The Privilege of Sleeping in My Car

"The better you look, the more you see.” ― Bret Easton Ellis

suv modification 1

If you follow me on Instagram , you know I recently converted my Nissan Rogue SUV into a camper with a sleeping platform (post with more info coming soon). I spent most of the summer traveling around the United States and Canada, camping in my car and having the most amazing time.

Well, mostly. 

teton view suv mod

There was a night or two when I was too excited to get to my days destination to plan in advance where I would stay that night. Now, even though I’m camping in the car, I still stay at campgrounds and have reserved them whenever possible. I’m alone and so I value the security even more that comes with knowing where I’ll be overnight. But on those few nights — one in particular — I didn’t have a plan and ended up sort of frantic unable to figure out where I should go, and if anything would be available when I got there. I also had no cell service, I mean this is the Wild West after all, compounding my anxiety.

There was a moment when I almost started to cry in my overwhelm, and actually thought to myself some form of “I understand how people feel when they don’t have a secure place to stay at night”. Umm… luckily, in about two seconds I had to stop myself from taking both my hands off the wheel to slap myself across the face because, no, I have no idea how that feels. 

I am so privileged. I have a car (that I can sleep in comfortably!), I have enough money to get a hotel if I needed to, I have family I can call, I am white, I am decent looking, educated, I have no history of legal trouble, and if I was broken down on the side of the road I am fairly certain every decent person who saw me would have no qualms about stopping to help me.

But that’s not true for everyone. Or even for most people. 

suv mod

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in January of 2015 there were 564,708 homeless individuals on one single night — but we know the “homeless count” is famously difficult to track so it’s estimated between 2 and 3 million people a year actually spend time homeless. That’s insane. That’s the same as (or more than) the entire population of Chicago. 

That many people actually don’t know where they are going to sleep at night. They can’t just make a reservation online, or use a different credit card, or call their parents, cry to a park ranger, keep driving a few extra hours for an open camp site -- whatever many of us could do. 

So how does this affect me?

suv mod

“Checking your privilege” has become an almost annoying and overused popculture-y phrase that seems to have lost a little of it’s meaning. So let’s go backwards a little. Privilege is just an advantage that you have — earned or unearned — because of some aspect of your life. It doesn’t mean you don’t have struggles, it just means that you have some advantages other people don’t have. Two things can be true at the same time, remember. 

So how do I “check my privilege”? Should I stop doing what I’m doing? Should I spend the money I’m using on converting my car and reserving campgrounds to donate to homeless charities? Should I take a vow of poverty and give all my belongings away? For some people, yes, but I don’t feel led to that. Action that comes from guilt isn’t helping anyone. 

For me, checking my privilege is just a way to reflect. Not so much on my own unearned privilege — because privilege awareness in itself is a privileged position to be in, but I digress — but on the unearned disadvantages that others face. Realizing how bad I felt that night without a campsite then realizing this is literally just a shred of what a truly homeless person would feel is an invitation to more compassion and empathy. 

“Awareness” has become a dirty word of sorts — “but what does your awareness bracelet do to actually help ______?” But awareness is still an important step in the process of becoming a more equalized society. If we don’t know something is off balance, how do we equalize it? We don’t. We continue to live our lives in the secure and safe bubbles we’ve set up for ourselves, and turn a blind eye to those who experience life differently than we do. 

Well I refuse to do that.

I want to know the things that I don’t know. And not confuse empathy with experience. 

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. 

arches 5

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. 

Self-Help or Self-Improvement?

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” 
― William Faulkner

I have a lot of books. Like a lot a lot. Multiple bookshelves. All full. Spilling out. Books under the bed, under the couch, in my drawers, in the car, in my classroom, in my backpack — everywhere. My family always had a library growing up, and books in every other room — so to me it seems normal. I’m always surprised when I go to someone’s place and don’t see books. While I honestly derive some (okay a lot of) pride from my book collection, it’s also a little scary when someone new comes over and starts to peruse. Despite having read more books in a year than most people have in ten  — books are a personal thing, and I don’t want to be judged for my choices. 

I have all kinds of books, but the overwhelming majority are non-fiction. Within the non-fiction I have several different types — one being self improvement. Personal development. Growth. Whatever you want to call it — terms we use because God forbid we say “self-help”. 

A common TV trope is the sad single in a bookstore self-help section. Hat and glasses on — invariably ends up running in to their ex/crush/mortal enemy. It’s looked at as shameful or embarrassing to look to a book for help. And I get it — I’ve felt it too. But more often I wonder why the stigma still exists — I mean, shouldn’t it be shameful NOT to want to improve yourself?

I think there are three types of people who have a problem with self-improvement: 

1. The people who already think they’re perfect (don’t need improvement) 

2. Those people who aren’t self-aware enough to understand or realize that it’s possible to improve (i.e. do not read) 

3. The people who think they’re just too freakin’ cool. Too hip. Too faux artistic, intellectual, blah blah you know the type (just follow the scent of elitism and overcompensation)

Well, maybe there is a fourth type. One that I fit into. And that’s the group that has some problems with self-help's false pop culture definition. Or maybe just the word help. 

Help and improvement - to me - are very different. Help is something you NEED. It’s aim is to make things easier. Improvement is about GROWTH. Development. Things you want to advance in your life — easy or not. Help comes from a needy place, and I don’t have to tell anyone that’s not a good look. It comes from a place of lack — I need something in order to be fulfilled. Improvement comes from a desire or a want deep inside — it’s active, it’s from a place of abundance. 

Help vs. Improvement is similar to the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. These terms are everywhere lately (like here, here, and here) so I’m sure I don’t need to go over them again — but basically, if you have a fixed mindset you believe your intelligence, traits, gifts, whatever, are fixed and that there’s not much you can do to change them. Just deal with it. Get help. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the mindset you have when you believe you can change. You can improve. Your intelligence, traits, gifts, whatever. It’s when you embrace failures as learning opportunities and continue to strive towards the things you want. 
 
That’s why I’m so interested in personal development — I know I can improve anything I want to improve. Now, I’m not so obsessed with improvements and efficiency and life hacking that I try to improve every part of my life unnecessarily, but I know that I can if I want to (through deliberate practice and hard work).

So why is there still a stigma? While there are definitely higher or lower levels of stigma depending on the type of people you surround yourself with - there seem to be some barriers that are fairly general. 

Ego

“The worst disease which can afflict executives in their work is not, as popularly supposed, alcoholism; it's egotism.” 
― Robert Frost

While it’s super hip and instaworthy to practice yoga, meditation, healthy eating, etc. it’s still somehow super uncool or cheesy in some circles to admit that you are actively trying to improve yourself through any of these methods. It's somehow better to be seen as someone who is just naturally peaceful, meditative, flexible, healthy, positive, etc. rather than someone who is striving to be. If we admit that we are striving for something more in our lives, it seems like we are admitting to being less than - and our ego doesn't like it. 

For example, I’ve been 95% vegan for the past several months (and yeah I know how annoying the 95% part is...), but I’m the first to admit that it’s not just for ethical, wannabe cool Colorado girl reasons. I like the way it makes me feel, and honestly I like the way it makes me look. Why is it wrong or cheesy to admit that we want to improve?

We don’t want to be seen as weak

"Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s hard to ask for help — we all know that. But it’s also hard to just admit that we want to improve. Which is cray because we all know about imposter syndrome — in fact, I just read that over 70% of people have experienced it at some point in their lives. Felt like they weren’t qualified or good enough to do their jobs. Imposters in their own lives. And while this isn’t a positive way to go through life, at the same time, if you don’t feel competent - you can do something about it! You can learn, improve, grow, and feel capable if you’re willing to help yourself. 

The real weakness we should be concerned about is passivity. Not doing. Not striving. Remaining stagnant in our lives. 

We also don't want to be seen as self-centered

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.” 
― Miguel Ruiz

We don't want to be seen as weak, but we also don't want to be seen as self-involved. "Who does she think she is" "They are just trying too hard". While I wish the opinions of others held no weight, as a human I can't help but sometimes think about it. I'm sure we all do. If we are actively trying to improve ourselves, it's going to rub some people the wrong way. Chances are those people are insecure about that same thing, and wish they had the willpower to change it too. So be kind, but don't stop growing for others, you aren't taking anything away from them - there is enough to go around.

Fear of Change

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 
― Jalaluddin Rumi

I’m sure you’ve heard the Alice Hoffman quote, “Once you know some things, you can't unknow them. It's a burden that can never be given away.” I think about this a lot, and have realized that I sometimes physically avoid things because of it. Once I check that email, ask that question, read that book, whatever — I can’t go back. I have to deal with it.

I don't think I'm alone in this. It seems like a lot of the people I meet are avoiding something. Not asking the hard questions. Playing it cool. Making excuses for their behavior and their lives instead of trying to change them. Sometimes I just want to scream, “how about you just get your you know what together like an adult?!” — but of course, no one has it together. So why are some of us so afraid to admit that? To show that we care? That we are trying to change? 

Change is scary - but staying the same is even more terrifying. When we fear change we end up repeating the same behaviors and thoughts that keep us in a cycle of negativity and passivity.

Entitlement

This one is a little controversial - but as a teacher, I see it every day. The self-esteem movement - yes, of participation trophy fame - really has had the negative effect of promoting entitlement (in some cases - obviously not all). Self-esteem is absolutely crucial, but the way it has sometimes been misused in the last few decades has led to generations with sizable groups of people who believe they are worthy of praise and adulation just for being. 

Think of reality TV. It's made up of people who have basically no qualifications or positive attributes - but they have achieved what many people in our society see as a successful life. They aren't trying to change - they are just being themselves. And I hate to say it, but yourself isn't always worthy of praise. None of us are born blameless or without fault, so why is it so common to hear the refrain of "just be yourself" "you deserve _____ just for being you" "don't ever change" "I'm just being me". While these all come from a place of positive intentions - and if used in the right way are positive phrases - they can easily be used as an excuse.

I'm just being me can easily be used an excuse to be a jerk. Like when someone prefaces a rude opinion with, "it's just my opinion" as if that let's them off the hook. Yes, just be yourself.... unless you're a jerk.  

So now what?

Don't be afraid of the self-help section - whether we want to admit it or not, we are all striving to improve our lives - which can only happen by improving ourselves. Be a little bit ruthless - what part of your life could benefit from some growth? Don't give in to negative behaviors just because "it's who you are". Then get to reading! Blogs, articles, books, whatever! Don't be ashamed! And while you may come across some cheesy stuff - more than likely you'll find some amazing insights.

11 of my Favorite Personal Development Books

If you don't know where to begin (or - like me - are always looking for recommendations), here are some titles to start with (that you may not have even realized are "self-improvement"!):

#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

And don't forget to let me know what you think :) 

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

Questing

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard

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Quest: (according to dictionary.com) a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something. Medieval Romance - an adventurous expedition undertaken by a knight or knights to secure or achieve something.

My definition: finding purpose through the pursuit of big goals and seeking adventure.

What do you find purpose in? If you’re like me, probably a myriad of things bring purpose to your life. I find purpose in my work, my service, and my family - but I need something more. I need a quest - and I’d argue that we all do.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that, “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

To me, the pursuit of happiness is within the pursuit itself. The big, overarching goal or project that keeps me up at night. Right now, that goal is to visit all 59 US National Parks by 2025. A big goal to be sure, but that’s the beauty of it! Let me explain..

As part of another quest - last year’s 52 book reading challenge - I read the book “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau. He spent a decade visiting every country in the world and wrote this guide to help others on their quests - big or small.

He has some ground rules for quests that I applied to mine as well:

It must be a challenge

There are currently 59 National Parks. I have visited 19 as of this writing, and as a frequent park visitor have met many people on the same quest as I am. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

While a great deal of the National Parks are in the West, many are difficult to reach. Alaska boasts eight parks, including three (Gates of the Arctic, Kobuk Valley and Glacier Bay) that have no roads and can only be entered by boat, plane, or foot. There are two in Hawaii, one in the US Virgin Islands, one in American Samoa (the only park south of the equator) and three within the lower 48 accessible only by boat or plane (Isle Royale, Channel Islands, and Dry Tortugas). Even the parks that are “easier” to travel to are almost always in remote locations that requires a car, time, and considerable effort to get to.

It must require sacrifice

A quest can and should be something fun and enjoyable, but if it’s too easy it’s just a hobby. A quest is an adventure, an honorable pursuit leading to a worthy achievement - it’s going to take some sacrifice. Before pursuing a quest, it’s essential that you understand the sacrifices that will be involved. Time and money are the obvious sacrifices that are generally underestimated. I think of it as the “What am I not doing because of this?” question. If you aren’t okay with the trade-offs, don’t pursue it.

Personally, I’m okay with the trade-offs. I am gone on most long weekends and for several weeks in the summer, so I’ve missed trips with friends or events at home because I’m driving somewhere in the middle of a desert. Additionally, I’ve spent almost all my extra money on this pursuit. I have a National Parks Annual Pass ($80) which is a great deal, but there are a lot of extra costs. The obvious: gas, plane tickets, lodging, souvenirs, food - and the not so obvious: cell phone reception booster, special gear, ferries to the island parks, etc.

It must require considerable effort and persistence

Again, if it’s easy everyone would do it. If everyone did it then it wouldn’t be special. It wouldn’t be adventurous. It wouldn’t be a quest. Persistence has always been one of my greatest (and maybe worst) qualities. If I want to do something, I do it no matter what. If your quest isn’t something that inspires persistence, then it’s probably not the right one for you.

It must be clearly defined

This seems like such an obvious one, but also something that I don’t think a lot of us do. Just like any goal, it must be specific, otherwise when will you know you’ve met it? What motivation will you have to keep going? If my goal was to “visit as many National Parks as possible” well then, I’ve already done that - 19 is far more than most people I know. But then what? I’m just done? No way! I want to go to them all, and I want to do it by 2025. The time element is important to me. It’s long enough to be realistic, but still short enough to be challenging. I can’t sit around for years wishing or planning - I have to do it now.

Challenges

While a quest should be challenging in itself, there are other challenges that you have to consider before undertaking one. Along with the aforementioned cost and time, there is also the element of risk. Everyone has their own risk tolerance - mine is actually fairly low - and a quest, like anything in life, is going to stretch it.

Another challenge is other people’s opinions. In fact, this is probably the most challenging part for many people. I mean, we know what opinions are like.. and everybody's got one. A quest, long term goal, pursuit, adventure, project - whatever you want to call it - is a very personal thing. I’m sure there are some people reading this who have no desire to visit even a few National Parks and think it’s a self indulgent waste of time. To that I say - ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  You don’t have to. But I do.

Chris Guillebeau writes in his book that, “There’s an obsession factor with many quests. When you wake up at night consumed by an idea, that’s when you’ve found a quest.” That’s just how mine started. I visited several National Parks before it became “my thing” which later became a quest. (hence why I never started getting Park Passport stamps - don’t make the same mistake!) As I visited more, it became more important, then an obsession. I literally stay awake at night and get up early in the morning to plan trips, book airbnbs, and read travel forums. Remember, the happiness is in the pursuit.

There’s also some argument that pursuits like mine are somehow elitist - and I get it. Actually, I kind of agree. I’m very lucky to be in a position where I have money and time to do this when for many people that is not the case. Until our basic needs are met - and beyond - it isn’t necessarily realistic or worthy to gallivant around the nation looking for bison and WPA postcards. But while it’s important to be aware of privilege, I think, for a lot of people a quest is fully within their reach - it's just not a priority in their lives. Just like any other habit, we pursue the things that are a priority. And like Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

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Then What?

What happens when you achieve what you set out to do? Well, I haven’t yet so I can’t say for sure, but the obvious first step is - get a new goal! Find another quest - maybe it’s an extension of your last or maybe it’s something totally different. But don’t become stagnant. Life is a journey after all, not a destination. If you allow yourself to spend too much time celebrating your success it may actually have the opposite effect and leave you feeling empty.

Why?

Joseph Campbell said, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.” We want to experience life as fully as possible, with as much joy as possible. Through a quest we find purpose through achievement, but also gain so many other tangible and intangible things. For me, I’ve gained all kinds of skills and expanded my worldview, but the two most important results I’ve seen so far are greater confidence and empathy. Confidence from doing it all on my own, and empathy from spending time all over the country with people I'd never encounter otherwise.

I’ve also gained a lot from sharing my experiences. One of the core values I try to cultivate in my life is leadership, and I believe that I am able to sharpen those skills through this quest. John Quincy Adams said that, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” I’m inspired every day by others who are on the same and different quests - by their photos online, their blogs, and their words - and hope to inspire others in some way.

So what are you waiting for? Maybe you're already on a quest - make it public, share your experiences, heck - overshare (I certainly do). If you're not - start brainstorming. Make a list that seems totally unrealistic then ask yourself why. Why do I want to do this? Why do I think it's unrealistic? What could I change in my life and priorities to make this happen? and do I want to do that? Then get started! As Albert Einstein said, “The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all of our lives.” So pursue your truth. Get a little obsessive if necessary, but make progress! That's where the happiness lies. 

“'The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.' So, too, for a quest. The most important thing is continuing to make progress.” - Chris Guillebeau

Friday Favorites - 3.24.17

 “I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air – it’s different. The sky is different, the wind is different. I shouldn’t say too much about it because other people may be interested and I don’t want them interested.” - Georgia O'Keeffe on New Mexico

I haven't been so great about blogging lately. Mostly because the days are longer and I'm spending every moment possible outside. duh. But here are some things I've loved this week:

This Place

I went to Taos this past weekend and stayed in an earthship! It was so perfect and beautiful and relaxing. I was completely off the grid in the middle of nowhere outside of town - I really can't recommend it enough. You can read more about earthships and Taos here.  And/or watch my instagram story below:

This Data

I am currently reading 4 different books. And although I am not tracking a specific reading goal this year - I still project somewhere around 50 books read. While that sounds like a lot (and it is) think about all the books that exist! I want to read them all! But can I?

Emily Temple at Literary Hub decided to find out. She used data from the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator and the average number of books read by different groups per year to find how many books you can still read in your lifetime. I've got around 2,800 left! I better choose wisely :) Look at the data here

This Recipe

I am restricting myself from meat for March (and into April for Lent), so I have been trying lots of vegetarian recipes (but mostly eating a lot of bread, french fries, veggie pizza, and macaroni and cheese haha). Anyways, I've found a winner! Buffalo Tofu!

Tofu?! It might sound scary if you've never worked with it, but this recipe is super easy and tastes so amazing I made it two days in a row. Head over to Killing Thyme for the recipe here (and thank me later) :)

This Timeline

The Atlantic recently went live with their "Life Timeline" You enter in your birthday and they give you a personalized timeline of world events from your birth into the future. Each event links to an article for more info. Some of it was meh but most of mine was pretty interesting. Try it for yourself here. 

This Soundtrack (and show)

Have you been watching Big Little Lies?? If you haven't, block out some time and get someones HBO password ASAP. The show is pretty addictive, but the best part is the soundtrack. While there is no official soundtrack, much has been written about the music on the show and you can find all the songs cataloged in many places. Find the songs from Episode 5 here. And this spotify playlist for more:

Happy Friday! I'm headed to California next week - follow along @emhart11 :)

Friday Favorites - 3.10.17

"I always have my own rules, and I can bend them if I want. I can see the confines I’m working in, but nobody else knows I’m doing it." - Jack White

Reminiscing: 

Yesterday I had a really awful morning. The kind that makes you rethink your entire life/place in the world etc. I tried to achieve some balance from, what else, reading random things on the internet. I read one of those articles (blogs) that regurgitated the same "social media is filtered, fake, etc." story. I was struck, again, by how much I disagree with that. 

I wrote this on Instagram and, although it may not be super eloquent (like this) I really believe it. 

I accidentally just read one of those blogs masquerading as news. It told me for the umpteenth time that social media isn’t real life, take it with a grain of salt, don’t compare etc etc. I look at social media as the complete opposite. This is real life. It is the absolute best parts of real life. The real life that, on a complete dumpster fire of a day like today (and it’s not even noon!), I can go back to in my mind if only for the few seconds it takes to find some kind of a throwback photo that brings me joy. And then I can post it in hopes that someone else finds beauty or joy in a photo of light coming in through a window in a corner of the desert. Because this is real life. And, you know, it’s pretty great.

So reminisce - please! Throwback Thursday, Flashback on Friday, whatever you feel like - it's your life. And it IS real life. How weird and unhealthy would it have been for me to post a picture of my morning breakdown in an effort to "be real?" Umm... no. I am purposeful in my life. I try to find beauty. It is there whether I instagram it or not - it is not a filtered view of anything. This is what I want to remember. 

More Reminiscing! (it's important remember)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Way to make me feel old ahhh. I never missed an episode growing up, I had the books, the VHS tapes, the posters, the outfits, and some crosses and stakes for the several years in a row I dressed up as Buffy for halloween. You can stream the whole series on Hulu and Netflix (and oh I do) - so if you never got into it in the beginning - do it now! It's still super subversive and amazing. 

There are so many great articles out today to commemorate the day. Here are a few I've read to start your journey into the rabbit hole (or should I say hellmouth) :)

Buffy's subversive feminism, NPR retrospective, how Buffy transformed TV, and Buffy and the birth of TV as art. 

Reading:

I just read this article/interview with Jack White in The New Yorker. I've always love White, but even more so now. Some cool takeaways from the article:

- White is obsessed with the number three. I have had an obsession (like, diagnosed) with it as well since before I can remember. "The number three is essential to his purposes. He says it entered his awareness one day when he was an apprentice in the upholstery shop. He saw that the owner had used three staples to secure a piece of fabric and he realized that “three was the minimum number of staples an upholsterer could use and call a piece done.” The White Stripes were built around the theme of three—guitar, drums, and voice. As both a stance and a misdirection, they wore only red, white, and black."

- He's into restrictions. This goes along with the number three. He says that, "the notion of restrictions appealed to White, who believes that, as far as his imagination is concerned, having too many choices is stultifying. The number three is essential to his purposes." I love this. I always talk (and write in this blog basically every week) about the importance of creative restrictions. Too many options is just that - too many. Restrictions are what allow us to come up with the most innovative ideas. 

- The Icarus Project. Omg. This is just geeky and perfect. "Recently, he put five years—a lifetime to him, he says—into a pricey piece of ephemera he called the Icarus Project, which involved sending a turntable into the stratosphere as it played a record, because a record had never been played at such an altitude. The project, he told me, exemplified his ambition “to be an eccentric and produce a beautiful moment that people will talk about.”

I especially love this quote, "White watched from a catwalk above the Detroit store, and about two hundred people watched with him, seeing the turntable revolve at one point with the curve of the earth behind it. The balloon exploded, and White thanked everyone for attending. Then he sat on a couch and said, “Now I can sleep at night.” This is exactly how I feel after completing something that I know is probably only important to me. But it is so important to me that I literally won't be able to sleep until it's done.

Listening:

I've been listening to PJ Harvey nonstop this week. I've been a fan for 15+ years, but like most things, the frequency of listening comes and goes.

I distinctly remember buying "Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea" as a 15 year old - and falling instantly in love. The music, her voice, lyrics, everything.

I'm also just really fascinated in her as a person. Like Jack White, and most artists, she is totally unique. She changes her style for each album and always brings a fresh perspective. Anyways, if you aren't acquainted, here is a list of her top albums. And if you aren't convinced yet, this is how the number one album is described:

Rid Of Me proves disturbingly relatable to anybody who’s ever been hurt by love, which is everybody, but it’s not the sort of album you casually spin while going for a drive. Truth be told, I don’t listen to it very often anymore — it’s too draining. It’s for moments when you crave all-consuming catharsis. Sometimes it’s enough just to know that this album exists. That it’s there waiting, for when you need to douse hair with gasoline, set it light and set it free.

Who could say no to that? :)

 

Thinking:

For my graduate theory class this week I had to read a whole lot of Foucault and write a paper. I've read a lot in the past, but never this particular excerpt from "Discipline and Punish" (sounds great already right?) Anyways, the architectural Panopticon is discussed and, well, let's just say it led to a never-ending (literally, it is still going) internet hunt for more information. 

A Panopticon is a circular building meant as a prison, where guards can observe prisoners at all times, but at a vantage point where the prisoners cannot see them. Therefore, the prisoners never know if they are actually being observed, but must display the same discipline regardless. It was designed by social theorist Jeremy Bentham, and despite it's popularity in theory, a true panoptic prison has never actually been built. 

The super interesting part of all this is the connection to the CIA wikileaks this week. Read up here if you're unaware. Like the telescreens in 1984, technology has in effect placed us in a panoptic society. We may be under surveillance at almost any time. Because we don't know if we are or not, our behavior may change. Foucault would say that we have become more docile as a result of the "unequal gaze" and therefore more easily coerced. There's obviously so much more to this, but even just the surface is an interesting thought experiment. If you want to go deeper... let's get a drink :)

Until then, read more here, here, and here

Planning:

Spring Break is just two short weeks away! I have a ticket to LA and a rental car for a week. I have trips planned to a few National Parks, some awesome AirBnB's booked, and... that's about it. I'll be in Mariposa (outside Yosemite), Carmel Valley, and Malibu - and while I won't have toooo much free time, I want your suggestions! What are some overlooked stops in these areas? Let me know! 

Happy Friday :) 

Friday Favorites - 3.3.17

“I thrive in structure. I drown in chaos.” 
― Anna Kendrick

I am, generally, a structured person. I started this Friday series in order to add some structure and deadlines into this blogging experiment. I have found through the experiment that while I really do enjoy the structure of a set post and the openness of the "five things I am interested in" outline - I want to try to add in more variability. 

I have found myself super busy recently and I don't want this to be a chore - it's supposed to be fun! Lately these posts have amounted to over five pages per week (single spaced!) of writing so I'm not going to shoot for five long researched interesting things each week - just things I'm thinking about - leave the longform for their own posts when I have the time and desire. And of course, this could change - maybe next Friday :) That's  the cool thing about this experiment - it is mine. It is literally my name and I can make it whatever I want it to be. So here are some of the things I really love this week. 

This Place

I was going through some old files this week and stumbled upon a brochure I picked up at Ghost Ranch a couple of years ago. Since then, I have basically been thinking non stop about it. Ghost Ranch was one of Georgia O'Keeffe's homes in New Mexico, and is now a retreat center where you can visit overnight or just on a day trip. 

It's no secret I love Georgia (read below for more evidence) and the desert. I could live in this picture. The smells, the sounds, the color, heck - even the dirt - I love it all. 

Ghost Ranch (and New Mexico in general) is a magical place that I highly recommend visiting. Find more info here

And read more about my adventures in New Mexico here, herehere, here, here, here, and here

This Article

The Brooklyn Museum just opened an exhibit on Georgia O'Keeffe - but not just her paintings, an exhibit featuring her style. Her persona. Anyone who is an O'Keeffe fan has no doubt been inspired by her sartorial choices, her words, and her attitude. The exhibit has paintings, as well as some of her clothing, and a retrospective of the many photographs taken of her. She is an icon in all three areas - and now I have a great reason to get back to Brooklyn to check it out. It runs from today through July 23.

More information on the exhibit here.

More information on O'Keeffe's here and here

 

This Quote

I love a good inspirational quote and I've been coming back to this one a lot this week:

"We don't see things as they are - we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

Life is so much easier (i.e. less annoying) when I remember this. So often (like, um, always) we assign judgement to others and their actions based on our own values. While I don't think it's realistic to refrain from any judgement, it's important to remember that it's all subjective. 

This seems super obvious, but the older I get the more I realize that the "obvious" things in life seem to be the easiest to forget. I have to constantly remind myself of these seemingly simple things. And it's not for others - sure, it's better for them if I don't judge them based on my own values - but remembering this is for me. My life is infinitely better when I stop assigning value judgments. Or, when I do, realizing that I have and remembering this quote. 

What are some of your favorite "obvious" quotes/sentiments?

This Thought

I always say that rather than thinking, creating, being etc.. "outside the box" that I just want a bigger box. I've been thinking about this a lot - I even wrote about it here. Structure is so important. Even if that structure is super limited. I need an expectation or a goal in order to succeed. I think many of us do.  Creativity testing has actually found that people are more creative when they encounter more obstacles, not when they are given total freedom. 

I really like a lot in this article. Here are some excerpts:

"The box itself has always represented limits, but why are those limits bad? And why can’t you simply expand those limits rather than ignoring them? Having limits provides an anchor or catalyst for your thinking, not a constraint. It’s actually how you go about thinking through the solutions that can be the real limit."

"Starting with the box, however, the sides give you concrete limits and useful details you can anchor your thinking around. But they don’t have to be the fixed limits everyone thinks they are. By examining those supposed limits, which are represented by the sides of the box, you can actually expand them to make your box bigger. And your “box” doesn’t have to be square. Add sides if needed to represent your specific situation."

What do you think? Do you work best inside a box? Outside? Within a bigger box?

This Media

Y'all! Are you listening to this podcast?? It is so good. If you don't know the background, Richard Simmons hasn't been seen in public for over three years now. The podcast features interviews and narrations by his friends in order to come to some sort of conclusion of what the heck happened. Of course, the premise itself is a bit icky, but it doesn't feel toooo exploitative or gross due to the hosts - who is a friend of Richards - genuine concern. 

Anyways, only three 30-minute podcasts have been released so far, but it's already been called "like Serial but better" - the highest possible podcast praise. I am hooked and I'm sure you will be too - listen here

And read more about Simmons and his public disappearance here and here

Happy Friday :)

Friday Five - 2.24.17

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.” 
― Neil deGrasse Tyson

 

None of these things are like the other. Enjoy :) 

Bryce Tweet


More National Park Twitter controversy. Bryce Canyon National Park sent a tweet out the day after the Bears Ears National Monument was designated congratulating it – along with a picture of a mail slot bearing their name. In response, Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz (who opposed the monument) has filed a letter probing whether or not Bryce had advance notice of the designation. Some memorable quotes from the letter: “when was a Bears Ears map slot created in the Bryce Canyon National Park’s front desk national parks and monuments map area?” and “the message created the appearance that officials at Bryce Canyon coordinated with the White House prior to this most recent designation.” Umm.. don't you have anything else to worry about (mail slots - really?? sore loser much?) But, good excuse to look at some pictures of the beautiful Bryce Canyon 


Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation


I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation. As a teacher, we talk a lot about building intrinsic motivation, but does it even exist? I’m not so sure. Stay with me here.


Steven Reiss, a psychology professor at OSU doesn’t think so. His book, "Myths of Intrinsic Motivation" , posits that there are actually 16 basic desires that motivate and guide our behaviors – not just 2 types. He says that there are many different things that work to motivate people and make them happy – to judge that one (intrinsic) is better than another (extrinsic) is a value judgement. 


There is also a problem with the definition of intrinsic motivation itself.  Generally, intrinsic motivation is supposed to be an internal motivating force. I do this thing because I want to do it, not because of what I am receiving as a result - externally or materially. The often cited example is learning. A child (ideally) should grow from extrinsic motivations (working for rewards and punishments) to a self-actualized love of learning that they are invested in. But the means and ends will differ. It may look as though a student is doing their best work because they love learning for its own sake, but they have actually been conditioned to expect the praise and reward of being a motivated student – so the external forces are still the motivator. 


An article I read in Psychology Today said that motivators are only labeled as intrinsic simply because we cannot identify the reinforcing consequence. A reinforcing consequence can be positive or negative – this happens as a result of this. When we see a child reading a book we assume it is because they love to read. But again, we may not see or understand the reinforcing consequences that exist – that their parent’s value achievement, they are motivated by grades, they like the praise they receive, they want to get a pizza in Book It (does that still exist??) etc.  


As for adults, Erving Goffman wrote extensively about losing/saving face – the mask that we wear in social situations to keep us from embarrassing or painful stigma. Saving face is a motivator – but it is intrinsic? If I’m acting a certain way because I simply want to save face is that an intrinsic motivator? I don’t think so. I go to work each day because I get paid (external motivation). I do a good job because I want to be seen as competent (external). Even this blog is not simply because I love research and writing – I want to practice these things in order to be more successful in other areas (external) and I want to be a well-rounded interesting person (external). 


The literature on rewards is also not always clear-cut. Some meta-analyses have found that rewards actually don’t squash motivation as we have been lead to believe – except when linked to performance levels. 


External or internal, to me, the real question is – does it even matter? If one student is motivated by grades and another by some magic love of learning for its own sake shouldn’t we just be concerned that they are in fact learning? What do you think?


Longcuts


I was listening to a podcast a month or so ago, I don’t even remember which one, but Seth Godin was the guest and he was talking about “longcuts”. A longcut is basically the opposite of a shortcut. Since I heard the term I have been kind of obsessed with it. I think so often - especially now in our tech obsessed world - we try to do everything faster, but that doesn’t always make for a better result.


I read a study about literal shortcuts – the kind you take to avoid traffic on the way home from work. It said that often shortcuts become the longcut because everyone is in a hurry to take the shortcut that it is no longer shorter. I think this is true in so many things. If you want to save time painting a wall so you skip the primer – the paint ends up needing several more coats, which takes more time, money etc. I think this is all intuitive and we are aware of it even when we are taking the shorter, “easier” way out – but it doesn’t stop us from doing it. 


There is an efficiency paranoia that has led to all kinds of “hacks” online – ways to do things possibly faster - but inelegantly. Often these hacks require more time to learn than it would have taken to just do the thing the normal way.  So, before you take a shortcut or attempt a “life hack” remember the long cut. The long cut is often more worthwhile. Speed doesn’t trump quality and while outcomes are important – so is the process! 


Year of Without


I’m finishing up my month without coffee and…. It was kinda easy. Like I’ve written before, I have drank at least 2-3 cups of black coffee every day for over ten years - so I thought this would be really difficult. I still drank tea so I’m not totally caffeine free or anything, but I am still surprised at how easy it has been. 


I’m learning through this process of restriction that I actually already have a great deal of willpower – in fact, people who know me well might say too much (that can sometimes become purposeless stubbornness if I’m not careful). I just have to set the standard for myself. That is the key. Once I tell myself I am or am not doing something I will always follow through – it’s the initial decision that gets me. So while the restriction itself has not been hard, it has been super enlightening to understand my own behaviors and emotions. 


What have you restricted yourself from? What did you learn?


Private Prisons


In the last month there have been so many news stories that are shocking and quite frankly absurd that it can sometimes be hard to keep up. This is one that I hope doesn’t get lost in the news cycle. Prison reform is something I am deeply passionate about and there have been two possibly huge impact rollbacks of positive policy changes just in the last couple of days. 


One – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced yesterday that the administration would rollback the policy Obama announced last summer to stop contracting with private prisons. This is deeply disturbing. While federal prisons only account for a small fraction of privately housed inmates, the private prison system is a disgrace to our democracy. The two largest prison corporations have funneled millions of dollars to candidates and spent even more lobbying for their cause – more people in prison for longer sentences to make more money. They now have profits of over 3.3 billion annually while the private prison population doubled in just 10 years. Private prison contracts have occupancy quotas (some of 100%) that, obviously, require more arrests and imprisonment to keep up with. 


More people in prison only lead to more problems. Prisonization makes acclimating back to society difficult for many reasons, and many prisoners have no resources or skills to help them. Adequate housing and a job after release are two of the major factors that reduce recidivism but they are hard to come by when many former inmates are rejected from jobs, housing, food programs and educational support. The Bureau of Prisons educational and vocational programs have shrunk to half the size they were 10 years ago and we know that lower educational attainment increases the odds of incarceration on the front end. 


I could go on and on but the bottom line is, “With the growing influence of the prison lobby, the nation is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit.” 


Read more here and here


Two – Prison phone calls. This hasn’t happened yet, but this article is reporting that the regulations on cost for phone calls from prison will likely be one the first things on the chopping block after Trump appoints two new members to the FCC. Some rates have been as high as $14 per minute. Per. Minute. This is super important. Whether you care about a prisoner’s ability to call home or not – think about their families. Think about the fact that strong connections and social bonds are a great predictor of reduction in recidivism. Reduction in recidivism = less prisoners = less of your taxes = happier families = on and on and on. It’s all connected. It affects us all. Be aware. 


Read more here and here

Happy Friday :)
 

Friday Five - 2.17.17

"After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well." - Albert Einstein

I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but I didn't post a blog last Friday. I have been traveling a lot, working a lot, writing lots of papers, doing lots of reading, and I was just plain worn out. I've realized it's important to listen to my body as well as my heart -- if I need some rest, if I need to say no to something, or if I need to take a day off -- I'm getting better at trusting myself to do it. It's freeing to realize you don't have to do it all. I hope you can all take some time for yourself this week. But first, here are five things I'm interested in on this beautiful Friday:

National Park Fee Free Days

Did you know that most National Parks offer fee free days throughout the year?? And that one is THIS MONDAY! Well, now you do. In celebration of Presidents Day, many National Parks are fee free! This can save you anywhere from $10-$30 per park so it's a great time to go. I would recommend going to a lesser known park though (like the Great Sand Dunes!) to beat the fee free crowds. Other fee-free days of 2017 are:

- April 15-16 and April 22-25 - Celebrating National Park Week

- August 25 - National Park Service Birthday

- September 30 - National Public Lands Day

- November 11-12 - Veterans Day 

Read more here

 

Human Venn Diagram

Polymath. Renaissance woman. Jack of all trades — I prefer Human Venn Diagram. Let me explain. A polymath, like a renaissance woman, is someone who has many areas of knowledge or learning (i.e knows a lot about a lot). They’re someone who has expertise in thoroughly unrelated fields - the more unrelated the more polymathy. 

I’ve been called a renaissance woman, but as a math person, I describe it as a human venn diagram. A venn diagram is a diagram of interlocking circles that shows relations between sets or categories. As a human venn diagram I am the middle of seemingly unrelated circles: Social Sciences: I have a degree in Political Science and an (almost) MA in Sociology. STEM: I’m a math teacher! and art: I’m a painter, and (I guess) blogger. I don’t say this as if I’m so special and interesting — Like most people I work hard to be well-rounded and versed in the “seemingly unrelated” 

Our culture seems to value specialization — the “monomath” — but humans are natural polymaths. Maya Angelou explains it well: 

“I have a theory that nobody understands talent any more than we understand electricity. So I think we’ve done a real disservice to young people by telling them, “Oh, you be careful. You’ll be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.” It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I think you can be a jack-of-all-trades and a mistress-of-all-trades. If you study it, and you put reasonable intelligence and reasonable energy, reasonable electricity to it, you can do that.” 

Read more about polymaths here then listen to this great podcast about Human Venn Diagrams here

Right and Left Brain

You’ve probably heard the terms “left and right brain” a lot. Left brain dominant people are supposedly more logical while right brain dominant people are more creative. The only problem is that — this is a myth! There is no such thing as a left or a right brained person — we all use both sides of our brains. There is no scientific basis for the myth yet somehow it has pervaded culture. 

In fact, there is a lot of evidence that creativity and the standard "analytical" or "logical" professions are strongly linked. Take the study from Michigan State University. The research found members of the Royal Society and National Academy of Sciences were twice as likely to be engaged in an artistic pursuit than the average person, and that Nobel Laureates in Science were over three times as likely! 

Although there are different parts of the brain that are used in different types of thinking - it is not innate or as clear cut as pop culture would lead us to believe. People generally perform the roles they've been given or what they believe society expects them to be. Take this study on creativity from the University of Maryland: 100 students were asked to either imagine themselves as a "rigid librarian" or an "eccentric poet" then perform a creative task. Those simply asked to imagine themselves as more creative scored higher in creativity and divergent thinking - the free flowing, spontaneous, interconnected way of thinking that is associated with artists.

So don't put yourself into a box (or brain hemisphere) Divergent and convergent thinking are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they feed off each other! 

In the words of the flawless Neil deGrasse Tyson:

 "Don't call me left brained, right brained. Call me human..I'm disappointed with some aspects of civilization. One is our unending urge to bypass subtlety of character, thought, and expression and just categorize people ... If you want to understand who and what a person is, have a conversation with him. I'm 'brained.' Not right brained or left brained. I have a brain,"

 

Read more here and here

Outrage Fatigue

It's been almost a month since the inauguration and let's just say things have been... outrageous. Every day -- if not every hour -- there is some new piece of news that has the ability to outrage large sectors of people.

We are living in a real life Onion article.

John Oliver described it well on his show last week when he said, "it has been so busy it's gotten to the point that the most terrifying sound is your phone buzzing with a news alert." (too real)

Being in a constant state of outrage is not only exhausting, it's just not healthy. The outrage will wear you down and is likely to make you feel like you are powerless. Consider this quote from Krista Tippett (host of On Being - great podcast go listen now)

 “I think there is such a thing as outrage fatigue. … Because statistics like that and numbers like that, scenarios like that, are as prone to make people throw up their hands and say, well, then, you know, I can’t do anything anyway."

So what can we do? I read a great article by Arianna Huffington last week that put it into perspective nicely. She writes that, 

"The goal of any true resistance is to affect outcomes, not just to vent. And the only way to affect outcomes and thrive in our lives, is to find the eye in the hurricane, and act from that place of inner strength.

It’s the centered place Archimedes described when he said “give me a place to stand and I shall move the world.” It’s the place from which I imagine Judge James Robart issued his historic order to reverse Trump’s executive order on refugees. And it’s the place from which Viktor Frankl, who lost his pregnant wife, parents and brother in the Holocaust and spent 3 years in concentration camps, could write, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom.”

I really recommend reading the rest of the article here for actionable steps to prevent outrage fatigue.

 

The Courage to be a Hummingbird

While I was researching outrage fatigue, I stumbled upon a parable by Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai about having the courage of a hummingbird. When everything seems to be going against us it can be difficult to see the change you are making in the world. We need to see ourselves as a hummingbird - small and insignificant, but doing the best that they can. Watch the clip from the film Dirt! here:

 

Happy Friday :)

 

 

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 :)

Friday Five - 1.27.17

“If I were to remain silent, I'd be guilty of complicity.” 
― Albert Einstein

This week I couldn't help but be interested in politics. I mean - duh. I have a degree in political science and an almost Masters in Sociology so everything that is happening in America right now is endlessly fascinating - and infuriating. I don't want to blog in order to push my own political agenda but, I also don't think it helps anyone to stay silent. So, I'm taking the angle of the National Park Service - facts without opinion (kinda sorta). Read on if you'd like :) 

@AltNatParkSer

As I’m sure everyone is aware of by now, the National Park Service tweeted out some photos comparing Obama and Trump’s inauguration sizes this week – and were subsequently ordered to stop posting. After that, Badlands National Park tweeted out some facts on climate change – which Trump has said “is a hoax” (it’s not) They were quickly deleted and attributed to a rogue staffer, but not before they were retweeted, favorited etc thousands of times.

Since then, other official National Park twitter accounts (Death Valley, Redwoods, and Golden Gate – see a pattern? Haha) have seemed to be staging their own resistance and an Alternative National Parks Twitter account has sprung up – and at last count it has 1.25 million followers! Now, according to CNN there are now over 50 “alternative” twitter accounts – everything from @RogueNASA to @BadHombreNPS – the resistance Badlands Account - and while there is really no way to know if the accounts are being managed by actual park service employees – does it really matter?

Naturalist activism obviously has played an important part of shaping environmental policies and protected land as we know it. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Carl Sagan, Ed Abbey... the list goes on and on. So if Twitter’s not your thing – check out this book, or this, or this. Read this article. Or just support the parks by visiting them, respecting them, and not doing this.

"Fake" News

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about (like everyone else on the planet) is fake news. While there is news that is just out and out wrong – as a math teacher I’m more concerned about false interpretation. When I started teaching in Louisiana there was an entire standard based on interpreting misleading graphs as such. I looooove teaching this standard (well, actually, I don’t think it’s an actual standard anymore, but I teach it because, um hello) Anyways, I’m always looking out for misleading statistics.

Take the Chicago murder rate. Trump tweeted that he would “send in the Feds” to get the city under control because the murder rate has spiked 24% this month over last January, but let’s take a closer look.

This article does a great job explaining some of the nuances, but basically – Chicago isn’t the most dangerous city (not even in the top 10), and doesn't have the highest murder rate. In fact, it’s not even in the top 5. It’s murder rate is actually 8th in the nation (Chicago is a big city y'all) Yes there has been a spike in murders, but there are always spikes! You might remember trend lines from your middle school math teacher (at least I hope so) – the trend is long-term, and shows the direction of statistics over time while the spikes are short-term, variable cycles that can be contributed to sooo many other factors.

Take Chicago this month – A) we are not even one full month into the year – extrapolation based on that for the year over last year is not sound statistics B) It’s been unseasonably warm and warmer weather has always been shown to increase violent crime C) The rate of actual shootings has not went up. I could go on, but look at these graphs:

Chicago has always had a more variable pattern of murders, but the trend – like with all violent crime in the last 20 years – is still negative. These also show that monthly data is much more easily misinterpreted.

Think about data as a sawtooth – it goes up, but then it also goes back down. Looking at a small sample might lead someone to believe the data is steadily increasing and totally fails to recognize the pattern over time. There are always spikes in data – it is just noise.

So, are you smarter than an eighth grader? If you are – look at data trends over time, don’t make extrapolations based on small sets of data or data that is over a short period of time. There are definitely too many murders in Chicago and spikes in other cities - but don't take the headlines as evidence of some sort of crime spike - violent crime is still near record low levels across the board and have been on a decreasing trend for over 20 years. Read more here and here. 

Echo Chambers

The concept of a “Facebook Echo Chamber” has been swirling around social media for the past year or so. What it means is – Facebook, Google, (all the internet basically) uses algorithms that pay attention to the things you like, read, interact with, etc. These sorts of things are then showed to you more often. That doesn’t sound so bad on the surface – I get to see things I am interested in more often – but the problem is what you don’t see.

Before the election I had so many conversations with friends where I noted that they were totally underestimating the support for Trump. The idea that Hillary was going to win by a landslide seemed so obvious to many of my friends. The problem is that they were caught in their echo chamber. They weren’t surrounded by people who thought differently than them – face-to-face or online – and therefore had this idea that those people were fringe or much less in number than they really were.

I pride myself on having a fairly diverse set of friends and I’m from a small rural area so I knew in my heart the so-called “caps of support” weren’t real. Confirmation bias is powerful – the idea that we seek out things that support our own beliefs and ignore the things that don’t. We are motivated to be selective about the media that we consume and the people we interact with which gives us this feeling that everyone is like us. When I write this blog I assume most of the people who read it already know everything I’m writing because I feel like everyone is probably like me. I know this isn’t true but that’s where my head immediately goes.

But back to my point – echo chambers. I have seen a lot of people this week take a Facebook or social media hiatus, and I totally get it – there are a lot of hateful things being posted all over and that’s not healthy. But I also don’t think it’s healthy – for me anyways – to shield myself from it. If I don’t know how others are thinking about things then I can’t fully form my own beliefs or back them up in a way that is relevant. People generally only change their beliefs through emotional appeals that begin with understanding and common ground. If I don’t even know what is concerning someone who disagrees with me then I obviously can never connect with them intelligently over that concern.

So, I’m not going to take a social media hiatus. I’m going to try to continue to understand the people who disagree with me. I’m going to remember that not everyone thinks, feels, or knows the same information about issues as I do - and that’s okay. If you don’t want to be surprised by an outcome (ahem or an election) then don’t spend all your time in an echo chamber. Read more here and here

Praising the Process

I read this article in The Atlantic yesterday that I want to recommend – to teachers, parents, everyone. It talks about a study that showed girls begin to show evidence of gendered beliefs about their intelligence at just 6 years old! Boys and girls were asked to pick the person who was “really special” or “really, really smart” out of pictures of four people – two male, two female – and at age 6, girls started to choose the men over the women.

This is something I am so passionate about. Girls do just as well or better than boys in school, but their confidence is so much lower. Parents and teachers play a big role in this. Studies have shown that children pick up math anxiety from their parents, but even more important, they develop their mindsets from their parents. If a parent has a positive view of failure their child is shown to do better in school and life. Attitude about failure is even more predictive than attitudes about intelligence.

So why do more girls have a problem with failure? Through socialization girls are generally praised for being smart while boys are praised more for their perseverance and hard work. This “process praise” leads to higher confidence --> which leads to a stronger growth mindset --> which leads to more success. Boys are more likely to stick with fields where ability seems to be prized over hard work because they’ve been conditioned not to get sidelined as easily by failure.

This is a huge topic with so many layers, but this is what I would advise as a teacher: praise the process, normalize failure, model what learning from mistakes looks like for your kids, encourage them to persevere, and never praise them for some sort of innate ability or brilliance – even “geniuses” work hard to achieve – there is no such thing as a “math person” or a “science person”- just a person who works hard.

Read more here, here, and here.

Women’s March

I marched in downtown Denver last Saturday as part of the massive Women’s March.  A lot of people have asked me questions about it, and have made (false) assumptions. I feel like if I started to get in to the specifics, my reasons for marching, or counterpointing those who have criticized it (but weren’t actually there, didn’t read the unity principles, and have no idea what they’re talking about – but I digress) I would be here all day. So I will leave you (if you actually read this far) with this sociological poem explaining the value of protest that I recently re-stumbled upon: 

The Low Road

By Marge Piercy

What can they do

to you? Whatever they want.

They can set you up, they can

bust you, they can break

your fingers, they can

burn your brain with electricity,

blur you with drugs till you

can't walk, can’t remember, they can

take your child, wall up

your lover. They can do anything

you can’t blame them

from doing. How can you stop

them? Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse, you can

take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

 

But two people fighting

back to back can cut through

a mob, a snake-dancing file

can break a cordon, an army

can meet an army.

 

Two people can keep each other

sane, can give support, conviction,

love, massage, hope, sex.

Three people are a delegation,

a committee, a wedge. With four

you can play bridge and start

an organisation. With six

you can rent a whole house,

eat pie for dinner with no

seconds, and hold a fund raising party.

A dozen make a demonstration.

A hundred fill a hall.

A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;

ten thousand, power and your own paper;

a hundred thousand, your own media;

ten million, your own country.

 

It goes on one at a time,

it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.

 

happy Friday :)

Friday Five - 1.20.17

“Son, anything can happen to anyone," my father told me, "but it usually doesn't.” 
― Philip Roth

canada.jpg

Canada National Parks Pass 

Today no doubt has many of you dreaming of moving to Canada. If you can't make the move, you can at least make a visit. Canada is super beautiful, and did you know that this year - as a part of Canada’s National Parks 150th anniversary celebration - they are giving away National Parks Passes for free?! Well - they are! You have to order the pass here - but everything is free. The pass will get you in to any of Canada’s 38 National Parks all year. I ordered mine a few weeks ago and I’m sure there is a huge demand so get yours today! And plan a trip to Canada :) 

Get yours here!

#letherlearn

This week I watched a video from the National Women’s Law Center’s #letherlearn campaign and couldn't help but cry. The Let Her Learn campaign's aim is to help stop school pushout of black girls. Black girls are more than five times as likely to be suspended from school for minor offenses than white girls - despite no evidence of them actually being worse behaved. This is a subject very close to my heart and something I have seen first hand - so I knew I had to share this with anyone and everyone. 

In the book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls In Schools, author Monique Morris addresses Pushout, “the structural racism and the cultural barriers that push Black girls out of the classroom and to the outer brinks of society. Black girls are suspended at six times the rate of white girls, and they make up only 17 percent of girls in public schools but almost half of school related arrests.” 

This is a disgrace. We have to do better. Watch the video. Read the book. Share. 

Read more here and here. Watch the video here:

Folk Numeracy and the Monty Hall Problem

I recently read about a super interesting new (to me) term - folk numeracy. Coined by Michael Shermer, folk numeracy is “our natural tendency to misperceive and miscalculate probabilities - to think anecdotally instead of statistically and focus on short term trends” 

Basically, this explains those people on Facebook who make some joke about global warming not being real every time it’s cold for a few days in a row. They look at a situation that they experienced and use it to extrapolate (false) data. 

Probability is always hard for people to understand - the language is so specific and technical, and it’s hard to wrap our heads around. Take the Monty Hall Problem - imagine you are on a game show and there are three doors. Behind one door is a car and behind the other two are goats. You choose a door - let's say 2 - and then the host opens one of the other doors with a goat behind it - let's say 3 - and gives you the option to switch your original guess. What would you do? Many people - the overwhelming majority in fact - would say that it doesn't matter because you now have a fifty-fifty chance at choosing the car. The problem is that the majority of people are wrong. 

Probability - and years of mathematical models - tell us that you have a 2/3 chance of choosing correctly if you switch your original guess. You see - originally you had a 1/3 chance of guessing correctly and a 2/3 chance that the car was behind one of the doors you didn't choose. Because the host opens a door that was not your initial guess - you still have a 2/3 chance that the car is behind the other door you did not pick. 

This has perplexed people (even mathematicians) for years. It is a veridical paradox - a paradox that is so counterintuitive it seems absurd. But it's been proven over and over. Try it with a friend - each person plays 10 rounds as the host and 10 rounds as the guest. Switch 5 times and stay 5 times as contestant and see what happens. 

Ahhhh math :) 

Read more here and here.

Birthday Paradox

Have you ever heard the birthday paradox? I heard it for the first time a few years ago at a Saturday morning math teaching conference (that believe it or not I went to willingly and even paid for myself). It posits that if you are in a room with 22 other people there is an over 50% chance that at least two people will have the same birthday. Really. 

When someone - usually a math professor, natch - introduces the question, those in the room are always asked to guess what the probability/percent chance will be that two people share a birthday and, without fail, participants always guess a super low percent. 

The problem is our context is off. When we are asked the question - most people think of it in terms of “what are the chances someone else in the room has the same birthday as me” which indeed does have a much lower probability. The context is that any two people in the entire room will have the same birthday - but that isn’t our natural thought. Like the Monty Hall Problem - humans just don't have a good grasp on probability. 

Richard Dawkins surmised that our probability problem is evolutionary - that humans exist in "middle world" where we can only understand medium sized things. Probability is just too big. What do you think? 

Read more here and here. Or watch this video:

Does randomness exist?

One of the things I hate most as a teacher is when students say they “just guessed and got it right”. I always tell them that there is no such thing as guessing - their subconscious has knowledge of the problem and influenced their choice whether they realize it or not. I say this in part to give them back the power over their learning they are trying to give away, but also because I really believe it. Can anything ever really be random?

This is definitely a question too big for this blog post but, I like to think about it. Mathematicians have coined a term for situations that technically pass statistical tests for randomness but where the number is still determined - “psuedo-randomness” Take rolling a dice. It seems random, but if we knew all of the variables and physics behind the dice, who is throwing them, the speed, the angles, the ground that it is being rolled on etc.. then it is not random at all - we could determine what would be rolled. 

Free will vs. determinism is, again, way too big to cover here but another interesting topic when thinking about randomness. Between the two schools of thought I think I stand closer to a soft determinism. Soft determinism says that determinism - all behavior is caused by preceding factors - can coexist with free will - self-determination. Maybe it’s the mathematician in me but, probability can explain almost everything. Even supposed “miracles” will happen eventually after enough trials. 

So what do you think, is there anything truly random? Are you ever really just "guessing"? Hmm. 

Read more here and 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 :)