3 Little Lessons that made me Happier & Healthier

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1. Lowering my Exercise Standards

I’ve always wanted to be someone that exercised regularly – what I didn’t realize was that it was actually my high standards getting in the way of an exercise practice. I knew cardio was the “best” kind of exercise, and I had decided that to be healthy I needed to do 45 minutes of intense cardio every weekday.

And guess what? I did not follow through on that exercise schedule. I had a day when I was really tired and intense cardio for 45 minutes just was too much for me to handle. So I didn’t do anything. I felt bad for skipping my exercise routine. And I dropped off after that. I stopped exercising altogether because I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job in keeping with it.

I used to think high standards would motivate me to do my best. But really, it just caused black and white thinking. Either I was doing things perfectly…or not at all. And since perfect standards were impossible…not at all was more likely to happen.

So what is my exercise standard now?

Exercise almost every day at any intensity for anywhere from a half hour to an hour.

Maybe this seems too relaxed? Too vague? My standards seem too low? Well – I have exercised more this summer than any summer I can think of.

Sometimes on a beautiful day I go on a two hour hike with my husband in the woods.

And some days it’s raining and I feel sick and I am tired and anything seems hard. A two hour hike definitely seems impossible on these days. But then I think, Could I handle a half hour of listening to one podcast on my phone while walking around inside my house? Yeah…that doesn’t seem so bad.

And as long as I do some form of exercise, I feel good about it, which causes me to stick with the routine. Sometimes the guilt of not doing something perfectly will cause us to quit that thing altogether. I have found it to be important to have realistic standards, and ones you know you can actually follow through with.

This summer I have reached my goal of exercising almost every day at any intensity from a half hour to an hour. Lowering my standards has helped me exercise MUCH more and as a result has helped me become healthier and happier.

In Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before, she talks about the importance of doing what works for you. This is what has worked for me for my own exercise habit. If there are habits you are interested in developing in your life, I definitely recommend her book!

 

2. Giving up Planning

When I say “give up planning,” of course, I don’t mean all planning, but as a chronic over-planner, I needed to learn how to allow for spontaneity.

I also thought that planning everything out, would improve experiences, but it often did the opposite. I would make a plan for a Friday evening to do a hike and picnic. I would then come home to a storm and colder temperatures. But my planning mind would hold on to the plan, No we must still follow the plan! Even if the plan didn’t make sense anymore.

Or, I would let go of the plan, but it would be really hard to do so. There would be a strong sense of disappointment that the plan wasn’t happening like I expected.

I think planning can be helpful, but I try to make my plans a little less rigid now, a little more loose and able to be changed. Sometimes I think of them as “maybe plans.” My mind naturally likes to plan things. But now I will think things like, IF the weather is nice, MAYBE we will go for a hike and picnic.

If I come home to a storm, This seems like a really nice night to stay in and read. MAYBE we’ll do a picnic and hike tomorrow.

There has to be room for changes and the unexpected. Not only because these two things are inevitable, but sometimes we miss opportunities because we are so focused on following the plan.

This applies not just to day to day planning, but life planning too.

If we plan out our life so perfectly, we might miss a beautiful opportunity that is outside of our expected plan.

Or, your dream job/spouse/life may actually look a little different than what you expected – you don’t want miss out on an amazing opportunity because of rigid and overly specific planning.

So just to be clear, I still do plan. But I have been so much happier since allowing spontaneity and unexpected changes – it is a much more enjoyable way to live!

 

3. Realizing Fun is a Responsibility

It feels a little funny writing that heading. Probably because it is so different than I used to think.

I’ve always been a pretty responsible person. When I was in school – making sure my school work was done on time. At work – making sure my paperwork is done before deadlines. At home – making sure chores were done before play.

However, I am also a person that has struggled extensively with having low moods in the past. It was only within the past couple years that I realized having fun was a responsibility I needed to have for myself.

It’s easy to write off fun. Many people would not feel comfortable saying that they make fun a priority. In fact, a few years ago, I would probably have judged someone for saying something like that.

But, fun is a priority and responsibility for me now. I am being irresponsible if I am not allowing fun into my life. Because I can be susceptible to low moods and because I can get into overly-responsible mode, it is important for me to make time for fun, as a way of taking care of myself.

How much fun? I make sure I have fun at least once a day, because it is that important. Fun for me could be hiking, going out to eat, or just spending time with my husband. Every person has their own definition of fun – just make sure it is a priority in your life – it truly is important and fundamental for your self-care.

 

These are just a few little lessons that have helped me be a little happier & a little healthier. I hope they inspire a little bit of happy & healthy in your life too!

Wishing you the loveliest of days.

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

Journal Questions:

  1. In what ways would you like to be happier & healthier? How could you work on developing habits that would help you toward health & happiness?
  2. What is your current relationship with exercise? How would you like it to be different? What is an exercise strategy that might work better than the one you are currently using?
  3. Are there ways in which your planning is not serving you? Do you have difficulty if plans change or things don’t happen as expected? How could you change your relationship with planning? Are you willing to allow for more spontaneity?
  4. Do you make a fun a priority? Would you be willing to shift your perspective into thinking that fun is a responsibility you should have for yourself? How would you make your days different if you embraced this way of thinking more?

The Overthinking Mind: Navigating Decisions, Uncertainty, and Intuition

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The overthinking mind hates uncertainty. This is much of the reason that it overthinks. The mind won’t let go until the perfect solution exists and all the mental calculations add up. Often, the overthinking mind will find itself in an endless loop of thoughts and ideas.

Should you make a move or should you not? Are you in the right job? Are you on the right path? There are so many questions to be answered.

The overthinking mind has an amazing ability to see things from every perspective. And let me be clear, this ability truly has incredible benefits. It is one of your greatest gifts.

However, seeing something from every possible perspective, also makes it incredibly hard to make decisions.

Again, your mind has amazing abilities. But, unfortunately, our minds did not come with training manuals. And, if your mind works a little differently than those around you, you might have made the mistake of using other people’s systems, rather than a system that most suits your thinking style.

I want to offer intuition as a strategy for decision making and a way to feel confident within uncertainty.

Maybe you already use intuition and this is simply a confirmation for you? Great!

Or maybe you reject the idea of intuition? You like rationality and logic. Trust me, I’ve been there. If you are in this second category, I invite you to just hear a bit about my journey with intuition, and open yourself to the idea, just a little.

 

Intuition: Not rational?

It is my opinion, that for the anxious and uncertain heart, intuition is the doorway to calm and comfort.

When “following my intuition” was first suggested to me, it was in a counselor’s office. I was telling her about all the little decisions of life I just couldn’t make, and how they were causing me so much stress.

She asked me how I typically made decisions.

My answer?

Logic. Pros and Cons lists. Intense and thorough evaluation.

Now, if you do not have an overthinking mind, this is a fine way to make decisions. In fact, I work with clients at my job who struggle with impulsivity – we are constantly talking about carefully weighing out the pros and cons.

BUT, if you are an overthinker, pros and cons lists are probably not going to work for you. You can always think of one more pro, and one more con.

I know, the pro and con list is like the #1 way we have been taught to make good decisions. And if it is working for you, keep with it! But, if you are still struggling to make decisions and are overwhelmed with uncertainty, maybe consider another way?

So anyway, I told the counselor I only made decisions with carefully calculated thinking.

She then asked,

Do you ever just use intuition?

I answered back,

No. Never. Intuition is based on feelings and I don’t believe rational answers come from it.

She scribbled in her notebook for a moment. And then nodded, and said “Okay.” And we didn’t talk about intuition again.

 

Intuition: Worth a try?

I didn’t see the counselor for a while after that. Not because I didn’t like her. I just wasn’t sure she could help me. I didn’t spend any time even considering the idea of intuition after the session.

A few weeks later I met my husband after work to decide if we were going out for dinner or heading home. Either way, I was really looking forward to spending time together – just the two of us. It had been a long week. We met up near my work and he immediately informed me he got a text from some of our friends.

They want to hang out tonight! What do you think?

This was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I was so tired. So drained.

And then my overthinking kicked in,

But should we? We haven’t seen them in awhile? Maybe it would be a lot of fun? What if we regret not going? But I really don’t want to! But it’s good to push yourself sometimes! Remember that one time you pushed yourself to do that one thing and you were so glad you did? Maybe it’s like that? But how do you know when to push yourself and when not to? There needs to be some kind of rule for this…should it be “always push yourself” or “always do what you want.” Neither of those rules seem good…

And on and on it went.

Suddenly my husband came back into focus and his expression was half “What’s going on right now?” and half “I’m used to this.”

The counselor’s voice popped into my head:  Do you ever just use intuition?

Well, I thought, Now is as good of a time as any.

And as soon as I had decided I was “allowed” to use intuition, I knew exactly what to do.

Do you care either way what we do? I asked my husband.

Doesn’t matter to me! Just as long as I’m with you! He replied.

Okay, let’s go home!

And home we went. And it was a lovely little evening.

And since this day, I have used intuition in my day to day decision making – and am ever grateful. I had not realized how intensely the overthinking weighed me down. It was only once it was lifted, that I experienced a “lightness” that I simply hadn’t felt before.

 

Intuition: Was it right?

I think one of the biggest questions that comes up with intuition is: how do you know it is right?

This is a difficult question. I think intuition is the “most right” decision you are able to make based on everything you know in the present time. Intuition is a quick thinking process that takes all your beliefs/values/desires/past experience/logic – and comes up with the “best” answer based on this.

Some people (including myself in the past) are leery of intuition – because it feels impulsive or feels like it could be emotional based. I would not recommend intuition with the clients I mentioned who struggle with impulsivity. We all need to learn different things. But for the overthinking mind, you are probably FAR from impulsive.

I also worried if I used intuition I would just follow my desires, rather than the actual best choice. But this wasn’t the case. My intuition seemed to know when it was okay to say “no” and rest and when I needed to do the hard work and push myself.

Intuition in small decisions does not necessarily mean everything works out perfectly. My husband and I could have gone home and had a not so great evening that day. Intuition in these small decisions does not necessarily know future outcomes – but it is likely the closest thing to a “right” decision there is.

 

Intuition: Can you trust it for big decisions?

I know that it is scarier to use intuition for big decisions. Small decisions might seem more inconsequential, but big decisions may change your life quite a bit. My argument? All the more reason to trust intuition.

As an overthinker myself, sometimes I want to go with the most logical choice, because it seems the safest. It may be safe…but it may also leave you unfulfilled in your life. I am not arguing for an illogical decision. But intuition can do a good job of taking into account both your need for fulfillment and your need for stability.

With big decisions, sometimes intuition will say YES, this is FOR SURE! and sometimes it will say I’m not sure yet…let’s do baby steps for right now.

When I was in my senior year of high school I remember looking at colleges and each one not seeming quite right. Logically, they seemed like they could be an okay choice – but something told me to keep looking. When I did find my college I ended up attending, it was clear that this was the right choice and there was no doubt in my mind.

However, when I first met my husband, I thought,

He’s really nice. I really enjoy talking to him. Is he the one? I’m not sure yet.

It wasn’t clear. My intuition told me to take baby steps. We were friends for a very long time before we started dating. We dated for a very long time before we got married. Each step felt right, but intuition did not clarify everything from the very beginning for me – it just led me to baby steps.

 

The Role of Action when You are Unsure

I think one of the hardest things about being unsure about something is debating about action versus inaction. If you are stuck in your life in some way you might be thinking, I just need to push myself and make some huge drastic change!

If it feels right with your intuition to make a change like that, then go for it. But maybe you haven’t made a change, because it didn’t quite feel right to do so yet. I don’t think we need to force ourselves to take huge action, if it doesn’t feel right to us. Stay where you are at the moment, and take the baby steps of action as your intuition clarifies your path, slowly but surely.

 

How to Hear from Your Intuition

When it comes to the bigger decisions, the way I have learned to understand intuition, is that it is often the quiet calm voice, rather than the loud voice of anxiety or fear.

Sometimes if I am feeling confused about a decision or a situation that I am in, I will “dialogue with my intuition.” I know it sounds a little strange, but it has helped me find clarity and comfort.

I will open up my laptop and open a blank word document. I type out the question that is concerning me.

For example, I might type:

What should I do about the situation with my job?

First, anxiety will likely start talking and working itself up. Let this pass. Wait for the quiet calm voice. It may not give details, but it will give assurance. When I “hear” the answer I will type it out. It might look something like this,

You should be grateful for the present now, but also be assured that the pieces are coming together for the future. You should be active and also patient. These may seem like small steps you are taking, but rest assured, you are being led somewhere.

Of course, in my ideal world, I would receive specific details and I would suddenly know the future of my entire life. But, this isn’t how it always works. Sometimes intuition will give you the green light to go, and sometimes you will be in a phase of active patience. Throughout the week when I begin to feel uncertain, I remind myself of what I heard from my intuition, and remain confident in my path.

 

A Few Last Thoughts

Some people think intuition is the holy spirit or a spiritual force leading us.

Other people believe it is our inner guidance or our wisdom.

Some people think these are all the same thing.

Regardless of what you think, if you can believe that intuition is worth trusting, my hope is that it will help you make decisions without the clutter of overthinking. Help you feel confident in your choices without second guessing. Feel assured if you need to make a leap of faith (or a baby step of faith). And be able to fully trust that a path is slowly but surely being revealed to you, even if you can’t quite see the whole picture yet.

I am not arguing that following your intuition will be easy right away. You might need to take some time learning to hear it and learning to trust it.

 

Our intuition is like a muscle, we must practice listening to it and trusting its wisdom. When you take the time to ask and keep listening for the answer, being at peace becomes easy. -Lisa Prosen

 

Will you give it a try?

 

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

Journal Questions:

  1. Why do you get stuck in the overthinking loop? What do you think causes it? How do you get out of it?
  2. What is your current relationship with intuition? Do you trust it? Why or why not?
  3. What is a small decision in your life that you need to make right now that you are overthinking? If you stopped weighing pros and cons and went with intuition – what would your answer be?
  4. What is a bigger decision or situation in your life that you are unsure about? Take some time to listen for the calm quiet voice. Do you need to make a major change right now? Or is it a time of active patience and baby steps?
  5. How could you work on “building the muscle” of using intuition and be more comfortable with it?

 

*For more ideas on following intuition check out podcast episode and intuition mini course by Jess Lively.

Worry & Doubt: When Your Goals Aren’t Happening Quick Enough

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This article is for anyone who is on a mission for self-change and/or life change. You have some definite goals and you are ready to see action. You are ready to see your mental health improve. You are ready for your life to look different and be more fulfilling. Maybe there are moments when you feel like you are making progress…but there are other moments when you feel like you should be much further along by now. Even though you have acknowledged some progress previously, in these moments, you start to question if you have made any progress at all.

If this sounds at all familiar..I have some suggestions to keep in mind in these moments..

 

Positive Self Talk

First, and foremost, is positive self talk.

These are the moments that are going to be really tempting to put yourself down.

Some negative things that might be tempting to say in this moment, are:

 

You are never going to get better.

You are silly for thinking things could ever change.

You will always struggle with the same things forever.

You might as well give up.

 

Do these sound familiar at all? If so, it is time to change these thoughts…and quick!!

Again, I know it is tempting to think the negative thoughts. And they may actually be automatic thoughts at this point. You may not purposely try to think these thoughts – they just pop into your mind in a way that feels out of your control.

Good news: You have control over your thoughts.

Now, if you haven’t had much practice in this area it will take some time before these thoughts stop being automatic. What I suggest is that you simply “hear” the thought and then shift to a different thought that is more encouraging or gives evidence for why your negative thought isn’t true, like giving yourself an example of a time you did succeed at something.

I have spent time practicing having “better thoughts.” With practice, the negative thoughts are not so automatic for me anymore. It feels like I have a moment to choose. Sometimes I imagine that I am at the kitchen cupboard and there is one shelf with a box of cookies and another shelf with a healthy snack. Maybe it feels tempting still to take the cookies, but I now feel like I have a choice with which one I will choose.

Sometimes, when I am feeling my worst, and don’t have time to fully analyze what is going on because I am at work or somewhere else- I just tell myself some simple positive statements:

 

You are doing a good job.

Things will get better.

You are doing your best and that is enough.

 

Maybe it’s hard to say those things to yourself because you don’t yet believe them? Say them more and you will believe them more.

If a child grows up with a verbally abusive parent, they will have a hard time believing anything positive about themselves, even if they eventually get out of the situation. But, if they hear that they are worth something and valuable over and over and over again…it will start to sink in. They will internalize it.

As strange as it sounds, you are a parent to yourself. Don’t be a verbally abusive parent – be a parent that is an encourager that shows love.

Build yourself up rather than tearing yourself down.

Also, just so you know, optimism and positive thoughts are more likely to breed the outcome that you want. When you put yourself down, not only do you make yourself feel bad, but you also make yourself less likely of actually reaching your goals. It is a form of self-sabotage.

 

Live Now, Worry Later

I know this sounds like really bad advice – but if you are a worrier and find yourself constantly obsessing about your problems – it is actually just the advice you need.

Sometimes we sabotage the moments we are in because we are filling them with obsessive thoughts, rumination, and worry. The actual moment you are in, may not be be a bad moment, but you are allowing your obsessive thoughts to take over.

I know the feeling. But if I’m not going to worry about it now, when am I going to worry about it?? I can’t just let it go…

Set aside a “worry time.” Really. I’m not joking.

Maybe it’s Saturday mornings? Find some space in your schedule when you have time to worry.

And whenever you find yourself worrying – just remind yourself that now is not the time, and commit to worry about it at your designated time. If you are afraid that you will forget what you were worrying about, write a quick note to yourself that you can access later at worry time.

And when worry time comes, let yourself worry. Put a time frame on it though. And once you are done worrying, commit that you are not allowed to worry again until next Saturday morning (or whatever day/time you picked).

Believe it or not, this actually works, as long as you don’t allow yourself to worry outside of designated times. It works, because, in those moments the thoughts feel really pressing and urgent. It doesn’t feel right just to let them go. But, if you know that they will be addressed later, you can relax a little, and let them go knowing you will address them at the set time. It allows your mind to be free of worry when you need to be concentrating on other things.

Also, what I have noticed in my “worry time,” is that this worry time is much more productive. Usually, worry is not a productive activity. You know the old saying “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”

In your “worry time” you have permission to simply take up time and worry. But, for me, I have made it a habit to take at least one action step during my worry time. Something that feels like I am addressing the worry and taking an action step toward the solution. Not only is this helping toward a solution, but it actually reduces my worry significantly. The worry feels addressed, and I can move on.

Now, of course, a new worry pops up next week. But I kindly inform the worry: “Not right now, we are scheduled for Saturday.” I free my mind for the rest of the week, and then on Saturday I take an action step during worry time.

When worry pops up while we are driving, at work, or in the middle of something else – it may seem really important that you think about it in that moment, BUT it is really unproductive too. There is actually nothing you can do about the worry in that moment. Save your worries for a time you can actually address them and take action.

 

Help Your (future) Past Self

Your future past self is…your current self. But your current self, will one day be your past self.

What am I talking about?

Can you think of a time in your life that you were in a similar situation as you are now? A situation where you weren’t sure how it was going to work out, but it did end up working out positively? A goal you were working toward that you actually reached? Something you thought you would struggle with forever that you actually overcame? Something you were worrying about that you actually didn’t need to be worrying about at all, and wish if only that past version of yourself could have known that it was all going to work out?

What advice would you have given your past self? How would you have encouraged her? What do you wish she would have known in those moments?

I’ll give you an example from my own life, so you have an idea what I am talking about.

After college, in the fall,  I moved out of state to attend another school. I thought it was the right move for me at the time. Even though I liked the school, I became depressed while I was there. My boyfriend (who I thought was going to be my future husband) had just broken up with me. I was living away from my family and missed them. I felt lonely and had at least expected that my boyfriend would be visiting me to keep me company. I questioned why I was there and the degree I was getting, but felt too indecisive and embarrassed to leave. On top of that, I was not making enough money to pay my rent and buy groceries. I felt hopeless and believed I would be sad and lonely forever.

Flash forward to my life right now. I found my husband and we are very happily married.I now live near my family and see them very regularly. I left the school and have found fulfilling pursuits. I have a stable income and don’t worry about groceries or rent. I am not sad and I am not lonely.

Now, of course, my life is not perfect. But my point is, all the fears I had during that time did not actually come true. I would have saved myself a lot of despair if I could have just believed that things would get better, even if I did not yet know how.

So what advice would give my past self?

I would tell her:

I know this is hard, but things will get better. I know, because I have seen it. You will have such joy in the future. Dreams will be fulfilled. Things you imagined struggling with forever, you will no longer struggle with. Hold on to hope, because there is so much for you to hope for!

This letter would not have fixed everything, as it still may have been a difficult time for me. But what made it the hardest, was the lack of hope. The belief that things would not get better. It is much easier to move through difficulty if you truly believe things will get better. But because I lacked hope, I was stuck in a whirlwind of despair.

So, now, I encourage you to do this for yourself. Think about that time in your life. And write yourself a letter or a little note. Or if you don’t have time to write it at this moment, just think about what you would say.

Now read that advice for yourself now – in your current circumstance.

Because, one day, there will be a future self looking at you now, thinking: Oh, if only she could have known just how amazing things would be…

 

Active Patience

I have mentioned the idea of active patience before, because I believe it to be so important.

I know that I have been caught in the mind trap plenty of times of black and white thinking.

All or nothing.

Either I am changing everything right now or I am doing nothing about it at all.

Or, have you ever known anyone on either of these extremes before?

There are the people who use force. And there are the people that are passive.

Neither of these methods really work.

The people who use force try to exert their control over everything. But as much as maybe we would like to, we cannot control everything and everyone. You can’t force a flower to grow. It grows on its own time. You can tend it, care for it, and water it. But you must give it time.

On the flip side, the people who are passive simply hope everything will just happen naturally. Which is great, except that doesn’t always happen either. You must plant the seed, for it to grow. You must water the seed, for it to grow. You must weed, trim, and prune. It requires action.

Have patience that something beautiful is growing in your life right now. But also plant the seed and show up every morning to water it.

 

May the Force be with You

One day I was driving home from work. I was feeling particularly down that day – I had given into the thoughts that things were bad and not getting better. I was trying to exert force and problem solving on my drive home and it definitely wasn’t my worry time. How will I figure this all out? How will I make all the changes? How will I overcome all my challenges?

Just as I was thinking these things I looked up and saw a Star Wars bumper sticker:

May the Force be with You.

And all of the sudden, I felt okay. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, and realized I didn’t have to figure all this out on my own.

Okay – so I know you might be wondering how in the world a Star Wars quote made me feel encouraged. I know it sounds so silly, and I’ve never even seen Star Wars (I know, I’m weird), but a few months ago my pastor had done a sermon about Star Wars and the Force being the Holy Spirit.

But, regardless if you are Christian or not, the idea is that there is a Force that guides us.

There is something beyond us. There is a source where we can draw wisdom and peace and hope and guidance.

You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, you are not doing this alone. There is something else at play here.

And, it is not your job to figure everything out.

In that moment, I realized I could take a break from my consuming thoughts and simply trust.

Again, I still argue for active patience. Do your part. But once you have done your part, relax. You don’t have to “force” anything…because there is a different kind of Force already guiding you.

********

You will be given a Counselor.

  This Counselor will guide you to truth,

and give you peace.

Will you have trouble in this world? Yes.

But the Counselor will always be with you.

Take heart,

for Good has already overcome.

(John 16, paraphrased)

********

Journal Questions:

  1. How will you switch to more positive self talk? What do you currently tell yourself in times of frustration, worry, or doubt? What are some phrases you would consider telling yourself instead?
  2. Are you willing to embrace the worry later technique? When could you commit to worry so that it does not consume your life? What action steps could you take during your worry time?
  3. Can you think of a time in the past when you thought something wouldn’t work out and it did? What advice would give your past self? Are you willing to take this same advice for yourself now? What would be different if you actually took this advice?
  4. How could you implement active patience into your own life? Do you tend to be passive or do you tend to try and force things? Or bounce back and forth from each extreme? What could you do differently?
  5. Are you willing to believe that there is a Force, beyond yourself, guiding you? What would it look like for you to trust in this Force more?

 

You will do amazing things. I hope you believe this too.

Yours,

signaturesmaller

6 Things to Remember on Your Passion Journey

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1. The Importance of Cultivating & Maintaining Passion

Passion is an infinite resource. Passion does not run dry. But, we may need to cultivate passion and we may need to seek sources of inspiration to continue feeling passionate.

Think of it as a well that you must keep going back to, to replenish. We can’t drink water once, and expect to never need water again.

We must access the living water that brings life to our spirits.

Find the places and people that inspire you and continue gaining sustenance and inspiration.

Don’t feel discouraged if you feel passionate one day and not passionate the next. Passion is fleeting but it does return. Keep your palms open, ready to accept the gift of passion when it comes again. Seek it out, but also have patience.

Rest assured that it will return, but also place yourself where it is likely to be.

Just like a good marriage – we should do all that we can to cultivate passion, and at the same time, be willing to put in a labor of love – even on the days we do not feel the passion.

 

2. The Radical Power of…Baby Steps

Not sure how to start on your passion journey?

The answer is baby steps.

I know, I know – baby steps don’t exactly sound thrilling.

But what if, starting today, you committed to one baby step a day for the next year?

A baby step maybe won’t cause a noticeable change in a day or a week. But 365 baby steps will. If you take one baby step a day – trust me – July 2017 will look very different for you.

A small step is very different than no steps.

Every night before I go to bed I have a series of questions that I ask myself. Because I know I will ask myself these questions every night, it keeps me more intentional about my day. One of the questions I ask is “What did I do today which moved me closer to my goals or dreams?”

So everyday, I have that question in mind, and everyday I do at least one tiny thing. Nothing is too small. It could be researching an idea. Sending an e-mail to someone. Writing out a goal list. Just as long as I do something.

 

3. Inner Work is Not Selfish

I used to worry that “inner work” was selfish. I thought I should only be focused on helping others and not myself. It turns out, helping ourselves and others are both pretty important.

When I first started working in the mental health field, I got a client that reminded me a lot of myself. She struggled with anxiety, negative thought patterns, and overthinking. All things I struggled with.

At first, I was so excited to work with her. Until I realized I had no idea how to help her. I had not yet worked out how to cope with these things myself, and therefore, really did not have a lot of helpful wisdom to pass on to her.

I have since realized the value of inner work.

Also, I have realized the importance of self-love. We are called to show love and gentleness to others – but this may be difficult if we haven’t yet learned to show these things to ourselves.

With this being said, I don’t necessarily suggest waiting to help others until your inner work is complete…because…well..that’s a life long process. But, don’t devalue inner work – it not only helps you, but it will help others too.

You can’t teach what you don’t yet know yourself.

 

4.Embracing Uncertainty is Non-negotiable

I am not a very big fan of uncertainty.

But, I have learned to embrace  it – mostly because, we really don’t have any other option.

Life is uncertain.

And when it comes to a passion, the truth is, none of us know exactly where following our passion will lead us.

And that’s okay.

Going back to the “baby steps” method – I know that it can be hard to even take a baby step, when you are not clear on what direction you are going. But the important thing is, is that you start moving. It almost doesn’t matter what direction you are going at first. You can always correct the direction. But honestly, what I have found, is maybe the end result is very different than that initial baby step and where you thought it was taking you, but that baby step still was a step there.

Also, it is okay to try a few different things at once. Some days I have an idea for one thing and the next day I have completely changed my mind. Or I go back and forth on two ideas. Try both. See what works. See what leads somewhere.

 

5. There is No End Result

I used the phrase “end result” in the above section, but if I am being perfectly honest, there is no end result.

Just really good views. You stop and appreciate the view. And then you keep climbing – because life is a journey. As long as you are breathing, the journey isn’t over.

I know that “it’s about the journey, not the destination” is an overused cliche…BUT that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. I know I have spent much of life waiting for a destination that would finally fulfill me. But the truth is, it is the journey that fulfills and motivates us to keep going.

As I said, there will be beautiful views to stop at and enjoy along the way, but you must continue on the journey. There is always new life to be found.

 

6. It’s Okay When Things Go Wrong

Things will go wrong. In fact, plan for it and anticipate it.

Know this is part of the journey.

We don’t chase after failure or difficulty – but when it happens, trust that it is leading you somewhere.

After college I landed a job that I was trying to force into a destination. But it wasn’t a destination. My journey had not concluded.

After a few years at my job some frustrations came about. And those frustrations gifted me with a desire to explore “new territory.” And it was through those frustrations that I was propelled to make changes in my life. And those changes gave me new life and new hope and new joy. I am thankful for the frustrations.

And although I am living more within my passion these days, that doesn’t mean I am free from failure, frustration, or disappointment. But when it comes, I will again trust that it brings the gift of growth and will take me somewhere new.

**********

 

Wishing you much joy & wisdom on your passion journey.

 

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

Journal Questions:

  1. What are some ways you could cultivate and maintain your passion? What are the places and people that inspire you?
  2. What are some baby steps you could take? What is a baby step you could take today?
  3. What inner work do you need to do right now? How can you start working on this?
  4. What are some other thoughts or ideas that came to mind while reading this article? How could you act on these thoughts or ideas?

Decisions & Your Internal Board of Directors

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I have always struggled with decision making.

So many options.

So many perspectives.

I would get lost in a sea of my thoughts and not know what to do.

Also, I have mentioned that I have struggled with anxiety – so not only was it that there were so may options to choose from, it was also that anxiety did not like any choice that involved any kind of risk or uncertainty.

So basically, being lost in a sea of thoughts and having anxiety happy to have me there, I had trouble progressing to anywhere new.

Have you ever been in this situation before?

 

Your Internal Board of Directors

I was once talking with a counselor about trying to make a decision and as I talked she clearly saw that everything I said was coming from the angle of anxiety. All my decisions were being informed by anxiety.

She asked me-
“When it comes to decision making – what if you acknowledged that Anxiety is on your board of directors? Make sure Anxiety knows she will get to share her concern and that she will be heard, but at the same time, she is a voice of many, and will be given equal weight.”

It got me thinking.

First, it helped to balance my perspective. Often, in decision making, I would go to extremes. I would either give Anxiety all the weight, or I would be trying to kick Anxiety off my board of directors completely.

Maybe Anxiety was that person in your work meetings that always had an opinion, but everyone was secretly groaning when they began to speak. But bottom line, they are on your team, and they get to share their opinion.

BUT, they don’t get to have all the weight. They are just one team member. The problem for me is, Anxiety can be a bossy team member. And think she is in charge. But she’s not. I am the CEO, and ultimately I make the final decision, based on everyone’s perspective.

This idea also got me thinking about who else was on my board of directors. And how there were some members, I had not given a voice to for a long time.

Visionary and Creativity both came to mind. They are both on my board of directors. But for a long time, I ignored their voices. They wanted to do something creative, meaningful, and new. But Anxiety didn’t want to do that, and shut their voices down.

Since I started this blog, they have been much happier, and have finally felt heard.

And I did consider Anxiety too, when deciding to start the blog. The problem was, Anxiety wanted to shut down the whole conversation altogether.

Creativity and Visionary would love to travel from place to place and do new things constantly.

But every time this subject would come up, Anxiety would loudly shout “But you need stability!” and would shut the whole conversation down.

Anxiety actually had a point. The problem was, Anxiety was so loud and aggressive, that no one else got to express their views or have their ideas considered.

Ideally, our board of directors all need to work as a team. And you, as the CEO, need to be able to navigate this conversation and make sure everyone is working together.If you have ever sat in a work meeting – you know this to be true. To have a successful meeting, we have to be able to hear eachother’s ideas and incorporate a solution that involves everyone’s opinion.

It wasn’t until after attending an inspiring conference that Creativity and Visionary felt confident enough to stand up to Anxiety and say “Hey- we have an opinion too! You need to hear us out and we need to work together!”

And they did.

And it was through their teamwork that this blog was born. Anxiety was not comfortable with any huge decisions to move from place to place or do something crazy, because Anxiety knows, that I don’t do well with instability. So Anxiety, Creativity, and Visionary brainstormed together and realized that starting a blog would fulfill Creativity’s desire to do something creative, and Visionary’s desire to do something new and something that could change and grow over time. Everyone left the meeting feeling happy.

 

Vision First, Logic Second

I also recently heard the idea that our Vision is the master and Logic is the servant. So, a problem with decision making I would have, would be having a vision of something I wanted to happen, and then allowing logic to talk me out of it.

I was given an alternate perspective on this. That when we have a vision/dream/passion we want to live out, it is not logic’s job to talk us out of the vision, but rather, to help us actually get to it.

Sometimes people think of following their dreams as illogical. Which, if you don’t use any logic, then it is. But you can actually use logic as a practical tool to help you reach a dream.

I attend a large church, and the pastor has the title of “lead visionary.” That is his job. The people on his team have the job of figuring out how they can practically and logically implement his visions. They are a team and each serve their function to make the vision a reality.

So, going back to the board of directors analogy.

Visionary, Anxiety, and Logic are all sitting on the board of directors.

For me, Anxiety tries to use Logic to try to talk Visionary out of things. But that is not how it works. If they do that, then Visionary never gets to do her job. In the example above, my pastor would never get to do his job of being the visionary, if he just sat in meetings and was talked out of every idea that he had.

So, I know I mentioned the idea of Vision as the master, and Logic as the servant. Obviously, that doesn’t work for the board of directors analogy where everyone is equal, but I don’t think it has to. I think Visionary and Logic can have equal voices, nobody is over anyone, BUT we are not giving Visionary any weight if we are constantly talking her out of all her ideas.

Logic’s job is to help her ideas come to fruition and looking at the practical and realistic steps that would get us to her vision. Anxiety’s job is making sure these visions will be safe and making sure we have stability.

 

Intuition & Ego

Another perspective I have learned about decision making goes back to the idea of intuition and ego. The way I have heard it explained is that intuition is the still small voice of wisdom and calm. Ego is the loud yelling voice full of anxiety.

So, again, back to the board of directors. I would assume Intuition and Visionary would be in similar departments.

Anxiety, at least for my board of directors, is sometimes like a child having a temper tantrum. Anxiety doesn’t mean any harm, she is just really scared and worked up, and it gets the best of her.

But as the CEO, you need to quiet Anxiety. Let her know she is important too, but with all her yelling, you are having trouble hearing the quiet calm voice of Intuition. So have Anxiety quiet for a bit – and see what Intuition has to say. You might be able to actually hear Intuition, if you give her 5 full minutes, without Anxiety interjecting her own perspective.

 

So, I conclude with these questions – who is on your board directors? Whose voice are you giving too much weight to? Whose voice are you not giving enough weight to? Whose voice is too loud? Whose voice is too quiet?

What are you going to do different because you read this article today?

Wishing you decisions that bring fulfillment, peace, and joy.

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

Journal Questions:

  1. Who is on your board directors?
  2. Whose voice are you giving too much weight to? Whose voice is too loud?
  3. Whose voice are you not giving enough weight to? Whose voice is too quiet?
  4.  Are you willing to allow your vision to be the “master” and your logic to be the “servant”? Are you willing to allow logic to help you reach your dreams, rather than talking you out of them? What would you do different, if you embraced this way of thinking?
  5. What would your intuition say, if you were able to quiet your ego? Listen for the calm wise voice – and write down what thoughts come to mind.
  6. What are you going to do different because you read this article today?

 

Additional Resource:

If there is anything from this post you would like to do some “deeper work” on, there is now an option to do one-on-one coaching with me.

If you think this is something you might be interested in, feel free to check out the coaching page here.

How to Have Joy in Painful Experiences

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I have a friend going through a difficult time right now.

She posed the question to me – “How can I be joyful right now?”

My first thought was, that she may have to experience the pain, and that joy was not an expectation she needed to have on herself right now.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about her question.

I grew up in the Christian tradition, and within the Christian tradition there is this idea that we should be able to have joy in our pain and rejoice in our suffering.

But what did that mean? Although it sounds really nice, having joy when you face some kind of tragedy in your life, also sounds a little crazy.

I think as humans, we are supposed to feel pain. And sometimes it takes a long time until we feel healed from that pain. To just snap out of it and be joyful, just didn’t seem right to me.

So as I pondered this question, I wondered, maybe I have the wrong definition of joy? Maybe I am understanding it all wrong? Or maybe there are different kinds of joy – or a different side of joy I am missing?

 

A Different Understanding of Joy

As my questions always lead me to do, I embarked on a quest to gain a better understanding of joy.

In my quest for understanding, I came across the verse James 1:2-4.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.”

We should consider facing trials pure joy? What?

I think we all probably know that joy and happiness are different things, but if I am being perfectly honest, I have confused the two before.

That verse makes absolutely no sense, if we are thinking of joy and happiness as the same thing. Suffering is called suffering, because it is not a state of happiness!

Although the Greek understanding of joy was related to delight, when I dug a little further, I found that that the Hebrew understanding of the word Joy was centered around the idea of hope.

To have joy in suffering was to have hope in suffering.

 

Hope in Suffering

I don’t think it is a hope that everything is going to work out exactly as planned or in our perfect ideal image of it, because we all know, that is not always how life goes.

But I think it is a hope that dark can be turned to light.

Hope that the most horrific events can be transformed into something beautiful. And that the pain is transforming you in ways you cannot quite understand yet. It is a trust that amazing work is being done within you.

Just to be clear, I do not believe that God causes tragedy in our lives. I would have trouble getting behind that kind of theology. But I think God can transform and redeem anything. I think God can breathe new life into the darkest situations, and breathe new life into the most broken people.

When we are in pain, we may not be able to feel that in the moment, and that’s okay. I think grief, anger, and sadness are completely appropriate emotions for when we are going through a difficult time. I don’t think we should try to ignore these emotions.

Where I believe joy comes in – is the voice within the brokenness that tells us there is still hope in all of this. This is not the end. There is life on the other side of suffering, if we are able to hold out for it. And in the process, we are being transformed in ways we cannot even imagine.

 

The Gifts of Suffering

Romans 5:3 also comes to mind. “We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Pain brings many gifts. We never seek pain. We don’t chase after suffering, nor should we. But when it does happen, there are gifts that come with pain, that we do not receive in everyday life when things are going as planned.

We seek God differently in pain. We deepen friendships and relationships in pain. We receive gifts of perspective, growth, and compassion.

I think it may be impossible to feel happy in suffering. But I think we will be in a better place if we can assign meaning to our suffering, and trust that it is growing and changing us, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.

And to hold onto a belief that not only is there something good on the other side, but that some day, this pain can be used to help others. That this pain will someday turn into passion that will motivate you toward a cause. It is true, it is often the people that have faced the most pain that make the biggest impact on the world.

The pain I have faced in my own life, has not been from a specific tragedy, but an ongoing struggle with my mental health. I have always struggled with feelings of depression and anxiety.

But if I can take the pain of those experiences, and turn it into a passion to help others who are facing depression and anxiety, then I have transformed my painful experience. Suddenly, there is a beauty in my pain, that wasn’t there before.

 

Hope & Grace

To have joy in painful experiences, is to have hope in painful experiences. Hope that the trials that we go through, are building us, rather than destroying us. And a hope that God will make what is so imperfect right now, perfect in God’s own way. Hope that there is beauty and transformation in the difficult and dark process and hope that healing is on its way.

And although I think we should strive diligently for this hope, I think there will be those moments when it will be hard to feel hopeful, and I think that’s okay too. Give yourself grace.

Wishing you hope, healing, and transformation.

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

Journal Questions:

I know that I have gained a lot from reading blog entries and I also know if I took the time and journaled about them for a few minutes they would affect me in an even deeper way and bring me to some truths I may have not come to otherwise.

So if you have a few extra minutes and your journal handy…here you go!

  1. Write down a word, phrase, or sentence that describes a painful experience you are going through right now.
  2. Are you allowing yourself to experience the pain or are you trying to force yourself to be happy?
  3. What would it mean for you to feel the pain of the circumstance, while also allowing for hope?
  4. Could you imagine that you might be going through some kind of personal transformation, because this pain is happening to you? What might that look like?
  5. Could you imagine that you might someday be able to help others because of the pain you are going through? What might that look like?
  6. Do you believe that God could redeem this pain, and somehow make beauty come from this darkness? What might this look like?
  7. Are you willing to offer yourself grace, on the days when you feel unhopeful? How will you offer yourself grace?

 

Why You Should Always Want More

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Did you know that it is not a bad thing to always want more?

Did you know, it is actually a good thing?

The problem is, society had told us to want the wrong things.

 

Money.

Power.

Prestige.

Possessions.

 

At some point, we hopefully learned these things would not satisfy us, and pursuing them would simply be a “chasing after the wind.”

But, that does not mean we should not desire anything.

There are better things to want.

There are absolutely lovely and amazing things to want.

I invite you to want more.

 

More wisdom.

More beauty.

More truth.

More hope.

More knowledge.

More passion.

More inspiration.

More connection.

More peace.

 

I fully acknowledge, you have to be able to master the balance of gratitude and desire.

We must shift our hearts to a place of extreme gratefulness for the present moment. And at the same time, have a rich and deep desire to usher in more of the beauty we know is out there.

Gratitude without desire is complacency. Desire without gratitude is discontentment.

Our heart of gratitude and our heart of desire must both be fully awake. If not, we as people, will not be fully awake.

I heard a song by Cloud Cult a few weeks ago that has stuck with me. I am sharing the lyrics below.

My question is, are you sleepwalking, or are you fully awake?

 

Sleepwalker by Cloud Cult

We are your conscience.

We thought we’d tell you,

You’ve been sleepwalking,

through most of your days.

 

Your eyes are open,

Your body’s moving,

Your lips are speaking,

But you’re far from awake.

 

Where is your passion?

Where is your wonder?

Where is your thankfulness?

You put them away.

 

Times come to get up,

before you break down.

I know you’re on it.

 

Where is your kid side?

Where is your joyfulness?

Where is your empathy?

Fast asleep.

 

Where went your moments?

Where went your presence?

Where went your purpose?

Fast asleep.

 

Times come to get up.

 

Before you break down.

I know you’re on it.

 

Journal Questions:

1. Do you allow yourself to want more? Are you desiring after money, power, prestige, and possessions? Or are you desiring what is deep, meaningful, and eternal?

2. What do you need to seek after more in your life? Wisdom, beauty, truth, hope, knowledge, passion, inspiration, connection, or peace?

3. What do you struggle with most – gratitude without desire (complacency) or desire without gratitude (discontentment)? How could you strive to balance both gratitude and desire?

4. Are you sleepwalking or fully awake? How can you become more fully awake?

 

Wishing you a heart full of desire and gratitude.

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

 

 

What is Your Life Teaching You?

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I was the kind of person that loved college and loved to learn. I went to a liberal arts university and couldn’t get enough philosophy, psychology, and theology. I loved asking questions like What is the purpose of life? How should we be living? Why do people act the way they do? What is God and what is God’s function in this world and in our lives?

These questions were rumblings in my soul from a very young age. So, when I got to college and I was actually able to explore these questions and take classes on them – for me, this was the dream!

However, after college, I had a long few years of grieving the loss of learning. I wanted to be at college forever. To always be taking classes that would cause me to be learning and growing and changing.

It took me a long time to realize that I was still enrolled in courses that were teaching, growing, and changing me.

Think of your life as a liberal arts college. What courses are you enrolled in right now? What practicums are you taking right now?

What is your life teaching you?

The most wonderful thing about this perspective, is that it transforms the struggles and challenges in our lives, into opportunity for wisdom and growth. If we are able to make this mental shift, it will greatly improve our wellbeing.

Right now,

I am struggling to maintain focus at my job when I have hours of paperwork to complete.

At times I am anxious about the future and in my daily life.

I can become stressed with the busyness of life.

I still struggle at times with self doubt.

 

So, I could simply think of these things as frustrations in my life. OR, I could think of them in the perspective of What is my life teaching me? What life courses am I enrolled in right now?

 

Right now,

I am enrolled in Mindfulness 101.

This class has a focus on relaxation skills, introduction to meditation, and emphasizes mindfulness practices through a variety of practicums. Practicum #1 will explore the importance of focused attention and how to observe thoughts and re-direct thoughts to increase ability to focus. Practicum #2 will focus on the importance of self talk and how it affects the brain and body. There will also be a strong focus on how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works and an emphasis on how our thoughts affect the way we feel. Practicum #3 will teach basic relaxation techniques including exercises such as meditation and taking mindful walks. Finally, practicum #4 will build off of practicum #2, and focus on topics of self compassion. There will also be an exercise in which the student must engage in an activity that further brings out their strengths.

Book list/Assignments: Read Mindfully ADD book resources, listen to Attention Talk Radio podcast, utilize Meditones for meditation, participate in Discover Your Inner Voice writing class, participate in Life Works coaching for anxiety and self-doubt, listen to The Mindful Kind podcast, listen to Help Me Be Me podcast, join and participate in Facebook group for League of Extraordinary Introverts

 

So, maybe you are reading that, and think it’s a little weird.

I have a lot of “weird” ideas. But if there is one thing I have realized in my life, it is often the weird ideas that have helped me the most. Maybe you would be willing to try out this way of thinking, even if it does seem a little unusual?

As I said before, thinking of these challenges as a class to learn and grow from, totally changes the perspective, and therefore totally changes the experience.

But, the same as when you are in a college class – you have to do your homework and really engage in the class – or you are not going to get anything out of it!

Also denial won’t help. Whether you wanted to enroll in this class or not, a life circumstance you didn’t want may have forced you to. Accept this is the case and show up for class.

What are the “assignments” that will help you gain the most from this experience? Do you need to find a book or a podcast on the thing you are struggling with? Do you need to take an online course on the subject or do life coaching or counseling? Do you need to start a practice of meditation or journaling?

I can’t tell you what the answer is for you. I am just telling you, a “life class” is a nuisance if you do not fully engage it. Negative events and emotions will simply be negative things in your life that you will wish would go away. However, if you learn to embrace these events as teachers, you will have a strange mental shift, in which you feel gratitude for the lessons that are being brought to you. We never have to call a negative event “good,” but we can still be thankful for the lessons that it brings us.

 

Journal Questions:

  1. First, identify the struggles that you are currently facing. What is a struggle in your life right now? What is a challenge? What is a frustration? Try to list a few, if you can.
  2. With these struggles in mind, what life course would you be enrolled in? What would the name of it be?
  3. Are you showing up for class? Are doing the homework & assignments that would truly help you gain the wisdom and growth from this circumstance?
  4. What are the homework & assignments you are already utilizing? A book? A podcast? A daily practice? What homework & assignments do you need to add to engage more fully?
  5. If you are feeling creative – go ahead and write out everything like I did in the post. Your class name, your course description, and your books & assignments. You definitely don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, but it might help to give a full perspective for yourself. (And be kind of fun!)
  6. How can you imagine this new perspective transforming your struggles? Or if you have used this way of thinking before, how has it helped you in the past?

 

Wishing you many beautiful lessons.

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

What to Do When You are Stressed & Anxious

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Calm Your Body with Self-Talk

We tell our bodies how to react.

If you find yourself stressed and anxious about situations that do not merit that amount of stress or anxiety – realize that it is your thoughts informing your body on how to respond.

You are telling your body to release stress and anxiety chemicals.

This response might be helpful if we still lived in the wilderness. The “fight or flight” response was helpful in that scenario.

But my guess is, when a stress/anxiety inducing situation comes up in your life, it is not because you live in the wilderness and a wild animal is after you.

You probably do not need your cortisol levels skyrocketing.

Instead, you probably need a calm and rational mind in that moment.

So, the good news is, you have the power to calm your body with self talk.

I personally have a problem with anxiety, and it is likely because I am quick to jump to worst case scenarios. These worst case scenario thoughts send my body into a panic and have even caused me to pass out before. However, for these situations – passing out was not the most helpful thing – being alert and rational is what needed to happen instead.

Last Thursday when I woke up my husband, I found that he had had a severe allergic reaction of some sort. I didn’t know how bad it was – I just knew that he did not look okay. I will spare you the details, but he was a frightful sight. I felt my mind wanting to go into panic/worst case scenario mode.

However, I knew how unhelpful I would be to my husband if I was in this state.

So instead I told myself,

Yes, it does look pretty bad. But we will get him to Urgent Care, the swelling will go down, and he will be fine.

And by telling myself that, I actually had the ability to handle the situation. My anxiety did not get to take over.

I also did some deep breathing too. When you breathe shallow breaths you are telling your body there is a stressful situation. When you breathe deep slow breaths you are telling your body that you are calm, peaceful, and safe.

This may sound weird, but think of your body as a child. It doesn’t know how to react – it is just taking cues from you. If you make it feel there is danger then it will react that way, but if you tell it that it is safe, and everything will be okay, it will be comforted and calm.

 

Realize What is Truly Important

When we face stress, it is often because we are making everything important, when really, only some things are important.

We face stress because we are trying to reach perfect standards.

We face stress because we don’t let ourselves believe that there are other options.

We face stress because we don’t ask for help.

Let me give you another example from last weekend, as it was very anxious/stressful weekend.

I am someone who needs a lot of downtime in order to not feel stressed. My husband and I had planned a busy Thursday evening, Friday evening, and Sunday (which we were hosting a Mother’s Day cookout at our house). Therefore, I knew in order for me not to be stressed, I needed to protect my Saturday and make sure I had plenty of downtime.

Friday morning I received a call from a good friend of mine who had found out some bad news and asked if I would drive the 1.5 hour to her house to spend the day with her on Saturday.

This is not a friend who is needy or usually asks for much, so the fact that she was asking me this meant she really needed it.

I knew that seeing my friend was so important. And I also knew that self care and downtime was so important. And I felt the walls of stress closing in on me.

I began to think,

What do I do if EVERYTHING is important?!?

And that’s when I stopped in my tracks. Self care and downtime was important. Seeing my friend was important. But was everything else really that important?

I realized one of the other things that was stressing me out was hosting the Mother’s Day cookout. Cleaning the house..preparing the food..

I texted my sister and asked if she was would be willing to host. She said yes. And I felt the stress dissipate.

Yes, in my perfect standards, I would have done it all. I wouldn’t have had to ask for help.

But, if we give ourselves a minute to realize that we do have options, and we can prioritize what is important and what is not, we save ourselves a lot of unnecessary stress.

 

Spend Time in Nature

It is really hard to be stressed or anxious while in nature. I am not saying it is impossible, just hard.

If you want to take a natural anti-anxiety medication/stress reliever – take a walk in nature.

Be mindful about it. Direct your thoughts to the present moment – what you see, hear, and feel.

Feel the wind on your skin. Hear the birds sing their songs. Notice the green of the leaves. Smell the scent of the flowers.

Nature also has this strange way of bringing us to a place of clarity and peace. Time often feels like it has slowed down.

During my stressful weekend, I spent a little time in nature and was surprised how my cares and woes began to fade into the background.

Enjoy the free gift that the earth has given us.

 

Journal Questions:

I know that I have gained a lot from reading blog entries and I also know if I took the time and journaled about them for a few minutes they would affect me in an even deeper way and bring me to some truths I may have not come to otherwise.

So if you have a few extra minutes and your journal handy…here you go!

  1. Think of a time you were recently stressed or anxious. What were the thoughts that were going through your mind? What kind of self-talk were you telling your body? What would have been better thoughts / self talk to have in this moment? What kind of self talk would have calmed you down?
  2. In reflection, which of these points causes you the most stress? Are you not prioritizing what is truly important? Have you given yourself standards of perfection? Are you unwilling to explore or acknowledge that there are other options? Are you unwilling to ask for help? Take some time to think about which of these may be causing you stress and how you can let go.
  3. This final question is less a question, and more an action step. Make a plan to go into nature – today or tomorrow if possible. Take a mindful walk in which you notice and have gratitude for the beauty around you. Once you have finished the walk, find a spot to sit down and journal about what clarity or insight that may have come to you. Nature has a way of clearing our minds and bringing forth clarity -you just might be surprised!

Wishing you many days of peace.

Yours,

signaturesmaller

7 Ways to Reduce Mental Clutter

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DO THINGS YOUR WAY

This one is huge. You will greatly reduce mental clutter, if you just allow yourself to do things your own way.

I have wasted much mental energy in the past trying to do things someone else’s way. Not only is this frustrating and draining, it usually doesn’t work. I’m different from them and that’s okay. Maybe you are too?

You may not have the same skills as others. But guess what, they may not have the same skills as you.

Use the skills you have.

Maybe someone else has the skill of just “toughing it out.” But if you don’t have that skill, you don’t need to pretend to. Instead, maybe you have the skills of creativity and problem solving and would know how to get out of or avoid a difficult situation. Use the skill you actually have.

We were all given a set of skills to get through this life. Life is going to be difficult if you try to use the skills of others, rather than your own natural abilities.

Let go of the mental clutter that is caused by trying to do it their way. You are allowed to do things your own way.

 

TRUST THAT THINGS WILL WORK OUT

We waste a lot of mental space on worry.

However, the majority of the things we worry about never become the worst case scenario that we imagined.

Most things turn out just fine. Or even better than we had thought.

Trust that things will work out. Optimism is so much more enjoyable than pessimism.

Most likely, everything will turn out okay.

And if it doesn’t turn out okay – an optimistic and positive mindset is a lot better at dealing with that outcome, than a pessimistic negative one.

Also, keep in mind, sometimes thinking about the worst possible thing is actually worse than the worst possible thing.

When the worst possible thing happens, we go into action mode and problem solving mode, because what has happened, has happened. However, when we are thinking about some terrible outcome that could happen, we are simply dwelling.

Don’t create misery for yourself. It’s not worth it.

 

FOLLOW YOUR INTUITION

I used to aggressively weigh my pros and cons every time I tried to make a decision. I would become stuck in analysis paralysis. Not only did this take up a lot of mental energy, but I also would never actually make a decision.

Being open to following your intuition will rid you of a significant amount of mental clutter. Whether it is the everyday little decisions or the bigger life change decisions.

Your intuition is telling you something – try to tap into it. Mental clutter will also arise when you are trying to force yourself to do the “rational” thing, but your intuition is telling you something different.

Intuition does not mean making decisions based on emotions. Intuition is just trusting that there is an inner wisdom that goes beyond the rational mind.

Since I have started to follow my intuition, I not only have reduced my mental clutter, but my life has also started going in a direction I am more aligned with.

Maybe this will happen for you too?

 
REALIZE CRITICISM IS JUST ABOUT PREFERENCES

I used to allow a lot of mental clutter by being concerned about what other people thought of me and taking their criticisms personally.

I wish someone had told me sooner: Criticism is just about preferences.

Don’t believe me?

Try looking up your favorite book on Amazon. You will find both the harshest criticisms along with raving reviews.

And often times, they are criticizing and raving over the exact same things.

“This book was not well researched or backed by scientific evidence. I could not take the author seriously.”

“I loved the author’s down to earth conversational tone! She doesn’t take an academic assuming approach, but rather shares her own thoughts based on her experiences!”

Imagine these being two reviews about the same book. As you can see, the first review, which was the “criticism” was purely based on a preference for a researched scientific book.

This happened for me at a job once. I had a supervisor who identified my strengths as being patient, empathetic, and willing to give grace to the clients in our youth program.

After this, I got a new supervisor. She said my weaknesses were that I was too patient with clients and let them off the hook too easy.

The exact same thing. But one person thought it was my strength and another person thought it was my weakness.

So, this is how we reduce the mental clutter surrounding criticism. Next time someone criticizes you, you do not need to go into a tizzy of  endless What’s wrong with me? thoughts. Rather, just realize your style is not their preference, and move on.

 

REALIZE YOUR GREATEST WEAKNESS IS YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH

Sometimes we don’t need the criticisms of others to beat ourselves up, we do it to ourselves already. We think Why am I not like this? Why am I so bad at that? Why can’t I get this right?

This is where we need to remember that our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength.

It’s the thing that makes you special. It’s the thing that makes you stand out.

For me, I have a “messy brain.” My thoughts are everywhere and there are sticky notes all over my desk at work. But guess what? I am very creative.

Also, I am an introvert. I tend to be very quiet in meetings at work. But guess what, I am incredibly observant.

What is it for you?

Next time you find yourself feeling bad about a weakness of yours – take a moment – and flip the thought around. Realize how this very thing you are calling a weakness has also been the source of your greatest strength.

 

EXPEND MENTAL ENERGY WISELY

Mental energy is a finite resource. It runs outs.

We must budget our mental energy just like we would budget our finances.

Where can we reserve mental energy in our life, so that we are able to increase mental energy in other areas?

An example in my own life, is my wardrobe. I used to try to stay up with the latest fashion trends. I used to strategically pick out what I was going to where every day. I tried to go weeks without wearing the same outfit twice.

For me, this took a lot of mental energy. Especially having to decide what to wear to work every morning. My job requires a lot of my mental energy, and I had used up quite a bit already, just deciding what to wear.

This is my new wardrobe for work: I wear pretty much the same thing every week. Nobody notices. I spend zero mental energy deciding what to wear. My shirts for work are simple button ups of varying colors. If I need new clothes, I limit myself to shopping at one store I really like, rather than going on a massive clothing hunt which is very exhausting for me.

This has reduced a significant amount of unneeded mental clutter and has provided me more mental energy for other areas in my life. Now I can invest my mental energy into blogging or writing, rather than perfecting a wardrobe.

This is my example. This does not have to be your example. If creating your wardrobe and choosing your outfits is a source of enjoyment, then do it! It’s all about realizing what is energizing us and what is draining us. And realizing we can’t use our mental energy on everything at all times, so choosing carefully what we decide to use it on.

 

DEVELOP SELF-COMPASSION

Treat yourself like you would treat a friend.
Cheer yourself on.
Give yourself a break if you mess up.

A lot of mental clutter exists because we are berating ourselves.

Why can’t you get this right?
Why are you still struggling with this?

This has to stop.

Would you allow someone to talk to your best friend like this?

If not, why would you let yourself be talked to this way?

I am not saying this is something that can be fixed overnight. These thoughts are pretty automatic. But next time you find your inner critic telling you something negative, just make sure to correct the thought.

Try,

You are feeling bad right now and that’s okay. It’s frustrating, but you are going to keep working on this. Even if it doesn’t get better immediately, it will get better.

Be gentle with yourself.

 

CONCLUSION

I used to be of the mindset that my problem with mental clutter could not be fixed. I used to believe that there would always be these negative, anxious, uncertain, critical voices swirling around my head.

I am here to tell you it does not have to be that way.

I’m not saying I have reached some zen state where this does not happen at all. I still do struggle with these things.

But with that being said, I have seen huge changes in myself in the last two years by implementing the above practices. I have a new inner voice – and that inner voice is kind and compassionate. She is confident and just a little more sure of herself. She trusts that things will work out. She allows and encourages me to be who I am, with no apologies.

Is the other voice still there? The “mean girl” that lives inside me is still there. But as the voice of the “Encourager” becomes louder and louder…the critical voice becomes fainter and fainter.

I hope and pray this can happen for you too.

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

JOURNAL QUESTIONS:
1.    What would it mean for you to start doing things your own way? Have you felt pressured to do things someone else’s way? Would you be willing to let go of this pressure? What would that look like? What would you do differently?

 
2.    Do you operate in the mindset of optimism or pessimism? Do you dwell on worst case scenarios? Would you be willing to allow for more optimism and trust that things will work out? What would this look like for you?

 
3.    What is your relationship with intuition? Do you trust it? Why or why not? Would you be willing to start trusting your intuition more? Think of some decisions in your life right now. What is your intuition telling you?

 
4.    Have you ever thought about the idea that criticism might just be about other people’s preferences? What is your reaction to this? If you started thinking this way, how would it affect your life? Do you think you would be able to handle criticism more easily? Are you able to look at times in your past when you have been criticized and with this new understanding re-frame the way you are thinking about it?

 
5.    Make a list of what you consider as your weaknesses. Now next to these “weaknesses,” write out how these same things take the form of a strength. Are you willing to recognize that your weaknesses are your greatest strengths?

 
6.    How do you currently expend your mental energy? Are you using it wisely? Or are you using it on things that don’t matter to you, and not having any left for things that do? If the latter is true, how could you change this? What action steps could you take to make a change?

 
7.    Do you currently offer yourself self-compassion? Why or why not? When something doesn’t go as planned or you “mess up,” what do you tell yourself? Is it kind or is it mean? If it is not kind, what could you tell yourself instead?

 
8.    Are you willing to implement these practices into your own life? Develop a plan to start today/this week so that you can reduce mental clutter and enjoy the freedom and joy you were meant to have.

 

ADDITIONAL:
If you are really serious about this, I want to offer you two additional pieces of advice.

1)    Patience
2)    Everyday mind renewal

First, I say patience because as I said, I have seen a huge change in myself in the last 1-2 years. That’s not an overnight fix. However, I do think you can begin to see changes right away. But you may find yourself doing great one day and back to negative patterns the next day. Don’t feel bad about this – this is part of the process. Trust that over time, as long as you continue to work on this, it will change and it will become easier and easier.

Second, to find the change I wanted I had to “renew” my mind daily. I didn’t read one book and suddenly change, rather, I kept putting positivity into my life daily. You can check out my previous resource list post for some additional resources to use for the renewal of your mind. Some books I have not read but have heard highly recommended (and are on my reading list!) are Loving-kindness by Sharon Salzberg, You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay, The Gifts of Imperfection  by Brene Brown, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and Self Compassion by Kristin Neff. I also recently found Katie Dean through a podcast I listen to – I have not read her stuff yet but thoroughly enjoyed her podcast presence and know she speaks on these topics on her blog.

Wishing you patience, perseverance, and the renewal of your mind.