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Starting

I’m still not ready, but I’m starting.

I have thought about starting this blog for awhile, but I haven’t made it past the start up page.  I’ve been writing, but haven’t felt ready.  I have wanted to share my experiences, my thoughts, my insights on being a woman and a mother.  I became a mother first, and am just discovering myself as a woman outside of that.

I’m still not ready, but I am starting.  Because if I don’t, I will continue to delay until it is never launched.  The blog post that I will share next is timely, and wouldn’t have held as much resonance as it might today.  So, it forced my hand.  And maybe this isn’t the right way to begin, without having read all of the vast internet advice and how-to on starting a blog, without truly understanding how to manage a blog, without really having thought this all through.  But today felt right.  So, here we go.

 

Slicing Toast

toast, bread,

Most of us cut toast without thinking about it. Whether it’s in twos or fours, squares or triangles, we each have a set way that we slice toast, an automatic response to a task built in our neural pathways, created the first time we observed someone cutting toast and strengthened each time we prepared our own.

Why do we slice toast this way?

What if we actively tried slicing our toast another way?

So much of what we do is simply performing rote tasks, and we don’t take the time to stop and question them.

Isn’t it worth thinking about why we do the things we do, and if they are the most efficient, productive use of our time and energy? Do the things that we do out of habit even align with our own personal beliefs, our goals, our end game?

The start to my days used to consist of hitting snooze. More than once. Coming home and starting dinner preparations included an automatic pop of a wine bottle or beer tab, because I “deserved” it after getting through the day and “needed” it to get through the evening. Putting the last kid to bed led straight to sitting on the couch, clicking power on the TV remote, and consuming mindless content for hours. And then, that routine simply automated cyclically, day after day, with no real intention.

It became routine simply by not trying to do something different.

Put that way, it seems a little silly, doesn’t it?

Start with slicing toast. Apply this introspection across every one of your seemingly mindless, habitual tasks. But, a piece of advice: start one by one, or you’ll get overwhelmed quickly. Work through one habit for a period of time and then start on another.

A trick that has worked and continues to work for me is to keep track of the days that I am successful at not following through with an old habit or creating a new habit. I do this for three months; each month I try to improve on the percentage of success over the last. I prefer to see this progress visually, so I print out a simple tracker made in Excel and fill in successful boxes in black and unsuccessful boxes in red each day. The act of referring to this sheet daily keeps me mindful.

By the end of the three months, I usually have a good success rate, and a habit formed. Then, I will start a new tracking sheet for the next three months, and add another habit, while still tracking the last until it is a three-month streak of success. That is when something that I want to do, or hope to do, or something that I wish to stop, moves from intention to habit to simply something that I do – or don’t do – almost without thinking about it.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.

And it’s not about slicing toast.

 

Disparate Paths

Our journeys are never the same.

There may be similarities; for instance, we’re all carrying extra weight. We all have some things to shed. A portion of your weight might look familiar to me; we may meet at a juncture and connect over the shared burden.

But, I do not know what came before that point for you, and vice versa. You may be in the very beginning, the middle or nearing the end of this particular climb.

We may continue on the same path together for a while, or we may choose alternate routes. We could also travel along the same path, but at different paces.

I might not see your path; you might not choose to travel mine. If you did, you might see something along that very same course that I didn’t.

We often make the mistake of following someone else’s path to get a similar result.

Take what you want, and leave the rest. Some things are just not necessary tools for your journey.

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Change

Intentional internal change is not like a lightning bolt or an explosion.

External change, the kind that can alter our lives in an instant, can happen like that, loud and fast. However, when we are trying to create change within ourselves, it is rarely sudden, and is more like a long, slow build. It never really reaches any sort of peak; more accurately, it becomes.

I wanted to type “it simply becomes” there, but it is anything but simple.

Internal change comes from consistency. It comes from developing a pattern of listening to, nourishing and respecting ourselves, our minds and our bodies. It comes from seeking out, encouraging, feeding and creating the right kind of energy, from being aware of our consumption at every level. It comes from changing our inner dialogue; unlearning the patterns created from our past and external influences, and learning how to hold an internal conversation that builds ourselves up rather than allowing the inner critic to step in and tear us down.

Consistency is not an overnight action. It is methodical and practiced. It is based in habits. It usually includes a few starts and stops. It requires patience, perhaps most especially with ourselves, because the little ways in which we stretch ourselves can feel really big and uncomfortable.

change, neon, light, sign, quote, word, consistency, habit

And then, something happens.

It happens quietly. You work towards a thing slowly. You practice. You fumble and start again. However, after some time, you suddenly realize you’re not just working towards that thing, you are a person who does that thing. It may still require effort, but rather than negotiating with yourself, weighing your options, or much internal debate, you now just do the thing.

You can know what you want to change, but without a foundation of what might seem like trivial details, changes made with little to no support can be quick-lived and unsustainable.

If you are looking for true change, identify and work on those small things you can commit to consistently; when building a new default by design, there will be trial and error. If you fail, simply start again. There are times where difficulty and challenge can be an indication that perhaps that particular practice or habit simply wasn’t meant for you. But, if you feel a pull in that direction, it may just mean you need to give yourself a bit of grace and try again.

Small changes really do lead to the big ones; how you do the little things is how you will do the big things.

 

The Battlefield

My middle child, now eleven, screamed for the first four months of her life. Unless she was in a swing. That swing saved my life, and probably several lives of those in my general proximity during those months. But at night, when she would scream through those dark, dark hours, not once did I believe that I was earning any sort of badge that would hold any weight or merit.

I did not wear my sleep deprivation as a symbol of honor, nor did I believe I had achieved anything worthy of any value when I was through that particular season.

There is nothing particularly honorable or boastful about the lack of something so vital.

This, however, is what we are fed as the ideal. We must give up everything for our children: sleep, hygiene, time, energy, goals, dreams, careers. There is this prevalent, prevailing ideal that a “good” mother is one who can walk through the hard seasons like she is earning trophies and still come out perfectly coiffed and sane, with no vestige of personal aspirations outside of those she has for her children.

Stop the madness.

Our struggles and our challenges in our darkest moments are not merit-worthy.

This is how we set ourselves and every other woman up for failure, aspiring to obtain or assigning badges to imaginary sashes or vests like we’re still Girl Scouts.

We’re all in the trenches, and rather than sashes, we need shields because some of these seasons that we walk through leave wounds that aren’t pretty. No badge will ever speak as loudly or as truthfully as the scars – especially the invisible ones – left behind.

After you have walked through a hard season, however, do not forget to drop your shield. Once you’ve taken the time to nurse your wounds, share the story of your scars.

“Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.” – Morgan Harper Nichols

shield, wall, wounds, scars, war, badge, honor, motherhood, seasons, armor

Permission Slips

I ask for permission more times than any thirty-five year old mother of three children should.

I look for an okay on a whole host of decisions, from my family to a myriad of strangers; my parents, my husband, my kids, my boss, my co-workers, my friends; hell, even the staff member who runs the Fitting Rooms at TJMaxx.

I seek validation; I am afraid of judgement and criticism; I want to please everyone. I have guilt and shame around pursuing my own objectives when I already have a demanding career, children to nourish, encourage and raise, a husband to be present for, and a house to maintain. I feel incompetent when I can’t do it all, so why add something else to the list?

When you allow others’ thoughts or actions or opinions to formulate how you make decisions, you lose awareness of what’s important to you, what your interests are, what you value, and what makes you feel fulfilled.

You lose your sense of self.

Aha.

Asking permission shows up subtly. It’s not an outright ask; it lives at the corner of our actions. It hides in self-conscious and insecure behaviors, in making ourselves, our work and our passions small. It masquerades as asking for others’ opinions and seeking outside influence. It lulls us into procrastination. It trips us as we’re climbing the staircase of action, and holds us there, feeling like we’re still climbing but we’re simply spinning our wheels with the inaction of seeking perfection.

Seeking approval limits our possibilities, our experiences, and doing what is important to us. It also pushes us to do too much of the stuff that doesn’t serve us or fill our own cups.

My husband gets extremely exasperated when I make a decision, but then recant or second-guess that decision. I used to tell myself that I needed more data, needed to think through every possible outcome or consequence, assess all of my options. Truthfully, it’s because I never really made a decision at all. More often than not I need to talk through choices with someone, or multiple people, before I follow through because I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with my choice.

We mistakenly believe that aligning our choices and our actions with those around us will lead to a sense of assurance.

I’m starting to see it for what it really is, simply a lack of confidence. I’m more likely searching for external validation or approval than better alternatives. And I don’t want to be dictating my life and my decisions based on others’ wants, needs and opinions.

Approval only comes at the expense of knowing what we want and being true to ourselves. And that need for approval smothers our souls.

Once you’re able to identify and build what is important to you, other people’s opinions or judgements lose the weight you thought they once held. It becomes easier to walk away from things that don’t serve you or your highest interests, and replace them with things that allow personal growth, fulfillment and satisfaction.

Giver yourself permission to buy those shoes. Give yourself permission to put you, your hobbies and your goals on the calendar. Give yourself permission to build yourself into everything you can and want to become. Give yourself permission to ask for help without needing to seek approval. Give yourself permission to walk away from situations and people that drain your energy rather than revitalize it.

Who are you asking to grant you permission to be who you want to be?

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Factory Settings

speakers, music, sound, default, factory, settings, beginning, unlearning, progress

What is your default state?

For me, my default state used to be overwhelm. Frustration. Anxiety. Anger. Stress.

As strange as it might sound, I look back and realize I was comfortable there. I knew these states intimately; they were like a cozy, well-worn sweatshirt. I wrapped myself in them, and ironically felt that they protected me. I don’t know that I ever realized I could change what I believed to be my automatic responses and reactions, much less wanted to. I’m quite sure I would have told you I couldn’t change where I was at, even if I tried.

I never recognized that I could improve upon those places I automatically went to.

I believed it was simply part of who I was.

These states of being were a part of my story, something that I never thought to question. I believed they were intrinsically woven into my character, simply the way I was hardwired.

And I was damn proud of who I was.

Thankfully, I learned to ask questions. Through self-development, self-discovery and self-evaluation, and learning from a whole lot of external sources about how to focus on the internal ones, I discovered that unlearning these behaviors might actually serve me, and my family, better.

Now, I am damn proud of who I am, but even more proud of who I am becoming.

Those states of overwhelm, frustration, stress, anger and anxiety still linger around, showing up and knocking on my door from time to time; I haven’t been miraculously cured overnight. Sometimes, those deeply rooted default reactions bypass all the good intentions in a zero-to-sixty flash. I’ve noticed that this is especially true when I haven’t been focusing on myself and my needs first; when I haven’t been filling my cup before filling others.

Yet, there are times where I catch it in time, and that’s where I can see my progress. It’s taken a few years of focusing and committing to a different state of being to move myself beyond these mindsets. It’s a daily practice that I still fail amazingly well at. However, in those moments where I do manage to catch it, I glimpse what is possible and that gives me the fuel to keep working persistently toward new default states, creating my own factory settings.

Target Practice

Welcome to 2019.

Is it just me, or is it already louder this year? While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s great to see motivation and energy around positive changes, I recognize that you might be feeling a bit inundated with messages, workshops, blogs, stories and memes about goal setting, planning, preparing.

Perhaps you’ve shut down and aren’t accepting any new information and that is OK. Sometimes, it can all be too much, and knowing when to step away is valuable. If you’re feeling that way, maybe bookmark this and return when you want.

If you’re not feeling overwhelmed with the messages about preparing and going into 2019, I pre-planned this content, and stayed the course on sending it out because I believe there is value for someone here, so I hope you take something away from it.

It involves getting quiet, so maybe if you’re one of those that is feeling a bit deafened by it all, reading on might help. No hard feelings if not.

Anyhow, considering this is the first day of the New Year, I wanted to give you a look into how I have cultivated my approach to being more intentional with my time and my goals. The tools that I have laid out below helped me move from a stuck, overwhelmed, developmentally sedentary and discontent life into feeling more fulfilled, intentional, successful and mindful of seeking growth.

The YearCompass

If you’ve followed me for awhile, or perhaps since the beginning, you know what an impact the YearCompass has had on me. In 2016 I discovered this free printable workbook and I have utilized it every year since.

The workbook is divided into two parts; the first twelve or so pages help you reflect back on the previous year through questions and bullet point lists. The last eight pages ask questions about the year ahead. It allows you to envision what you want out of the next 365 days.

It involves a few hours of reflection, to look back, and then a few hours to visualize and look ahead. I have broken this up over the course of several weeks in the past, considering that a day to sit with yourself is a rarity for me and I assume for most of you. Actually, to be completely transparent with you, the first year it took me a few months to get through the workbook. However, completing it at any rate was valuable, and a catalyst that helped me propel myself forward. I was grateful that I stuck through it.

I have shared my completed YearCompass pages with my small Accountability group, which has been powerful. I reflect on it over and over throughout the year. Which leads me to the next tool in my arsenal.

The Planner

There is an overwhelming amount of every different type of planner one could imagine out in the world, and everyone has their recommended favorite; each of us uses a planner a little differently. In the past I have struggled to find one that I can commit to using throughout the course of an entire year, however one in particular worked really well for me in 2018 and I purchased a 2019 version as soon as it was released. The Ink+Volt company has a number of pretty, wonderful things, but their Planner Series is among my favorite (I think this is where I need to mention that this is not in any way a paid or sponsored post, I just really, really like this company and its products).

The Limited Edition Series comes in a few really fun colors. This will be ironic to those who know my penchant for “color”. My 2018 Planner was gray; a shock, I know. There will be one person in particular who will be happy to know I chose the lovely Spruce option this year. Wild.

Aside from it being aesthetically pleasing, this particular planner charts the months and weeks in a logical flow and in such a way that reminds me to reflect back on my weekly, monthly and yearly goals. For me, keeping the important things top of mind is a practice that I am still not very good at, so having the prompt to review, and then break down my goals into actionable steps into a month or week to incorporate into my weekly schedule is extremely beneficial and resource-conserving.

Ink+Volt also sends free worksheets, updates their social with great content, examples of real people using their planners and how-tos, sends motivating thoughts via email and does an overall awesome job at keeping me aware of the things that are important. I appreciate the extension of their product and company in these ways that makes the planner even more useful.

I know of five women who have and love their Ink+Volt planner as much as I do; three are also repeat purchasers (and it is no small coincidence that it is also the women in my Accountability group who have completed the YearCompass with me) and the two others found this planner in time to purchase for 2019.

Resources

Of anything this year, focusing on consuming books and podcasts helped encourage new ideas and thought processes. My Amazon cart and library card have been well used. I set a goal at the beginning of 2018 to read one non-fiction book a month, and while I don’t know that the timeline fell quite so neatly, I succeeded in reading twelve of those books this year.

The shift in my commute once we moved provided ample time and space for podcasts, and I have listened to hours of insightful, inspiring, intelligent and sometimes just humorous interviews.

Gratitude

I’ve written an entire post about my gratitude practice, so I won’t go into detail, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention it here. It reshapes and improves my perspective every single day.

I use these things listed above as tools to create the space and time to sit and quietly connect with myself, my goals and who I want to be; to chase new ideas, expand my thinking, and retrain my habits.

They keep my intentions alive every day when, if I let it, life would have swallowed me whole.

If there is no target to aim your arrow at, there’s no sense in even picking up the bow.

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