books + reading

With A Rebel Yell #BetterThanBefore #mind

I like fresh starts and I like making resolutions about ways I want to live my life better.

I’ve been working on a post outlining my New Year’s Resolutions-slash-Annual Birthday Intentions ever since my birthday, which was almost a month ago.

However – as much as I love resolutions – I find them overwhelming.  I have a tendency to make the same resolutions over and over again, with little progress toward my goals.  In my classic overthinker manner, I can spend just as much time angsting over HOW I am going to keep my resolutions as I do thinking of the resolutions themselves.

While pondering my resolutions and my intentions for 2016 and my 34th year, I kept going back to one of the books from 2015 that I can’t stop talking about: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin.

4tendencies-blue2-957x1024In Better Than Before, Rubin identifies four different tendencies that people can have when it comes to responding to expectations.  Rubin distinguishes between outer expectations (like work deadlines) and inner expectations (such as sticking to a self-imposed diet).  There are Upholders – they meet both outer and inner expectations; there are Questioners – they meet their inner expectations but question all outer expectations; there are Obligers – they meet all outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations; and there are Rebels, who struggle to meet outer or inner expectations.

After careful consideration, I have determined that I am a Rebel.  I can meet expectations when there’s a good reason, or when I’m extremely motivated, or when I just feel like doing it – but there’s no real rhyme or reason behind when I meet an expectation and when I don’t.  I can’t make myself do anything, whether it’s stick to a candy-free diet (damn you, Skittles!) or observe a limit set by an authority figure.  Impending consequences don’t work – shame doesn’t work – guilt doesn’t work.

BUT – I don’t think this means I can never ever ever keep a resolution.  I think it just means I have to be creative about how I make resolutions and how I honor them.

In Better Than Before, Rubin recommends the Strategy of Identity as one of the few strategies that is helpful for Rebels like me.  She describes the Strategy of Identity in a video on her website:

Basically, for Rebels like me, it can be really helpful to think about how the habits I want to adopt can be in harmony with my personal sense of identity.  I have a handful of resolutions I’d like to make this year, and I am going to do my best to encapsulate each of them in a simple statement that aligns with my identity.

Along with the Strategy of Identity, there are a few other ideas I came up with to keep my intentions.  (These ideas were developed during an hours-long birthday coffee date with Tee, who is very good at patiently listening to me agonize over how I am going to keep my resolutions.  EVERY SINGLE YEAR.)

  1. Use visual reminders.  Sometimes having my resolutions posted around the house or in my office helps me to remember my intentions.
  2. Have family meetings.  I love scheduling impromptu family meetings.  Tee agreed that we could use our meetings to check in on how well we’re doing with our resolutions.
  3. Track progress on heartsoulmindbody.  Serious hand up, this blog has definitely helped me to be true to my quest for better balance.  Why not use it to track my progress toward this year’s resolutions?

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blogging · books + reading

150 Posts, 53 Books, 2016 Blessings #heart #soul #mind #nonstop

This is my 150th blog post!  Yay!

This blog continues to be helpful for me – it’s a therapeutic outlet and a confidence booster.  And it’s really  satisfying when I reach milestone numbers.

Like this milestone number – 53 books read this year. In January, I set a Goodreads goal of reading 52 books during the year 2015.  As of today, I’ve read 53 books- go KEM! (You can link to the list of books I read here.)  I’m not that big on setting goals like that, but I did find it really satisfying to track my progress toward the 52 books on Goodreads.  I’m not usually one who looks for compliments or gold stars, but I do like checking things off of lists and clicking the “I’ve finished this book!” button on the Goodreads app.

So, I’ve counted to 150 blog posts, and I’ve counted to 53 books.  But what I really want to count today are my blessings.  And I can’t count high enough.

-Being with Tee, at Christmas and every day of my life.

-Having the best sister in the universe.

-Loving and being loved by family, who’ve dropped everything to help Tee and me this last week.

-My oldest friend, who texted me random FRIENDS quotes periodically on a stressful day.

-Our moving helpers, including our two-year-old niece, who picked up tiny pieces of bark one at a time over and over for at least thirty minutes, tossing them into the pile of firewood in the back of Tee’s truck.

-Offers and favors from friends and family – to help us move, to bring us food, checking in on us every day of the past week.counting

-An exciting new job opportunity.

-Our upcoming move.  Stressful as it is, I’m so excited to get set up in our new farmhouse and start Marie Kondo-ing the heck out of my life.  (I’d explain, but I have a feeling this blog is going to be insufferable with references to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in January.)

-A new year – 2016.  I’m not a huge celebrator of New Year’s Eve, but I have always loved New Year’s Day – the first day of a brand-new year.  A fresh start.  A chance to take stock and to look ahead.

I’ve had the Bing Crosby song “Count Your Blessings” from the movie White Christmas in my head ever since last Friday.  I can’t stop counting my blessings, and it’s making me really happy.

books + reading

What I Learned From Big Magic #mind #soul #BigMagic #takeaways

The streak of all my famous authors coming out with new books continues!  I picked up Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert from the library on the Tuesday it came out.  (All of these books have been coming out on Tuesdays; I did some googling and it seems like this is a thing, new releases coming out on Tuesdays, though I couldn’t identify the reason why.)24453082

I finished Big Magic on October 5.  I really enjoyed the format; Liz Gilbert divided the book into six sections, and each section is divided into several short pieces.  It reminds me of the format of Eat Pray Love: 108 stories, divided into three sections.  Some of the stories were longer; some were shorter.  And they were all inextricably connected.  I thought Eat Pray Love had a really good flow to it, and I think Big Magic does, too.  Here are my takeaways!

  • What happens to our work after we create is not our responsibility and is not within our power.  If you want to create, you create.  That doesn’t mean you’re going to achieve creative success.  It doesn’t mean you’re going to make a living as an artist.  As Gilbert says in Big Magic, “The patron goddess of creative success sometimes rewards charlatans and ignores the gifted.”  Understanding that the reaction to your work is not under your control and is, frankly, none of your business is, Gilbert says, the only sane way to create.  For me, I get caught up in what other people will say about what I’ve written.  Gilbert has some wonderful words of wisdom for dealing with haters.  (See below.) Quotes-From-Elizabeth-Gilbert-Big-Magic 7
  • Sneak off and have an affair with your creative self.  Gilbert playfully writes about dressing up in your best clothes and sneaking off to have an affair, pointing out that when someone’s having an affair, they never give the excuses like “I don’t have time” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  They find stolen moments to devote to their affair against all reason and rhyme.

I try to remember that my writing wants the best of me.  My writing wants me to bring my best self to the page.  My writing wants me when I’m feeling witty and graceful and powerful.  It also wants me when I’m feeling vulnerable and sensitive and weak, of course, but I like the idea of getting ready for writing as if I’m going on a hot date.  Get excited!  Put on your best sweatpants.  Because this writing thing is going to be so much fun.

  • If you can’t quit, you’ll have to keep going.  Gilbert tells a story, relayed from a relative, about the writer Richard Ford.

Ford was conversing at a speaking engagement with an aspiring writer who        was  struggling to make his living with his craft.  The writer asked Ford for advice, explaining that all anyone ever tells him is to do is persevere.  Ford tells him to quit – because writing is killing him and is making him miserable.  Ford then cheekily tells him that if he spends a few years away from writing and finds nothing else that inspires him the same way that writing does – well, then, he’ll have no choice but to persevere.

I sometimes fight off the negative self-talk themes of not good enough and it’s too late.  If I was meant to find creative success via writing, shouldn’t I have found it already?  I’m 32 years old.

Well, maybe I should have.  Maybe I will someday.  Or maybe I never will.  But if I can’t find any other creative outlet that brings me the same joy and fulfillment that writing does – well, I’ll just have to keep on writing.

  • Only when we are at our most playful can divinity get serious with us.  I do a lot of play therapy at my job, so I have a bulletin board full of quotations about the importance of play in my office.  “Play is serious work.”  “It’s a happy talent to know how to play.”  “Play turns out to be so stunningly essential to childhood that it’s like love, sunshine, and broccoli, all juiced together.”  Gilbert argues that our creative energy and ideas come from divine sources, and that we can only open the channel tQuotes-From-Elizabeth-Gilbert-Big-Magic4o our divinity when we are being playful and not taking ourselves so damn seriously.  
  • Value authenticity over originality.  I often have this argument with myself – why are you writing?  All the most wonderful, unique, and original stories and books have already been written.  But anyone who is writing straight from the heart and being truly authentic is adding something original to the world.  (So, don’t try to be original.  Just try to be you.  You are original.)
  • Write for you.  You need to write for YOU – not for money or for popularity or for other people.  Gilbert talks about writing Eat Pray Love for herself – it was a book she felt she needed to write.  And it ended up helping a lot of people in the world who related to her personal and spiritual struggles.  But – I really believe this is true – if you write something TRYING TO HELP OTHERS, it probably won’t help.  It will probably come across as condescending or distant or preachy or inauthentic.  However, if you write from the heart anfullsizerenderd honestly with honesty and you write what you need to write, you may find that your words accidentally end up helping others in strange and mysterious ways.
  • Creativity doesn’t have to be sacred.  If we try to make everything perfect, we end up never creating anything.  Gilbert argues that our creative expression must be of the utmost importance (if we are to live artistically) and it must be completely unimportant (if we are to live sanely).  “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Voltaire said.  Just keep on going and get things done.
books + reading

The Baby-Sitters Club #heart

Today I walked into my office in the middle of a hectic morning and I found a copy of Kristy’s Great Idea by Ann M. Martin on my desk – the very first book in the young adult series The Baby-Sitters Club.12079633_10103432914398830_7749523086888029431_n

I didn’t know who’d left the book there, so I immediately posted a photo of the book on Facebook, figuring that the gift-giving co-worker would see it and reveal herself.  That’s the easiest way to solve a mystery like this, right?

No – it’s not.  I knocked on my next-door neighbor’s door five minutes later and she told me that she’d found the book while cleaning out her mother’s basement and had left it on my desk.  (I guess we don’t need to use social media for all communication?  It’s unclear.)

A few hours later, my Facebook post had some likes and some comments, and my sister and I were DEEP into a texting argument over which baby-sitter we’d be if we were the members of The Baby-Sitters Club.  (I so want to be Dawn Schafer, but I am constantly assigned the role of either Kristy Thomas or Mary Anne Spier.)

My wife Tee and I recently had a similar discussion with our friend The Naturalist; one Saturday during harvest, we decided that Tee is Stacey McGill, The Naturalist was Kristy Thomas, and I was (sigh) Mary Anne.  (My sister thinks Tee is more Logan than Stacey, which is actually pretty insightful – a Southerner who is kind, laidback, and level-headed.)

The point of all this chitchat is that I was pleasantly surprised by how much dialogue was instigated at the mere mention of The Baby-Sitters Club (BSC).  Today’s conversations got me thinking about the feelings BSC talk inspires in girls of a certain age.  Whenever The Baby-Sitters Club comes up in conversation, it cues two things – nostalgia and questions of identity.  I don’t think I’ve ever in my life spoken about BSC without engaging in a lengthy debate about who would be who, and why, and then subsequent arguing when opinions differed.  And I’ve never thought about BSC without being instantly transported back to my childhood home, with me sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal, the latest BSC book folded around the cereal bowl so I could read while I ate, my older sister waiting impatiently for me to finish so she could read it, too.

I don’t think I’m alone in the sentimental identity crisis I experience every time I think about these beloved books.  Every once in a while, an expression of BSC love will pop up on my Facebook feed – a list of the best-dressed BSC members, a blog that summarizes all the BSC books, a look at the worst covers in BSC history.  AND, thanks to my reflections today, I had the good fortune of discovering that a BSC prequel was released several years ago, as well as graphic novel versions of the first four BSC books!  (Don’t you worry; they’ve already been requested from the Baltimore County Public Library.)

In order to win my argument with my sister, I took Buzz Feed’s Which Baby-Sitter Are You? quiz, and was VERY happy to get Dawn as my result!  You can take the quiz here if you want to find out who you are.  (You know you want to.)

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books + reading

#mind #heart #RisingStrong #takeaways

rising strongI finished reading Rising Strong last week.  I flew through it, and I can’t wait to go back over it more carefully, giving myself time and energy to absorb it all more thoroughly.  As previously stated, I don’t like writing book reviews, but I do like listing takeaways – things Brene Brown writes and says and preaches that I would like to remember and to practice in my everyday life.

Sidebar: Sometimes I am writing or talking about Dr. Brown and I feel like I am totally all over the place.  How do I take my thoughts and keep them organized?  How do I take my feelings and my reactions to Rising Strong and other Brene Brown works and put them together in a way that makes sense, to me and to others?  Sometimes lists help me; I’m going to give that a try.

Brene Brown Takeaway # 1: You can’t selectively numb.  brene brown numbing

One of my favorite takeaways from Dr. Brown’s previous books is this: You can’t selectively numb.  

I numb.  I numb when dealing with anger, sadness, uncertainty, stress, physical discomfort.  But, says Dr. Brown, when you numb sadness, you also numb joy, excitement, contentment.  You can’t choose what you numb.  That statement is profound, and is helping me to take steps toward engaging with emotion rather than fighting it off.

Sometimes, though, I want to numb!  I want to be released from whatever exhausting emotion is ruling my universe.  On those days, I have to remind myself that trying to cover up my feelings with TV, Skittles, and diet Cokes also keeps me from noticing the sunshine all around me.

Brene Brown Takeaway # 2: You can’t skip Day Two.

In Rising Strong, Dr. Brown talks about The Daring Way, a community of practitioners who are certified in Dr. Brown’s work.  The practitioners participate in a three-day intensive training in order to become certified.  (There may be other components involved in the certification, but I don’t know what they are.)  Dr. Brown talks about how Day Two is always the worst day of this training – it’s the day when “we are moving into the shame and worthiness part of the curriculum, and people are feeling raw.”

I think there’s a Day Two involved in just about every life experience.  You start something, and you feel energized and awesome – then you move into the grunt work part, at which point you either abandon the quest or suffer through Day Two – and then you get to the awesome, proud final phase.1456506_748385275176584_1927097425_n

I suck at Day Two.  Day Two is usually the part when I stop taking care of myself, stop moving, start numbing.  But – you can’t skip it.  It’s non-negotiable, as Dr. Brown says.  That’s important for me to remember.

Brene Brown Takeaway # 3: Your ego is your inner hustler.

“Our ego is the part of us that cares about our status and what other people think, about always being better than and always being right.  I think of my ego as my inner hustler.  It’s always telling me to compare, prove, please, perfect, outperform, and compete. Our inner hustlers have very little tolerance for discomfort and self-reflection.”

-Brene Brown, Rising Strong

I’ve learned a lot about ego since I went into recovery three years ago, and I’m always learning more.  My ego thinks that I can do anything if I struggle hard enough.  (I tend to use struggle when Dr. Brown uses hustle.)  It thinks that if I struggle hard enough, I can control the universe.

I’ve been struggling lately.  A lot.  And I’m trying to stop struggling.

In fact, I’m trying to stop thinking that if I struggle hard enough, things will be better.  Struggling has never been effective for me; what’s been effective for me is learning to let go.  Living in the present.  Trusting that the universe keeps everything in balance and that things will fall into place.

Brene Brown Live and Love Whole Heart 2I’m sure that I’ll have more takeaways as I reread; I’ve been reading the book out loud to Tee, which is a way for me to re-experience the book. Plus, I get to introduce it to Tee!  Look for more takeaways in the future.

books + reading

#mind #soul #ProjectKEM

When I first read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I was excited to start my own happiness project.  I really liked Gretchen’s idea of ‘changing your life without changing your life’ – using small but significant changes to make yourself happier.  I carried around a binder with my resolutions charts, and I (like Gretchen) had a theme for each month, making five or six resolutions to go along with the theme.

I actually started a blog to chronicle my project.  Yes – heart soul mind body is not the first blog I’ve initiated.  But I’ve been sticking with this blog way longer than I have with any previous efforts.

Nothing-to-blogI think it’s been easier to keep up with this blog because I’ve given myself permission to go off-theme.  Yes, I blog about balance – but I also write about the adoption wait, or any random musings or thoughts that pop into my head.

It’s fun thinking about Project KEM, which is what I called my happiness project.  I had a theme for each month – simplicity, spirituality, creativity, mindfulness – family, friends, love, health, work, and play.  I’m missing one – I can’t think of it.

I’m always a sucker for a self-improvement project.  Currently, my obsession is simplifying and tidying a la Marie Kondo.  More on that to come, I’m sure.

books + reading · podcasts · writing

#MagicLessons #ElizabethGilbert #soul #mind

There are days when I open up my blog to write, and I don’t really have anything to write.

What I do then, usually, is one of the following:

  1. Go through my “blog” folder and look at different images I’ve saved.  I have one folder, labelled “inspiration,” that contains images I find inspiring but haven’t connected with a specific blog post yet.
  2. Scroll through the Facebook pages of people who post inspiring quotes and pictures.  I have a few friends who fit that bill; I like to check the pages for Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert as well.
  3. Go through my “ideas for upcoming posts” list and see what sparks my interest.
  4. Go to my “stream of consciousness” blog draft and just write whatever random, ridiculous thoughts are streaming through my head.11890947_884456791636437_946288421562206663_n

This is all runway work; this is all creative play.  This is my time to dance and frolic and see what happens.  And it’s lovely #soul and #mind food.

I’ve been loving Magic Lessons, Elizabeth Gilbert’s new podcast, and it’s helping me to feel good about my creative playtime.  There are silly ideas in my head.  And even when they’re silly – I still need to get them out.  I need to take my creative thoughts and ideas and put them on blank canvas.  That’s a big reason why writing this blog has been therapeutic – it’s a way of getting my ideas out of my head and onto a canvas.  “If I am not actively creating something, then chances are I am actively destroying something – myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind,” Gilbert writes.  I tend to agree.

liz gilbert