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.

 

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.

 

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.

bow, arrow, target, goal, planning, sky, water, archer

 

 

Getting Called to the Mat

When you find your voice, you’ll have to decide to use it.

When you find your voice, and you decide to use it, you’ll inevitably find others who have something different to say.

When you find your voice, and you decide to use it, others who have something different to say will challenge and criticize you.

When you find your voice, and you decide to use it, others who have something different to say will challenge and criticize you, and you’ll have to defend it.

And it likely won’t do anything to change their minds.

But…

When you find your voice, and you decide to use it, you’ll find others who share your thoughts or are inspired by them.

When you find your voice and you decide to use it, you’ll find others who share your thoughts or are inspired by them, and you will support these people.

When you find your voice and you decide to use it, you’ll find others who share your thoughts or are inspired by them, you’ll support these people, and they’ll support you.

When you find your voice and you decide to use it, you’ll find others who share your thoughts or are inspired by them, you’ll support these people, they’ll support you, and those who haven’t yet found their voices might just find the courage to build theirs.

Your voice is your passion; it comes through in many different forms. It will work for you in different ways, if you let it. It will challenge you. It will challenge your perceptions and your views. As you grow into it, it will strengthen you. Things will grow from it.

Growth comes from challenge. Power comes from growth.

When you’re called to the mat, you have three choices: step forward, stand still, or step back. There will always be critics in the ring. You have to choose who your voice matters more to; those who are simply loud for the sake of being loud, those who are there, saying nothing at all but listening, and those who raise their voices with you.

wresting, ring, mat, knockout, man, match

Passing Go

monopoly, passing go, playing, board game

Two months ago, I jumped into a fitness challenge. I joined a gym with a three-month commitment. I signed up with a team, forcing my hand in accountability.

I have never belonged to a gym; my experience has been, at best, an intermittent affair with the gym at work. I have never taken fitness classes. I have never lifted weights with any real intention or direction. I have never shared space with people who push themselves so physically.

Up until about two weeks ago, I was the only person, and in some cases the youngest person, in my classes using pastel dumbbells; the 2, 3 and 4 pound weights. Week after week, in a series of movements, there were my two pastel dumbbells in a sea of black dumbbells in the mirror reflecting back at the class.

To say I have pushed myself out of my physical comfort zone would be an understatement. Not only was I in a new environment, I was carrying around the symbol of a beginner, and – in my head – the symbol of someone who is weak. There were moments where my internal critic’s shouts echoed off the walls of my own head, mocking me, trying to make me uncomfortable. That’s her job after all.

Without that discomfort, though, there wouldn’t be any growth. Without pushing past that unease, there would be no success, no fulfillment, no satisfaction of accomplishment. And that critic, the one telling me that I was weak, that everyone was judging me with those pastel dumbbells as not working as hard or pushing myself enough?

She was full of shit.

The truth is, no one gave a second thought to me and my pastel dumbbells.

There aren’t any pastel dumbbells in the mirror that belong to me now, but I will be the first to encourage and applaud the woman who walks into the next class and picks them up. That is, if I even notice her; what I have realized is that the serious ones, the ones who are working the hardest, are wrapped up in their workout and focusing on one thing: themselves.

Everyone who is inspiring you to grow started somewhere, were beginners at some point. It takes courage, self-worth, self-value, and passion. It takes believing that the journey is better than any momentary discomfort. It takes grit. It takes keeping your focus and your energy in your own lane.

And it takes being able to step out of your own comfort zone and tell your inner critic to take a muzzled seat.

I launched this blog after thinking about it for months. I consumed a variety of opinions on what a blog should look like, how a blog should be managed and found that there were already plenty of people talking about the things that I wanted to talk about. I could have worked myself right into inaction. This blog isn’t perfect, there are people out there doing it better than I am, and I’m happy with that because if I had waited until it was perfect I wouldn’t be in this space at all. I’m here and being in a space where people are doing it better than I am both pushes me harder and assures me that I have room to grow.

If my value in this space was wrapped up in other people’s validation or approval of it, I’d be doing it for all the wrong reasons. I’m here for me. I’m here for the women who have reached out to let me know that my words have had an impact on them.

Without starting, you’re only guaranteed one thing: you’re not going anywhere. Your internal critic doesn’t want you to pass go; she is extremely comfortable and content with where you are. She wants you to think that it’s everyone else that you have to prove yourself to. She’s banking on your not being able to overcome the discomfort of judgement.

One of the most fulfilling actions you can take is the first step in proving that she’s wrong.

Direction

Compass, wood, direction, path

There are times when I feel a bit lost in the pursuit of growth. The more podcasts, articles and books I consume, the more ideas I am given.

Note that I did not say, “the more ideas I have.” There is a difference.

There are times when the waters that seemed so clear become muddied.

Seeking inspiration, knowledge or education is not in any way a bad thing, but without a solid foundation you can lose your voice when you’re relying too heavily on external direction. By listening to every message, trying to apply what works for each person that inspires you, and following the path that this woman took or that man followed can lead you to a junction at the intersection of lost and confused.

To help mitigate the noise, I have been journaling more lately; sometimes I write around a certain topic or idea, and sometimes it is more a capture of a stream of thoughts. One of the more clarifying topics I’ve been focusing on is who I want to be in five years, when I turn 40. Envisioning that woman – who she is, what she values – holds power and importance to me. It has helped to identify the goals I want to pursue and how I want to pursue them.

A step in the journaling process that has helped me define the woman that I am becoming is in defining my core values.

In order to know what you want to chase, you have to know what is important to you; you have to have a good handle on what you value.

You might think, “Well, that’s easy, I know what’s important to me.”

But do you, really?

If you don’t know your values, you are more apt to vacillate between options, to become torn between decisions. You’re more apt to make decisions that don’t align with the direction of your growth.

For example: You’re invited to go out Saturday night with a group of friends. You know that you want to get up early and have a productive Sunday. The arranged time to meet is later than you’d like. You know the invitation comes from a good place, and you’d actually like to get together with the group.

If you don’t have your personal principles in place, you’re more likely to fold.

And then, when Sunday morning rolls around, you sleep in. You crawl out of bed with a headache. You got in much later than you would have liked to, you had one or two more drinks than you would have normally, and as a result you have zero ambition.

Worse yet, the guilt creeps in. You start beating yourself up for being weak, having no resolve, not being as productive as you could have been. The inner critic starts chirping.

Having solid values established allows you to gauge your response to any situation to align with what you ultimately believe is most important. Making time for your friends can be important; building community and connection could be a core value you honor. Does it, however, come before a promise or commitment you have made to yourself? That depends on your hierarchy of values.

For instance, in the example above, weighing your decision against your core values would have better aligned your response to the invitation. If your higher core value is connection, community and friendship, you wouldn’t necessarily have felt so guilty the next morning. Or, you might have recognized that, while there is importance in those values, committing to yourself is of utmost importance; you might have suggested an alternate time or plan. You might have agreed to go out, but not been swayed from leaving early or having only one drink. Or, you might simply have said no.

I have a friend who does this admiringly well; she communicates her values, and those closest to her respect this. Those that don’t she has had to learn to give less energy to; ultimately, they don’t have her best interests at heart.

Creating core values creates a hierarchy of decision-making and refining tools, and depending on what your core values are, every decision you make is either working towards or against who you want to be. Basing your decision-making process on your core values allows you to create goals that resonate with who you are.

Defining your core values can be more complicated than it may seem on the surface; they may be buried under years of conditioning, of upholding the values of others, of trying to meet certain standards or fitting into a certain mold.

Distinctly defining your core values can help you focus, cut through the noise, and ultimately choose the voices that definitively align with helping you grow and be successful in your pursuits.

 

 

 

 

 

Narrowing the Focus

hallway, blurry, tunnel, vision

When I first heard the term “vision board”, I definitely did not have an instant connection with the term; bear with me if you – like I once was – are a bit of a cynic when it comes to these sorts of things.

The term vision board feels uncomfortable to use, but I’m ignoring that part of me that still identifies with cynicism and pushing forward with this post because as uncomfortable as I am, I know there is value in this tool.

What we focus on expands.

There’s plenty of research to prove it, just ask Google.

I’ve just recently completed my second vision board, which is focused on what I will be working toward for the last ninety days of 2018. It holds visual cues that speak to me. This board is my action plan. It emphasizes those areas of my goals that I want to keep in highest priority right now, and every time I look at it, I’m reminded of these goals. Each time I am distracted by outliers and peripheral topics that could pull my attention away, I can reflect on this board. Each morning, I will see this board and have these things in my consciousness.

I feel it’s important to note that neither of the times that I have built out a vision board were solo endeavors. The first was an informal gathering with close friends. This most recent was, while still relaxed, led by a life coach among a mixed group of women that I knew well, as well as women I knew peripherally. The event left me drained in all the best ways possible; doing this sort of work with a group of like-minded women leads to inspiration and self-discovery that can’t be replicated in an individual setting. While I did a bit of work on the front-end of attending, there was also work that happened in the space with those women that grew from sharing and connection.

My first board was a bit haphazard in its organization; because I am narrowing my focus specifically for this board, I laid out the images here a bit more intentionally:

  • Space for things that make me feel calm, slow me down, and make me appreciate my environments more like textures, art, cut flowers and citrus scents. Activities that enhance my daily life such as yoga, expressing myself creatively, reading, and getting a massage.
  • Gratitude and presence, and defining my goals with early morning journaling.
  • Travel.
  • Growing in my expression and passion for yoga, where I find both self-care and stillness of mind. And finally achieving the headstand I have been chasing.
  • My marriage and my relationship with my children. An exceptional marriage is an attainable goal, it is the foundation of the family pulse, and I want to create habits around quality time and communication.
  • My writing. I want to continue to inspire women, so I have added quotes and images that instill inspiration in me to do just that.

vision board, goals, progress, focus

To cover off a bit on the logistics, for those of you who might be interested in pursuing the creation of a board of your own, I picked out a linen push pin board for my project (shout out to HomeGoods), but you could use anything from poster board and glue to a cork board and pins to a wall and some tape. Photos and quotes can be found nearly anywhere, however my favorite way to develop my thoughts are to use photos. Photo stock holds its structure, and it is more aesthetically pleasing to me. I use Pinterest, Google Images and Unsplash to search out quotes or images; I simply screenshot them, upload the images to Walmart’s Photo Center and have prints within an hour. You can add any sort of embellishment or paper to dress up your board. It’s yours – make it speak to you.

Our goals and our dreams are not concrete, finite things. They can simply be ideas that we are drawn to, that speak to us louder than most. They are seeds. We choose which to water, not knowing necessarily what they might grow into, only knowing that there is something there.

You can have one or multiple boards. You could build a work board, a home project board, a goals board, a family board, a happiness board. This specific board, for me, signifies checking off the last couple of boxes for 2018, while simultaneously building for 2019. To use an analogy I heard recently, I want to start on the 20th Floor on January 1st, not in the basement. I want to come into next year knowing where my focus is, creating energy around the things I am working towards, and having habits established that support bigger and braver action.

PS If you’re local and interested in either attending or pulling together your own vision board workshop with some friends or colleagues but need someone to guide you through, True Edge Coaching can help.