5 Ways to Style a Fleece Vest

This post is sponsored by Dicks Sporting Goods and Stylinity, but all opinions, thoughts and content are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make EmilyVentures possible

When I moved to Colorado 4 years ago, a friend of mine who lived here gave me this advice: “get a good pair of sunglasses, and a nice vest”. Soon I understood what he meant — the vest is the unofficial Colorado uniform. Fleece, puffy, down, or utility — they’re all appropriate at all times.

Besides looking cool, vests are great for the rapidly changing Colorado weather — the perfect combination of style and function. I honestly find myself wearing a vest of some kind almost every other day — especially since Dick’s Sporting Goods sent me this Patagonia Better Sweater I’ve been lusting after.

So I thought I’d share some of the many ways I’ve styled this vest the past couple weeks. What is your favorite way to style a vest?

For Work

I generally dress up for work, and would never wear “outdoor gear” — but this vest has been on repeat! I wear it over dresses (like above) or with a skirt, boots, and a warm long-sleeve underneath. It keeps me warm, still looks good (and professional), and is convenient (pockets!).

For Date Night

Full disclosure, I was not actually on a date during this photo, but I can imagine it would be a great outfit for one. For a fall afternoon of wine tasting/brewery hoping, this is the perfect pick. I dressed it up a little with a bootie, some jewelry, and a darker lip. Casual, classic, and warm.

For the Outdoors

This is probably what you think of when you see a Patagonia vest — hiking, mountains, and general outdoorsy stuff. And for good reason! It’s the perfect weight for a fall hike. I love throwing it on over a flannel, and then having several layer options if I get hot or cold on the trail.

For a Night In

Whether you’re sitting in front of a fire, playing board games, or just watching some netflix, this is the perfect cozy vest for a night in. I often pair mine with leggings, a comfy top, and a cozy pair of socks. It feels like a hug. :)

For Every Day

Honestly, you can wear this at any time — for any occasion. I love to throw it on to run errands, get coffee, or explore downtown. It keeps me warm on a crisp fall day, and has the added utility of pockets. I love to pair it with sneakers for a fun and casual look.

What are some ways you've styled a vest?

And check out my Stylinity Dick's Sporting Goods promo page -stylinity.com/coupons/@dickssportinggoods/@emilyventures


Why? (why, why, why, why)

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” 
― 
Friedrich Nietzsche

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Do you think you have a calling in life? Something you were just meant for? I think about this a lot. I think there are certain professions where people tend to say a lot of things like “it takes a special person” — and teaching is one of them. As if there are these certain jobs that are “a calling” or more important than others in some way. ⁣

You know what though, I don’t think teaching is my calling. Like, at all actually. But, I do think I have a calling — I’m just using teaching math to express it right now. ⁣

There’s this thing I’ve heard about a lot “The 5 Whys” where you ask why to yourself or someone else 5 times — to really get to the core of the, well, why. And it’s so interesting to actually do. ⁣

I’m a teacher. Why? Because I want to do something that affects the next generation. Why? Because I care about the future of our world. Why? Because I believe that people are good and deserve an equal and just society. Why? Because I’ve seen and experienced both sides, and the devastation inequality creates. Why? Because I care about inequality. I care about others. ⁣

So, why am I a teacher? CliffNotes version — because I care about inequality, because I care about others. Not because I’m called to teach. I can live my calling in so many different ways. In my work and outside of it. But for now this is one of the ways.⁣

Big question, I know, but what do you feel called to do?

If you want to change your mind

“I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that's your responsibility as a person, as a human being – to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don't contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you're not thinking.” 
― 
Malcolm Gladwell



yoga handstand

So obviously I haven’t stuck to my “every day in November blogging challenge”, but it’s not because I’m just lazy. Hear me out.

I decided not to blog on the weekends. Weekends, for me, are for rest. Whether that’s travel, or cleaning, spending time with friends, maybe even just watching movies or reading books — it’s all things I choose to do because they make me feel good. While I enjoy blogging, I don’t like the pressure of having to do it on a weekend. That’s not what a weekend is about for me.

So I changed my mind. Changed the rules. Because, um, I made all of this up — and so I can. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of changing your mind. My mind. My opinions. And you know, it’s okay. Really.

I always hear people say that they are the type of person that, when they “make up their mind they never go back” or that “no means no and yes means yes — no going back” as if this is a good thing. And if it’s something you really believe in, yes, of course. Don’t waver. But what if you are presented with more information? What if the circumstances change? Then what?

It can feel like you’re betraying yourself and everyone who knows you once believed or said ______ if you change your mind. It takes courage to say that you’ve changed your mind. That yes, once I thought _____, but now I don’t. And it’s okay.

It reminds me of those facebook posts where a zealot from one political party will post a video from 15+ years ago of someone from the other party saying something that doesn’t align with what they are saying now. I always just want to comment (but don’t because dude, facebook is not the time) “hey, isn’t it okay to change your mind? To be presented with new information? To learn?”

If I can’t change my mind, then imagine how terrifying it would be to ever take a stand on anything. Because what if I’m wrong? Then what? Well, then I can change my mind, that’s what. And how amazing that is. How lucky we are. To be able to grow. To learn. To experience new things. To be influenced by them. And make decisions based on them.

I mean, isn’t this all the definition of “open-minded”? What is something that you once believed and then changed your mind on? When presented with new information?

Friday Favorites -- 11.9.18

One of the strangest things about the internet, to me, is how many people want to know what _____ I am wearing in photos. haha. I mean I get it, I think that too when I’m scrolling — I just never thought people would wonder those things about me. But here we are. So here are some of the things I’m wearing, and some of the things I’m really loving this week. :)

MVMT Sunglasses

I LOVE these glasses. I got the matte black, which is really striking — I’ve gotten tons of compliments. It’s also my first pair of polarized sunglasses — and wow, what was I thinking not buying these before?? Especially in Colorado. I drive into the sunrise every morning for work, and these are truly amazing. They’re a little pricier than sunglasses I’ve had in the past, but I can say after a few weeks of wear, they are totally worth it. Check them out here. And use my code: emilyventures15 for $15 off your order :)

Fireplace channel

If you watch my Instagram stories, first — sorry haha, and second — you’ve probably seen my love of the fireplace channel. I don’t have a fireplace of my own, but this honestly does the trick. I looked it up on demand one day and never looked back. I’m the type of person that likes a little background noise so the cackling sounds are perfect. I can clean, read, whatever, and have a little ambiance. It’s especially great on a snowy day. Making the most of what you have. :)

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Outdoor Voices Set

Everyone is hip to Outdoor Voices now right? I can’t tell if it’s everywhere, or if I just think that because I spend so much time on their website that all of my ads are targeted towards them. Hmm. Well if you aren’t, you gotta get on it. Outdoor Voices is a woman founded company that has a great mission, doesn’t airbrush, and has the coolest gear. The fabrics are awesome, the styles are original (although now often cheaply imitated) and they honestly just feel good to wear. I’m not in any way sponsored by them (although, hey call me :) haha) I just really love my pieces, and want everyone to know. My leggings are here, and crop is here.

hallmark

Christmas movies

Gosh, I’m really into a lot of sitting on the couch this week aren’t I? Haha… but seriously I kind of am. The time change hit me hard, and then a cold hit me even harder. This week has mostly been about getting home from work, putting on something cozy, and going to sleep early. In between there somewhere I have watched two Hallmark Christmas Movies. A little early, I know, but I can’t help it. If you need an escape of any kind, this is the way to do it. They are so unrealistic, and so predictable — but I love that about them. It transports you to a different state, you don’t have to pay too close of attention, and it just makes me feel good. Everything doesn’t have to be so serious. What’s your favorite Christmas movie?

the dream

The Dream Podcast

I’ve just caught up on this podcast, and it is really interesting — basically just the topic. It’s about MLMs (multi-level marketing) companies and it really is fascinating. I won’t give too much away, but if you’re wondering about all the things your friends are selling on Facebook, and/or need a new podcast to binge, give this one a shot.

Thanks for reading :)

Under the weather

“If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.” 
― 
Deepak Chopra

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With the end of daylight savings time comes the beginning of another season: sickness. I seem to always get a low level — but hard to shake — cold this time of year. I’m tired and achy. And it would be easy to write it off as “just that time of year” — but I also know I haven’t been taking care of myself as well as I normally do.

I haven’t been eating as clean. Drinking as much water. I haven’t been going to yoga as much, or hiking as much. So I’m going to do something about it. I don’t want to be tired.

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I’ve been meal prepping my lunches all year, but I haven’t been as careful about snacking and dinners. So my first goal is to get back into cooking healthy dinners, and cut out snacking.

Second, I need to drink more water. So… I’m just going to drink more haha. I am going to track my glasses of water in my planner. I did this last year and it really helped.

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Third — more yoga. I got a little burnt out on yoga during teacher training, to be honest. And like anything in life — especially workouts — it’s hard to get back on a schedule. So I’m setting myself up with some goals. If I go to yoga ___ times this week, I will _____. I write this in the margins of my planner each week, deciding in advance what classes to go to, and if I hit the goal I reward myself. This week I will probably reward myself with a new book.

Because intrinsic motivation starts extrinsically. And I want to feel better. What do you do when you’re feeling unhealthy or blah?

Choosing Ignorance

“I don't know." That was typical Sajaki; like all the genuinely clever people Sylveste had met he knew better than to feign understanding where none existed.” 
― Alastair Reynolds, Revelation Space

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¨Ignorance is bliss¨

We hear it all the time. But often in a way that's lighthearted or directed towards anyone BUT us. Ignorance may be bliss -- for the people who are ignorant. But that's not me. I am smart. I would never choose to be ignorant of anything. Right?

One of my core values is intelligence. It’s the one thing I’ve defined myself by more than anything else. I was always the smart kid in school, graduating high school when I was just 15. I used to annoyingly tell everyone that yes, I was a teacher, but I didn’t like, major in education or anything. I majored in a real subject, where students had high ACT scores, and didn't get easy A’s (how anyone could stand me, I don’t know). But, as college moves further into the past (10 years since graduation — yikes), I can’t define myself by the same metrics. And the older I get, the less I care about those metrics. In fact, the older I get, the less I want to know. Let me explain.

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I used to "care" about everything. I’d read about everything, whether it interested me or not — so that I could have something interesting to say. And I still do that — but with really selective things. For example, I have a friend working on a film about Hunter S. Thompson. We went to brunch and I had nothing interesting to add — so I read two of his books this week. Extreme? Obsessive? Yes, all of the above of course. But I was interested in him! I still am. (and I’m scouting book three now)

It’s who I am. I am obsessive with knowledge. I naturally want to know everything. But like any obsession, it can take me to extremes. Unhealthy ones. Which is why I’ve decided to actively keep myself from “knowing it all”. 

Selective ignorance.

It’s something I think about a lot. Ignorance to the things that I don’t need or want to know. The things that fill up my brain unnecessarily. Mental clutter. TMI. Whatever you want to call it -- the information that really isn't necessary for happiness unless you're a professional bar trivia player. 

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So what do I mean exactly? Well, of course, like most things in the zeitgeist, it comes back to Facebook (ha -- I wish I was joking). I read that something like 90% of people on Facebook “stalk” their ex or their ex’s ex or future ex — whatever. We don’t need data (although there is plenty), to tell us that this isn’t going to help anyone get over anything — and yet it’s become a normal part of the relationship cycle. Something that, allegedly, “we all do”. Well, I don’t. I used to, sure, but I haven’t in years. 

I unfollow anyone I’ve dated (sometimes even when we are still dating) on Facebook so I don’t see all their updates, tagged photos, events they’re interested in, and pretty girls they become friends with. I don’t want to know. And I actually don’t. So I don’t look. Selective ignorance. I don’t have the mental bandwidth to make assumptions (that are probably wrong) about anyone. Seek and you will find — and I don’t have the energy to find. I am too old, and too busy (reading HST books, apparently) for that. 

I also don’t look at the following page on Instagram. I haven’t seen it in — literally — years. I don’t want to know what pictures the guy who hasn’t text me back is liking. Not only does knowing not change anything, but it takes up precious mental energy that I don't have to give. 

I don’t look at most people’s Instagram stories (even though I constantly post them myself whoops), I don’t have Snapchat, and I don’t check Facebook messages. Ever. 

People always tell me, I just HAVE to get Snapchat, or I HAVE to check my messages or whatever and I just tell them the truth — I already have too many internet things. I don’t have the time, or the desire to fill my brain up with any more. I am ignorant to a lot of it — and that is fine. 

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And it’s not just social media (there’s more to life, did you know? :)) I don’t check my work email outside of work. I don’t read all of the group texts. I don’t finish books that I don’t love. I don’t watch anything but the local news. I don't read trashy magazines (except on a plane duh). I just don’t care. I don’t have the time. I’m fine with not knowing about the new I-can’t-even-think-of-a-pop-star-because-I’m-that-out-of-touches album. I’m fine with not knowing that any of the summer blockbusters are even movies much less care that I haven't seen them. I’d rather spend my time on the things I truly love. And no one can do it all. 

We all have those friends that have an opinion on everything. Or, at least, are fast Googlers to make it appear in the group text that they do. My natural tendency is to be this way ("this way" = annoying know it all). Ask me what I think about ______ thing I don't know and I immediately feel a little (a lot) ashamed. I should know everything, damnit!

I have a lot of interests. A lot of hobbies. I read a lot of books. A lot of articles. Blogs. I watch documentaries. I listen to podcasts. It’s a lot. But it’s still a minuscule amount of the information that is out there. We live in a world of constant media. You could stay up all night every night following every link that’s posted on Facebook or Twitter and still not have enough information to intelligently discuss all of them.

But what I've come to realize is: why would you want to? To make it clear that you are a smart person? Because it sort of indicates the opposite, in my opinion. 

I had this friend once who would always use semicolons in text messages. Like, every message. In a way that was not natural or made sense at all. I am (obviously) not one to criticize anyones grammar, but I remember wondering what they thought they had to prove. Do you want me, your friend for years, to know that you understand that punctuation exists? Oh okay. It’s like a Napoleon Complex — what are you trying to overcompensate for? I mean, obviously she can use whatever punctuation she wants if that's something she values, but I could care less about any kind of punctuation, capitalization etc in a text. I have better things to do, and no one to impress with a weird semicolon. 

That’s the key to selective ignorance — I’m not actually ignorant. I am just choosing the information that I care about. I’m giving my mind the space to read a bunch of gonzo journalism for a few weeks for no reason other than I’m interested in it if I choose to. That’s reason enough. 

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So how do you decide what to remain ignorant to? And how do you actually do it? 

Like everything else in life, it comes down to your values. I value intelligence, but I also value my time, my hobbies, and rest. And what don’t you value? I don’t value being the know it all, the jack of all trades (but master of none), or the Facebook creeper. 

Maybe you value semicolons in text messages -- that´s fine. You do you, boo. Just make sure what you are doing is for the right reasons. (i.e. reasons other than feeling better or smarter or one upping others)

Think about the small things you do and the information you absorb in the same way you might track your health in a food journal. After I read/see/talk to/etc _________ I feel _______. If it´s not a good feeling, or it causes you to spiral into unhealthy time wasting -- cut it out of your life. 

If something isn't enriching you it's depleting you. Get it out. 

But how do you remain selectively ignorant in a world of constant information overload?

Just don’t do stuff. I mean, really. I put restrictions on myself. When I realized I was getting upset over what I was seeing on someones Instagram story, I stopped watching their story. And as stupid (and immature and tweenish yikes I hope you still respect me) as that sounds, I think there are a lot of small things like that that really affect our days. Things that we think “everyone does” or are just a reflex, but really have a power to change our mood. So just don’t do them. Easier said than done, sure. But we are adults here. We are powerful and capable and in control. The more you do the more you can do, remember. 

I think it´s natural to care less about the noise as we get older. When you start working you are forced to continually narrow your focus and become an expert in one field. But realize that it´s okay to be the beginner in most of the others. To not know. To not be the weird semicolon girl. To say you don't know something. To ask for help -- or not. It's okay to be okay with not knowing. 

 

My Morning Routine

"Smile in the mirror. Do that every morning and you'll start to see a big difference in your life." Yoko Ono

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It's somehow already September (whaaat) and even if you aren't going back to school/work, fall is a time of new beginnings. And anxieties. I read an article recently about adults experiencing back to school anxiety. Psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow said that, “Summer is about nostalgia and represents for so many of us a time when things were much more carefree,” he explained. The start of school “signals a time to go back to work. It signals that time is passing us. Kids are getting older, life picks back up.” -- and these feelings create stress!

Something that I make sure to do every fall is check in with my habits and routines. I see what's working, what's not, and make changes where necessary. Deliberately and consciously streamlining my life through habits and routines has been one of the most life changing "hacks" of my adult life. Mornings especially. 

mancos sunrise

The early morning is my favorite time of day. But it wasn't always that way.

When I first started teaching -- like the first 4-5 years -- I was always rushing. I woke up tired and frazzled every day, rushed to get ready and out the door -- still feeling unprepared and still always tired. And the worst part: I didn't make an effort to change it -- I thought that's just what happened when you had to be at work before 7am. A part of the job.

When I started working at a new school I decided to change my habits. I had been reading about morning routines a lot (Ben Franklin's especially) and knew that I needed a change. Those rare days when I got up extra early were always the best, and I wanted more like that. 

So I made small changes. I started getting the coffee in the coffeemaker at night. I picked out my outfits in advance. I got up a little earlier. And immediately my days were better. Immediately. I had more energy, felt happier, less stressed, and more productive. 

And It's Science!

There is a lot of science behind the "larks" vs "owls" binary, but they can -- and do -- shift. I'm sure we've all heard of chronotypes -- basically, it's the time that your body is set up to sleep. Your circadian rhythms. A lark is someone who enjoys the mornings and an owl is someone who works better at night. Most studies show that, despite nearly everyone you meet claiming to be one or the other, most people lie in between. 

While chronotypes are genetically based, they are still on a spectrum and can shift. The data shows that chronotypes are likely to evolve with age in the way that you would expect -- people generally need less sleep as they get older, and their sleep patterns shift more towards a lark. 

But you can also make the change yourself. And although a lot of people talk about having the goal of "being a morning person", it doesn't seem like a lot of those same people actually do much to change their habits. 

I mean, I don't think I'm a natural morning person, but I've made myself be one for so many reasons: it fits with my career, I like sunrises, I get more done in the mornings, feel more accomplished, and happier (and I'm not the only one). I forced myself. 

There are articles outlining the morning routines of successful people all over (here, here, and here), and I don't claim to do anything different or better than anyone else (or be a successful person worth emulating for that matter). But, I am surprised when I hear coworkers and friends consistently talk about their rushed mornings. The mornings I used to have. So here are a few super simple and no duh things that I do to help get my day off on a good start. 

sunrise airstream

Get Up Earlier (duh)

I wake up about 30 minutes earlier than the time I "need" to be up. At least. I generally wake up before my alarm, but it's set to give me that extra time. Of course, to do this successfully, you also have to go to sleep earlier :) I get at least 7-8 hours of sleep on a normal night, and the feeling of being well rested (and the way my skin looks haha) is way better than almost anything I would have stayed up for in the past. 

When I wake up I immediately make my bed. This is SO IMPORTANT. I wrote about it before, but it truly does start your day off on a positive, productive note. I've already made my bed -- I can handle anything. Just try it if you're not convinced.

bedroom

Routinize Daily Tasks

After my bed is made and I'm already feeling productive, I start the coffee, feed the cats, put on some makeup and curl my hair. Always in that order. This is important. While novelty is important in life -- it's not important for daily tasks. In fact, the less decisions you have to make on these things the better (remember decision fatigue?)

avocado toast

Eat!

After my boring but necessary tasks are done, I start making breakfast. I eat the most in the morning because I know I always have a big day ahead. I generally eat avocado toast or a bagel with berries. The research on breakfast actually being "the most important meal of the day" is mixed -- but I know it's important for me. If you aren't a big breakfast person, try it for a week. See how you feel. When I started making breakfast (beyond a granola bar) a priority, I felt more energized, less hungry throughout the day, was less likely to snack, and actually lost weight. 

morning routine

Create Margin

I've written about margin before -- the time you intentionally schedule with no specific task. For the overflow. The things you don't have to do -- but want to do. I've scheduled this into my morning. Sometimes I will sit down to read a few articles or do some work for this site -- but no work emails until I am at work. I repeat -- do not use this time for work if you are not currently at work. 

I also use this time to look over my planner, to do lists, and gratitude journal. 

morning routine

Catch up and prepare

When the coffee and breakfast is ready I will sit down to watch the news and browse the blogs that I follow with my breakfast. I make sure I have at least 20 minutes in the morning for this. At least. If I don't have this time I feel very off balance. Reading random fashion blogs is mindless, but makes me feel like I am doing something just for myself, while watching the news makes me feel prepared for the day. I have time to wake up, to enjoy my breakfast, and to mentally get in the right head-space for the rest of my day. 

Then I get dressed (in the outfit I picked out the night before), get my bag and lunch (packed the night before) and head out the door. I usually stop at Starbucks because I like the human interaction and feeling of normalcy that comes from spending time with adults that aren't coworkers (and the baristas always compliment my outfits haha). I always get to work at least 30 minutes earlier than necessary in case anything comes up at the last minute and I don't check any work email until I am actually at work. Then I start my long day. Feeling prepared, refreshed, and accomplished -- all before 8 am. 


Beyond the nuts and bolts, a morning routine is important for mindset. Mindfulness. Goal setting. All those words we hear a lot but can't quite pin down. When I take time for myself in the mornings, to really enjoy my time, and be present -- the rest of the day just feels better.

I'm less anxious. Less tired. Less rushed. 

Of course, this isn't important for everyone. If you don't need to be at work at 7am (lucky), or are super productive between 8pm and 12am then go for it. But, many of us are not. Many of us want to be the early bird. And routines help. They may seem boring, but they actually give us back more time to be less boring. The better and more consistently my day starts, the more creative and exciting it can be later. So give it a try (if you don't already). What would you add to my routine?

Work Life Balancing Act

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.” 
― Jalaluddin Rumi

taos dome

A week or so before I was due to report back to work, a couple teacher friends asked me if I wanted to get together to lesson plan. My answer was an incredulous laugh and an absolutely not. I am not paid to work in the summer, I thought (and probably actually said). But, it’s true. And it doesn’t make me a bad teacher. In fact, it makes me a much better one. Let me explain. 

Work life balance is important in all careers. Teaching especially. We, on average, spend 59 hours a week working — and even then it’s never done. There is always more you can do. Always a better lesson, more to grade, a different seating chart, parents to contact, committee meetings to attend, clubs to sponsor, sports games to go to, the list goes on. (and on and on and on). 

Another layer of guilt — all of this is helping children. To succeed, to learn, to grow — and if you could do something more, you should. Right? 

Nope. I can’t. And I’m done feeling guilty. 

Teacher or not, here’s why you shouldn’t either. 

dome

When I started teaching I remember staying up until the wee hours of the night trying to get my lessons together, stressing over all that I had left undone, and feeling like a bad teacher every time I missed a basketball game. I was exhausted, took naps every day, got sick all the time, and felt generally ugh constantly. And still wasn’t a great teacher! 

While there is always a learning curve, and more time will be spent in the beginning of any new venture, this was extreme. And unnecessary. 

Luckily, within a few months of feeling like the walking dead, I had a discussion with a mentor teacher. She told me she never takes work home. If it couldn’t be done at work, it didn’t need to be done. And while I was pretty good at that, the emotional baggage took a while longer. 

I’m proud to say that now my work life balance is something I am really proud of. I don’t take work home, I don’t take the stress home, and most importantly, I don’t feel bad about it. 

I’ve set boundaries and those boundaries have enabled me to actually be more productive and need way less time to do the same work. I mean, I’m not just mindlessly punching a clock to get a paycheck and summers off — I work hard! When I’m at work. Then I can leave guilt free. 

plaza blanca

Are you headed for burnout?

I don’t need to give you a checklist for what it might look like or feel like to be headed towards burnout. But pay attention to the signs. Are you taking on too much? What can you let go of? Why do you feel like you can’t?

One of my favorite people and inspirations is Bob Goff. He is an incredibly accomplished man — a lawyer, author, non-profit founder, US diplomat -- among many other things -- and is known for his love, care, and availability to others (he printed his cell phone number in the back of his New York Times Bestselling book and only rejects calls if he’s on a plane). And yet he quits something every Thursday. Big or small. He says that he quits for his own well-being, to open up his life and time to new opportunities, and to get out of a rut. 

In other words, you don’t have to do it all. It’s okay. Quitting isn’t going to change anyone’s opinions of you or your life trajectory. Make room for the things that are adding value to your life. Not the things you are doing because you think you should. 

And if you’re not convinced, consider this. According to a Stanford study, there is a "productivity cliff" after 50 hours of work per week. The relationship between hours worked and productivity is linear (math woo!) up until 49 hours but then falls after 50. Productivity dramatically falls after 55 hours per week (the cliff) so much that someone who works 70 hours a week produces no more than someone working 55. Whoa. 

Working more and taking on everything doesn’t make you more productive or successful. It becomes a situation of diminishing returns, while also taking a toll on your well being. 

santa fe hammock


What can you do?

Most of us don’t have the luxury of quitting our jobs or dictating much of what we do when we are there. But we can control what we do when we are not. If you want to prevent burnout and cultivate equilibrium in your work life balance, try some of these things:

1. (Try to) Let go of control

Many times we work overtime and stress out over the things that we are desperately trying to control. Realize that you can’t control it all. You can do your best, you can work hard, but then let it go. 

Worry comes from the desire for control, and worry ruins your off time. If you’re thinking about work as you go to sleep, on your weekends, or when you are with friends — you have a problem. A problem we all have, sure — but it’s still a problem that needs to be addressed and mitigated as much as possible. Realizing that the whole company/school/whatever doesn’t live or die based on how many emails you sent on the weekend is a good start. 

2. No work email on your phone

Now, this doesn’t work for all professions, sure. But for me at least, a huge life changer was taking my work email off my phone. Whatever it is — if it’s after hours — it can wait. If it cant, someone will call you. Chill out. 

And if you can’t help but check your emails outside of work hours, at least do all you can not to respond until work hours resume again. When you set the precedent of responding at all hours — people expect you to do it and will continue to contact you in this way. If you set the boundary that you are available during certain times -- and stick with it -- people won’t expect to hear from you outside of that time frame. 

3. Friends outside of work (way outside) 

This one is hard for me. Teachers tend to flock together. And I love them! I love spending time with my teacher friends BUT I need a larger circle. We all do. When you spend all your time with people in your field, your life narrows until work is literally your whole world. Which inevitably will lead to more stress and quicker burnout. 

The life of a teacher is way different than the life of a doctor. Or a fundraiser. Or an entrepreneur. Or an artist. A dogwalker. It's all different. Hanging out with a lot of people reminds you that not only are you a normal person who is not defined by their job, but that every profession has it’s problems. 

4. Get some hobbies! 

This goes along with a wider circle of friends, but seriously — get a hobby. I always think it’s crazy when people just go to work and… not much else. When you don’t have passions outside of work that drive you, even a job you love will inevitably become something that you dread. 

I wrote about the importance of a quest, and I believe it more than ever. If you don’t have something fully for yourself, you will artificially conflate your work with your purpose and value in a way that is not healthy. 

5. Check in with yourself

Schedule check in’s. Are you happy in your work? How much of your time outside of work is spent thinking about work? Do you feel like you are making a difference? Is the time you’re spending giving you joy? 

Sometimes in my class we do the beginning of the year activity "Making a pie chart of your summer". How much time did you spend sleeping? Eating? Swimming? Watching TV? We assign each hour in our day and create a pie chart to visually see how our time is spent. Even for kids it is shocking. 

What does your pie chart look like? What area is lacking? How can you enlarge it? What part of the pie can you get rid of/shrink? 

santa fe house

Caveats

Now, obviously there are situations where you just have to go full force. If you’re new to a profession, if you’re an entrepreneur or a freelancer, if you are in a new role or prepping for a short term goal/project that is audacious. 

But, unpopular opinion: if things aren’t ever getting easier, or year after year you still feel the need to put in tons of extra (uncompensated) time in order to do your job well… maybe this job isn’t the right fit for you. Maybe this company or field isn’t right. But something isn’t right. 

Ultimately, we work to live, not the other way around. Our work should give us meaning, but it shouldn't be the only source. Give yourself permission to make the shift. 

Benefits

They’re obvious, right? More time for family, friends, and your own passions. Less stress, worry, and overwhelm. When your life is in balance, everything is better. You are a better, more productive, and efficient worker. A better friend. And you have the energy to put into the things that you feel are important (and those might even be at work!) 

So get your priorities straight. While it is important and valuable to be a hard worker, remember that your work has it’s place in your life. It is not your entire life. There is so shame in leaving it where it belongs.

11 Lessons My Yoga Teacher Taught Me

"Yoga is not about touching your toes, it's about what you learn on the way down."

- Judith Hanson Lasater

dancers pose

I’ve been practicing yoga for a few years now, but only seriously for about a year. I go to four or five classes per week, and it’s amazing how much my body has changed, my mind has changed, and yada yada all that hippie dippie stuff you’ve heard before. One of the things I love most about my yoga practice is the teachers. The wisdom they are able to impart during a 60 or 90 minute sweat session is impressive. Here are 11 of the life lessons (in no particular order) that I frequently come back to outside of class. What yogi wisdom resonates most with you?

1. “Every day is different”

Yoga teachers often say during poses that one side may feel different than the other, or that one position may feel different than the day before — or even just 10 minutes prior in class — and that's okay. Our bodies change, and they feel different sometimes. My toe stand on the left is way better than the one on the right, and that's okay. 

Like everyone, I relate to this on so many levels. Sometimes I crush a 90 minute hot yoga class and the next day have to lay down and take a break in a beginners class. Every day is different. At work, one day I’ll teach my best lessons, feel on top of the world, and have no behavior problems, then the next will be an absolute disaster. Every day is different. One day I can be super positive, productive, and happy with myself, then the next I just want to eat Nutella from the jar and watch episodes of Lockup.

Every day is different. And that's okay. 

wheel pose

2. “Thank yourself for showing up”

I’ve always kind of hated the phrase, “90% of success is showing up”. Showing up to work is cool and all, but, um, then you have to actually work. Showing up to yoga class is great and all, but then I actually have to work my tail off and sweat my brains out. But in my cynicism I think I missed the beauty of this phrase for a long time. 

It's more than just showing up. “Thank yourself for showing up on your mat today”, “thank yourself for giving yourself this hour”, “thank yourself for taking the time to care for your mind and body” — basically, give yourself some credit. Self-care is so important, but so many people don’t prioritize it. It feels selfish to spend time doing something fully for yourself. 

Taking care of yourself, through yoga or anything else, is essential. It’s self-preservation. Capacity building. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you bring your best self to anyone else?

Show up for yourself. 

yoga joshua tree

3. “There's no prize for straight legs”

One of my hot yoga teachers always says this during padahastasana (hands to feet pose). To just grab onto whatever is available to you, and don’t be afraid to bend your legs as much as you need. Of course, later she will mention that you may want to work on straightening your legs, but it’s okay if they never are. There’s no prize. It’s you against you. 

I think about this a lot in life. There is no prize for ______. I can be as driven as I want to be, but if I want to accomplish something, it’s just me against me. It doesn't matter if the person next to me has amazing form, it's me against me. There is no prize

Everyone has their strengths. The poses in life they execute (seemingly) perfectly. But this doesn't make anything I do better or worse. It just is. My prizes in life are won by me in the battle only against me. When I meet the goals I've set. For myself and no one else.

There's no prize. 

dog yoga

4. “Fully surrender”

Savasana (corpse pose) is often said to be the “hardest pose in yoga” — because you must fully surrender. If you’re not a yoga enthusiast, the pose is literally just laying on your back, arms by your sides, with all muscles relaxed. Legs splay to the sides, tongue relaxes from the roof of your mouth — you are consciously doing absolutely nothing. 

It’s no surprise that this is a difficult pose. Letting go of control is, for many people — myself included — the hardest thing to do. It means being vulnerable, and who the heck wants to do that?? But it’s so important. I have made a conscious effort to surrender in some areas of my life in the last few years and it is excruciatingly hard. To just let things be. To stop fighting. Stop trying to force things. To let things happen rather than make them happen. 

Yoga has helped me with this, in class, and in life. Feeling vulnerability is scary, but think of how much better you feel when you allow things to happen. When you aren’t so attached to one outcome that you pass by others that are more suited for you. 

Let it be. Surrender. 

yoga boat dock boat pose

5. "Take up space”

One of the things I resonated with the most when I started practicing yoga was the idea of “taking up space”. This is something often said during savasana (see above) as a way to fully let go. 

As a woman especially, we may feel the need to take up less space. To make ourselves small. To go about our lives in a way that doesn’t “rock the boat”. I read something recently that said that it’s not even so much that women are afraid of being seen, but that we are afraid of being seen doing the wrong thing. 

I can only speak for me, but I’m sure this is true for all genders — we’d sometimes rather make ourselves small than stand out and open up ourselves to the possibility of ridicule. Of criticism. Of “doing the wrong thing”

But y’all, if you aren’t ruffling a few feathers, you’re not doing anything important.

Don’t be afraid to take up some space. 

joshua tree dancers pose

6. “Go to your edge”

When we get into a difficult pose in yoga, the teachers will sometimes say to “go to your edge” or “find your edge and sit one inch lower”. The idea is to find the spot where you are challenged (without strain) and breathe into it. Sink into the challenge or discomfort. 

The edge between easy and strain is challenge. I’ve written about this before, but I really believe that the only way to go through life is to experience challenge. Lots of challenges. By choice. To make yourself stronger and more resilient. 

We all see those people who say they go to the gym all the time but never seem to have any results. They half-ass everything, skip what they don’t like, take breaks, never sweat, whatever. They “go to the gym” but are they actually working out? I don't want to judge anyone, but it doesn’t seem like it.

In life this works the same way. There are people who are in the exact same place they were in ten years ago. Who complain about their situation, but don’t do anything to change it. In an effort to stay in a position of safety, they aren’t going to their edge. 

Go to your edge. Then sit a little lower.

yoga red rocks

7. “Look in the mirror - make adjustments”

If you haven’t spent a lot of time in yoga classes, it may seem like each class is just the same poses over and over. And, well, in a lot of classes they are -- but once you practice for a while you realize the intricacies of each pose. The way that micro movements change the entire posture. The teacher will encourage you to use the mirror to square your shoulders, move your knee an extra inch, or straighten your leg in a way that is almost invisible. But once you make the adjustment, you see a huge difference!

Life is the same way, right? We've all heard, "small things make a big difference" -- and it's true. You might remember my bed making obsession? It's a small thing, but it has definitely changed my life. Don't think that you have to do something grand to change your life. To give it purpose or joy. Small adjustments make a big difference. 

Look in the mirror at your life. Make small adjustments. 

yoga brainard

8. “Find a point of focus”

During balancing postures, yoga teachers will tell you to “find a point of focus” that will help you to balance. Drishdi is the official yogi term for this focused gaze. It’s a way to develop concentrated attention, and is the key to balancing. 

In life, this is obvious. You have to have a point of focus. If you are scattered and overwhelmed, your life is not in balance and you will fall. Finding concentrated attention on a point enables you to follow through, be successful, and find balance.

Now, that’s not to say you can only have one thing to focus on in life -- just only have one at a time. Multitasking is a lie. Our brains can only deeply focus on one thing at a time. Flow occurs when we are deeply focused on this ONE thing. If I look over at my neighbor in yoga during a balancing posture, I’m likely to fall out of it. In the same way, if we lose our singular focus on another task or another person, we are likely to lose the momentum and motivation to complete it in the best way.

Find your drishdi.

goat yoga


9. “Feel the sensation”

During uncomfortable poses, my yoga instructor will often say to “feel the sensation, and breathe into it” or “feel the sensation, but don’t come out early”“sink into it”. When I first heard it, I was a little cynical — sensation as just another word for discomfort. Through more practice, the more I gave in to it, and the more I have realized — discomfort is just a sensation. A sensation isn't necessarily good or bad. It just is. 

Often, when we feel something different, we immediately recoil. We think this is a feeling unlike what I’ve felt in the past, so it must be bad. It takes a lot of courage to just feel it. To sink in to the sensation and not try to come out. 

Feel the sensation. Sink in.

red rocks yoga 2

10. “Set an intention”

I go to a studio that is part of a nationwide chain and probably a little less traditional than most, but many teachers still take time in the beginning of class to encourage the setting of an intention. Something that you can come back to during class. A purpose

I spend a lot of time thinking about purpose and intent. (Intention was actually my word of the year last year). It's so important and yet so easily pushed aside. You can go through a day, month, or even years on autopilot — looking back later and wondering where the time went. If you live intentionally you are creating the map -- of where you want to be, how you want to feel, and the way you want your life to play out. 

While you can’t control your world (and shouldn’t, umm read 4), you can use your core values to create an intentional map. I can do things to move myself in the direction I want to be. I can set an intention and work towards it. 

Be intentional.

11. “Breathe”

Duh. 

Yoga, at it’s core, is about breathing. Always come back to your breath. Flow with your breath. Use your breath to cool off, to warm up, to relax, to focus — to do everything. I mean, it is what keeps us alive. 

In life, don’t forget to breathe. To calm down. To practice mindfulness. To, you know, live. To quote the tattoo of every 20-something girl you know: just breathe. Really. 

Just breathe.

10 Denver Day Hikes

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” ― John Muir

denver day hike

Somehow we are already in the second week of July (whaaaat? How did this happen?) I travel a lot in the summer, but luckily, living in Denver, even when I'm at home an adventure is only a short drive away. I get asked a lot to recommend day trips and hikes around Denver - so, while I could never make a list of all my favorites, I put together 10 of the (mostly) easy, close hikes around the Denver area that would be perfect for almost anyone. 

Below is a short overview of each hike, necessary info/links, what to do after, and a "water bottle score" - how difficult the hiking is on a scale of 0 (not really even a hike) to 5 (climbing a 14er) for a visitor. I've started with the hikes closest to Denver and ended with those the farthest. You need a car for all of these except in Boulder where you can take the bus from Denver. 

General tips for all of these hikes: try to go on a weekday! Colorado people stereotypes are true - they love to hike - and the weekends are insane pretty much everywhere. If you must go on a weekend, at least go early! This will also help with sunburn, fatigue etc that you may not expect if you aren't used to the elevation. 

If you go on any of these hikes, or have other questions, let me know! Enjoy :)

Lair O' The Bear - Morrison, CO - 22 miles from Denver

Headed to Red Rocks for a show or a hike? Keep going a few miles west on Highway 74 to Lair O' The Bear park. This is a relatively small, family friendly hiking spot right off the road. There are trails, a river, and picnic tables a-plenty. Trails are open for biking and the creek is popular for fishing. 

This is a great place for families, those who are not used to the elevation, or anyone who wants a quick getaway from Denver. 

Water bottle Score: 1/5

After: go back to Morrison, visit the quaint downtown shops, and eat at Twin Forks or the Morrison Inn. 

Site and trail map here.

Mt. Falcon - Indian Hills, CO - 25 miles from Denver

Once you've enjoyed your afternoon in Morrison, don't be confused by the signs for Mt. Falcon Park there. There are two ways to enter this park, and that is not the one you want. Just trust me here. Head to the West trailhead in Indian Hills (From U.S. Highway 285, take the Indian Hills turn-off, follow Parmalee Gulch Road for 5 miles to Picutis Road, then straight ahead to Mount Falcon Road). 

This park is one of my favorites for painting, reading, taking visitors, and even hiking (ha). It has trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There are tons of picnic areas, remains of an old castle, a lookout tower with amazing panoramic views, and a picnic shelter that used to be the summer home of John Brisben Walker

Water bottle score: 2/5

After: Head down to Mac Nation for lunch and then a stroll through the Mirada Gallery (both on Parmalee Gulch Road - can't miss them)

Site and trail maps here.

Chautauqua Park - Boulder, CO - 28 miles from Denver

There are tons of hiking trails in Boulder, but this is a great place to start. The Boulder Chautauqua is the only remaining Chautauqua in operation west of the Mississippi - regularly hosting performances, lectures, and events. Check out the ranger station when you arrive then start hiking! 

My favorite trail is accessed from behind the dining hall - I start on the Mesa trail, climb up McClintock, up a secret trail (can't reveal everything!) then head back down towards Bluebell Mesa, sometimes heading over to Baird, Ski Jump, or Amphitheater Trail before heading back down the Chautauqua trail. (map)

You can't go wrong here. All the trails are well marked (except to my secret spot :)), generally well trafficked, and generally loop into another trail. Just start walking and you'll find great things. 

If possible, like most of the trails on this list, go early on a weekday. - it gets super crowded. If you can't get here on a weekday, there are shuttles on weekends or paid parking (free on weekdays). 

Water bottle score: 2.5/5

After: eat lunch or happy hour at the Chautauqua Dining Hall (try the Big Country Salad and the cilantro jalapeno margarita) and/or make a quick stop at the general store (open in the summer months) for some ice cream (or picnic foods and a strawberry lemonade)

Site with much more info here.

Echo Lake - Evergreen, CO - 45 miles from Denver

If you want to get out of the foothills and into some higher, cooler, mountain air - head west on I-70 to Echo Lake. It's been my favorite spot since I moved here (and I wrote a whole post about it here) to get away. 

To get there, take the Mt. Evans exit off of I-70, turn left and follow the road about 13 miles to the lodge - stop at the two lots on the way up to see a waterfall and a great view of Mt. Evans. Once you get to the parking lot, the views are immediate. You can picnic, fish, or just walk the short trail around the lake, or catch the Chicago Lakes trail out farther into the Mt. Evans Wilderness. 

Water bottle score: 0/5 for the lake 3.5/5 for Chicago Lakes trail

After: Check out the Echo Lake Lodge for souvenirs, great food, and a great bar view. Then if you're risky, take the Mt. Evans road all the way up to the Summit (in the summer only) - it's the highest paved road in North America!

Site and trail map here

St. Mary's Glacier - Idaho Springs, CO - 45 miles from Denver 

After you come down the mountain from Echo Lake, go West on I-70 to the St. Mary's exit (a mile or two). Follow it up until you reach the parking lot (map) This is on private land so you MUST pay a $5 parking fee -- bring cash there is nowhere to get any. The trail is super short, about 1.5 miles round trip, but steep and rocky so if you aren't used to the high elevation it could take some time to get up. As you near the top there are several trails but they'll all get you to the lake. There you will find a beautiful view of the Rockies, a glacier, a lake, and plenty of room to relax or picnic (or just watch people snowboard down the glacier). 

This is a great short hike for visitors or families as long as you are in moderate shape. It's also a great way to beat the summer heat. 

Water bottle score: 2.5/5

After: head down to Idaho Springs and explore the downtown, soak in Indian Hot Springs, or visit the Argo mine. Drink at Westbound and Down, eat at Da Rivuh, and shop at The Soap Shop. 

Herman Gulch - near Idaho Springs, CO - 54 miles from Denver

I try to get to the Herman Gulch Trail a few times a season. It's a fairly easy 7ish mile out and back trail right off of I-70. Like literally right off - it has it's own exit! Exit 218 if you'd like to try it for yourself. It's unmarked, so you just turn left and voila, the parking lot and trail! So easy! The trail is a part of the Continental Divide Trail - a 3,100 mile trail that crosses from Mexico all the way to Canada. 

Interesting fact: only about 200 hikers attempt to thru hike the Continental Divide Trail each year - and it takes about six months to complete! The other two "Triple Crowns" of long-distance hiking: The Appalachian Trail (2,184ish miles) and The Pacific Crest Trail (2,654 miles) have thousands who attempt a thru hike each year, but much much less who actually complete it.

Back to my (much shorter) hike. The Herman Gulch trail starts out fairly steep through the trees until you come to a beautiful meadow with wildflowers when in season. The hike continues through the meadow and a few shady areas (wear sunscreen!) until the final ascent to the Herman Gulch Lake. 

This hike is good for everyone! The elevation gain can be tricky if you are from out of town or not active, but with plenty of water and breaks you should be fine. The actual trail is not difficult or technical.

Water bottle score: 3/5

After: go back East to Silver Plume and visit Bread bar (on weekends) or on to Georgetown to walk the quaint downtown, or drive up Guanella Pass. 

Site and trail map here

Brainard Lake Recreation Area - Ward, CO - 57 miles from Denver

Way up in the mountains of Ward, Colorado, you will find one of the most beautiful places - not just around Denver - but around anywhere. Brainard Lake is part of the Forest Service (so you can use your America The Beautiful pass to get in without the $10 fee), and is near the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. There are lakes, camping, picnic areas, you name it. All of the recreation area is above 10,000 feet, so you can only access from around late June to October. 

Brainard Lake and Long Lake are easy to get to, while my other favorite hike - Mitchell Lake to Blue Lake is a bit longer. The hikes are so beautiful, with many alpine lakes on the way. Find more information about the trails here. 

Water bottle score: 3/5

After: head to Nederland and visit the Carousel of Happiness, then over to Salto Coffee Works

Mt. Bierstadt - near Georgetown, CO - 60 miles from Denver 

I've climbed two 14ers (all on my own woo!), since moving to Colorado. Mt. Bierstadt was the first - chosen because it is generally seen as an "easy" 14er. Now, for those of you who probably don't live in Colorado, a 14er is a mountain that is over 14,000 feet in elevation. There are 96 in the United States, with a whopping 53 in Colorado. So even an "easy 14er" is not so easy. 

That said, if you are acclimated to the altitude, and in decent shape, this is a great trail to start bagging peaks. It is only about 7 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,850 feet. The top is a bit of a rock scramble but totally doable even for the scaredy cats like me. 

14er tips: Start early! Thunderstorms kick up over the mountains almost every afternoon in the summer, and they can be (and are) deadly when you are above the tree line. Also, these trails are super busy so starting early gives you a head start (and parking space) over the masses. Wear layers - it's cold, hot, windy -- be prepared for it all. Bring lots of water! You will need it. Pay attention to the weather, and don't be afraid to take lots of breaks. Remember trail etiquette and if you start to feel weird - go back down! Altitude sickness is real and it is torture (and happens to even the fittest people). 

To get there, follow Guanella Pass from downtown Georgetown about 12 miles to the top. You will see the parking lots and millions of Subarus. 

Water bottle score: 4.8/5

After: head back down to Georgetown and ride the historic Loop Railroad. Visit the Rock Shop, and eat at The Alpine.

More information here

Emerald Lake - Rocky Mountain National Park - 64 miles from Denver

Many of the trails on this list are fairly popular, but this might be the most popular of them all. With good reason. Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park are an easy day trip from Denver, and if you only have time for a hike or two, this one packs a punch. 

Enter RMNP, then either head up to the Bear Lake lot (if it's early on a weekday) or park in the park and ride and catch a shuttle to Bear Lake (recommend this). Bear Lake is one of the most popular lakes in the park, with an easy and accessible trail around it. If you decide to go on, you will walk about 3.5 miles and see four amazing alpine lakes. 

Again, this trail is very popular, but I still recommend it if you're in the park. If you want more of a workout, head down towards Glacier Gorge when you reach Bear Lake on the way down and catch the shuttle from there. 

Water bottle score: 3/5

After: explore the park! Then head in to Estes Park to walk the town, visit The Stanley Hotel and drink at Rock Cut Brewing. 

More info here

Manitou Incline - Manitou Springs, CO - 70 miles from Denver

If you're an extremist, or find yourself near Colorado Springs, you might want to hike the Manitou Incline. I wrote more about my experience here, but basically, it's this super steep former cable car route turned stairway. It gains over 2,000 feet in elevation in just under a mile and it's intense to say the least! Some parts have a grade of up to 68% (look at the picture above for some perspective). 

If you're still interested, remember that because this is so steep, once you start - you have to continue. There is a bail out, but it isn't until about 2/3 up the trail. To get down you follow the Barr Trail back to where you began. 

Water Bottle Score: 4.75/5

After: Explore Manitou Springs and stop by the The Mate Factor, then head over to Garden of the Gods for some much easier hikes, followed by dinner in Old Colorado City

Site and more info here. Download the app here

 

Now get out there! And let me know if you want more recommendations, or other information :) 

Strength Training *(for your brain)

“We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work” - Thomas Edison

arches national park

When I’m not driving all over America, writing these blogs, or posting selfies all over Instagram, I am a middle school math teacher. Through eight years of teaching, one of the things that has been most consistent is the, “but Ms. Hart, this is too hard! Will we ever do something easy?” that kids repeat on a daily hourly basis.

To this I always say: “No, because in my class we do hard things”. Kids invariably look at me with a mix of disgust and genuine concern. “Why would you do hard things.. on purpose?” — if something can be easier, shouldn’t it be easier?? 

I don’t think so. At all. Let me explain.

You’ve probably heard of mental strength. It’s a buzzword (phrase?) lately, but with many different explanations. To me, mental strength is the ability to endure the normal and abnormal parts of life while still remaining hopeful. Positive. Resilient. Sounds great, so how do you get some? Is it something we are just born with? Are some people just able to handle things better than others? 

Mental strength, like physical strength, is cultivated. I constantly tell my students that our brains are muscles, which means it can grow! And the more I thought about physical strength, the more parallels to mental strength I saw. 

arches 1

Resistance

Strength training is based on resistance. Muscles contract against resistance before they can increase. Mentally, the resistance is the hard things! The things that you don’t want to do. That seem too hard, too time-consuming, whatever. But just like strength training, the hard things are what enable us to grow. 

Think about your to-do list. If you're like me, you carry over the same things from one day to... 100 days later. The things I don't want to do. I'll do them later. I'm resisting them. I want to make things easier for myself. I don't contract against them like a muscle, I shrink away completely. 

arches 2

Breakdown

When muscles contract against resistance, it damages them. It creates micro tears in the muscles as they work to overcome the resistance. I don’t know all the technical weight lifting terms, but basically — it creates damage. That is necessary. 

Hard things also create some damage (I mean, they’re hard. Duh). When you’re learning something new or taking on a new challenge, it’s not easy. You may (probably will) fail in the beginning. You’ll become discouraged, mad, bitter.. etc. But remember, this is necessary!

In yoga, my instructors often say that, “you should be shaking right now — that’s where growth happens” and this is true for your brain as well. When we challenge our brain (and make mistakes!) there are actually more synapses firing — which is indicative of learning. (source)

arches 3

Repair

After muscles are torn/damaged/I don’t know ask someone at Crossfit, then they repair themselves. It’s through the repair that the muscles increase in size and strength. 

Mentally, the repair is the learning phase. It’s when you start feeling capable and resilient. It’s when you make a mistake (or experience a total crushing failure), and are able to reflect on it. 

Professor Jo Boaler writes a lot about the importance of challenges in math classrooms — but her research can be applied to anything. She says that, “the brain sparks and grows when we make a mistake, even if we are not aware of it, because it is a time of struggle; the brain is challenged and the challenge results in growth.” How cool. 

arches 4

Growth

After muscles repair themselves, they grow! Mentally, after you face a challenge, make mistakes, and learn from them — you grow too! You grow your mental strength, confidence, and capability. 

Capability is so important. Google tells me it’s “having the ability, fitness, or quality necessary to do or achieve a specified thing.” And isn’t that what we all want? To be able to do The Thing? No matter how “hard”?

I remember when I first started traveling on my own. I stopped to see a friend on the Western slope and we went on a hike. They asked me how I seemed to do all these things alone so easily. I only realized the answer as it came out of my mouth and I told them, “It’s not easy — but, the more I do, the more capable I feel.” And that’s still the key. The more you do — the more you can do. The more weights you lift — the more weights you can lift. It’s not rocket science, people. 

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Caveats

Now before you start lifting the heavy mental weights, there are some things to remember:

Rest days: Any weight room bro will tell you — rest days are essential. If you work your muscles too hard, they never have time to repair. Your body needs rest to grow.

Mentally, this is also true. Give yourself some slack every once in a while. You don’t have to be achieving, striving, learning, positive, whatever, all the time. Give yourself a rest. 

Stretch (but don’t break): I go to this yoga class called “yoga sculpt” — think, bootcamp with some sanskrit. In other words -- it’s tough. When I started I always used the smallest weights -- or no weights at all -- during the class. It was torture. But, in just a few months, I was able to get some heavier weights. To use them the entire class. To do the extra, up-leveling stuff without feeling like I was going to die.

If I started out with the heavier weights (like many new people do — then end up switching them 15 minutes in to class), I would have felt totally incapable. I would have burnt out, felt negative, quit going, or soothed my sore body and dignity with a bottle of wine. But I started small. The class was a stretch for me in the beginning, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t handle it.

And now my “stretch goal” keeps changing. See where you are, stretch yourself to do the hard things — but don’t stretch so hard that you break.

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How To:

So you’ve somehow made it this far, and you want to do hard things. But, how? Specifically? Here are some of the things I’ve found that help me:  

Set the tone: In order to do hard things — do small things first! For example, I am a militant bed maker (I have a blog draft JUST about that). Anyways, the basic idea behind my compulsion is that it sets the tone for your day. I just woke up, but I already accomplished this thing that most people never make the time to do. Or don’t think is important. Or don’t see the benefit. But the benefits are actually huge (I’m serious). 

Making the bed is a small thing — but it sets the tone for your day. And your days set the tone for your life. If you want to feel accomplished, responsible, calm, and able to do more hard things — start with the smaller things. 

Challenges: Most of you know I’ve been doing monthly challenges this year. I gave up alcohol, coffee, meat, dairy, and chocolate (two months because I totally failed the first time). And I’ve told people about it! That is key. If you want to do something, but it seems really hard — make it into a challenge. With some accountability. I want to have more willpower, so I am challenging myself to cultivate it through challenges. I’m telling others so that I can’t wuss out. 

Visualize: When I don’t want to go to yoga, take a hike, email that parent, text that guy, or call Comcast (hardest thing), I imagine how I will feel after I’ve done it. I visualize the weight that will be lifted, the way my body will feel, the stress that I will have mitigated, or the money I will save — and it’s worth the discomfort in the moment. When you worry and stress you’re already visualizing — all the things you DON’T want. Think about the things you do. 

Just FORCE yourself: Sit in the discomfort. You don’t have to read this blog or a book on brain science to know that doing hard things is important. That you will grow from them. That they are necessary. But we make every excuse not to. To avoid. Make things “easy”. But sometimes you just have to force yourself. Everything is not easy. Life is not easy. 

The path of least resistance is just that — no resistance. Resistance is necessary for growth. So the question is, would you rather live a life of less resistance, but no growth — or a life full of challenge and hard things, but growth, confidence, strength, and capability?

I know which I’d rather. 

 

 

Pictures taken at Arches National Park. 

Scarcity and Abundance

“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny." - Anaïs Nin

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I think a lot about mindset. The inner beliefs we have about ourselves and the world around us. The thoughts and feelings that make up our attitudes towards our reality. And I’m not the only one. I mean, it’s sort of a buzzword lately, right? Growth and fixed mindsets are all the rage in pop psychology right now (with good reason), but I’ve been thinking a lot about mindsets that -- in my opinion -- are just as important: scarcity and abundance. 

We’ve all heard some iteration of the “is your glass half full or half empty?” illustration. Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Recently I read a quote by Shawn Achor about that dang metaphorical glass. He says, “Ultimately, however, the contents of the glass don’t matter; what’s more important is to realize there’s a pitcher of water nearby. In other words, we have the capacity to refill the glass, or to change our outlook”

Truth bomb. Whoa. Just fill up the dang metaphorical glass. You have access to everything you need. This is an abundance mindset. There is enough dang metaphorical water (piece of the pie if you prefer) to go around. If I fill up my water glass — so can you! One doesn’t take from the other. 

Someone with a scarcity mindset would focus on the lack. What is missing in the glass. Why they are being put in the position to make this decision in the first place. That it's all so unfair. They live their lives in a zero-sum game. If one person wins, another person loses. They are competing for scarce (but imagined — not talking actual resources i.e. basic survival) resources, focusing on the extreme short term of every decision. This leads to jealousy, sadness, bitterness, and negative relationships with others. 

Someone with an abundance mindset, on the other hand, has the inner self-worth, confidence, and security in themselves that enables them to see long term. There is enough water/pie/success/love/time to go around. They see the benefits in sharing -- and are happier, more influential, and ultimately powerful and successful because of this mindset shift. 

So, go fill up your dang water glass and read on to see how these mindsets can help or hinder the most important parts of your life. 

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Money

The most obvious effect of a scarcity or abundance mindset is the one it has on our money. Finances. Skrilla. The thing in your life that is absolutely necessary to survive, that you use every day, but that no one wants to talk about. Yeah, that. 

Have you noticed those people who are “always broke” also seem to “always be complainin’"? Their job is dead end, their rent keeps going up, bad things keep happening to them, they’re not valued at their job blah blah. Do they ever seem to get ahead? Nope. Like your mother said — not with that attitude they don’t. And I think it’s easy to see this in other people, but not always in ourselves. In our inner monologue. 

I admit this one is hard for me. I am a teacher. The fact is that even after 8 years of teaching, I still make what is an entry-level salary in many fields. And that sucks. I get into the mindset of “I’ll never have enough” more often than I’d like to admit. But I’m trying to change! 

I try to think of money as fluid. Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t. Ownership is a social construct — the things I have are only mine for a short time before moving on anyways. So why am I holding on so tightly? 

I have a salary, but I can make more. 

That is key. I’m not stuck in my situation. I could get a job at a different school or district that paid more, I could get a part time job, a side hustle etc. Also, I can just have a serious conversation with my employer about what I need (and I do) — then random opportunities for extra money seem to come out of nowhere. Really. You just have to ask. But you can’t ask if you don’t think it’s there in the first place. If you don’t think it’s possible. If you think there is only so much to go around. 

Bottom line: I can make more money without taking away money from anyone else. 

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Work

Scarcity and abundance mindsets aren’t just important in our financial lives — the effects are far reaching. How do (most of us) get our money? Well, work, of course. And our work mindsets affect our happiness and success. 

If you have a scarcity mindset, you may feel like you have no options. Like your professional options are limited, or that you will be stuck in you dead-end job forever. If someone else is a “winner” — successful, receives praise, a raise, credit etc — then that makes everyone else lose. You can’t see that other’s success does not take away from yours.

If you enter your professional life with an abundance mindset, then you realize that you have options. You can get another job — there’s always more. You’re not afraid to share the credit because you know that it doesn’t diminish your accomplishments. You are focused on growth, not afraid of failure, and don’t avoid competition. You look at situations as a win-win rather than a win-lose. 

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Relationships

While you may not want to take relationship advice from a single 31 year old (ha) — hear me out. I think we can all agree that neediness is a relationship killer — romantic or otherwise. But if we all “know” this, why do we constantly witness this behavior? Why do we feel the need to grasp onto something so tightly, when rationally we know this is a bad idea? 

Someone with a scarcity mindset believes (subconsciously or consciously) that there are only so many fish in the proverbial sea. If a relationship doesn’t work out, well, you’re screwed. What if that was the last available man, in your age range, with the right color hair and the ability to make you laugh at average intervals?? This leads to desperation, which leads to neediness, which leads to not another date (or an unhealthy relationship built on desperation but that’s another story). 

When you come into new relationships with an abundance mindset, every bad date isn’t a crushing blow. Losing a friend, while hard, doesn’t mean you are unlovable and destined to talk to your cats for the next 20 years (but, I mean, is that so bad?). It sounds totally trite, but there are other fish in the sea! There are bigger seas. There are rivers, lakes, aquariums. You just gotta believe it. Retrain your brain. Be deliberate. There is enough to go around. Even in matters of the heart. 

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Time

This one is easy. If you don’t have enough time, or are always “busy” — then you have a scarcity mindset. No one is that busy unless their priorities are out of whack. Unless they use busyness as an excuse. 

Busyness and hurrying comes from lack. Urgency, on the other hand, comes from a place of abundance. I can have a ton on my plate and still not feel like I’m out of time, because I’m deliberate in my choices. I make the time for the things that are a priority. I don’t stress over the things that are not. I schedule margin into my life — so that I don’t fall into the busyness trap. I approach tasks with urgency — not “hurried”. 

It’s all priorities, people. 

“Time comes to those who make it, not those who try to find it.” Jen Sincero

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So how do you cultivate an abundance mindset? It isn't the natural position for most of us, so here are some easy ways to start shifting:

Create Options

Don’t like your job? Get off the couch (after you finish reading this, of course) and apply for some new ones. Work on your resume. Talk to your boss. Get extra training. You know the drill. You’ve heard it before. The important part is understanding that you are creating more options for yourself. That you can. You are not stuck. You don’t have to stay in places that don’t serve you. 

The more you work towards creating options in your life, the more you are training your brain to think from a mindset of abundance. 

Everything you need is available. 

Give

The core of scarcity thinking is the belief that there isn’t enough to go around. That you have to hoard the things that you have. Material objects, money, praise, etc. Counter this by giving. Giving your time, money, objects, whatever. 

I have a rule that whenever someone asks me for money, and I have cash, I give it to them. I want to keep my relationship with money fluid. If I give it away, I know it will come back to me. I’m not holding onto it so tightly that I miss an opportunity to help someone else. I have the mindset that, just like I am giving to someone in need, that if I was in need someone would be there. 

Everything you need is available. 

Treat Yo Self

Sometimes you just gotta treat yo self. This helps in cultivating an abundance mindset in a few ways: showing yourself that no, buying a $5 green juice at Whole Foods actually won’t ruin your entire budget, that you don’t actually have it that bad, and that there is room in your life for some luxuries and abundance. 

Everything you need is available. 

Practice Gratitude

Be grateful! Duh. You have so much. You have the ability to read and understand this blog post (1 in 7 people in America can't), you have internet access ( more than half of the worlds population doesn't!), the vision to see it (1.1 million people in America don't), and a million bajillion (trust me, I’m a math teacher) other things to be grateful for. 

You’ve heard it a million times, but focus on the positive. Not the areas where you may be lacking. 

Everything you need is available. 

Mindfulness  

Mindfulness. Another buzzword. Oy vey.  But again, for a good reason. Don’t be focused on the next thing, or the thing you don’t have yet — focus on the things that are happening now. What you can do now, in this moment. 

What you focus on you create more of. Period. If you think negative thoughts, you think more negative thoughts. It’s a circular thing. Negative, limiting thoughts lead to negative, limiting actions -- which then lead back to the thought that started this whole mess. Break the chain. 

Everything you need is available. 

Scarcity and abundance mindsets, like everything, are on a spectrum. I can naturally have a super healthy, abundant mindset in my work life and a super scarce mindset when it comes to my finances. That’s okay. But remember that your mindset/brain/thoughts are like muscles — they grow with use. Use them in the right way. Be aware of your thoughts and the circular nature of negativity. Then make the change and cultivate a mindset of abundance. Everything you need is available -- take it. 

9 Things Not To Say

“Some people have a way with words, and other people...oh, uh, not have way.” 
― Steve Martin

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1. “Don't say _____”

I was recently with some friends shooting the you know what, and was surprised to be interrupted by someone who said I should “choose a different word” for the way I was describing something. I chose another word (that meant the same thing as the original word, but I digress) then spent the rest of the dinner sort of uncomfortable/taken aback/annoyed. I mean, I can say whatever I want. I can use whatever words I want. Right? 

As a general rule, you shouldn’t tell people what to say/not say (definitely not 9 things they shouldn't say eeek). I get it. BUT, I’ve been thinking a lot about words. You’ve heard it since you were in kindergarten — words hurt. Words matter. So it’s important to be careful with their use. To think about how they make people feel. And while I’m not actually super calculated in my wording, and have said all of the things on this list — I understand that mental shifts are important — metacognition, all that mumbo jumbo. 

So while I still don’t think you should actually verbally interrupt anyone to tell them what not to say — I do think it’s important to personally be aware of subtle differences in language. What we might be saying without realizing it.

Disclaimer: life is complicated, we are complicated, situations are complicated. Sometimes these things make a lot of sense and are the right thing to say. So say whatever you want to say — just think about it first. Like, always. In everything. :) 

2. “I can’t…”

Can I go to the bathroom?” “I don’t know, can you?” I’m sure we’ve all heard this from a teacher, parent, or friend who thinks they’re real slick. But it’s a great lesson to learn — can/can’t are such disempowering words. Of course, there are things we literally can’t do (become a unicorn, teleport) but in terms of the normal, everyday asks — guess what? You can. 

When I was younger, I remember my dad asked me and my sister what “we had to do” in life. “Make the bed, eat dinner, go to school..” we rattled off all the things we thought we had to do. Surprisingly, he kept responding with, "nope, you don’t have to." Moral of the story — the only thing you have to do is die. Whoa. Heavy for children, but obviously memorable. And true! You can do whatever you want — if it’s a priority. 

When someone says they can’t do something, they're just saying it isn’t a priority. And that’s okay! “I can’t” is a self-imposed restriction. It undermines your own power and agency. A better response is “I don’t”. “I don’t” is a choice. It’s empowering. “I don’t ride rollercoasters” I CAN, but I don’t want to. Or maybe it’s just “I can’t right now” or “I can’t in this moment” and that’s okay. But you can. Big difference. 

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3. “I’m sorry..”

Pay attention to how many times you say sorry in a day. When you’ve done nothing wrong. Or even done anything at all. You might be surprised (especially if you’re a woman). Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be sorry for anything — if you do something wrong, absolutely apologize. The problem is saying sorry as a filler word.

There’s been a lot written about the gendered nature of sorry. Women who say sorry for just being. Taking up space. Sorry I opened the door when you were coming in, sorry I am using the copy machine and you need to, sorry I got close to brushing against you but didn’t actually, sorry I don’t want to buy your whatever, sorry I have plans tonight… you get it. But why are you sorry? Just say no if you can’t do something. No explanation necessary. 

Sorry is a word we say when we feel the need to say something — even when we know it doesn’t make sense. If you feel like you’re in someone’s way, just say “excuse me”. Say thank you. We say sorry because we want to be polite, but it actually gives away our power when there is nothing to be sorry for. I love this idea I’ve seen online to say thank you instead. 

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4. “I’m sorry, but..”

No, you aren’t. If you were sorry there wouldn’t be any buts. The “I’m sorry, but” is just a way to try to make a statement without sounding aggressive. It ends up sounding defensive or unsure which undermines the point you are trying to make. The attempt to be polite is not polite. 

This one is simple: you’re either sorry or you aren’t. The but negates the sorry. 


5. “Everything happens for a reason”

When something bad happens to a friend or family member, it’s hard to know what to say. But the oft used “everything happens for a reason” -- while well-meaning -- undermines that person’s experience. Let me explain. 

Sometimes bad things just happen. To good people. To “bad” people. There is no rhyme or reason. Human existence is random, it’s chaotic, and struggle is inevitable. When someone is going through a traumatic, soul crushing, life changing experience — they don’t want to hear it. Looking for the “reason” something happened to you is a fools errand. An attempt to control your life in a world that can’t be controlled. 

This is a phrase that’s often used in religious circles as a form of comfort, but I’d argue this is not only not comforting, but it’s bad theology. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we are owed a pain-free existence (in fact, it says the opposite). 

The only thing we can control is our response to situations. We can find a reason in hindsight, sure. A meaning, or a truth that will help us to move forward. But that’s much different from the mindset of “this bad thing happened to me because of ______” That’s just not true. 

6. “I know how you feel”

No, you don’t. Again, this is a well meaning phrase. Something you say when you don’t know what else to say. But, again, has the opposite result. You are actually lying when you say this. You can imagine how someone feels. Maybe you went through something similar? But it was still something that happened to you. In your life. So you know how it makes YOU feel. Very different. 

Last fall a lot of crazy things happened to me in the span of a few weeks (I refer to it still as my twilight zone — it was that level of cray) Anyways, part of it was the ending of a relationship. I still talked to that person a lot and they knew I was upset so they tried to pep talk me out of it "I know you feel _____ " they said. Again, super well meaning. The problem was that what they thought was the problem was the least of my problems. My point being: it’s other stuff for everyone. Things they may not want to share with you. Things that are happening at that moment or in their life before that have shaped the way they respond to things. On the surface it may seem like you’ve been in their shoes — but you never truly can be. 

We think we are being empathic and understanding, but don’t confuse empathy with genuine experience and emotions — you will never live someone else’s life. 

This phrase also reeks of one-upmanship. You are essentially making someones experience about you. Shifting the conversation to you and your experience — in effect telling that person that they are not unique, cutting off the conversation completely. 

Just listen. Reverse your initial reaction of “I know how you feel” to “I can’t imagine how I’d feel” or “I hear you” maybe even “I can relate” but you don’t know how they feel. And you never will. 

7. “I’m too busy to ______”

Nope. Busyness is a lie. It’s a humblebrag. It’s an excuse. You can have a lot going on. You can be focused on things in your life — but you aren’t too busy to ______. 

Everyone has priorities. If your priorities take up so much time that you can’t do something else, just say that. “I’m focusing my time on ______.” not “I’m too busy to _______.” If you wanted to do something, you could make the time. If you really couldn’t then your life is not in order. You are in chaos and using busyness as an excuse to fill up your life. 

This article in the Wall Street Journal sums it up well, “Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.”

So how do you spend your time? Is it keeping you from your priorities? Are you using busyness as an excuse?

8. “I’m just not a ______ person”

I’m not a math person. I’m not an outdoorsy person. I’m not a crowds person. I’m not a blah blah blah. You know it. You’ve heard it. I’m sure we’ve all said it. And maybe it’s true… sort of. Maybe you don’t like those things, or don’t want to be that type of person, or have believed the lie that you aren’t — but you could be. 

It’s okay if you don’t want to do something — I don’t want to skydive. It’s not that I’m not “the skydiving type of person” I just don’t want to. And that is okay! What’s not okay is doing or not doing something because I’ve bought into some lie of who I am or what my identity is. 

I read the phrase recently that “to become more you, be less you” and it really resonated with me. I’ve written about it before, but I think we often put ourselves into boxes of who we are. Who we aren’t. I’m not the type of person who would _____. But maybe we are. Maybe that label is holding us back?

Just be honest with yourself. It’s okay to say that you just don’t want to do something. Or that you just haven’t learned it yet. But remember that, if you want to, you CAN be that person who ______. Don’t label yourself. 

9. “Don’t be ______”

When we see someone upset, our knee-jerk reaction is to say, “don’t cry”, “don’t be upset”, “don’t _____”. And again, well meaning, but this isn’t helpful. Telling someone one of these variants is basically telling them how to feel. That their emotions are not valid. You are unintentionally trivializing real feelings. 

This isn’t just for the typical sad emotions. You hear a lot these days online from people who think they can tell others how to respond to current events. "Don’t be outraged." "Don’t be offended." "Don’t be a crybaby/snowflake." "There are kids starving and you’re mad about ______?!" 

Have you heard of the “not as bad as” or “relative privation” fallacy? Basically, it’s the fallacy that when you compare something to the best or worst case scenario, your situation is no longer important. “You can’t be sad about ______ because this much sadder thing also exists” “You can’t be outraged about the wage gap when women are being enslaved in other countries” Umm… you can be both. Hello. 

We are free to process emotions and feelings about whatever we want however we want. I mean, isn’t the definition of a sociopath someone who doesn’t? Don’t tell people how to feel, even if you have nothing else to say. Just listen to people. It’s uncomfortable, sure. But we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. 

No, You're Not an Extroverted Introvert

“Why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.” 
― Malcolm X

If you’ve been on Facebook lately, undoubtedly you’ve seen prolific sharing of articles, photo quotes, and quizzes attempting to define “your true personality.” Extrovert, introvert, and the new “extroverted introvert” seem to be the most common subjects of these listicles. And while I’ll admit that I’ve read a few (several) — I’ve been thinking a lot about what this focus on personality and personality tests really gives us. 

I mean, you know extroverted introvert is an oxymoron right? But you know what else? We are all probably both. (Also, the word is ambivert.. but I digress :)) Two things can be true at the same time, and personality is on a continuum — not a binary. Liking to be a in a group sometimes and then liking to be alone sometimes doesn’t make you anything but a normal person. 

Personality doesn't fit into a neat and tidy list — but my thoughts about them do :) So read this before you put too much credence into the third “What Color Am I?” test you take before you go to bed tonight:

1. Personality Tests Promote a False Binary

Introvert or extrovert. Thinking or feeling. Dominant or compliant. Generally, personality tests present two choices — you are either one or the other. And while many of the tests may show a continuum of sorts — you are still dominantly _____. Based on some questions you mindlessly scrolled through for thirty minutes. And these binaries are very different!

For example, I have always been an E on the Myers-Briggs (extraversion). On the long report I got (after taking a paid version for a professional development class), it showed that it was only just barely trending towards the E — almost exactly in the middle — but from then on I was defined as an extrovert. (funny if you know me, right?) Anyways, Carl Jung himself -- on whose theories this test was based -- didn’t agree with this binary. He wrote that people tend to favor one over the other, but not that they necessarily are one or the other. 

Whether you’ve taken a test or not, we all have likely identified at some point with one of the types. And there are some people who are probably textbook versions of one or the other 99% of the time — but I’d say that the majority of us are not. I hear people say a lot “I'm actually an extrovert” or “I’m actually more of an introvert” in a situation where they seem to be the opposite — how about, “I am a normal person who shows up in different ways at different times based on a myriad of things”? How about not feeling the need to explain at all? You aren’t one way all of the time, and if we expect each other to be that is our problem. 

For example, last week when I was in New Mexico I went to a hot springs and got an hour in a private, riverside pool. It was beautiful on its own, but I wanted a subject in the photos so I took a causal pool loungin' photo before I fully immersed myself in the hot water. I love to share (duh) so I went to put it on instagram that night -- and hesitated. I text my sister and asked "Am I the type of person who would do this?" but also thought, "I don't want people to think I am __________ because I put a picture of myself in a bikini on the internet" This is a (silly, but real) example of the false binary. I can be the type of person who does whatever I want to do. If I do something, I am the type of person who does that thing. It doesn't matter if it's unexpected.

2. Inherent Problems with Personality Tests/Profiles

Of the major “Personality Assessments”, the Myers-Briggs is the most popular and widely used, so I’ll talk about it more specifically here. It was developed during World War Two by two housewives (not a criticism, but also not scientists) who were interested in Jung and wanted to develop a system to help women find jobs suited for them. Now it is used in hiring and professional development, as well as personal development (and memes). It’s seen in pop culture as a scientific test while psychologists have generally rejected it entirely. 

So what’s the problem? 

From a methods perspective — a lot. The test derives a lot of information from a small amount of not necessarily scientifically based questions. Depending on the reason for the test (jobs, personal etc), you may skew your answers without even realizing it (answering how you think someone in that job would). Even if you’re just taking a random Buzzfeed version, we answer based on how we would like to be. “I think I am a person who ______” But is this accurate? 

And like I mentioned before, there are excessive binary choices. This is a logical fallacy. Two things can be true at the same time. I might feel one way when I answer a question on a personality test and then completely different a few days later.

Have you heard of the “Forer” effect (or Barnum effect/acceptance phenomenon)? It’s basically the tendency for people to accept things that are vague or general as being true if they think they were specifically for them. Bertram Forer identified this effect when he gave his psychology students a personality assessment and then an analysis that was supposed to be totally personalized to them. Of course, they were actually all the same report. He found that 85% of the students thought it described them accurately before they knew of the ruse. 

Surprising? Not really. It’s the same effect that drives interest in horoscopes and the personality lists you see online. The indicators are just vague enough that almost anyone (because we are humans on a continuum and our feelings change) can relate. Likes being around people sometimes. Yep, that’s me. Likes to be alone sometimes. Oh wow, so accurate. Umm… 

3. You Don’t Need to Fit in a List/Profile/Personality Report

It’s not all hogwash. I do think that some of the more specific things I’ve read about ENTP’s are really accurate to my general “state of being”. ENTP’s are supposedly really great at starting projects and not so great at finishing them. This is me (but maybe it’s a lot of people). The problem with this distinction, even if it seems accurate, is that I might start to define myself as just “someone who doesn’t finish things” — then use it as an excuse. 

I think it’s human nature to want to find an excuse for our behaviors that aren’t so great. “I’m just this type of person”, “It’s who I am”, “I was born this way”. They’re all excuses. If I have a problem finishing things, and am aware of it, guess what: I can just make myself finish things. It’s not rocket science. So that’s where an occasional personality assessment can be beneficial. Maybe you didn’t realize something negative about yourself, but reading it and looking back you see it in your life. Cool — but don’t use it as an excuse. Make the leap from understanding to DOING. Don’t live in a definition of some sort of simplistic “type of person.” 

Also, why are you listening to some random person on the internet (oh, hi) tell you who you are anyways? If a friend at happy hour started saying “based on your reactions to a few things I've seen in your life, this is how you respond to struggles… “ wouldn’t you be just a little (a lot) annoyed? What do they know? I’m unique, damnit! But really, we are. I may respond to things in a similar way most of the time -- but not all the time. And maybe I only respond in that way because I know it's expected? Hmm...

4. What’s Wrong With Being Complicated? 

Personality types are all about absolutes. A quick search of “Personality Tests” comes up with a plethora of articles using them. “18 Struggles ALL ______ experience.” “13 things ALL _____ know” “10 things you’ll ALWAYS catch ______ doing.” The problem with absolutes should be obvious, but no one is ALWAYS anything. The world can’t actually be categorized into 16 tidy boxes where everyone inside is the same. I mean how boring would that be?

And what’s so wrong with being complicated? Complicated is just defined as, "consisting of many interconnecting parts or elements; intricate" -- sounds like a good thing to me. I think that’s really the core of my problem with this personality obsession — I’m not always anything. I’m always changing and I have many parts of my personality. Sometimes I am adventurous and outgoing, sometimes I am quiet and boring. Sometimes I finish projects, sometimes I don’t. And sometimes that ENTP definition is spot on — but I can’t use it as a crutch. 

I think I’ve tried for a long time to fit into a role that’s easy to understand. Simple. But if anything it’s backfired. Simple is easy. Simple is boring. I don’t want to be easy to understand, easy to predict. Sometimes I keep myself from expressing my opinions or doing certain things that I think would be surprising to people (like on first dates yikes) because it feels safe. But remember, simple = boring and studies have actually shown that psychologically, complicated = interesting (and interesting = seductive but that’s another blog post entirely haha) There will always be someone who disagrees or is turned off by your opinions, actions, whatever — but there are always two sides so someone will also agree. If you’re boring that means you’re not producing any reaction — and isn’t that the worst possible way to go through the world?

People love to talk about "the type of person they are". It feels comfortable. Safe. But I’ve always thought that the type of people who say they are the type of people that ________ — really aren’t that type of person. If you have to say it, or read it in a personality profile to believe it, then you might not be that thing. You want to be, sure — but are you really? 

The good news: you can define yourself! You can pay attention to who you actually are, or aren’t. You can change the story, the definition, labels, personality type, whatever. It’s uncomfortable, but sit in the discomfort — that’s where growth happens (so yogi of me but it’s true). People don’t know your backstory. They don't know your Myers-Briggs type, your Enneagram, the color of your aura -- they don’t know the why of who you are -- but they know the how. How you show up. How you act in ______ situations. Focus on those things. The How. 

Personality tests can be fun, I get it. We want to understand ourselves better — but without putting in the effort of actually finding ourselves through, you know, actual experiences. Through paying attention to how we respond to things, how we feel in contrasting situations, what drains our energy, and what puts fire in our soul. 

No, no, I will just take a test and it will tell me how I respond in these situations. No, no, I will read this Buzzfeed article with random cartoons who like to make plans then cancel them and define myself as that. Sounds ridiculous right? But I think we’d be surprised at how much we allow these ridiculous things into our thinking. 

Don’t take the easy way out. It’s boring. And it’s not accurate! Don’t put yourself in a “type” box. Define yourself. Leave room for change. Remember that everyone can be everything all at once and that’s okay. Complicated is a good thing. Learn about yourself through yourself — not the internet. Believing a simplistic definition of yourself will cause you to become the label. You will simplify yourself and in turn make yourself small. We aren't meant to be small - we are meant to be big, interesting, and yes - complicated. 

Purpose

“Find the thing you want to do most intensely, make sure that’s it, and do it with all your might. If you live, well and good. If you die, well and good. Your purpose is done” 
― H.G. Wells

vail view

The school year ended and summer vacation started for me a week ago (woo!). On the last day of work I had a friend come in to town, spent time with them over the holiday weekend, then immediately drove South to the border through New Mexico, West Texas, and three National Parks along the way. I got back late Sunday night to teach summer school the next morning -- 3 hours a day/3x per week/3 weeks - hardly work. Anyways, after the 3 hours of work, I had a couple errands to run and then went home to relax. (I’ve waited all year for this!) But, not surprisingly, I was up again within minutes to go to the drugstore to buy hair bleach and pink hair dye (don't worry - it's subtle). I don’t do well with unstructured time -- never have. I have to be doing something. Like everyone -- I need a greater purpose. 

So what is my purpose? Where do I find it? I think, for most people, purpose comes through their family and their work. My family is a thousand miles away and, in the summer, I don’t really work. If I didn’t have a clear purpose I honestly don’t know what I would do. 

What It's Not

When I first started teaching I put all of my effort, enthusiasm, and energy into my students. I distinctly remember actually being nervous for the weekends because I wasn’t sure how to spend all of the free time. I needed structure -- I still do -- but I didn’t know how to create structure around a life of purpose beyond my job. 

I don’t find my purpose in my job anymore (sorry kids). I find happiness, yes - but it isn’t what I live for - and I would argue that it shouldn’t be for anyone. What’s the phrase, “do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”? Well, I beg to differ. No matter how much you love your job or how much you help those in need or change the world -- it’s still a job. You are still getting paid. Would you do the exact same job, with all the same duties, same hours, same emails, etc. if you didn’t get paid for it? I didn’t think so. Then your job is not your purpose. It contributes to your full, awesome life, but it isn’t the driving force. 

ward co

What It Is

Purpose is elusive. It's always changing. It stretches, enriches, and keeps you up at night (in a good way!). It’s not a job, and it’s also not a person. People are fallible -- they will disappoint you. You can’t control  a person no matter how hard you try. People and community are a part of a purposeful life, but they are not the purpose. Purpose is more. It is the things you do just because you want to do them. Because they bring you joy. They give you a reason to change. To plan. To travel. To research. To go. To MOVE. Purpose is rooted in forward motion -- even if you don’t know the destination. 

How do you know when you’ve found your purpose? Well, it’s always changing, so there will never be a moment of “this is my purpose. I have found it. I am done now.” The end point is sort of the antithesis of all of this. But, I can tell you when you know you haven’t. It’s when you’re stagnant. If purpose is movement --  the opposite is inaction. Like Leonardo da Vinci said, “Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation.. even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”

So here’s a humblebrag (sorry) -- I’ve been offered every job I’ve interviewed for (except the first job I ever interviewed for because, come on) and I’ve interviewed for tons. Like I said, I like movement. But back to my point. In my mind, I get offered jobs for one main reason -- I am interested in new things. I am interested in challenge. I specifically always point out that my greatest fear is stagnation and that in order to be successful I have to keep moving and taking on new roles. I was an interviewer for a teaching program once and that was the biggest predictor of success -- the interviewees PR score. Their personal responsibility. Do they take responsibility for their classroom? Do they invite challenges or do they make excuses? 

Excuses are at the core of stagnation. “It’s not my fault that…” “I can’t do ____ because of _____” “I don’t have enough ______.” You know the drill. I have this Annie Dillard quote on my bookshelf and it’s become something of a mantra: “How we spend our days is - of course - how we spend our lives.” Seems so simple right? But, when we’re making excuses for all the things we can’t do, or why our life is a certain way, we are in effect taking a backseat on our own lives. The most important thing that we have. 

I did a lot of work in the graduate sociological theory class I took this semester on meaning making. How people create meaning through their interactions with each other, through symbols, language… blah blah I can send you some dense articles for more, but the point is -- I create my own meaning. I create my purpose. I create my day -- which, in turn, creates my life. Following others or the excuses you’ve made will never lead to satisfaction. 

Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin (or lots of other people, the internet is unclear) famously said that they “feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” While it’s obviously (I hope) in jest, I think some people live their lives in a similar way. They wake up with the mindset that things are going to happen to them - not because of them. They're not living for a purpose, they are living for the purpose of others. 

vail mountain

How Do I Find It?

So how do you find your purpose in life? For the day? For the hour? I’m sure it’s different for everyone -- just like a purpose is going to be different for everyone -- but there are actions that will help us all in the process. 

1. Identify your core values - This is key in everything in your life. So you get a job making tons of money that you hate - what is the point? If wealth is your core value, then you’ve got a great thing going, but I’d say for most people -- when they really dig deep -- don't have stockpiling tons of money as a core value.

Make a list of things that are truly important to you. Pay attention to the things that make you feel alive. The things you want all other parts of your life to flow from. Meditate on these things, write them somewhere you can see them, talk about them with others. Then use them! When you’re faced with any decision, activity, relationship, opportunity etc.. ask yourself if it fits in with those core values. If it doesn’t, you’re an adult and hey cool, you can say no! If it does -- go for it -- even if it’s scary. 

One of my core values is generosity. This manifests in all sorts of ways, but through it I have found deeper purpose. I am generous with my time through volunteering, I am generous with my money by contributing to causes I believe in, and I try to be generous with others by always assuming positive intentions. 

2. Risk Taking - Now, I’m not actually that risky of a person. I mostly take small, calculated risks in my daily life. But when it comes to the things that align with my core values, I take the big risks. For example, I value movement (not stagnation), so when I found myself in the same place for five years -- even though I had a job and friends I loved -- I knew that I was too comfortable. So I moved to a new city in a new state all alone and knowing basically no one. And it’s been great. And if it wasn't, well, then I'd take another risk and do something else. But I'd be moving forward.

3. Check-ins - This is the micro part. You have to check in with yourself. Like, on paper. In a structured way. That you schedule. On a calendar. Trust me here. “The days are long, but the years are short” couldn’t be more accurate (as anyone over 30 like me -- yikes -- is fully aware of). If you read a book or article (or this blog post :)) and get all fired up about something to change or move in your life -- you have to also strategically schedule times to check in with yourself about it.

Ask yourself if you’re where you want to be with ______. Have you made progress on _______. Are you being proactive in _______? Purpose can seem wishy washy, but just like goal setting -- you have to be specific. Even if the specificity is based on what you don’t want (I don’t want to be in the same place, same mindset, same whatever), you need to know what you’re trying to achieve. Again, identifying core values is the core (ha) of this work. "Is my _______ in line with my core values?" And what will you do if it isn’t? Set trip wires for yourself. “If I am still _______ by ______ I will ______.” And stick to it! 

4. Movement - Just do something! Move forward! Trust the process and don’t judge yourself too harshly. We are meant to do more than go to work and come home to sit on the couch. I try to think about my life as a series of action verbs. I literally think about how I would write what I am currently doing on a resume. I am doing things. I am active. If I can’t describe what I’m doing in this way, then I don’t do it. 

What Holds Us Back?

All of this, I’m sure, seems like common sense. But isn’t this also the biggest question of human existence? There are no easy answers, but there are common things holding us back. 

I’m not _____ enough - This is me way more than I’d like to admit. I am confident, intelligent, and as independent as anyone I know, but I still feel like I don’t have any place giving advice on, well, things like this blog post. Who am I to ____? What can I offer that isn’t already out there? What if everyone already knows all of this?

I love painting, but I know people who are better (duh). I like writing, but. The but will always be there. Because there will always be someone better than you at something. At everything. But they won’t be you. They won’t have your unique perspective. They will have all of their own unique and interesting ways of creating their world and making meaning -- and it will be great -- but it won’t be you. You are different and that is enough! 

Comparison - This goes hand in hand with not feeling good enough. We don’t feel good enough because we spend time comparing. Comparing our lives to others when we really don’t know much about them at all. Social media is a breeding ground for all kinds of unhealthy comparison. I could see someone who is successful in all the ways I want to be, doing the things I want to do (at least on Instagram), and wonder why I should even bother trying. It’s been done. They’ve done it better. They’re prettier. All the guys like them more blah blah you know how it goes. Well snap out of it. Comparison is the thief of joy and joy is, in my opinion, the most important of all emotions (feelings?) that we need to cultivate and protect. 

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” - Friedrich Nietzsche 

Our culture is obsessed with productivity. Efficiency. Life hacks. Mental Strength. Mental Toughness. Mental Powerlifting (I mean I wouldn’t be surprised), but none of those things mean anything if you don’t have a purpose. A why. It will be different for everyone - and it will be different for you - it’s ever changing. It doesn’t have to be some overly ambitious spiritually enlightened thing. Right now, if I had to describe my purpose it would boil down to “seeing things”. The thing that keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning is all there is to see. I want to see it all. Immerse myself in experiences. Learn from them and share them. And that’s enough. I won’t go weeks without an adventure (or even days) because I know this is important to me. It gives me strength, life, energy -- purpose

So take some time and get really honest with yourself. Where are you at? Where do you want to be? Where do you find your joy? Is it consistent (because it should be!) What keeps you up at night? Why aren't you doing more of that? And most importantly -- where are you going? Are you going at all? And remember:

You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. -- Zig Ziglar

Friday Five - 2.3.17

“If you conquer yourself, then you conquer the world” 
― Paulo Coelho

I'm finishing up my masters degree this semester after an 8 year hiatus, and I have to distally take a theory class that is now required for the degree. So far it has consisted of dense readings (80-100 pages/week) that I have to synthesize into a one page analysis. It has reminded me more than ever what a problem I have with brevity. Or maybe I don't have a problem with brevity as much as I just want to continue to research, to say, to express etc. There is so much information available about literally everything that it's hard to stop writing. So this week (as usual) I have tried to keep these five random summaries brief. I suceeded in some more than others but I hope you enjoy :) 

Snow Guardian

This week I watched a short film about billy barr, the “Snow Guardian of the Rockies”. Barr has lived in the mountains of Gothic, Colorado (year round population of 1) for over 40 years. He came to Gothic one summer as a 21 year old  environmental science research student and has stayed on his own - first in an abandoned mining shack and now in a cabin that he built. To combat boredom, barr (he prefers his name to be lowercase) started to take detailed notes of the snow level, temperature, weather, and wildlife  - among other things -  each day. He made his own code to record his data twice a day - filling a notebook every three years. 

The Rocky Mountain Biological Lab is located in Gothic, and barr has worked for/with the scientists and students who come in the summer in various ways for years. But it wasn’t until the 1990’s that he told a scientist about his detailed notes. Since then his notes have been referenced in dozens of research papers and used as historical evidence of climbing temperatures. He says that in the 44 years he has been recording, the permanent snow pack isn’t present until later in the year and the bare ground has been coming up sooner. 

While his records are getting a lot of attention and are indeed super important, I just love his story - his life. Watch the short here.

Read more about him here and here

No Alcohol January 

As many of you know, I am giving something up every month this year in an effort to build willpower and become more thoughtful with the choices I make and the things I think I “need”. In January I gave up alcohol and…. it was unexpectedly really easy. I drink a glass of wine nearly every day so I was expecting this challenge to be really difficult - not to mention January sucks, it’s cold, politics etc. but, it really wasn’t. 

I think there are a few reasons for this. Telling myself (and others) that I wasn’t going to do something gave me a clear goal. I’ve always been the type that follows through with promises I make to myself - if I tell myself I am or am not going to do something I will persevere through anything to do it. Of course, the key again is that I do this with things I decide and promise to myself. 

But anyways, back to Dry January. Health-wise I feel great. Science tells us that within a week of no drinking sleep is improved - definitely true for me. Within 2 weeks people can experience weight loss - not sure if this is true for me, I think food replaced wine for me. Within 3-4 weeks blood pressure is reduced - maybe true? and within a month skin is better and liver fat is less. 

I'm not going to quit drinking forever - in fact I might just go get some wine right now - but it will be different. I feel so great (and productive!) Read more about the effects of dry January here and here. Now on to February...

No Coffee February

February is here and I’ve decided to give up another thing that I feel is integral to my life - coffee. I have had at least one cup of black coffee every day for as long as I can remember. In the morning, afternoon, even at night - and then go straight to sleep. I’ve long realized that the caffeine isn't the motivation - it’s the ritual. And I just really like coffee. 

I've noticed recently how many ritualized behaviors make up my day. I have very strict morning and night routines - they make me feel calm and centered - but I don't want to get in a rut. I crave freedom in almost all aspects of life and I don't want to be a prisoner to drinking coffee. 

I’ve read a lot about what might happen when I give up coffee - withdrawal, sleep effects, less anxiety etc. - but so far I’ve just had a headache. I am drinking loads of tea - some caffeinated - so the caffeine withdrawal shouldn’t be too bad. I think the most important part of giving something up is having a substitute ready. But... I could be wrong. Wish me luck.

Read more about giving up coffee here and here
 

Self Care or Self-Indulgence?

If you spend any time on Instagram you've surely seen #selfcare. While the internet seems to have branded self-care as a treat yo self excuse to take bubble baths - self-care is much more than that. I was reading about the French philosopher Foucault and his thoughts on self-care - he said that care for ones self is integral to democracy. Audre Lorde echoes this by saying self-care is "an act of political warfare" -- not just a bubble bath (although those are great) 

I think it's important to think about self-care not as something we do or buy but something we feel. Self care is a process of noticing how we are feeling, acknowledging it, and then doing something - not necessarily anything with a monetary cost.  The current media version of self care is privileged. Taking care of yourself by spending money, taking time etc that not everyone has access to. 

Self-care is about capacity building. It is taking care of yourself in order to have the energy to deal with the things in life that are difficult. Self-indulgence on the other hand is based in avoidance. It's "I feel  bad about something so I'm going to go shopping to avoid sitting in the discomfort" while self-care is noticing the feeling, sitting with it, acknowledging it's affect on your life and then making a choice on how to respond. Maybe your response is a bubble bath - that's okay. Just realize that it's much bigger than manicures and bath bombs - taking care of yourself and your health as Foucault says is, "an ethical responsibility" and an act of self-preservation. 

Read more here and here

The Best Pasta Recipe

This week I stumbled upon a random Pinterest recipe, changed it up to work with what I had on hand, and have found probably my new favorite food. It is a play on bang bang shrimp pasta here but with spaghetti squash. 

Spaghetti squash is my go to base for basically everything. It is so super easy to prepare, tastes great, and it’s cheap! If you haven’t made spaghetti squash before follow these simple steps:

1. Buy a spaghetti squash :)

2. Cut it length wise

3. Scrape out the seeds jack o lantern style

4. Roast for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees

5. Cool

6. Scrape out the “spaghetti” strands with a fork - it should be super easy otherwise you haven’t roasted it long enough

7. Make bang bang shrimp pasta, or this, or this, or this, or even this pizza (I’ve made it and it’s actually super good) 

Eat all the spaghetti squash things because: you can eat FIVE cups of spaghetti squash for the same calories as just one cup of whole wheat pasta - it only has 42 calories per cup, 0.5 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrates, and tons of vitamins and minerals. 

Read more about spaghetti squash here.

 

Happy Friday :)

Solo Travel - Part 3 - In Defense of the Selfie

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” 
― Frederick Douglass

Remember family vacations as a child? Someone constantly asking you to “stand here” or “in front of that” “act like you like each other” “etc etc? At the time these photos may have been annoying – but now they are treasured. A good vacation photo album isn’t a bunch of pictures of scenery – it’s you and your loved ones within the scenery. You were there. That is the memory.

Traveling solo doesn’t mean you have to give up those memories – you can ask a kind stranger to take your photo, you can set up the camera timer (my fav – tips at the end of this post), or just take a selfie #noshame.

Selfies have gotten a bad rap – and for some good reasons. I don’t want to see a picture of someone’s face in the front seat of their car every day either but, honestly, I’d rather see a few of those than someone who’s hating. So here are some reasons why I am not ashamed of taking selfies – and why you shouldn’t be either.

Selfies are a digital self-portrait. Just like the original self-portraits of the 10th century – they are a mark in time capturing who the subject is and the emotions associated with that moment. Just like the childhood vacation photos, eventually we are going to forget about the places we went, the weird hairstyles we had, and the excitement we experienced in a new place. A photo can bring us back to that place. I don’t feel the same connection to a photo of a mountain as I do a photo of me as a child in front of the mountain doing something ridiculous. That’s the memory. That’s my experience of a place. I was there.

A selfie can also be a way to actually celebrate confidence and promote psychological well-being. The Dove film “Selfie” is a great example of how accepting yourself(ie) can be so powerful, especially for girls and women. As women, our entire lives we are bombarded by media images of perfection – a selfie is a way to show your uniqueness and boost your confidence. Due to social media there are now more images of “regular” people than models – how cool! While there are still the airbrushed unnatural standards of perfection selfies – a girl growing up today is much more likely to just see photos of real people - people who are unique and beautiful in all different ways. Social media and selfies are actually widening and redefining the definition of beauty – everyone can (and deserves to) be seen.

Taking a selfie is also a great way to show your personality. Whether you think about it or are consciously aware of it – we are all trying to create an image of ourselves. On and off social media, the things you do, say, write, read, etc. are all a part of how you are projecting yourself to the world. People often say that they don’t feel known – but maybe they just aren’t showing anyone who they really are. We can define ourselves in a way with a self-portrait. I love a photo where I just look like me – when I am outdoors, probably wearing a backwards hat, and smiling. This is when I feel most like myself. 

Obviously my view of selfies is pretty positive. I think it can be empowering to practice vulnerability by putting yourself out there – opening yourself up to ridicule, judgement, and even comparison. It’s also just really great to feel confident. That “who the hell cares if anyone likes this picture of my face and this thing behind my face because I LIKE IT” attitude - I like it and I want to be reminded of this moment later. I want to share this moment with the people who aren’t here. I want to remember the joy on my face and not just the backdrop.

But, what about the detractors (haters)? Well, I already explained that who the hell cares – but really, who cares what anyone else thinks? Why is anyone that concerned about you or what you do? The truth is they probably really aren’t concerned about you at all (remember the spotlight effect). And if they are – that says a lot more about them than it does about you.

What does science have to say? Well, research shows that looking at pictures of smiling faces makes you smile – and smiling makes you already feel that much happier. While there are also studies that show selfies lead or come from a negative place – I feel like those are all extreme cases. I’m not suggesting that you post a selfie every day or that you get all of your self-worth from the likes it receives – I’m just saying there isn’t anything wrong with it. But, like almost everything in life, balance is the key.

So, in a culture where women are given totally unrealistic standards of beauty – be comfortable with yourself. If that means take a selfie – do it. If it doesn’t – don’t. Really, who cares. No shaming necessary.

Camera Timer Basics

If you want a picture of something more than your face, use the camera timer! I like selfies but I also think photos with a person as the subject just look better and are more dynamic -  so I do this all the time (obviously and shamelessly) Here are a few tips:

Basics: Set the timer on your phone camera to 10 seconds and find something to prop your phone up against. It could be a wall, a fence, your water bottle – I’ve found some crazy stuff that works.

If you can, use the front camera – you won’t be able to see yourself but the quality of the photo is much better.

Set your phone up as high as you can. Sometimes a pic from the ground can look cool but generally closer to eye level makes a better photo.

If you have an Apple Watch - set your phone somewhere farther away and use the watch to cue the photo

Camera timers are the secret to the cartwheel/active shots – the timer takes a burst of photos so you have a few to choose from.

Take a bunch! Haha but seriously – take one, look at it, and then make adjustments as necessary.

And then post them all over the internet. (duh)

Thanks for reading :)

Friday Five - 1.13.17

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I'm more afraid of succeeding at things that don't matter.” ― Bob Goff

This week I’ve really tried to take time to understand what I enjoy about the process of blogging - because I really do enjoy it. Is it narcissistic? Do I feel I have something extra super special to share with the world? Um, in a word: no. I’ve always loved research, and I’ve always loved writing - and I’m finding that the more I do it the easier and more enjoyable it becomes. 

Writing (even the kind riddled with grammar errors like mine) has so many benefits. It helps us to think more deeply, sharpen our analytical skills, reflect more thoughtfully, live more intentionally, build healthier habits, refine our writing skills, and build confidence when we believe we have something to offer. 

Writing is also just a great way to get thoughts out of your head. Journaling and morning pages can be super therapeutic. For me, I like the repetition and discipline it helps to build. I like to share it because I like sharing, and I like the accountability. Too often we want things to be perfect before we share them - but if I waited for perfect I’d never share anything. 

So here are five less than perfect things I am interested in and wrote about this week

Friday the 13th

Today is the first of two Friday the 13th’s of 2017. Did you know there is a word for people who have a fear of Friday the 13th? A twenty-three letter word no less: “paraskevidekatriaphobia” - yeah really, my cat didn’t just walk across the keyboard. 

FDR had a fear of the number - he wouldn’t have 13 guests at a dinner party or travel on Friday the 13th. His bud Winston Churchill also allegedly wouldn’t sit in row 13 in a theater or plane.

There is evidence of a Western superstition about the number 13 (“triskaidekaphobia” if you were wondering) and Friday the 13th since the middle ages, but the actual origin isn’t known. Some people think it goes back to the last supper where Judas - who betrayed Jesus - was the 13th guest. 

As a math teacher - and someone who is just really into numbers -I think the reason has more to do with the number itself. It’s unique. There are 12 months in a year, hours on a clock etc etc.. and feels complete - so 13 right after feels off. 

But back to today - I read that Friday the 13th is the most feared day/date in history. Airline prices actually fall due to the perceived unluckiness (but your chance of a crash is actually statistically lower), weddings cost less on this day, many buildings leave off the 13th floor, and - most importantly - Tupac died (allegedly) on a Friday the 13th haha, but seriously, what do you think - is today somehow unlucky?

Read more here and here.

Myers-Briggs (or why I have no follow through)

I’ve always been really interested in learning more about myself and I love personality tests - especially the Myers Briggs. I took the test officially for the first time as a 22 year old and got ENTP (and have every time I have taken it after). When I read the information about ENTP’s I was shocked at how well it encompassed my personality. 

ENTP’s are known as the “Inventor” or the “Debater” - they are rational, see complex interrelationships, they hate rules, regulations, routine, and structure, while they value independence, competence, and intelligence. They are “idea people” who are great at brainstorming and thinking big - but have a problem with follow through. 

Like... a big problem. When I read that part of the report I was ashamed at how well it described me. I have tons of big ideas but I get bored easily. I need new things, new people, places etc. to feel fulfilled. And while this isn’t all bad - I need help with my follow through. 

This is a big reason why I’m restricting myself from things each month this year. Most people would say that restriction is unhealthy and will lead to more of the thing you aren’t allowing yourself later - you want what you can’t have. But, because I know myself, I know that it is important for me to make myself follow through with things that are difficult. I know that I allow myself to move on to the next big idea too often - and intentionally placing restrictions on myself is helping to build the willpower that I need to follow through with other things in my life. 

Read more here and here about the Myers Brigg and ENTPS. Scroll down for more on building willpower.

Eating the Elephant

I’m sure you have heard the phrase “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It’s meant to help us in times of overwhelm - to break down something big into smaller pieces. When you break down goals into smaller pieces they become manageable and process oriented. For someone with shaky follow through, this is key - I can see the progress and stay engaged in a project when the process is part of the goal. 

Eating the elephant is a good process to think about when trying to build willpower. Willpower is the control we exert to contain our impulsivity and control our behavior. We know from research that self control and willpower lead to more positive outcomes and that people who are able to delay gratification are more successful. But often we give in to our desires because we just can’t see how the elephant is going to fit into our crock pot for dinner - we don’t realize that it doesn’t have to. 

I am not drinking for the month of January just to practice building willpower. I was talking to some friends about it and many said they, “didn’t want to put those restrictions on themselves” or they, “couldn’t commit to a time frame” but that’s just it - that’s the important part! The time frame is what builds the willpower. And that is how I’m eating the elephant - one day at a time. 

Like decision fatigue, willpower can be depleted by stress. That’s why it’s important to think in terms of process. If you have a big goal and try to achieve it the next day, you’re going to be more stressed - and will likely give up sooner. If you instead go back and forth between your comfort and stretch zones, with incremental progress on a goal, you will start to see the progress and be motivated to continue. After eating the elephant regularly it will become your favorite food - and the process will become a habit. You will have built your willpower. And just like a muscle, willpower gets stronger with use. 

Read more about building willpower and eating elephants here and here.

Eating the Frog (or why you should do hard things)


Now let’s talk about eating another wild animal - the frog. Eating the frog is another famous idiom that derived from the Mark Twain quote that if you “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning... nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Basically - do the hardest thing first, then the rest of your day will be easier. I - admittedly - am not great at this. I put things off for days and then - when I finally do them - I feel the relief and wonder why I didn’t just eat the dang frog in the first place. 

It’s similar to climbing a mountain. When you climb a 14er you should start super early - for lots of reasons - but for me, it feels good to have achieved something so big at the outset of my day. I could go home after and just watch Gilmore Girls all afternoon but hey, who cares, because I ALREADY CLIMBED A FREAKING MOUNTAIN. I always get up and go on weekends for this reason. But here lies the rub: those are all things I want to do. I can do the hard things I want to do - but what about the ones I don’t?

It all comes down to prioritizing. Everyone is busy. Everyone has a to do list a mile long (the people I like at least). The difference between the people who are productive and those who aren't is in the priorities they place on those to do’s. 

Think of prioritizing like a two-way frequency table (because math is everywhere). Everything on your list can be put into one of the four boxes. There are:

  • the things you want to do and need to do
  • the things you want to do and don’t need to do
  • the things you don’t want to do but need to do
  • the things you don’t want to do and don’t need to do

The frog is going to be in the “don’t want to do but need to do” category - and that should be what’s first on your agenda each day. 

Here is a thing I made for the visual learners among us (which you will remember is us all)

After eating the frog: do the things you want and need to do, then the things you want to do but don’t need to, then maybe just cross off the fourth category altogether - busy-ness for busy-ness sake isn’t helping anyone. If you don’t want or need to do something - cut it out of your life. 

One of my favorite authors and speakers (and kindred spirit) Bob Goff quits something every Thursday - big or small - to make room for new things in his life. We should think about prioritizing in the same way - we will never create the margin in our lives that we need, or the room to grow, (or to write about five random things every week) if we continue to do the things that we don’t need or want to do. 

Read more here and here.

Clean Eating

I’ve been thinking a lot about eating this week - metaphorically and literally. Along with no drinking, I’ve made a fuzzier goal of clean eating for January. Basically I’m just trying not to eat at any restaurants or any super processed foods. 

I read an interesting article this week in the Washington Post about clean eating and it's many different meanings. It’s not really a real thing so people have  made it into whatever they want. I agree with the authors point of view that it’s just being mindful with what you are eating. I want to be able to understand the ingredients going in to my food, and keep track of how it makes me feel. 

I know that eating a Little Caesars Hot and Ready pizza will make me feel terrible - so I’m choosing not to eat it. I know that sometimes a chocolate brownie makes me feel great - so sometimes I am choosing to eat it. It’s nothing revolutionary - just a more mindful approach. It’s so easy to get into the habit of stopping after work for random takeout - but it’s just as easy to get back into the habit of cooking (or at least just heating up) your own food. 

It’s also much more realistic than any unsustainable fad diet. 

Read more here and here

 

Happy Friday :) 

Solo Travel - Part 1

“The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” — Henry David Thoreau

Imagine your favorite band is coming to your town to play live at your favorite venue. You bought two tickets so you could share this life changing experience with a friend or partner and have been counting down the days to the event. But on the night of the show, to your surprise, your friend or partner doesn't care about the band and are just standing limply next to you scrolling through facebook during your favorite song. Would your experience change? Mine would. I would be annoyed that I bought the ticket in the first place, but more than that I would have a hard time focusing on my own enjoyment with someone who obviously would rather be somewhere else. I would still enjoy the concert but I would definitely leave the experience wishing I had just went by myself. 

While it is important to share experiences with others - it can be just as valuable to experience things all alone. There are a lot of things in life that I want to do and if I waited around for someone who wanted to do them with me (with the same amount of enthusiasm) I might be waiting forever. 

I don't have time to waste so I almost always travel alone - and it's one of the things I get asked about a lot. People are always curious about whether or not I went somewhere to visit family or friends or with some mystery someone else. When I tell them I go alone there are generally three reactions: a long list of questions that begin with why, those who think it sounds amazing but something they "could never do" or those who - like me - understand that solo travel is full of opportunity and joy. 

For those of you who may fit into the first two groups, here is the first in a series about solo travel: who is doing it, why you should, and some tips for enjoyment and safety. 

Who's Flying Solo?

Solo travel is more popular than ever - specifically solo female travel. 

According to a 2015 study, 24% of people traveled alone on their most recent vacation. While accurate statistics are hard to gather for this topic - according to the Travel Industry Association, 32 million single women traveled at least once last year with a third of them traveling three or more times. 

You might assume that the majority of these solo travelers are young single adventurers but the average female solo traveler is actually 47 and just as likely to be single or married.

Over half of women asked in this study said that they were more likely to travel alone than they were five years ago and it's no surprise: 65% of them said that they feel more confident after a trip alone, 63% said that a solo trip made them feel more energized and refreshed, and 59% said they would travel solo again in the next year.

Social media, also unsurprisingly, has played a role. The same study found that social media has empowered women to find unique places to go and are inspired by the other solo travelers that they see. (obviously I can attest to this as well)

Why not?

So while there seems to be a huge increase in solo travelers in recent years, there are still so many people who think they could never do it.

I think one of the reasons more people don't go on their own has to do with the natural human tendency to care about others perception of you. There is a stigma attached to doing things alone. Sometimes this manifests as the so-called "spotlight effect" - the belief that you are being noticed by others around you more than you actually are. The spotlight effect is what keeps people from doing things like eating at a restaurant, going to a museum, or a attending a concert alone - they have an (egocentric) belief that they are being noticed by others as the "loser who has no one to go with them" so they change their actions and don't do things alone. 

Another reason people wait around for others to do things is that they just don't think it will be as fun alone. I get that. You want to share your experiences - we all do. But what if nobody wants to do the thing you want to do? What if they can't take the time off? What if they actually hate the thing you end up doing and then mess up the experience for you both? 

But you shouldn't worry about enjoying a solo experience less. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people consistently underestimate how much enjoyment they will have doing things alone. The researchers asked participants to rate how much enjoyment they thought they would have doing something alone and then how much they actually had. The study found no statistically significant difference between those who did things with friends and those who did them alone. Surprised?

So, are you going to wait around for someone who loves your favorite band just as much as you do before you see them play? No way. Then why wait to travel. There is no perfect time  - just go. Solo travel - even just a day trip - promotes more enjoyment, productivity, reflection, and independence. Being alone gives you a chance to do exactly what you want, recharge, and make no apologies for it. So what are you waiting for?

 

Check back next week for Solo Travel - Part 2 Tips and Safety. 

Friday Five - 12.23.16

"Do not be afraid of spending quality time by yourself. Find meaning or don’t find meaning but 'steal' some time and give it freely and exclusively to your own self. Opt for privacy and solitude. That doesn’t make you antisocial or cause you to reject the rest of the world. But you need to breathe. And you need to be.” ― Albert Camus, Notebooks 1951-1959

Lone Geniuses

I just got back from a short trip to Arizona and, like almost every trip I take, I went alone. I do most things alone - I prefer it. So many people ask me how and why I travel alone, tell me that it is brave/adventurous, or ask what I am running away from. I just like being alone. That's the secret that's not a secret at all. 

Due to my proclivity for alone time, I'm always interested in studies about solitude. I recently read about a study in the British Journal of Psychology that found that while social interactions increase happiness generally, they have the opposite affect on people with higher intelligence. Not that I fancy myself a genius or anything but the logic makes sense to me. Intelligent people are driven to a specific purpose - or have a lot of interests and hobbies that can make social interactions more difficult. Whether they are more intelligent naturally or as a result of their curiosity and drive doesn't really matter. 

More than "genius" or "high IQ" I think that (and have lots and lots of evidence that) creative people are more likely to thrive in solitude. Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and Howard Hughes are just a few of the many noted creative people throughout history who preferred to be alone. I know that I need a ton of alone time - not neccesarilly to recharge in the introvert sense - but to cultivate creativity. I mean, I can't research and write this blog about creativity and solitude if I wasn't, in fact, alone. :) 

So, as Nikola Tesla famously said, "Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born." It's nothing to be afraid of.  

Read more here, here, and here.

Biosphere 2 

On my trip to Arizona I stopped at Biosphere 2 in Oracle. Biosphere 2 is the famous closed ecological system where "biospherians" spent two missions living and working to simulate a space like environment. The longer of the two missions lasted two years, and while it had it's share of problems (a whole other posts worth) it was considered to be a success by many in the scientific community. 

The space and the science are super impressive but what I was interested in this week was the confined environment and isolation the biospherians experienced. Being stuck in a space (even one over 3 acres like Biosphere 2) for any amount of time with 7 other people is sort of my worst nightmare. Imagine only interacting with those people day in and day out - working, eating, socializing - everything. 

Now imagine the stress you'd already be feeling from harvesting and making your own food (one of the biospherians famously said that it took 4 months to make a pizza), conducting science experiments all day, and being the only engineers and maintenance of the amazingly large structure. Then add losing weight due to the low calorie diet, losing oxygen due to the closed system (oxygen got so low that it was equivalent to being over 13,000 ft above sea level), and then the effects of prolonged isolation such as depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, and boredom. Whoa. 

Confined Environment Psychology is super interesting and studies these sorts of environments - mostly long term Antarctic research stations (or, appropriately, ICE - Isolated Confined Environments) and uses the results for a model for life in space (just like Biosphere 2 and other Mars simulations aim to do). 

Read more about Biosphere 2 here and here. Read about confined environment psychology here and here. 

Or watch this TedTalk by one of the Biospherians: 

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 Productivity Cliff

I wrote a bit last week about American's tendency to overwork and not take all their vacation time. I couldn't understand why people would willingly do this so I did more digging. My theory has always been that more than 50 hours of work a week makes me less effective and efficient. While the average teacher spends 59 hours per week working, I've always been proud of my work life balance and ability to leave the unfinished work unfinished (to save my sanity). It turns out my theory is on the mark for most people.

According to a Stanford study there is a "productivity cliff" after 50 hours of work per week. The relationship between hours worked and productivity is linear (math woo!) up until 49 hours but then falls after 50. Productivity dramatically falls after 55 hours per week (the cliff) so much that someone who works 70 hours a week produces no more than someone working 55. Whoa. 

Long hours have long been shown to increase absenteeism, turnover, sleep disturbances (which leads to even less productivity), increase chances of stroke, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes (in low-income jobs), and increase depression. So why do we do it? American's value work and "busyness" - but that is another topic entirely. Read on. :)  

Or first read more about the productivity cliff here, here, and here

Creating Margin

There was a piece in the Washington Post this week about how busyness has become a status symbol. According to a Harvard study, it's become the new conspicuous consumption - more people are able to have luxury items now so those items are losing their ability to signal importance or worth. Being busy all the time is a way to show your worth through perceived scarcity - (ie. I am very important and in demand). 

But if you read about the productivity cliff, the importance of taking your vacation time, or just have a pulse, you know that this isn't healthy or sustainable. You must create margin in your life. 

Margin is the "space between load and limits" or "between breathing and suffocating". It's the extra time intentionally planned into your day for the things that might come up or for the rest that you will need. And while you may not be signaling your importance, being intentional about creating margin opens up your life to more balance, creativity, and happiness. 

Read more here, here, and here. 

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Why I Use a Physical Planner (and you should too)

One more Friday of 2016 and you know what that means - new planner! I read this article on The Onion a couple weeks ago and am ashamed to say that many years I fall into the first few weeks then sporadic planner user group. But not this year. I actually started a new, undated planner a month ago (couldn't wait) and have tried to be very intentional about using it.

Successful people plan. They know where their time is being spent and where it is being wasted. If you are not intentional about time it can (and will) get away from you. If you want to create margin in your life, you have to be intentional. You have the power to design your own life - but you have to be conscious and plan it. 

So while I know all the important reasons to plan my days - there are also many reasons why I use a physical planner rather than one that is tech based. Here are some of them:

- Writing things down is linked to learning - you learn more when you write it as opposed to just seeing/hearing.

- Notes that are handwritten are remembered at a higher rate than those on a laptop.

- Physical writing helps you to focus - no notifications or other tech distractions

- Writing helps the brain stay sharp!

- Writing things down helps to mentally unload. You can think more clearly, receive ideas, and focus better once the mental clutter is on the page

- Writing down goals helps to achieve them. Self-authoring brings clarity, focus and direction.

(*Write your goals in your planner! You'll reap the benefits of writing them and of being reminded of them!) 

Read more here and here

Happy Friday :) *and Holidays!