backyard landscaped, which is wonderful, but we took out a loan for it, and being in debt kind of freaks me out. Also, we just returned from a Florida vacation, and although we used credit card reward miles for our flights and stayed with our friends for free, we spent quite a lot on restaurants. You’d think that anxiety would motivate me to curb my spending, but it doesn’t really influence my financial choices very much. Mostly, it just makes me feel uncomfortable and fearful. I don’t want to keep showing up this way for my family, so I asked my husband if we could go on a spending freeze for the month of September.

We tried a zero-spend month two years ago, right before moving into a different house. It had been my husband’s idea, and I really didn’t like it at first and was afraid that, as a mother of three at the time, I wouldn’t–couldn’t—succeed. The month had already started, too, so “pre-buying” was out. The more I thought about it, though, I felt empowered by the idea of self-restraint and wanted to see if I could do it. That time, we were more motivated by needing to use the food we already had, than by the money-saving benefit. We decided to try the challenge again this month, and it feels different this time because we’re now in a house we own, which opens up a whole new realm of things we’d like to spend money on. This “Part 1” post is more about the rationale behind taking on a challenge such as this, while future posts in this series will present more specifics. This is the why, those will be the how.

So, why be so drastic as to institute a spending freeze? you might ask. Couldn’t you just budget or do the Dave Ramsey cash-in-envelopes thing or stick to shopping lists? Why go cold-turkey and deprive yourself? Wouldn’t you spend about the same money anyway, if you buy what you’ll need before the challenge month starts and after it ends? These are all questions I had at first, too. But there’s at least one important benefit to be had in doing away with voluntary spending for 30 days at a stretch: it can reroute your brain away from habitual and impulsive spending.

Although I consider myself a relatively conscious and aware spender, after thinking about it, I realized that my spending patterns were executed primarily out of habit. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Spending is so convenient, especially online and with Amazon Prime. You can make purchases without moving from your chair, with just a couple of clicks. When the credit card fields fill in automatically, it doesn’t even feel like you’re actually spending money. And at the grocery store, it’s so easy to buy more than what’s on your list and justify the purchases because they’re “on sale” and there’s plenty of space in the extra freezer. And deal blogs–don’t get me started on those! I’ll just say that mostly they give useful tips that really can save people money, but if I’m buying things I don’t really need, then it’s ultimately wasteful, no matter how rockin’ of a deal I got. The thing about deal-seeking, for me, is that it’s kind of a sport. It feels competitive, in that I like to think that I’m spending less than most people on such-and-such an item. If I’m doing it for the emotional reward, the “thrill of the hunt,” rather than out of necessity, then my motivations are off.

The blog we got the idea from, Living Well Spending Less, had given a series of reflection questions for each week of the challenge, and I dutifully answered each one. (I won’t post the questions here since they’re not my own, but can send them to you if you’re interested.) I learned a great deal about myself, including the “sporting” idea from the last paragraph. Another revelation was that I often instinctually revolt against what feels like a restrictive loss of freedom, but when I take on a challenge of self-discipline, I find even greater freedom and happiness than I had previously known. This paradox can be found in many areas of life. For example, doing a social-media fast while on vacation last month felt a little like deprivation at first, but after that week, I felt a renewed sense of choice in that it’s no longer a compulsion or automatic go-to while on the computer/phone/tablet, but merely an activity I can choose to do if and when I desire. Not only that, it made me more mindful of the beautiful surroundings and more present with the wonderful (and actually-physically-there) people accompanying me that week.

Now to address why to be so drastic as to go “cold turkey.” Research has shown that we only have a limited amount of willpower and decision-making energy each day, so blanket abstaining rules like “no spending!” are usually more effective than vague moderating ones like “spend less.” That’s why my sugar goal is: “No treats or desserts, aside from one indulgence per month.” I don’t have to keep deciding whether to eat whatever sugary food happens to be in front of me. Aside from deliberately choosing my one indulgence each month (which I need so that I don’t feel deprived), I’ve already made the choice and don’t waste energy deciding whether or not to raid the candy basket in the pantry several times a day. For some people, one indulgence a week is fine, but I’ve found that doesn’t work for me, as it takes a couple of weeks for sugar cravings to abate, and I just don’t want to swim upstream.

Furthermore, when we want to change a deeply-ingrained habit, just setting a new resolution sometimes isn’t enough. We have to take concrete actions to keep us from going down the old paths, which must be done BEFORE we can rewire our brain with a new desirable habit. For me to not be tempted to spend this month, I can’t even open the Bloglovin’ window in my browser, nor any commercial email. I throw the store ads from the mail straight into the recycling bin. I carry no cash, and when I must go into a grocery store for the three staple items I limit myself to (more on that in the next post), I won’t let myself even glance in the clearance carts or manager’s special bins. Some people cut up their credit cards, but the miles for free flights are too important of a perk for me. I’ve also heard of people literally freezing their credit cards in a pan of ice to keep from using them!

If you want to tackle a problematic habit, it’s helpful to be aware of the benefits we glean from these habitual actions. The greater the reward, the more powerful the habit will be. In “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg explains it thus:

“This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: THE HABIT LOOP.”

So, on the topic of spending, the fastest way to interrupt the habit loop is to avoid the “cue” altogether. For example, if you’re used to stopping at a particular coffee shop on your way to work, try driving a different route so that it would be inconvenient for yourself to get the coffee you want to stop spending money on.

If removing the cue isn’t possible, try going straight for the routine. As another example, if you can’t stop yourself from purchasing through Amazon Prime, have a family member change the password. When you want to buy something, ask them to purchase it for you or set up times when they can allow you to access the account. (The inconvenience of going through extra hoops or being required to wait a certain period of time may dissuade you from making less-necessary purchases.)

In other cases, you may need to remove the reward so that the habit is no longer profitable. I feel a sense of security each time I come home from the grocery store loaded down with bags and cases of food for my family. But I also feel secure when I am aware of the wealth of food we already have stored. I think I’ll try going through my food storage room, pantry, and chest freezer before the next big case lot sale so that I get a hit of that yummy secure emotion beforehand instead of trying to buy it.

Gratitude provides wonderful rewards. When you’re tempted to buy something you want, take a few minutes to think about or write a list of great things you already have. It just might take your mind off what you don’t have, and at the same time, give you a longer-lasting feeling of satisfaction than if you’d caved and made that purchase. Plus, with gratitude, the feeling comes completely guilt-free!

Readers, what strategies do you use to break the spending habit and to be more mindful in making purchases?

Check out the follow-up post to this one: Spending Freeze Challenge: Part 2

And here’s Linkin Park’s “Breaking the Habit,” just because I love this song! You’re welcome. 🙂

 

My Goals for 2016

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

As the final post in my goals series, I think it’s appropriate to post my own goals for this year. Because I deeply value personal growth (mind, body and spirit), connecting meaningfully with my family, and empowering others, all my goals stem from these overarching objectives. I have a vision of what I want to become, so I state my goals as affirmations in the present tense to bring my reality closer to that of my vision.

Health:

  • I am craving healthy, nutritious foods, only indulging in treats/desserts once a month.
  • I am achieving my ideal weight of 120 pounds by July 1.
  • I am exercising for at least 20 minutes daily. (yoga, P90X3, walk/jog)

Family:

  • I am spending an hour of quality one-on-one time with each child once a week.
  • I am having 20 minutes of quality time with my husband every night.
  • I am planning the next week’s meals every Saturday.
  • I am involving my children in family history and journaling every Sunday.
  • I am traveling to Destin, Florida with my husband and/or children in September.

Mentoring:

  • I am holding a mentoring appointment every week by Dec. 1.
  • I am posting to my blog at least 3 times each month.
  • I am spending at least 2 hours a week in training or study.

Personal habits:

  • I am meditating every morning for 180 days straight.
  • I am using empowerment tools every morning and evening (vision board, declarations, goals review, etc.)
  • I am writing in my journal every evening.
  • I am reading scriptures every morning and memorizing one scripture every week.

I’m far from making most of these goals life habits, and I know it will be a constant challenge, but I want to keep striving. I aim for improvement, not perfection, so I don’t beat myself up for falling short. Posting these goals here is my way of shouting them to the world, which will make it more likely that I achieve them.

What goals do you have for yourself this year? Are any of them similar to any of mine? I’d love to see what changes you’re striving to make. Shout them out in the comments section!

 

Always Before Your Eyes

We’re now over a week into the new year. How is your goal setting coming along? Hopefully by now you’ve written down your goals. (If you haven’t, see the previous blog post in this series for  powerful tips.) What’s next? Maybe you’re like me and write goals from time to time in your journal or someplace and never look at them again. This hasn’t produced the best results. The essential next step is to review your written goals regularly. Keep them always before your eyes and you will achieve them.

A study by Dr. David Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, shows the importance of both writing down AND reviewing your goals:

  • 80% of Americans reported that they have no goals. (Huh, I really can’t even imagine having absolutely no direction in life! How sad.)
  • 16% said they have goals, but don’t write them down.
  • Of the remainder, less than 4% take the time to write their goals down. (If you’re reading this, I imagine you’re part of this group.)
  • Which leaves less than 1% of Americans, who write their goals and review them regularly.

I want to be part of the last group, and here’s why. Dr. Kohl analyzed the income generated by this small group across their lifetimes and found that they earned nine times more than Americans who didn’t have goals. 9X! That is huge! Now, I know that income is only one of many indicators of success in life, but for most people, it’s pretty important to be financially secure. If this study doesn’t motivate you to write and review your goals, I don’t know what would!

How often should you review your goals? Jack Canfield, successful author, recommends referring to your goals 3 times a day: first thing in the morning, in the middle of the day, and right before going to bed. Personally, I aim to review my goals twice a day, morning and evening.

Okay, that’s great, but HOW should you review them, to get the most bang for your buck? Try the following tips, some from Canfield and some from me, and see what works best for you:

  • Write your goals on index cards, keep them on your nightstand, and read them first thing when you wake up and right before you go to sleep. Doing this will help your goals to be on your mind throughout the day and prime your subconscious mind to work on how to achieve them while you sleep. (I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of being productive while I sleep!)
  • Put your list of goals in your daily planner or calendar system.
  • If you’re digitally inclined, create a popup on your electronic device of choice, or use your goals for the wallpaper image on your screen.
  • Write your most important goal on the back of your business card and put it in your wallet or purse where you’ll see it often.
  • Keep your written goals in your car, and whenever you are stopped at a red light, read one of your goals and think about it until the next time you’re stopped. (I’m going to start doing this when I take my kids to and from school!)
  • Mount a vision board on your bedroom wall, posting on it words and pictures representing your goals. Look at it morning and night. When you’ve achieved a goal, take the item off the board and place it in a “success binder.” (I’ll go more in-depth on vision boards in a future blog post.)
  • Create a “goal book” with a page depicting each one of your goals as though you’ve already achieved it. Review the book before bed.

No matter which method you choose to review your goals, be sure to also read them out loud from time to time, when you’re in an appropriate setting. Don’t just read them in a boring voice, but with energy, passion, and enthusiasm. If you really want this to be a powerful experience, incorporate gestures whenever you can.

Also, with each goal you read, take a moment to feel how you imagine you will feel once you achieve it. Jack Canfield writes in The Success Principles that doing this activates the structural tension in your brain, which increases your motivation, stimulates your creativity, and heightens your awareness of the resources you need.

Now go get after it! Make your selected method for reviewing your goals a daily habit, and soon it will become a near-effortless part of your life and bring you big results.

Too Much of a Good Thing

The NBC show Parks and Recreation is one of my favorites because of its wide variety of entertaining characters. On the show, Chris Traeger (played by Rob Lowe) epitomizes what this post is about. This character is absolutely obsessed with fitness and nutrition. He has run ten miles every day for the past 18 years (which equates to a third of the way to the moon!). He comes to realize that although his body is in nearly-perfect physical condition, his life feels lonely and meaningless. That’s when he starts going to a shrink five times a week and talks about him to his friends nonstop.

Can you get too much of a good thing? Absolutely. We all know people who get taken in by something neutral or even good, which, when taken to unreasonable extremes, ends up having a negative impact. Some people spend so much of their time and energy in caring for others that they neglect their own needs. Some are constantly seeking to learn more and more, but rarely end up applying that knowledge and don’t actually ever accomplish anything. Others are so overly concerned about only eating the healthiest food that it actually now qualifies as a mental disorder called Orthorexia nervosa. Or there are those monkish “spiritual” types that always have their heads in the clouds and can’t really relate to those around them, who end up living isolated lives. Caring for others, learning, spirituality, and eating healthy food are all positive habits, but problems come when we emphasize these to the exclusion of other important and good things.

The ultimate health and fulfillment comes from balance of all the aspects of our lives. Any extreme or excess in any one area causes things to come out of alignment. That is because if we focus too much on either the body, mind, or spirit, we usually end up neglecting one or two of the other areas. We have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, so directing too many of those things to one area deprives the others. Often, the truest wisdom is found not in what we choose to do, but what we choose to leave undone.

I’ve come up with a short list of other examples of excesses. (If you come up with more, feel free to add them in the comments section.) Perhaps you’ll see inclinations toward one or two of these in yourself:

  • Worry and anxiety (thus overly expending mental energy, causing emotional redundancy)
  • Too much socializing, talking, laughing
  • Concentrating with too much effort
  • Too much time or energy spent doing the same activities (work, TV, games, media use)
  • Pushing the physical body to extremes
  • Overemphasizing a personal relationship (as is the case with Super-moms)
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Overeating (even healthy food!)
  • Overly stimulating the senses
  • Getting worked up emotionally to passionate extremes

If any of these rang true for you, I hope you’ll recognize the steps you need to take to bring your life back into balance. As a teenager, an area of imbalance for me was obsessing over grades and schoolwork. I took this to such an extreme that I only slept 4-5 hours a night in high school and ended up getting Mono, which then relapsed a couple of times. At other times in my life, I got myself so worked up emotionally that I would deliberately put myself in risky situations, such as walking outside alone in the middle of the night or driving recklessly. One other area that used to cause problems was my over-thriftiness, when I wouldn’t spend money for something unless it was at a certain price point or I had a coupon. There’s nothing wrong with saving money, but for me, it took a toll on my family relationships, and I wasted a lot of time seeking out good deals.

The way to obtain health and balance is through moderation. We must conserve the forces that sustain us. That is done through peace, rest, nourishment, restraint, detachment, calmness, and relaxation. Our objectives are a strong and healthy body, a disciplined, aware mind, and a creative, vital spirit. Contentment is the result of these three points coming together in harmony.

My Morning Power Routine (Version 2.1)

Summertime. At first it was nice doing whatever, whenever, in the morning. Staying in bed until the kids came in to get me. Not having to worry about getting anyone ready for school. Having no schedule at all, really. Well, it got old fast, say, less than two weeks. I began to realize that without structure at the beginning of the day, the rest of the day fell into disorder. I got some things done, but never near as much as I would have liked. What’s worse, I had been increasingly irritated and impatient with my kids and generally more negative. I wasn’t very fun to be around.

Could this just be a summer-break symptom? I know that a lot of moms struggle with this time of year, since they’re not used to having the kids around all day long, but I don’t think this is the reason in my case. Only the oldest of my three was in school last year, and having her home now actually makes it easier, as she entertains her little brothers most of the time.

Or, could it stem from the lack of structure in the morning? I really feel this is the case. From January through mid-May, I had had a great routine of waking up early and meditating and reading inspiring literature. During those months, I felt I experienced better clarity of mind and was more positive, relaxed, and happy.

So, for the last several days, I’ve returned to that routine. (Well, except for Sunday morning when I slept in!) I’ve started keeping a log about what exactly I do each morning, for how long, and rate myself on how productive, patient, and positive I had been that day. Log-keeping is an excellent way to learn about yourself and see the bigger picture of what’s really going on. It provides proof to your brain of the bad habits and unhelpful beliefs you’d like to can, and proof of what tools really increase your personal effectiveness, giving you motivation to stick with it.

Here is what my routine currently looks like:

  1. Wake up at or near 6:30 and pray.
  2. Brisk walk or jog outside for 15-30 mins. (Or yoga inside)
  3. Drink a glass of water mixed with the juice of 1/2 a lime or lemon.
  4. Meditation: 20 breaths minimum, or taking up to 20 mins. if time allows and it’s quiet in the house.
  5. Read & study inspirational literature, beginning with scripture.
  6. Write in journal and log.

Why do these things in the morning? I have significant reasons for each.

1. I wake up at 6:30 because I want to be up 30 to 60 minutes before my children. That way I can have time to empower myself, thus equipping me to be more fully present for them during the rest of the day. It wouldn’t make sense to wake up this early if I went to bed at midnight like I used to do. Humans need 7-9 hours of sleep or else they suffer from memory problems, immune system failure, low energy, and a host of other deficiencies. So I try to go to bed around 10:30 or 11 pm, which isn’t totally natural for me–yet.

2. Light exercise first thing after waking up is something I just added to my routine a few days ago. First of all, practically, it’s more comfortable in the summer to be outside as early as possible, and convenient to be able to leave the kids asleep before my husband leaves for work. Second, getting sunlight on my face provides an awesome boost of energy and mood. (Early exposure to sunlight also helps regulate circadian rhythms and produces vitamin D). Third, although I often have high hopes to exercise more vigorously later in the day, this tends to not actually end up happening most of the time, so I figure at least I’m sure to get some exercise in rather than none at all.

3. Lemon water is great for your health, especially when taken in the morning 30-60 minutes before eating anything. It cleanses your kidneys and other organs and raises the alkalinity in your body (paradoxically enough), which cancels out some of the damage caused by the highly acidic diets that most Americans consume. This keeps you from getting sick as often and can even help prevent cancer. Plus, it’s very refreshing and yummy. (In winter I change it up by drinking peppermint tea with lime and honey.) Even if you don’t add citrus, just drink a large glass of plain water first thing in the morning. It’s a great aid to your metabolism and hydrates your body.

4. Meditation may sound new-agey to some people, but it’s been practiced for thousands of years, so there’s nothing new about it. It’s simple to do and has tons of benefits, (which I’ll go into more on a future post,) including stress-reduction and clarity of mind. Basically, it is detaching yourself from the stream-of-consciousness state of your mind (which is dominated by the past and future) by focusing only on the present moment or state of being. This is most easily achieved by concentrating on nothing but your breath going in and out. Relax in an upright sitting position and just take 20 breaths with intention. If pesky thoughts intrude, and they will, just release them with your next exhale and return your focus to the breath. Just try it. Add music if that helps.

5. Reading inspirational literature in the morning really orients my mind to the positive. I love the mental rush I get from learning and making new connections, and my spirit loves the light that comes in and uplifts me. Because reading the news, my Facebook feed, deal blogs or email can leave me feeling scattered or even depressed, I always wait to attend to those things until I’ve put in some prime time with the most important and uplifting words and information. It gives me a more positive perspective on everything else I read or watch the rest of the day. Find something that lifts and feeds you, something that goes beyond mere entertainment. Also, it need not be limited to “spiritual”  or religious material. Some examples are inspiring biographies, self-improvement books, poetry, historical accounts, or uplifting short stories. Feed your mind and spirit daily.

6. I’ve been trying to write in my digital journal each day, whether it be one sentence or a longer entry. I used to only journal when I felt like I had something “significant” to write about, but that didn’t capture my everyday experiences, which more accurately represent my real life. Other times I would write for what I thought were therapeutic reasons, to deal with problems I was ruminating about, but writing about it always magnified the problems and was the opposite of helpful. That’s because what you focus on expands. Now I’m choosing to focus primarily on gratitude by writing about wonderful things that happen in my life or things I notice around me, no matter how small, whether it’s the joy of watching my children splash in puddles or being awe-struck by an elaborate spider web (without getting any of it on me, of course!). It pre-programs my mind to notice future lovely and joyful things, and writing about them allows me to re-experience those good feelings a second time. I also love writing more extensive entries sometimes, which allows my mind to make further connections and discovering insights I never would have had if I hadn’t begun to write.

And that’s what I’m striving for each morning, even though I hardly ever do each and every one of these things as perfectly or consistently as I’d like to. I would love to add a couple more items to my a.m. routine, as well as design an evening routine, so I’m going to experiment with some different things and figure out which investments of my time create the largest payoff in my personal effectiveness and joy.

I hope that you will put some thought into your own morning routine. It’s so important. Don’t just take my word for it. I plan to write a post in the near future listing the things highly-successful people do to start out their days, which you can then pick and choose from to design the routine that’s best for you. I’d love some feedback, though, before I write that post. Those of you who already use a routine, even if it’s just one thing you do consistently each morning, what habits do you recommend? Have you found success with any of the six I mentioned, or something completely different? And for what reasons has this been meaningful or helpful in your day-to-day life?

The Mirage of Multi-tasking

I used to pride myself on my ability to multitask. [I’m awesome! Look at me cooking dinner while listening to an inspirational speech on my iPhone while making sure my kids play nice together while asking my husband about his day. I am amazing! Watch me scroll through Facebook, alternating with checking my email and blog feed and managing the budget and paying bills, while having a conversation with my daughter, while dandling my toddler on my knee!] It was almost a game to see just how many balls I could juggle at the same time, so to speak.

Until I would inevitably drop one or two of the balls. Turns out, all this juggling was not merely a waste of time and effort; it was actually damaging to my mind and not conducive to building family relationships. Although I was doing a lot of things, I wasn’t doing any of them very effectively or passionately. Some of it I shouldn’t have even been doing at all, at least, not at that particular time or spending that long doing it.

Looking back over some of the years of my life, it’s hard to identify many truly meaningful and important things that I’ve accomplished in all that time. (Besides being an awesome mom to my awesome kids, of course!) And yet, each and every day, I really did feel busy from sunup to sundown. I blame multi-tasking for stealing away my time and so many opportunities to build and to create.

Now that I’m aware of the false productiveness of multitasking, I’ve been working on reprogramming my brain, but old habits die harder than damsel fish in a salt-water aquarium. At least I no longer pride myself on it. After all, change always starts with awareness and an altered attitude. One thing that has helped me is to add structure to my day through rules for myself: only check Facebook and email once in the morning and once in the afternoon, for example. Meditating, reading inspirational literature, and journaling in the mornings before my kids wake up. Exercising at the same time every day. I’m still working toward these goals, and it’s all about progress, not perfection. When I have structure in place, I’m less likely to unconsciously fritter my time away on trivial things.

I label multitasking as a “mirage” for a reason. A mirage is something that seems real, but is actually just an illusion. I’m sure we’re all aware that we can’t actually think more than one conscious thought in any particular instant. We can, however, alternate among different thoughts in a very rapid succession. And the greater the number of different things we’re trying to do or think or say in a certain period of time, the more frequently our brain needs to switch back and forth. Every time our brain switches, it costs us a minuscule bit of time and energy, but these little bits can accumulate rather quickly. So while it seems like we may be accomplishing a lot because we feel so busy, the reality is … we’re inefficient.

If you’re a multitasking junkie, stop it! It’s not healthy for your brain! In fact, it actually causes damage and stress. Our brains are amazing and are capable of this kind of rapidity when it’s necessary, but not all the time. Our minds work their best when they are given the opportunity to really focus on just one thing at a time, for an extended time. That’s when you can really get into the “flow state” and are your most productive. It’s an amazing feeling where you’re so focused on what you’re doing that your brain sort of takes over and you perform at a high level almost effortlessly. How many times in the past week have you gotten into a state of flow? If not very often, you’re selling your brain short.

If you’re like me, these times of mental clarity and focus are few and far between. But I’m changing that. Empowerment tools like declarations and my vision board are teaching me to focus on positive things with intensity. And I’ve recently begun a practice of meditation, just for a few minutes each day. Meditation is very healing for your mind because you focus your attention inward, and on just one thing, usually your breathing. It gives your mind a break from all the stress-and-anxiety-producing demands we place on it every day. (Check back for future blog posts about the benefits of meditation and empowerment tools.)

You may ask, “Well, doesn’t your brain get enough of a break when you’re asleep?” It’s not simply about a brain break, but training yourself to focus. Sleep is important for your brain, but it also needs time to repair itself and form connections when you are completely conscious. When the “director” in your mind takes a back seat and you’re not putting it to work on various tasks or distracting it with triviality, the different areas of your brain synthesize and form connections, and the damage done by rapid switching back and forth can heal. The expansive feeling of the different parts of your brain working together without your intervention is an amazing experience.

I wanted to add something for all you other moms. I’m there, I get it. Children, especially young ones, redirect your attention constantly, even when they’re supposed to be asleep! If you didn’t multi-task sometimes, you’d never get anything done that your heart leads you to do. But it is possible, and indeed necessary, to find moments of stillness and focus. For me, it’s early in the morning. I’ve always been a night owl, so this has been a sacrifice, but pays off big time. And one more thing about flow: Have you ever experienced being in the “flow state” while playing with your children? For me, it’s very rare, but when it happens, it’s magical.

Readers, I want to hear from you.

  • Are any of you recovering multi-taskers? If so, how are you breaking the habit?
  • Is it different for men and women?
  • Do any of you thrive on multi-tasking? If so, what makes it work for you?

Shout it out! This topic really interests me. I’d love to hear your point of view.