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Last year I chose ‘intention’ as my word for the year but that never felt quite right (to be honest, I kept forgetting what my chosen word was) and in 2014 I chose ‘equanimity’ mainly because I thought it sounded fancy and it was fun to say. But this year is different.
My one little word for 2016 is ‘better.’ It came to me quickly and suddenly and I knew it was the perfect word for me once it appeared in my brain. It stuck. Like melted gum on the bottom of my flip-flop. Stuuuuuuck.
To me, ‘better’ simply means that I want to make each day, each moment, each breath, just a teeny tiny wee bit better than the one before it or the one in 2015 or 2014 or 1994. Just a smidge bit better. Not the best—no one needs that kind of pressure. But also not the same either—because while my life is good—damn good in so many ways—I also believe that it/I can work to continually improve things even if that improvement measures only a millimeter. It’s still better.
I was thrown off for a minute when I read some of my favorite bloggers talk about how we should give up the idea of ‘better’ and instead focus on all that we already have. True. So very true. And yet, I also don’t want to wake up on January 1 of 2017 feeling like my life is at the exact same spot as it was on January 1 of 2016. No, I want to wake up on January 1 of 2017 and say, “Damn. That was a good year. My life shifted in subtle—and not so subtle—ways for the better. And I’m grateful.”
As an educational consultant, I’m constantly sharing research around the concept of expertise from Dr. Ericsson and the notion that it takes a minimum of ten years of deliberate practice to get good at something difficult. And that got me thinking. About my own life. And if I’m truly an expert in my own life… hmmmmm.
I’ve got the ten years part down (ahem…). It’s the deliberate practice part that has me pushing my own thinking. In education, we talk about deliberate practice as choosing one or two things to get better at each year. One or two things. Not 500. (Because in education, like other vocations, I’m sure, we tend to throw 500 new ideas at our teachers and announce that they need to do these things. Now. But for us veterans, we know that if we don’t get to them, we don’t worry, because we’ll throw 450 of those things out next year and bring in 475 more. Which sometimes leads to complacency and a feeling of ‘I’ll just shut my door and keep on doing what I’m doing because no one outside of my door seems to know what they’re doing anyway.’ And I want more than that for my own life--and for the educators that I work with.)
And so, as consultants in the world of education, we advocate for not doing that—not closing our door and doing what we’ve always done. We advocate for better. Because we know that if teachers can improve just a smidge each year, the impact on student achievement is astounding.
Which circles me back to my intention for myself this year: If I can improve my life just a smidge this year, the impact just might be astounding. And I like to be astounded.
So I started writing. As I do. And reading. As I do. Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before revolutionized my thinking and helped me to hone in on who I am and what small steps I can take to know myself better in order to shape my habits rather than trying on someone else’s habits as though swallowing a magic pill that would finally change my life immediately and forever (as I’ve been doing for years).
And so for the start of 2016, I’ve implemented my own ‘Daily 5.’ Educators might be familiar with this framework from the world of elementary school literacy (and now math) and how this framework helps to foster independence and fully engage students in reading and writing. The daily five in literacy are (1) read to self, (2) read to someone, (3) work on writing, (4) listen to reading, and (5) word work.
My daily five? My small steps that I am going to engage in action research around to see if they do indeed make me feel better are as follows: (1) take one photo each day (2) meditate (3) write (4) move (5) choose food (and drinks) mindfully.
For the last six days I’ve been using my Streaks app (through Rubin’s book I’ve learned that I work well with monitoring and Streaks allows me to keep track of my daily five in a tangible way) to monitor my progress. And so far? So good. Soooooo good.
I wake up in the morning, check my Bethadilly Challenge (http://bethadilly.com/the-bethadilly-challenge/) prompt and snap a photo. With intention. I love photography and starting my day with a visual image of beauty from my immediate surroundings feels like an indulgence.
And then I check my email, plan my day accordingly, take a few deep breaths, and open my journal. And I write two pages. Just two. Privately. For my eyes only. No pressure whatsoever; just putting pen to actual paper and seeing what unfolds. And what’s unfolding feels like magic.
And then I eat my healthy breakfast, with no distractions.
And then I meditate. I’m up to 25 minutes and while the first five minutes are still incredibly painful and scattered, I do eventually settle into my seat and my mind and when the chime goes off, I feel light and airy and… settled. Calm.
And then I get to work. Because I’m entering my work world in a state of calm. And that’s so much better than entering my work world feeling scattered and pressured and frantic. This week I’ve been at home, working on presentations and handouts and my book for beginning teachers and that sense of calm has led to improved presentations, handouts, and a few more words on the page.
And then I move. This week my movement has been in the form of yoga on a mat in the middle of my living room with Lucy (my dog) staring at me from the couch or from directly above. We also walk, Lucy and I, without my phone and usually without a shower, around the park, taking in all the smells, the puppies, the sunshine, and being careful of the icy spots. I’m not pushing myself to start running again as I usually do in January. My body doesn’t want to run (my knee in particular) and I’m listening to her. She craves yoga and walks right now and I’m obliging.
And then I work some more and eventually welcome Eric (my husband) home by putting down the work and looking him in the eye when I ask how his day was.
And then I cook. For real. (This is a relatively new skill for me.) I use my fabulous Vegetti to make myself zucchini ‘pasta’ and I eat it mindfully.
And I check off my five boxes on my Streaks app and give myself a pat on the back for another day spent feeling better.
It’s only the first full week of January and I know that when my travel schedule kicks back into high gear starting next week I may need to ease up on myself a bit. And I will. Because as I engage in deliberate practice around myself and my life, I know that getting five checkmarks might be too much and so some days I’ll only get one. And that’s ok, too, because each teeny tiny wee bit of forward progress is acknowledged and appreciated.
And today, through my morning journaling, I got to thinking that maybe you are interested in creating a life—or a moment or a breath—that’s just a wee bit better for yourself as well. Because perhaps you’re a mom who puts your kids and your spouse and your dog and the gerbil and the ironing before yourself. Or maybe you’re an executive who travels every week and while you’re raking in loads of money, you know that life could be better than sitting in a lonely hotel room ordering room service and trying not to let the duvet cover touch your face. Or you’re one of my people—an educator—who knows that balance is essential and yet you’re trapped under a pile of papers to be graded and an alarm clock that goes off at a despicable hour in the morning. And you’re thinking: There’s got to be a better way. Surely.
And so let’s do this together. Let’s take this journey to becoming better versions of our already kick-ass selves. Let’s choose one or two things to engage with deliberately. Maybe you start with your breath and reminding yourself to pause and take five deep breaths before you check your email or before your feet hit the floor from your bed or before you enter the office or the classroom in the morning or your home at the end of the day. Or maybe you start by moving your body in a way that feels good. Without the pressure of a ‘resolution’ screaming in your ear. Or maybe you decide to set an alarm to go to bed so you actually get seven hours of sleep and not two. Maybe you decide to buy that silly Vegetti and make yourself some crazy-ass non-pasta. Or you pick up that book that’s been collecting dust on your nightstand and you read two pages before you go to bed instead of checking Facebook one more time. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. You know yourself better than I do—better than anyone.
In education we often talk about adding instructional strategies to our tool-belts so that we have multiple resources to utilize with our students and I’m proposing a similar idea here but instead of adding instructional strategies to our tool-belt of educational resources, I’m advocating for strapping on a self-care tool-belt so that while we’re taking care of our students, we’re also taking care of ourselves. So that we can feel better this year. Just a wee bit better. And I’m proposing that if we do that, we just might astound ourselves.
Care to jump in the water with me?
When you were used to traveling by plane twice a year, you felt contempt towards people with ‘status.’ Always getting in line ahead of you, nabbing the seats with extended leg room, being bumped up to First Class. Jerks.
And then you get a job that requires you to fly for work and you put in your time and you suddenly understand that status is e.a.r.n.e.d. Not only by miles but by what it means to travel for work.
It means the obvious things, of course: being away from home and crappy airport food—but it also means learning how to be patient, kind, calm, and generous in situations that beg for impatience, hostility, anxiety, and anger. (And carbs and alcohol. Both of which you've given up while traveling.)
It’s running on shitty hotel treadmills in basements and converted storage closets because your training schedule calls for five miles and it’s dark outside and there are no sidewalks here and you are a woman alone in a small town.
It means sticky carpets and questionably clean towels and the decision to trust that the duvet really is fresh for each guest.
It means that on every flight there will invariably come the waft of a dirty diaper, straight into your nose at the exact moment you decide to take a soothing, healing, suck-it-all-in-breath.
It’s small talk with seatmates and hotel clerks who ask you—straight-faced—if you’re vising their piece-of-shit town for your one night stay for business or pleasure.
It’s constantly being ‘thanked’ or ‘rewarded’ with packaged food and more packaged food and cheesy pasta and fresh-baked cookies and free pizza at the manager’s reception. When you’re gluten-soy-and-dairy intolerant.
It’s changing out of work clothes and back into your (dirty) travel clothes in a dingy bathroom stall at the rental car place or the airport. And feeling genuine joy when said stall is the roomy handicapped one.
It’s businessmen on cell phones, thrusting their authority over armrests and aisles and pushing their way over you and past you on shuttle buses and elevators. Old-school politeness and chivalry be damned.
It’s seat mates looking over your shoulder, offering unsolicited and unwelcome advice and opinions on the state of education in this country when you simply don’t have the energy to dispute, argue, or put into place with the loads of research and numbers and stories that you carry in your mind and your heart that would blow this slimy man’s opinions out of the air and to the bottom of the ocean below.
It’s messed up sleep patterns thanks to time zone changes, questionable sleeping quarters, unbalanced blood sugar, and constantly catching up on the emails that were missed when you were up in the air, on the road, or leading a workshop.
It’s waking up extra early to review your presentation for the 50th time and to allow for a 15 minute padding because MapQuest and Google maps can’t decide if it will take you 15 minutes or 25 minutes to reach your destination and you don’t know the local traffic patterns and if there will be a Starbuck’s or a Dunkin Donuts on your way.
It’s germs and coughs and unexplainable stickiness.
It’s running through O’Hare every. single. time. And getting full-body pat-downs in one-gate airports.
It’s getting bumped from rental cars and hotels after delayed flights and 2:00am arrivals.
It’s missing Friday night happy hour with your husband because you’re two flights from home. And missing Saturday morning brunch because you’re not sure what city you’re in when you finally do hit the pillow and you need sleep, sleep, and more sleep before you can be a civilized human being once again.
It’s the lack of human contact and the newfound desire to hug the security woman as she checks for weapons and drugs.
It’s leaky liquids, trashed suitcases, smelly rental cars, and middle-seats, stuffed in-between two large, self-important men.
It’s wrinkle-free travel wear and comfortable shoes and ironing black pants two, three, and four times because checking a bag is out of the question.
It’s also exploring a new city—one that has swamps instead of mountains and whose largest employer is the federal prison.
It’s checking out new restaurants and grocery stores and the feeling of comfort that a chain restaurant can sometimes provide.
It’s schools with outdoor hallways and gardens and kids who cuddle up next to you to share their coloring and letters.
It’s teachers who wait past 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon to stand in line to thank you and envelope you in a bear hug because you gave them renewed hope and inspiration and they are grateful.
It’s the uncommon-but-not-unheard-of perks of a hotel room with a strong showerhead, spa shampoo and conditioner, a full gym, free WiFi, and a healthy breakfast spread. Or a rental car with Sirius satellite radio and a back-up camera.
It’s the gentleman shuttle driver who tells you that you have a beautiful smile as he lifts your suitcase up for you with a smile and a knowing nod.
It’s the service dog on the plane with the owner who tells you that they’re heading to a place where children are in trauma and they’re going to help. And she lets you pet the dog yourself for a bit and you, too, are healed.
It’s the amount of reading you get done and the uninterrupted work time that a two-plus hour flight provides.
It’s the unexpected upgrade to First Freaking Class where you’re given (more) food, a warm washcloth, a glass glass, and a friendly flight attendant.
It’s arriving home to a clean house and a fridge full of groceries because your husband gets it. And you.
It’s opening the door to be greeted with wet sloppy kisses because your dog is so incredibly excited to see you. Even at 2:00am.
It’s doing the work that you were meant to do. And if that work requires travel, than you learn how to do it. How to make it work, make it fit, make it suck less, make it ok. Make it a memory, a story, a tale for when you get home and someone aks you what you’ve been up to lately…
I can’t believe I’m already three months into my ‘Project 40’ year.
Didn’t we just ring in the New Year?
Is it weird that I’m still writing 2014 on most documents?
Do I sound like a crazy person as I talk about how oddly mild the weather is when in actuality the weather is right on track? Because it’s damn near spring and not January like I keep thinking it is.
So I’m hitting the pause button for a second and checking-in.
I look at my ’40 Things to do the Year I turn 40’ list every day (it hangs on the front of our refrigerator) and I am slowly checking things off. Eight things so far, to be exact. With progress being made on five others. Not too shabby.
And as I sit here and reflect on that list, I’m realizing that so far, 2014 (for real. I wrote 2014 for real. See???) 2015 has been pretty kick-ass. And here’s what I’m discovering: it’s kick-ass because not only am I working through my desired intentions, as outlined on my list, I’m also adding things to the list that I didn’t even know to add in 2014 (nailed it).
(2015 hasn’t been all roses and sunshine, don’t get me wrong (hello, acne! So awesome of you to show up this year of all years!) but part of my ‘Project 40’ is staying grateful and living with a mindset of abundance rather that looking at life through a scarcity lens. Bam.)
(Thank you for the inspiration, Mollye!)
Shift your focus. Demand—and declare—gratitude. Take all the pictures. Be still. Keep holding. Power pose. Read it all. Breathe. Close your eyes. Hold on to your heart. Literally. Laugh from your toes, through your belly, and out your eyes. Feel all the sensations and feelings and angst without judgment or cover. Be a soul care-giver. To yourself. Take ten minutes of soul-time to engage-fully—in soul-work every. single. day. And evening. Make it. Take it. Smell it. Savor it. Touch it. Hug it. Honor it. Swallow it. Be so damn brave that you shake and rattle. Connect. Radiate: kindness, hilarity, confidence, passion, authenticity, beauty, vulnerability, sincerity. Observe. Notice. Put the phone down. Turn the TV off. Check-in. Tune in. To the living, breathing world. To you. Often. Walk in their shoes. Walk in your own shoes. Walk until it lets go. Just walk. Consider the other side. See yourself from outside of yourself. Be gentle. Open up. Move your body. And your mind. Daily. Sleep with no alarm. Take a day off. Cuddle. Shut down: the screen, the pressure, the inbox, the notifications. Try just answering to you. Love your greens. Embrace the unknown and see its beauty. Find your tribe. Do not settle. Journal. Without a third point of view—the one called judgment. Inhale lavender and peppermint and lemon. Marvel the moon. Don’t own other’s shit. Be careful and gentle with yourself. Step carefully. Slow down. Take your time. Forgive. Apologize. Mean it. Stop scrolling. Prioritize. Re-prioritize from your soul. Ask yourself, ‘How do you want to feel?’ instead of ‘What do I need to do?’ How does your soul ache to feel? Your belly? Your mind? Your heart? Look forward to something. Meticulously care and plan. Sometimes. Be flexible without guilt. Act as if. Walk as if. Spoil her, him, it, you. Today. Immediately.
So yesterday I wrote a blog post with observations that support this suspicion that I’ve had lately: We’re I’m old. And while all those things were true, I feel a need to write this follow-up post because guess what? Being old is pretty awesome. I swear. Each year just keeps getting better and better and I’m not lying when I say that I’m actually looking forward to turning the big 4-0. (Maybe because I’m only 38 right now. Ask me again in a year.)
Here, let me convince you:
I bought a big bag of Epsom salt yesterday because I read that Epsom salt baths are full of awesome. They soothe achy muscles, reduce inflammation, help you sleep, etc., etc., etc. When I told my husband this and informed him that the bag was in my bathroom if he ever wanted to use it, he simply looked at me and said, ‘Oh good God. We’re old. You should never repeat those words to anyone else ever again.’ And it dawned on me… Oh, shit. He’s totally right. Epsom salt baths are for old people and are just another link in a growing chain of discoveries of how old we really are. Shit.
Here are my recent discoveries/observations. I’m saying ‘we’ just to make myself feel better. This may really only be about me. (Gasp.)
It is December 31, 2013 and I’m bubbling. I’m spending time today saying good-bye to 2013 and deciding how to welcome in 2014. While I typically engage in a ritual to close out one year and welcome in another year, I’m doing it entirely differently this year. And it feels soooooo good.
Rather than lamenting over my muffin-top that has held on for yet another year, I’m reflecting on all that my body allowed me to do in 2013: travel all over the country in tight airplanes, sleep in lumpy hotel beds, do yoga on shaggy orange carpet in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere, run a half-marathon from Loveland Ski Area to Georgetown, CO, walk the entire city of San Francisco, and explore a new neighborhood with Lucy.
Rather than making a list of ‘must-do’ tasks and accomplishments for 2014, I’m thinking about how I want to feel next year and what I need to do to ensure these feelings.
I want to feel radiant so I’m going to ditch the gluten and the dairy for good and move my body more often than I let it sit idle.
I want to feel calm so I’m going to set office hours for myself, unplug on the weekends and evenings, and let go of Facebook a bit. Quite a bit.
I want to be fully present in my own life and so I’m going to spend less time poking around online and more time in my journal, with my watercolors, and looking through my camera lens.
I want to feel nurtured and so I’m not going to always opt for convenience or the easy route, instead I’m going to treat myself more and let the guilt go.
I want to feel authentic and so I’m going to finish my book on supporting beginning teachers and continue to design trainings for educators that are worthy of their time and attention.
I want to laugh at the hilariousness of life and revel in the humor that makes everything ok. I’m going to lean my head back and let the laughter come up from my toes and pour out through my throat until my tummy hurts and the tears flow. Daily.
I want to feel whole and enough. I’m going to change my inner-dialogue and talk to myself just as I’d talk to you, dear reader. With kindness, respect, appreciation, and love.
I haven't been publishing my writing lately but I've filled up an entire 300 page journal since October with 'stuff.' There's something about this, my 38th year, that's making me extremely reflective.
So here's some of what I've been thinking about lately:
1. Starting an art journal is a delicious thing. Pulling out my markers and watercolors and glue sticks and photographs, taps into a creative side of me that I've been hiding for awhile... and she's been missed. I always gave all creativity credit to the rest of my family but guess what? I've got a touch of the trait myself... huh. Who knew?
2. Looking through the lens of my camera feels good again, too. Seeing the world through the small square vision provided by an actual camera (not the camera on my phone), reminds me of the beauty of lines and color and shading and distance. Combining #1 with #2 is a most delicious cocktail.
3. Did you know that you're not supposed to feel like crap every time you eat? Huh. I'll be damned. It's taken me 38 years (38 YEARS!!!!!!) to figure out that what I eat is totally, 100% connected to how I feel, look, and behave. And because of this, I'm going through a terrible break-up with cheese, milk, and gluten. It's horrific. For now. I anticipate looking back on our relationship fondly while I thank my tummy and my skin for showing me my true loves. But right now, I'm grieving. And cheating.
4. There should not be any guilt for doing nothing. This, too, has taken me YEARS to learn. I have not sat and done NOTHING for a very, very, very long time--because it made me feel guilty. And stressed. And I'd run over to my work or my email or stupid Facebook or the TV or... rather than just sitting through it. Hence, I'm also learning to breathe. Again. And take in the world without a screen in front of my face.
5. Gratitude. I've always been a gratitude kind of gal but lately I've amped it up a bit. I'm REALLY stopping to be grateful for that coffee mug I love so much, the ability to walk into a grocery store and have an entire aisle of options when it comes to paper towels, new shoes that make my feet feel pampered, the way that Lucy lays her head in my lap when I'm sitting on the couch, how the sun peeks in our bedroom window in the morning, exploring my new neighborhood by foot... ALL of it. Even better? I'm snapping pictures of those things. (See #1 and #2 above.)
So there you have it. Thanks for missing me.
And then the babies arrived and the demanding work schedules took their toll and the need to save vacation time for in-laws and family treks back to the midwest became our realities and the annual Vegas trip fell by the wayside. Like Thursday night TV nights and Book Club.
While I grieved the loss of the annual Vegas trip (and Thursday nights and Book Club) for a time, I also realized what it meant: We were turning into grown-ups. With responsibilities. And babies. BABIES! And lawns to mow and mortgages to pay and dogs to walk and and and… It’s a natural and expected phase of life. And I love watching my girls raise beautiful children, settle into amazing, love-filled homes, and work hard to balance it all.
But I’ve missed ‘us.’
And so when the words, ‘Let’s go back to Vegas, Baby’ came back onto scene, uttered by my best-friend of 22 years (how can we be this old?), I did my happy dance. We’re baaaaaack, baby. We’re back! We’ve crossed a certain milestone where babies can now be left in the care of Dad for a few days and vacation time has expanded over the years and we’ve got a few more bucks in our pocket so we don’t have to drive across the desert anymore. We can fly away for a long weekend and live like we’re 22 again… for a few days at least.
And I’m so excited I could pee.
Of course I’m sad that only two of us could pull it off this time but I also know that there’s more trips in the making. Perhaps Vegas in the winter? Wine country in the spring? A Thursday night reunion? The rejuvenation of a long lost book club? Oh yes, it’s coming… it’s all coming.
Melissa and I are going to kick it off. Starting in a few hours.
And so as I pack my sensible shoes for walking and new ‘appropriate for my age and body type’ swimsuit, I’m smiling. I have a feeling this is the start of something new—again.