Intentions

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I’m in such a happy place.

It’s not often that I say that – more out of fear of exaggeration than out of accuracy – but I am so currently happy.

It’s 65 degrees outside for the second time since October. As I type this it’s 6:48 p.m. on a Wednesday, and the sun is STILL OUT, and I’m sitting in a coffee shop because I’m done with work for the day and I almost risked being bored tonight, which is also HAPPY. Let the record show there is room to breathe as myself. 

Also, hi again. Let’s be friends, shall we?

I’ve been wanting to share my intentions for this year with you. Continue reading

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The Perfect Week: A guide to setting up for an easier Monday – Friday

I don’t float through weeks; I wish I did. Instead, I tend to attack my work weeks, cramming as much as I think I can handle into five days, then either winding up pretty exhausted by Friday, or totally elated that I had a great one.

I want to talk about those great ones: those weeks when everything gets done and I still have time for myself. When I eat well. When I work out. And when I spend some qt with my family and friends. 

They’re the best! And they don’t happen by accident. In order to set myself up for a great week, I very purposefully prep my apartment, my food and even my work clothes, so that come Wednesday, when work keeps me late or I just don’t feel like doing anything, I can rest assured the critical business of living is taken care of.

Here are the steps I take each weekend to make sure my week runs smoothly…

First things first, I clean my apartment. Because let’s face it, that won’t happen M-F. I actually really enjoy cleaning – I play podcasts and generally feel like I’m getting good “me” time. Here are my current favorites:
– the Totally Laime series (Comedian Elizabeth Laime hosts three podcasts devoted to comedy, marriage and motherhood. She is hilarious and I’d really, you know, like to be her best friend some day.)
– This American Life (a classic for anyone who loves good storytelling)
– Freakonomics (The authors of the eponymous book dive into fascinating social economics topics.)
– Joy the Baker (My favorite bloggers, Tracy Shutterbean and Joy the Baker, host this podcast on a variety of topics and answer reader questions. Really, though, it’s just fun to hear about life through their friendship.)
Every Sunday I sit down with paper and pen (or an electronic notebook like Evernote) and plan what I’ll eat for the week. Here are the steps I take to do this:
1) I take a refrigerator/pantry inventory and make a list of what I have on hand already. This is an excellent way to cut down on grocery costs, and I waste less. Win-win!
2) I use cookbooks or Pinterest to plan a few meals I’ll make, and plop them into my daily meal planner. Here’s where I try to find recipes using the ingredients I have on hand. I also don’t plan for every meal of the week, since I’ve found that tends to leave me with leftovers.
trying to find a recipe to use up my black beans (I ended up making the Mexican Chopped Salad)

my Evernote daily meal planner
3) I make a grocery list of the ingredients I still need (and check off the ones I already had).

4) I do the grocery shop…
5) …and then prep what meals I can. This may mean prepping dinners for the next few days, but it always means prepping breakfast. Since I’m always pressed for time in the morning, it’s important to me that I can grab breakfast and go. 
prepping overnight oats for breakfast all week

Prepped and stored!

If I have to pick out an outfit in the early hours of the morning, you can bet I’m going with the least common denominator – the black work pants and the top that never wrinkles. Maybe a nice pair of earrings to make it look like I tried. And flats.

Prepping this stuff on Sunday and giving myself time to iron means I’ll get a little more creative and wear my non-go-to clothes, too. So! …First I lay out my outfits and iron them, if needed.

…then hang them up in the order I’ll wear them. Voila!

I hope you have an easy week this week!

A Clean Slate

I so often feel that to start something – usually a new habit or routine – I have to have a totally clean slate: a fresh start. And this makes sense. It’s really fun, for example, to start the new year with a few resolutions. The clean slate that the new year brings – out with 2013 and in with 2014! – brings a feeling of possibility.
But life is messy, and I mess up. I falter and I don’t follow through with intentions, and then instead of picking myself right back up and doing the Good Thing, I wait because I feel like I have to have my Clean Slate, whether that’s a new day, a new week (most often), a new month or year.

But while the idea of a Clean Slate is lovely and often empowering, it is also enabling: If my Clean Slate doesn’t start until next week, then this week I’m free to make as many poor decisions as I’d like.
So I want to be done with the Clean Slate. I want to make good decisions all the time, and if I can’t do that, then I want to forgive myself and make them next time. Not tomorrow, not next week, but next time. I want to strengthen my Good Thing muscles so I can keep making the good decisions without thinking.

…And want to know something cool? 
I started the practice of dropping the Clean Slate with this very blog entry, which is defying the odds of being written, as I had earlier today thought to myself writing this week was a lost cause: I hadn’t planned anything out, so the plan was to start fresh on Sunday. 
It’s not perfect, but it was the right decision: I’m flexing my Good Thing muscles!

40 Days Reflection

The 40 Days are over! Did you hear? While I have to admit they weren’t a rigid success (I never had a single week of doing all six days of yoga, nor all seven of meditation), I feel pretty darn good. And to be honest, I’m pretty amazed about that, considering the 40 Days coincided with a pretty intense bout of work – the kind that usually leaves me wound up. 
While the last month hasn’t been pure bliss (what is?), I’ve found myself responding to stress in a much healthier way, and I attribute that the best tools I learned during my 40 Days…
1. Recognize I am living in my own story. The world is happening around us, and what we often think of as the “truth” is really the story we make of the bits and pieces we are exposed to. Our stories can be positive or negative, emotion-filled or objective, but they are just our perspectives. 
When I can recognize that the story I’m spinning is just that – a story – it helps keep my perspective wider. I may be sure that the guy who cut me off on the freeway is a total jerk, but what if he’s late for the most important job interview of his life? What if he’s rushing his child to the hospital? Remembering that I don’t know all the facts can help me stay calm.
2. Tease my less-than-best self. I often get in that habit of reprimanding myself when I have a bad moment. When I find myself getting judgmental, I shudder and tell myself to stop it! This not only makes me feel bad, it doesn’t even make the habit go away. 
During the 40 Days I took a more playful approach. When I found myself thinking something I wasn’t proud of, rather than admonish myself, I’d label it as a different Abby. I’d say, “Oh, there goes Judgmental Abby,” or most commonly, “Victim Abby has made her appearance again!” 
Being playful with myself helped me to recognize my negative thoughts (which helped me stop them) but because I kept the tone with myself light, I kept the internal battle at bay. A win all around.
3. Just come back. They say meditation is the art of coming back. I love that, because I so often feel, when I get off course, that I need a trigger to start over. This 40 Days, I never beat myself up if I didn’t make it to a yoga class when I was supposed to. Rather than “starting over” the next week, I forgave myself and came back. Nothing was lost – practicing coming back was just as important as the yoga itself.
4. Choose to be calm. The story of my greatest victory this 40 Days: 
It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I could have been in tears. I had driven to Austin that morning for a company recruiting event, and was supposed to make the three-hour drive back to Houston that evening. As the day progressed, more and more work made its way to my phone, until by 5 p.m. I was swamped with tasks that all felt critical to get done by the very next day. The drive back to Houston was daunting, especially with hours of work looming over my head.
Fortunately for me, this was the program’s week of equanimity, or the practice of remaining calm. So I chose to practice. Rather than calling Michael to vent about the work (which would have taken up more of my precious time), I took a few minutes to release my anxiety in my journal. I decided the most critical pieces of work to get done, and I decided that doing them in Austin could be a way to make the situation fun. I’d be working before the exhausting drive home, and I could do it in an Austin coffee shop, an atmosphere I love. 
It worked! I felt so much better, both for getting my work done and for refusing to panic. I vow to practice this every day from here on out. And if I have moments of panic – moments in which I am not practicing equanimity – then I’ll simply come back.
There is another 40 Days program starting up in July. If you’re in the Houston area I highly recommend it – I’ll be seeing you there!

Rainy day thoughts and mindfully waiting

I’m a big believer that things happen when they should. Not in a god’s-hand sort of way, but more in an if I listen carefully enough to myself, I will know when something is right sort of way. It’s all about recognizing my not-yet-conscious thoughts and feelings, and being ready to act when they surface.

Several times in my life, extremely clear decisions have cropped up in my brain that are totally unrecognizable to my conscious; that is, there’s no trace of me ever having toyed with these decisions until they’re there, refusing to be sidestepped. The weird thing is that as soon as I articulate these thoughts, I immediately recognize them as being right, and I can feel that my subconscious has been mulling over them for quite some time.

Moving to Houston was like this for me. I had never considered leaving my job at Teach For America, never considered uprooting from the Upper East Side (for at least a few more years), until one day in December 2011 it occurred to me that I wouldn’t stay. And as soon as I said it – even though I phrased it as a question, at the time – I knew there was really no question. I belonged back in Texas. It was the right thing to do, and I was sure of that.

The kicker is that sometimes, as our subconscious works through particularly tough problems – and before we get the satisfaction of an answer – the experience can be painful and uncomfortable. Before I decided to move to Houston I felt anxious for weeks, and I couldn’t figure out why. And then – poof! – as soon as I decided to move, I felt at peace, and knew the decision to leave New York had been my source of unrest.

And why am I bringing this up, you ask?  Because I’m in the uncomfortable part. I really am. For the past few weeks I’ve had this sort of gnawing feeling, this anxiety that doesn’t seem to go away, no matter how much on my to-do list gets checked off.

At first I thought this feeling was due to my anxiety around passing a certification test for work, then I thought the uncomfort had to do with a presentation I gave the following week. The completion of each of these tasks yielded washes of relief, but both proved temporary: The gnawing is back.

I’m not sure what my subconscious has in store for me, or if it will ever be revealed (I certainly hope so!) but for the time being… my ears are perked.

The most manageable food diary ever

At various points in my life, I’ve tried to keep a food diary.  This practice is consistently recommended as a way to be conscious about what we eat, but I’ve never been able to do it.  There’s something about carrying a tiny notebook around with me and pausing at the start of every meal — Just one sec! What’s in this soup? — to record what I’m about to intake that’s just not fun or manageable.  It inevitably lasts for all of about half a day before I throw my hands up and call the project a loss.

So I’m doing it with a camera instead, and the results have been surprisingly awesome.  I get all the benefits — pausing for a second before I inhale my food, and having a record of it afterwards — by doing something I like to do anyway: take pictures.  And when I don’t want to take a picture of what I’m about to eat, it’s a self-check.

Over the next three days, as part of the 40 Days program, I’ll be entering into a three-day “fruit feast.”  For those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning, you’ll know that I tried this last year with pretty terrible results.  I gave up the feast — in which you only eat fruit — after one day, citing a raging headache as my downfall.

Tomorrow, with the other 40-days yogis at my back, I’m hoping to last this one all the way through.  And with the knowledge that you’re actually supposed to get a headache after the first day — I’m told it’s a signal your body is being detoxed — I think I’ll be able to hold strong, using my electronic food diary as a record of my achievement. Yes, I’m skeptical of the benefits.  But you know what?  That’s okay.

Onward!

40 Days

I’m about to get the best night’s sleep.

Today I started my yoga studio’s 40 days to personal revolution program, and I’m exhausted.  And feeling light!  By signing on, I’ve committed myself to 6 days of yoga per week — more than I’ve ever done, with the exception of an 8-day stint at an Indian ashram — twice-daily meditation, and daily journaling.  I’ve also more personally committed myself to 1) connecting my mind to my practice and 2) being open.  I’ve felt really closed off lately and I’d like to change that.

And, if I’m really honest, I’d also like to master these:

Wish me luck!

On 20-something rattling

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want, in the life kind of way.  Most of me, at least right now, feels like I want a lot.  But I don’t know exactly what I want, or how my priorities stack up.  And then I beat myself up for wanting anything because, you know, why can’t I just be happy with what is?

There’s this episode of Girls where Hannah’s parents remark that Hannah is “rattling through” her 20s, and that is so utterly how I feel.  I’m really rattling.

 
Michael and I counted that today, four and five years out of school, respectively, we’ve had five different jobs in three different fields.  Throw internships in there — all the career interests we cast aside — and those numbers grow significantly.  And our life interests have oscillated, too.  Right now I’m into yoga, cooking and running, but let’s not forget when education reform made the cut, or when meditating in an Indian ashram was at the top of my list.  My 20s have become this (sometimes not so fun) game of figuring it out.
 
Sometimes I wish I were just ALL IN for something.  Like my friend Jon, whose passion for acting is so strong he’s never had a choice in his career.  Or my yoga instructors, who love yoga so much they immerse themselves not only in the classes, but in the yoga community, too.  Or even friends of mine who prioritize setting up a family.
 
I’ve never been all in for anything, at least not yet.  And while sometimes I think that’s cool — so many interests! — I’ve started to get an itch for figuring it out.  And then I remember that —  hey! — trying a bunch of stuff is the way to figure it out… and I’m back to square one.

Maybe meditation will help.

Reset and the gift of no

What a great weekend.  After dashing home from Denton, where I watched my little brother graduate from college (woot woot!), Michael and I co-hosted a Lights in the Heights party (post to come).  It really went off without a hitch, which was a huge relief, considering the obstacles* we overcame to get there.  It was totally wonderful and fun, and today I gave myself a much needed day to relax, read, eat leftover cookies and put off cleaning until tomorrow.

That said, in preparation for the party, which aligned with one of my busiest weeks at work, I scarified some of the things that make me feel really normal and healthy.  Read: I didn’t exercise at all (not once), for the first time since our Israel trip, and since my kitchen was out of commission, I ate out every meal.  There’s something about being really busy that gives you license to indulge like this, but you know what?  I feel kind of sick and gross now. So, priorities.  It’s time for a mini-reset.  This week I vow to…

– exercise
– eat well and consciously
– get my obligations done (finish up at work, write a recommendation letter for a friend, finish Christmas shopping)
– serve myself well (post to this blog, clean my apartment, talk to a friend who needs it, update my budget, read)

One of the ways I’ve been thinking about this is through the idea of giving myself the gift of no.  This was originally a post on The Rich Life, the project I’ve been bragging on.  One of the contributors, Danielle Buckley Park, recently wrote about her idea of flipping what “no” means.

When she thought about what made her happy, she realized the days in which she gave herself structure and limitations (“No, I will not buy that caramel macchiato,” or, “No, I will not wallow in self-pity about how stressed out I am.”) were the days she was happier.  The logic is that when everything is a “yes,” nothing is special, so by giving yourself the gift of no, “yes” can be enjoyed more.

So she started to play a little game with herself.  Rather than viewing “no” as restrictive, she started to tell herself it was a gift.  She would say, “I’m giving myself the gift of saying no to this caramel macchiato so that I can enjoy the feeling of being light and strong and healthy.” and she would really feel like it was a gift.  (Okay, I’m not sure she used those words, but the intention remains the same.)

So that is the game I want to play this week.  I want to be really positive and give myself the gift of limitations. The gift of no.

*1) A few weeks ago, I decided that I’d replace my kitchen floor, a project that of course took longer than expected and had my stove, refrigerator, breakfast table, and all the contents of my kitchen sitting in my living room through Tuesday.
2) A busted water main on my street had water several inches deep — a muddy mess — up to my apartment stairs for two weeks running.  After five polite but ineffective calls to the City of Houston, I decided micro-management was going to be the trick to get the main fixed, so I spent a solid 2 hours on the phone with 311 Monday night, getting the name and phone number of everyone who was helping me, as well as their supervisors’, then following up continuously throughout Tuesday, until finally a crew came out.  It worked!  The main was fixed by Tuesday evening.
3) My brother graduated!… near Dallas on Saturday morning.  This had me praying I’d make a flight that would get me back to Houston in time to host my guests.

My living room, during the kitchen floor renovation.