Candlelight

I am like a candle. My role as the wick is to stand tall and shine my light to all within my corner of the world, my sphere of influence. One candle doesn’t light up an entire room—much less an entire house—but it can light other candles, and has infinite potential if it just keeps burning. These lit candles have potential to reach the whole world, like the Olympic torch. 

The candle needs a few things in order to burn:

– First of all, it needs to be lit. It can’t start on its own volition. The spark comes from somewhere outside it. Our flame can be lit from other candles—when we’re inspired by people in our lives; or straight from the lighter—when our inspiration comes from God, our higher power. We must be close enough to—intimate with—others and God to catch the flame: we cannot be on the other side of the room.

– Second, it needs a fuel source: the wax, which must be continually pooled around the wick. The wax supports the wick and allows it to stand on its own rather than falling over. My wick draws consistently on this fuel source as it burns. I need to be constantly connected with people who fuel and support me. I receive what they freely give, and then I am enabled to give my light and heat to the world. The larger the circumference of the wick, the larger the flame, but the more fuel it needs.

– Third, a candle needs oxygen. If you put a lid over a jar candle, it’ll keep burning for just a second, then flicker and die. Oxygen can’t be seen but it’s constantly surrounding our flame and we feed on it, unless we cut ourselves off—which doesn’t mean it is gone, but that we can’t access it. The oxygen is spirit, God’s power, and the energy of the universe.

– Fourth, a candle needs to be trimmed. Sometimes parts of the wick get used up and must be removed. If not, the candle can still burn, but the flame flickers a lot rather than providing a steady glow, and the flame leans sideways. Trimming our wick is removing limiting beliefs and anything else that no longer serves us. The candle must be extinguished while the wick is trimmed, but can be immediately re-lit for a better effect. We have to take the time and effort to clean ourselves up and examine how we can be more effective.

Can you think of any other ways you may be like a candle?

 

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?

Microwave Mentality

“Pay attention, please!” As a teacher and parent, I’ve said these words so many times. But I’ve come to realize that this simple request is actually asking a lot of people in our modern society. It seems that attention can only be earned, not demanded. (And I use the word “earned” here in the loosest-possible sense.)

We live in a society of “microwave mentality.” We give our attention to something for just a few minutes, or even seconds, and then we’re on to the next shiny object or squirrel that catches our eye. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve scrolled through an online feed, my eyes skimming over everything and nothing all at the same time. Or when I’ve tried to focus on a conversation in a social setting, but couldn’t keep from thinking what I’m going to say next, or who I’d rather be talking to, or what I have going on later that day or week. Or how many times I’ve read something, only to not remember a single thing about it five minutes later. These are all symptoms of the microwave mentality. (Read about the drawbacks of multitasking here.)

Why is it so hard to maintain focus on something? I think the shift has happened gradually over time, so it’s impossible to delineate just one cause. I find it interesting to think about what people were capable of one or two centuries ago. People used to memorize long poems and tracts of text routinely. It was more necessary then, because they couldn’t pull out their phones and run Google searches if they ever wanted to access certain information. If I’ve learned anything from Jane Austen, it’s that people used to have long conversations where they really discussed topics in-depth, using an extensive vocabulary. In church, they could sit through not only meetings that were hours long, but an address by the same speaker, that was two or three hours! I can’t even imagine an audience of today being able to summon that degree of focus. At the present time, addresses in church usually range from ten to twenty minutes. And that’s too bad, because the speaker can’t fully delve into and expound upon a topic in that limited amount of time.

And now we have our modern technology-overridden society. Here’s some crazy stats. In 2013, the average person’s attention span was eight seconds. In 2000 it had been 12 seconds! (statisticbrain.com) Another source (BrandonGaille.com) is even more bleak, stating that the average attention span (in 2008) was only five seconds. That’s a decrease of more than 50% in only 15 years or so! If this rate of decline keeps up–scary. Here’s more from these sites:

  • The average office worker checks their email inbox 30 (thirty!) times an hour (and that’s average)!
  • Average length of time watching a single internet video: 2.7 minutes
  • 17% of web page views last less than 4 seconds
  • Only 4% of web page views last more than 10 minutes
  • 9.5% of children are diagnosed with ADHD
  • 25% of people forget names of or major details about close friends and relatives

I can think of one blessing from this lowering of attention span: Infomercials are now a thing of the past! But how does this collective loss of prolonged focus hurt us as a society? For one, it’s becoming more crucial that things appear important, rather than really be important. Anything that has dazzle and fanfare will initially catch people’s interest, while things that really do have substance and value will never even be noticed, much less tried. Thus, most of the effort goes into the outside appearance of things and people. This is why so much superficiality exists in our culture. All that is not gold sure seems to glitter more than the real stuff.

It goes without saying that productivity is also hampered by this. After all, how much can an office worker accomplish when checking his or her email every 90 seconds?!? Every time you switch between tasks, it costs your brain time and energy. According to Psychology Today:

Each task switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity. Task switching involves several parts of your brain: Brain scans during task switching show activity in four major areas: the pre-frontal cortex is involved in shifting and focusing your attention, and selecting which task to do when. The posterior parietal lobe activates rules for each task you switch to, the anterior cingulate gyrus monitors errors, and the pre-motor cortex is preparing for you to move in some way.

I believe that the microwave mentality is also hurting marriages and other important relationships. People have been trained to see novelty as the primary motivating force in their lives. Novelty isn’t a bad thing in itself, but is detrimental when it becomes sought after in every aspect of life, interminably. As we mature, novelty is usually eventually traded in for more permanent virtues, security for one (which may seem boring when compared to novelty, but is much more satisfying and meaningful). The relationships that bring us the most joy and ultimate satisfaction are those that are truly committed and have stood the test of time. People who are continually drawn to seek new relationships while neglecting preceding ones will never understand the deep sense of trust and security that comes from remaining committed to an endeared spouse for life. While they may seem happy, this kind of pleasure is fleeting and by its very nature will ultimately bring dissatisfaction, loneliness and misery. In an attempt to distract themselves from these feelings, they only seek for more thrills and novelty, parading it before everyone else in order to receive external validation for their choices. (Now, I understand that everyone’s situation is different, and some people haven’t necessarily chosen certain aspects of their lives. My only point is that when novelty is sought after above all else, nothing but superficiality can ultimately come of it.)

So what can be done about this? Is there hope? The answer is always a resounding, “Yes!” Your brain may have been unintentionally programmed one way, but it can be intentionally reprogrammed, if you want it enough to do the work. Meditation is a great tool to practice. When you focus inward, your mind forms and reinforces new connections that improve the way you turn your focus outward. Vision boards are another great tool, teaching you to focus intently on what you want so that your brain can make it happen for you. Subscribe to this blog if you don’t want to miss upcoming posts on how to put these wonderful tools to work in your life.

Kudos to the few of you who made it to the end of this post! How long did it take to read this? Five minutes or so, less if skimming quickly? Give yourself a pat on the back for your ability to focus!

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.