Archive for the ‘lifestyle’ Category

5 places to start making eating changes

March 6, 2009

So you’re ready to make some changes.  You’re convinced an overall eating plan is the way to go, and that it will be created one step at a time.  You want to make some tangible goals to guide your efforts this week.  Where to start?

For some people this may be obvious, as they have a good sense of what they need to cut back on or change.  For others, it’s an overwhelming question because there are so many areas that could be changed that it is difficult to pinpoint the best place to begin.

Generally, most people are doing well in some aspects of their eating habits, but could make improvements in other areas.  It is very, very rare to find someone who has no area for improvement.  In my experience, there are five general areas where most people start to make changes, and when I performed diagnostic assessments in our first meeting, I would usually ask about all of these at some point.

If you’re not sure what area to tackle first take a look through this list.  Even if you know what you want to start with, read through this list anyways.  It will point out areas you aren’t yet focused on, and will give you ideas down the road.   Again, don’t feel pressured to make more than 1-2 changes right now.  I’ve worked with plenty of people who built up their weekly routines to hit all of these after 3 months, and they felt better doing it in a stepwise fashion because it was a gradual, controlled process.  Better to train for a marathon than to go out and run 26 miles on the very first day.  These are not listed in any particular order.

1)    Getting enough servings of fruits and vegetables.  5-A-Day, 5-9 servings, we all know we should be getting a lot, but most of us don’t get quite enough.  Don’t know what one serving looks like?  For now, don’t worry about that.  Ask yourself: do I get a piece of fruit or vegetable in with every meal?  More than one?  If you’re not then that’s a great place to start.  Generally speaking, swapping fruits or vegetables for other foods in your diet results in eating fewer calories, because the high bulk (from fiber) means that for the same space in your stomach, they pack in fewer calories.  Note this doesn’t mean to eat fruits or vegetables on top of what you normally have, it needs to be a substitution to be effective.

Possible SMART goals include:
-Get a piece of fruit or vegetable in with [pick a meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, midafternoon snack, midmorning snack, etc.], and do it [choose a frequency: daily, each day of the workweek, every other day].
-Have a salad with [pick a meal: lunch, dinner], and do it [choose a frequency: twice this week, a small salad daily, on the weekend].

If you choose a non-daily frequency, think through now which days to make your change.  Do you want to space it out, say Tuesday and Thursday?  Does it make more sense to do this on a weekday, when your schedule is more regular, or on a weekend, when your schedule may contain more free time?

2)    Not eating at regular intervals.  To keep your body’s metabolism most active it must be fed every couple of hours.  Otherwise it becomes unsure when the next meal is coming in and goes into conservation mode, burning fewer calories, storing more calories when you finally do eat.  This is the idea behind the “eat many small meals” mantra touted by nutritionists and celebrities alike.  Also, spreading meals out through the day helps reduce large spikes in blood sugar.

So what does this look like?  It might mean not eating breakfast (more on breakfast in a later post), skipping lunch, going more than 4-5 hours between meals, having a tiny breakfast and lunch and consuming most calories during dinnertime.  This can be one of the hardest areas to change because food habits start young and stay with us for years.  Still, if you are open to building in a midmorning piece of fruit or 100 calorie snack bar, or a similar midafternoon snack, the results can be dramatic.  No rumbling stomach when you get home that prompts you to overeat at dinnertime, reduced afternoon drowsiness, more energy all day long, these all can happen when blood sugar levels are evenly distributed through the day.

Just remember, the idea isn’t to add more food on to what you eat daily, but to redistribute the calories over an additional “snack” or small meal, or two.

3)    Eating too many sweets or other junk food, including soda.  This is huge.  Junk food and soda are empty calories because they provide no nutritional benefit, but take up calories anyways.  They also tend to be pretty dense in calories, so cutting out a few will have a big effect.  One soda has 150 calories.  One soda per day is 900 calories each week, which is about a pound per month, or 12-13 pounds every year.  Cutting out that one daily soda is a small change with a big impact.

Again, if you find yourself eating too many sweets or junk food, ask yourself:
What do I tend to eat?  Salty?  Sweet?  A favorite?  Anything that’s around?
When do I tend to eat these?  For breakfast?  To stave off late afternoon drowsiness?  After dinner?
Where am I at this point?  Home?  Work?  In front of the TV?
Why do I tend to eat them?  Boredom?  No time for a real meal?
How am I feeling when I eat them?  Am I stressed, tired, angry, sad, frustrated?

Even if you know exactly where your weakness lies when it comes to junk food, these questions identify additional factors that come with this eating habit.  We never act in a vacuum.  Our environment, the people around us, our life histories all impact what we eat, when we eat it and why we eat it.  If you always have a bag of chips or popcorn immediately after work and before dinner, is it because you’re starving because you didn’t eat lunch or go 6 hours between lunch and dinner?  Is it your way to unwind after a long day of work?  Do you associate popcorn with certain emotions or times of the day?  Or do you just really, really like popcorn?

Once you answer these questions it becomes easier to see what accompanying changes need to be made to support a change in this early evening popcorn habit.  Maybe a small snack on the way out the door from work to home will satisfy the munchies until dinnertime, eliminating the need for popcorn.  Maybe there are other ways you like to unwind, like a bath and a magazine, gardening, or otherwise tinkering with your hands.  If popcorn is associated with certain emotions, think about where that link comes from.  In the past, what other activities have helped when you feel those emotions, and can you incorporate one of those into your early evening routine?  And if you just really, really like popcorn, my suggestions are twofold: healthier popcorn, and smaller serving sizes.  You can buy the no butter individual –serving packages and then drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, which acts like butter but is healthier for you, and is certainly healthier than the artificial butter they use.

As you can see, some food habits require “supporting habits” or accompanying changes.  If you set a goal to stop eating popcorn after work but don’t create any supporting habits, this creates frustration and

4)    Portion control.  Even if you’re eating the right foods, if you consume too many of them, weight control will be an issue.  More tips on portion control in a later post, but possible SMART goals include limiting seconds to a couple times a week, ordering smaller portions when eating out, serving food in smaller plates or bowls,

5)    Frequently eating out or eating impromptu vending machine meals.  This generally speaks to lack of time or lack or advance planning so that we are forced to grab food from the nearest available source.  Restaurant meals and vending machine snacks are higher in fat, oil, sugar and salt than foods prepared at home.  If this is a problem area, if the goal is to cut down on the number of impromptu vending machine meals or meals eaten out during lunch or dinner, a supporting habit is advance planning around grocery shopping.  Half an hour a week of planning results in healthy meal or snack items that can be stored at work or at home.  By stocking up on healthy alternatives, there eliminates a major driving force behind the problem.

Pick one or two items off this list to try, or maybe this post sparks thoughts of other eating habits to tackle.  Set a goal for this week for yourself.  Be specific, right down to the time of day.  And let me know how it goes!

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Monthly Challenge: March

March 1, 2009

Oh March.  Your approach means that spring is on its way, though in New England, I’m told, this elusive season goes by the nickname “sprinter” and that your approach really means that daytime highs consistently rise above freezing.  Just now I saw some suspicious white fluffs drift past my window, but rather than contemplate what that holds for my noontime trek over to a friend’s place to cook some Chinese food, I will instead avoid looking out the window for the next half hour and instead focus on the computer screen in front of me.  Denial is such a warm, happy place.

February is the toughest month of the year, which means that things look up in March, sprinter or not.  Knowing February would be difficult I took every preventive measure I could think of: daily doses of inspiration, meals out with friends, a couple new crafting projects and a regularly cleaned apartment.  And still one more tactic slipped in through the back door when I wasn’t paying attention, one that has since taken over the kitchen and needs to be wrestled back out the door once more.  Junk food.

Normally I’m pretty good about junk food.  Sure, it sneaks into my diet on a regular basis, but in a reasonable way.  Since the semester started, though, I’ve been consuming alarming amounts of sugar, butter and chocolate, sometimes in various forms of junk food, sometimes, I admit, in unadultered form, like shoveling large handfuls of Ghirardelli 60% cacao dark chocolate baking chips into my mouth.  Sugar, butter and chocolate are one of those fast and easy ways to stay awake in class (and I have two of them, back to back, on Wednesday afternoons), to alleviate a bit of stress, and are that perfect distraction from the paper that should be written.  It may not be the best for you, but when you’re in a rush convenience usually trumps all else.

A large mug of hot chocolate to go with breakfast is pushing it, but reasonable.  A plateful of chocolate chip cookies – albeit homemade ones, with pumpkin puree substituted in for half the butter, and a combination of wheat flour, rolled oats and white flour instead of the usual white – right after a mind-numbingly large dinner, is not.  You know things are bad when you pour M&M mini baking bits into a bowl of vanilla yogurt and call it breakfast, just because you needed that fix of colorful candied shells crunching between your teeth.  With certain foods, it isn’t so much the taste as it is the unique sensation of how it squishes between my teeth that I find so addictive.  Edamame.  M&M’s (the peanut ones squish differently than the regular).

When I start needing the junk, it’s time to cut back.

So here’s the plan.  Rather than cutting junk food out entirely, I am going to cut down in careful, measured ways.  In fact, I am going to be more mindful of food in general this month.  I’ve been here six months already, but I have yet to establish a good food routine for myself.  Good weeks are followed by off weeks, where I grab my can of kimchee and mix it into scrambled eggs and call it dinner, until the kimchee runs out and I have to think up a new Miracle Meal.

Every day I will have an idea of what I am eating and when.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus any snacks along the way.  If it’s in the plan it’s OK, junk food and all.  If I decide to have a banana and a chocolate chip pumpkin cookie during my afternoon Biostats class (you know, the one that immediately follows my other boring afternoon class), there’s nothing wrong with that.  But if I haven’t planned ahead properly, there is no spontaneous vending machine run for the king size bag of peanut M&M’s, because, of course, in a school of public health they would only stock the king size bag.  There are other ways to stay awake in class, like stretching, jogging up and down the stairs during the break, or even writing out every last Chinese poem I can remember in the back of my notebook, something I’ve discovered can really stave off close encounters with the pesky ZZZ’s.  It’s time to let go of this crutch we call junk food.  It’s time for regular, nutritious meals.

Some days I may post up my eating plan for the day, others I’ll share tidbits of fooding knowledge I’ve picked up along the way from over a decade of healthy eating attempts, plus years of health education and health coaching experience.  It’s one thing to learn the rules of the eating game.  It’s another to figure out how those rules fit into the daily commute, a controlling boss at work, children who refuse to eat anything green, and those 3 half-eaten cartons of ice cream staring back from the freezer door.  But we’ll tackle all of that together.  March is rays of hope peering in through short, gloomy days.  And eating?  My kitchen used to be one of those places of warmth and contentment to return to at the end of a long day.  Here’s to bringing it back to that status once more.

March: A Month of Mindful Eating.

Inspiration Challenge 24: One Free Pass

February 24, 2009

Day 24 Challenge: One Free Pass

Not one free pass from participating in these inspiration challenges, but one free pass from life.  From obligations – other people’s obligations, other people’s “should”s.  It’s easy to get caught up in external benchmarks.  They’re easy to identify, come with no self-doubting strings attached, and they’re everywhere.

I also have this long list of internal “should”s.  Should get started on my next homework assignment.  Should look for alumni to make contact with.  Should bake cookies for friends to thank them for cheering me up.  The problem with a long list of shoulds, though, is that it becomes hard to differentiate the true priorities from the ones that can wait.  The everpresent list of things that “need” to get done weighs down o me, so that eventually I don’t want to do anything and sit in front of the Internet in a rebellious stupor, but a reactive stupor at that.

So instead, last night I tried something different.  I gave myself a time deadline to finish my paper due tomorrow, plopped myself in the library, and when I was done I decided, “That’s it.  No more work for the night.”  Instead, I grocery shopped.  I multitasked in the kitchen.  Improvised pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  Watched my favorite Chinese soap opera.  Did some Internet trolling to look for summer internship ideas, but with no strings attached beyond information gathering.

It felt great.  It’s going to be a busy week (then again, aren’t they all?), but sometimes it’s necessary to proactively put away the list and give ourselves one free pass, whether that is a couple hours, an afternoon, or an entire weekend to just do whatever we want.  It rejuvenates.  And oddly enough, it makes us more productive when we pick up the list again.  More importantly, it gives us enough perspective to prioritize and eliminate the unnecessary items from the list.

So take a free pass!  What will you do instead?

Ways to Keep Inspiration In Your Life

February 17, 2009

There are many ways to keep inspiration in our lives.  Daily challenges are one way, inspiration boards another.  In the spirit on inspiration, here are more ideas to spark your thoughts:

*Inspiration scrapbook or binder.  Similar to the board but a permanent landing place that keeps all your ideas in one place.  Can be multiple binders, or one with compartments for recipes, weekend activities, home decorating ideas, work projects ideas, favorite sayings, reflective exercises such as “If money were no object …”

*Inspirational quotes, photographs and images.  These can be placed anywhere: a photo of your next vacation spot next to the computer monitor at work, a picture of the your dream house tucked into the credit card compartment of your wallet, “if money was no object …” list taped to the mirror.

*Visual reminders of impending deadlines.  Some people prefer to track their daily efforts against a larger timeline to keep themselves moving forward.  In this case, weekly or monthly goals should be written up in a prominent location.  Every week I make a list of topics I want to write about.  When I’m fumbling around at 7AM trying to get the words to flow, this list is usually enough to point me in the right direction.

*Visual reminders of progress made.  A visual metaphor for progress is a powerful antidote to the voices of self-doubt, laziness, or the mental roadblocks that make it difficult to start your project each day.  Pinging is one example.  Or place a calendar next to your work spot, and every time you complete your goal – exercise for 20 minutes, write 500 words daily, clean out the attic to make room for your expanding side business – mark that day with a giant X.  As the X’s start to accumulate on the calendar, your motivation to keep going comes from two sources: to keep moving towards your goals, but also to keep up that steady stream of X’s.  Or say you’re trying to exercise regularly.  Put a dollar in a clear glass jar every time you exercise.  It’s a nice feeling as the dollars accumulate in the jar, and you can use the jar as fun money to treat yourself to something you wouldn’t otherwise do.

*Images that remind you of your ultimate goal.  This keeps the focus towards the ultimate goal and overcomes small temptations along the way that detract from the ultimate goal.  A smoker might quit to be around when her grandchildren grow up.  One way to encourage her is to put a box of mints or Altoids where she normally keeps her cigarettes, and paste a picture of her grandchildren to the front of the box.  If habit kicks in and she automatically reaches for a cigarette she’s immediately reminded of her reasons to quit, instead of growing tempted to have “just one” because the conspicuous absence causes her to fixate on smoking.

Take some time to reflect on what you find most challenging, and where you could use some inspiration.  On a day-to-day level, what do you find most difficult?  Getting started?  Keeping the rhythm?  Maybe this means putting the alarm clock across the room and taping an inspirational word or quote to the top of it.  Or it could mean setting up a small corner that is solely devoted to your project and making it as warm and inviting as possible.

Or are your efforts uneven from day to day – some days everything comes together, other days progress is slow?  What patterns do you notice about both?  What rearrangements can you make to increase the number of good days?  Maybe you work best by keeping the final product in mind.  Or maybe you are most inspired when there’s a tangible short-term product to aim for.  For example, if you’re training for a marathon you might find it most motivational to remind yourself “Four months left to train up to 26 miles!”  Or you might find it easier to think, “This week I will train up to 12 miles.”  Either way, transform these into visual reminders and keep them prominent.

Troubleshoot your problem areas.  When do you encounter the most resistance?  Be specific.  Where are you, what are you thinking, and why are you thinking those thoughts (i.e. what are the underlying emotions that create those thoughts)?  Each “W” is an opportunity to change up your routine to overcome resistance to your efforts.  For example, you’re trying to eat healthier by eliminating nighttime snacking.  What is giving you the most trouble?  Perhaps you find yourself constantly going in and out of the kitchen after dinner (where).  Is it during commercial breaks (what), because you’re bored (why), because you like to end a meal with something sweet (why)?

Snacking => kitchen => TV => need something mindless to do while watching TV

Each arrow represents a place in the chain to stop the activities that prevent you from reaching your goal.  In the link between snacking and the kitchen, you might turn off the lights, close the kitchen door, put signs on the kitchen door, refrigerator, cupboard panels.  These signs can be inspirational quotes or reminders of healthy snack alternatives.  To address the link between kitchen and TV, keep yourself occupied during commercial breaks.  Place a stack of magazines or crossword puzzles next to the couch.  To break the link between TV and the need to do something mindless while watching TV, think of various ways to keep your hands occupied.  Take up crocheting, work on a jigsaw puzzle, doodle on scratch paper.

Keep inspiration all around you.  Keep it physically close to the places you could use extra encouragement.  Think about what obstacles you’re facing when you need that extra boost.  This offers clues about the best way to use inspiration to keep you moving.

Soccer lessons

February 15, 2009

In the middle of my first semester of grad school, a little sign popped up in an out-of-the-way message board for intramural indoor soccer. We could form teams ourselves or sign up individually and get placed on someone else’s team. I hadn’t played soccer in over a decade and thought it would be fun to have regularly scheduled weekly exercise and an excuse to band together some classmates to share in sweat, pain and glory. There’s something about that combination that really brings people closer like no other. Katelyn had sent out an exploratory “anybody interested?” email to our cohort to little reply so she dropped the subject, but we agreed to put each other’s names on our individual signups and hope they’d place us on the same team. On the very last day for signups we gathered at the board to fill out our forms. One by one classmates dropped by to see what we were doing, and one by one we talked them into joining us, until, spontaneously, we had enough for a team.

The unfortunate detail I forgot to mention to everybody present was that I suck at soccer. I do. In elementary school we’d had a ragtag team – our school’s only team sport available – that won maybe one game in the entire four seasons I played for them. We had a couple parent coaches with no particular soccer experience, and did nothing but scrimmage on an open field for practice. The field sloped slightly downwards so that whoever won the coin toss and chose their side of the field generally won the scrimmage. I knew very little about dribbling, passing, strategy, where to run and when to do it. All I did know was defense, where two defenders and myself would prowl the perimeter of our territory and attempt to eject any stray balls or opposing players that ventured into our territory.

Enter indoor soccer. A dozen years later I found myself facing the very first sport I’d ever played, the one that really should have turned me off of sports as a meaningful form of exercise but instead, it’s really the form of exercise that I enjoy most. But indoor soccer is a beast of an entirely different nature from soccer. Halve the team size and transport the game to a basketball court, where walls are “in” and so is the area behind the goal. Indoor soccer is like watching a movie on fast forward. The montage cuts out all the nonessential filler and puts the action in a small arena. There is no hiding in indoor soccer, no room for superfluity. Every person counts.

Our first game was at 6PM on a cool November evening. Some of us hadn’t played in over a decade, others had competed on high school teams and such. The referee blew his whistle, and the blur of bodies and ball began. I discovered within seconds that when there’s only five of you on court there’s just not a lot of room to hide. Two people on offense versus three is a 50% increase; it means the difference between one person to pass to or two. And when there are only four people on each side, well, there is a large difference between stranding your teammate in an offensive strike and running up to help out, if only to spread out the defense.

Even if their professed skill level was roughly equivalent to mine, they threw themselves in without abandon – chasing the ball, running back and forth between goals, dribbling, taking aim, giving it a shot. They put themselves out there, experienced or not, and as their reward, they were actually part of the team: laughing, high fiving one another, whereas I, I was still timid, still shy, wanting to be a part of it but not quit sure how to venture in, unwilling to take the plunge on the off chance that I might fail quite gracelessly by dint of trying.

There’s nothing like a rousing game of sports to throw you back to your most primitive state of being. At my very core and youngest version of myself, I am shy, timid, risk-averse and conservative, unsure of myself and unable to put myself out there, and how that all came out in that first game. I froze at the thought of venturing up to offense, a place where I have no skills, no experience, no sense of strategy or field vision, nothing to offer.

Why can’t you be like them, I’d whisper to myself. Just get out there and try. Surprise yourself. It’s the only way to improve. You would have so much more fun, they would have so much more fun.

To make a clean breast of it, for several months now I’ve been meaning to work on this fear of failure that stymies any attempts towards even trying. Sometimes you can hide behind the excuse of exhausting work schedules and over commitment that prevent you from really tackling what you want to do, but out on the court pretense is stripped down in a matter of seconds, and stares you in the face for one long, painful hour.

I’ve grown up in many ways from that shy, timid version of my most primitive being, but in this one area I still haven’t made nearly as much progress as I’d like. More than anything, that is what this year is about: putting myself out there, learning to embrace failure, even seeking it out to force failure upon myself in order to become a better person.

Inspiration Boards

February 8, 2009

Inspiration sparks new ideas and keeps us going through tough times.  Any endeavor that is challenging – weight loss, a job search, a creative endeavor – benefits from constant inspiration to spark new ideas or encourage us to work through the task at hand.  Daily inspiration challenges are one way to generate constant inspiration.  Visual inspiration reminders is another way, particularly if they are integrated into the spaces in our life where we are most likely to need inspiration to keep us going.  The still life I created is one example of this.

Another format I really like is an inspiration board.  A simple board hung on the wall, it is fast and convenient way to create a display of inspirational objects and ideas.  Pushpin boards are cheap and make it easy to add in new items, but be creative!  I’ve seen metal wires with slips of paper attached by clothespins, or a narrow shelf above a desk lined with a few well-chosen objects.  The idea is to keep inspiration visible and keep it close.

What goes on the board is completely up to you.  A dream vacation spot, quotes or phrases, a list of restaurants to try, that couch you’re saving up for, a striking color combination to work into a new design.  Change it up.  Keep it fresh.  Most of all, keep looking for inspiration.

Inspiration Challenge 8: If money was no object …

Take out a piece of paper.  Across the top, write the phrase “If money was no object …”  Now complete that phrase in the phrase below.  What would you do, where would you go?  Would your days be different from how they are now?  How?  How would you really spend your time if you didn’t have to work for a living?

Inspiration Challenge 6: Create a Still Life

February 7, 2009

Little still lifes are the display of a couple items in the home environment.  They may become permanent display or change with the seasons.  Carefully grouped, they create oases of stillness in the hectic pace of life, a visual reminder to slow down and savor the moment and the small gifts each day brings.  I had to clear some space to create this one, so it is also a reminder to myself to simplify, to eliminate clutter both physical and otherwise.

2009-02-05

I chose seemingly mundane objects with inspiring meanings.  The still life is a constant visual reminder of inspiration and dreams.  A scarf hand knit by my grandmother reminds me of the support and encouragement of family back home.  A card from the brilliant Wee Wonderfuls reminds me to celebrate and develop my quirky side, to keep creating, making, celebrating.  The potpourri, a gift from the program manager I worked with during our January conference.  It reminds me of the lessons I learned there, and ultimately why I chose this graduate program.  Finally, a gift from a friend almost 2.5 years ago reminds me of the kindness and generosity of my friends, that I must listen better, give more fully to others.

Day 7 Challenge: Attack your fears with a bogart spell.

Inspiration Challenge 5: Collect Your Compliments

February 5, 2009

Compliments are strengths others see in you.  In fact, they’re strengths others go out of their way to point out to you.  We all possess strengths.  A compliment is encouragement to continue utilizing and developing that strength.  So collect your compliments.  Now examine them as a body.  What patterns emerge?  Do individual or sets of compliments highlight new areas to explore or ways of tackling current obstacles you face?

Keep your compliments visible.  Keep a copy next to your bed, taped to the mirror, in the notebook where you’re learning to watercolor.

Day 6 Chalenge: Create a soothing still life in a corner of your home.

Why “Inspiration”

February 2, 2009

Last month I wrote at length bout clearing away the cobwebs in the brain caused by excessive shopping.  I needed a detox from materialism, to stop myself from spending hours glued to online shopping sites, looking for good deals on stuff I don’t need.  There’s a whole world outside my computer just waiting to be discovered, social causes that could use an extra hand.

I now spend hours in front of the keyboard struggling with words instead, but words that capture my interpretation of the world at large.  (Don’t worry, my new internship is very much in service to a good social cause)  Writing daily is a goal I’ve struggled with for years.  Ever since I was five and decided I wanted to be a writer, I’ve been a writer who dreams of writing, who jots down story ideas to herself, random half-thoughts and vivid details captured on scratch paper and eventually lost, who feels guilt over her lack of writing but does little to act on that guilt.  This is exactly what 2009 is about: taking that first step, strengthening the ties between my interests so that they coalesce into an integrated whole, pulling the little details of life into alignment with the big picture.

February, then, is about finding inspiration to dream big.  February is also about bringing snippets of inspiration into daily life.  These snippets are little reminders to stay true to the larger dream, but they are also bits of happiness woven into the daily fabric of life.  Daily inspiration, drawn from daily life.

Daily inspiration invites new ideas, creativity, and directions for growth, because it encourages us to constantly see the world and our lives in new ways.  The unexpected challenges conventional wisdom we hold about who we are and what we are capable of.

This month’s challenge of daily inspiration is about consciously seeking inspiration.  And it uses the power of habit and reinforcement to attune my eyes and heart to all sources of inspiration in the world around us, to stay open to new ideas and new ways of seeing the world.  I will write out 28 distinct inspiration-themed activities on separate slips of paper and draw one each morning.  I will post the theme of the day to this blog, and report back on progress throughout the month.  Some days won’t be easy, I know this now, but part of living an inspired life means following inspiration out of our comfort zone.  Besides, some of the best stories come from testing unchartered waters.

Day 1 challenge: Create a clear workspace.
Day 2 challenge: When strangers meet.

jar with slips of paper

January post-mortem

January 31, 2009

So how am I feeling at the end of month one?  Pretty good, to be honest.  It wasn’t nearly as hard to buy nothing new as I expected.  Granted, I did have that one slip up due to a combination of unusual circumstances, not planning ahead well enough, and general unwillingness to put myself through the torturous experience of shopping for pants.  But I didn’t feel constrained this month, as though trapped in some bubble world where I could watch the rest of society move about normally in realms I could not access.

Did I miss shopping?  I cannot lie, occasionally I thought of all the money I could save on stuff I don’t even need.  But life has been very full this month.  Instead of dumping hours into online sites or wading through stores I cooked.  Read.  Wrote.  Caught up with friends.  Began jogging again.  Sent some letters, actual handwritten notes on stationery I’ve had since middle school.  Found an internship opportunity.  Started a collaborative photography project with friends.

I like this version of my life.  It’s closer to the lifestyle I’d like to lead.  It’s also more balanced.  Towards the end of last semester I grew increasingly dependent on shopping and sewing to balance the stress of school.  Remove shopping from the equation, and other hobbies flourish.  Without the material distractions that create an external definition of self, I’ve been able to focus on internal recalibration.  This is not a radical departure from the Jessica of 2008 but rather a distillation process.  Remove the dead wood to let half-hidden gems shine through.  2009 is about chipping away at the soil around those half-hidden gems, buffing them, learning to work them seamlessly into daily life.

A balanced approach to life means spreading the self-worth eggs into multiple baskets.  It means identifying with multiple parts of my personality.  Just as a three-legged chair is more stable than a two-legged chair, the more identities we create for ourselves the more stable our self-identity becomes.  Baker, crafter, student, friend, runner, photographer, daughter, volunteer, and yes, maybe even writer.

Balance is especially helpful in a society that places so much stock in careers to define who we are.  In my case, this means my identity defined by measures of student success (Grades!  Classes!  Collaborations with professors!), and, by extension, my post-graduation plans.  To solely define myself along these lines, particularly when I’m just acclimating to this program and have quite woolly plans at best, is to throw open the door and invite in self-doubt, anxiety, and depression with wide open arms, particularly if I kick sanity out the door as well and compare myself to my fellow students, an impressive lot to say the least.

Classes start Monday.  I’m excited.  It’s going to be a good semester.  I’m also excited for a new challenge in February.  January accomplished everything it was supposed to accomplish.  I’m ready for more.