Journaling

Dear diary, today I…

No, no, no. Not that type of journaling. Not that there’s anything wrong with keeping a diary, it’s just not what I’m  focusing on for the purposes of this discussion.

I want to talk about journaling as a means for focus and intent, and even for productivity and momentum. Journaling is daily planning and reflecting. It sets a purpose, a list of goals and tasks, and it should be meaningful to you, personally.

It’s December. The end of the year. January is just around the corner. A new year signals a new awakening, a new purpose,  a new you! So of course I’m being inundated with advertisements for specialized daily planners. Fitbook, Evo Flow, Panda Planner – just to name a few. These are companies who are jumping on the journaling bandwagon, each with their own unique, but similar approaches to daily planning and goal setting. And I’m definitely encouraging these marketing algorithms to show me more. Each time one of these planners shows up in my Instagram or Facebook feeds, I click on them  interested to see what their methodology is, and to see if I get inspired to change up my own journal formatting at all.

I also hate to disappoint these these companies,  but I’m not going to shell out $40 for their product – at least not anymore. I have bought a Panda Planner in the past, and really liked it. It helped shape what I do now. The prebuilt, structured planners are a great starting point if you don’t know what you need to do to get into a daily journaling ritual.

My journaling method isn’t a secret, and it isn’t anything fancy. It’s just what I do to put myself in the right mindset for the day, to organize and focus, and to help me be as productive and accomplished as I can be.

First, I write down the date, because I’m such a rebel. Actually, this forces you to acknowledge what say it is, so that when you inevitably have to tell someone else the date, you look like you’re on top of it.

Next line is my mantra for the day. Currently, my mantra is “I will be productive. I will make good choices. I am awesome.”

Then, I write down three things that I am grateful for. This helps set yourself in a positive mindset. Gratitude rituals have been shown to make people’s baseline happiness increase, and the happier you are, the more focused and productive you can be (not necessarily a scientific fact, but more anecdotal). I physically write “Today. I am grateful for…” and I list three things.

After that, I write out three things that I love about myself. This may be awkward for some. I find myself struggling with this one as well as it wars with my ideals of not being a snob. But self love isn’t conceit. It’s about recognizing the awesome in you and about you. This can be a physical feature. It’s okay to be proud of your derrière.

For the last part of my first section (there’s four, bear with me, the others are shorter), I write down three things that I am looking forward to. Going to the movies, a party, completing that big assignment, a weekend hike — the whole future awaits you!

This is where I draw some pretty little divider and move to the next section. Section two has only one part. I list the tasks I want to accomplish that day, usually in an abbreviated form ( ie, I write “bed” instead of “make your bed”). Sometimes I organize them into categories, sometimes I don’t. I do, however, typically break it down into four columns.

My third section is optional. I put an hourly breakdown. A list of when I’m going to do what (this is where the list categories comes in handy).

An example of my daily journal.

Last section is the one that I skip over way too much, but I know I shouldn’t. At the end of the day, I list three things I could improve on from the day, and three things that I did awesomely and can be proud of.

This type of journaling is a great habit to get into and I implore everyone to find a technique that works for them.

I do suggest that you invest in a pen/pens you like to make journaling more enjoyable. I use three different colored pens for my daily entries, because I love making my life a bit more colorful.

Do you already have a journaling routine? What does yours involve?

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Privilege

I’ve been pondering lately on privilege. I am grateful for the level of needs I have met on Maslow’s hierarchy in order to be free enough to explore things like mindfulness and contentment.

That’s the one big problem that I see with so many of the self-help and mindfulness gurus that are out there. They spout their beliefs and say that ANYONE can be happy with what they have and where they are. They just have to chose to be happy.

But that simply isn’t true.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

There are other, more basic needs that must be met before we can stop and truly focus on our happiness. Who wants to be mindful of the sensations of their body, when their body is starving and in desperate need of food? Or when their body is shivering from wont of proper clothing and shelter? Should I person who must live in an environment of violence and hate be content with not being hurt or killed everyday?

Can you tell these people who are homeless, sick, famished, or fearful that they should look at all they have to be grateful for? Sure, they have things in their lives that I’m sure that give them some source of pleasure, but their focus must be on fulfilling those more basic needs of food, shelter, and safety before they can start fathoming a journey towards love, belonging, and esteem? not to mention gaining the privilege that is mindfulness.

Some people can check off those basic needs so easily, and for others it’s a constant struggle. Through struggle, there is growth, of course, but it’s never as simple as “stop to smell the roses” or “meditate daily.”

And my argument here doesn’t even begin to brush the surface of serious mental health issues like depression.

So yes, I do encourage folks to be mindful and focus on their self-care as much as possible, but I also understand that not everyone can accomplish that at any given time in their lives. I am white, financially stable, and relatively healthy (… relatively). I come at the practice of mindfulness with all that my upbringing and environment allows me, and I strive for more growth all the time. But that’s just it. It’s a journey, and people start at so many different beginnings and there is no set destination. You just keep moving forward, fulfulling each level of need until your time on this earth ends.

So take care of yourselves, my friends, whatever that means to you, wherever you’re starting from. Never stop striving for better.

Sunset Drive

On Monday, Greg and I grabbed some Taco Bell (What? I can’t be super healthy all the time. Beside, I love me some Fiery Doritos Locos Tacos with Diablo sauce. I live for the SPICE), and then we took a drive up Richard B. Russell Scenic highway and stopped at a couple of the roadside pull-offs. It was very chilly and the wind was not helping that fact at all. We did manage to grab a couple of self-indulgent selfies and a few photos of the splendor of the beginnings of the leave change in North Georgia.

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I love mountain views. Being up high and taking deep breaths of cool, fresh air fills me with joy. I visualize these memories when I need to calm and recenter my focus.

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That rock-faced mountain is Yonah Mountain. It’s the same mountain that I can see from my back porch, but from the other side. It’s one of my favorite places.

This quick drive, in addition to the hike the day before, was exactly what my spirits needed to feel revitalized and normal. My mood has been boosted, and I’m feeling almost human again.

I am grateful for the forests and the mountains of North Georgia.

Warring Emotions

For the past two days, I’ve felt better. My mystery illness has given me a reprieve from both the fatigue and the abdominal-wrenching pain that was occurring randomly after eating. I’ve been able to get full walks in during lunch. I’ve gotten decent workouts in on my recumbent bike. I’ve been less fearful of eating.

I should be ecstatic. So, why does this frustrate the bejeezus outta me?

Because next week, I have a series of appointments. On Monday, I’m meeting with a cardiologist; on Tuesday, I’m getting a hepatobiliary scan (gallbladder and bile duct stuff); and then on Thursday, I’m visiting a gastroenterologist. If all my symptoms are gone again, then these visits may very well be for naught. I don’t want them to be a waste of time. I want to find out what the hell is going on inside my body.

Last year, I experienced symptoms for a solid three months. I had good days even then, and then would have days where I was couch-ridden and unable to even lift up the tv remote without pain. This time, I’ve been down for 6 weeks, again with dramatic variation in my energy and pain levels from day to day.

But I’ve been feeling almost normal. I’m afraid to get excited, because tomorrow could bring another bout of awful. But if I do start feeling symptoms again, then I may have something that can be discovered by any of the appointments I have scheduled next week, and I can find answers as to the cause of my woes.

See why my emotions are in turmoil?

I want to be better. I will get better. But I don’t want to be left in the dark any more. My body and my spirit are at odds with each other and until I figure out what is going on, then I’ll always have that fear of it returning at any time, even if it goes right now.

So for now, I focus on the present. I’m feeling good today, and that is a good thing. I’ll keep meditating, being mindful, and doing my gratitude rituals. I am thankful for today because I got to enjoy a full walk at lunch without needing to break or nap.

Me and the pup, just chillin’

Zen and the Art of Landscaping

One of the most frustrating things about my mystery illness is my weakness and fatigue. I am a relatively active person. On a normal, healthy day, I get more that 12,000 steps in and at least one type of exercise in. On weekends, I’m hiking or kayaking or doing some major project around the house. I am no couch potato.

But when the fatigue strikes, my whole routine gets thrown for a loop. During my last flair up, I laid on the couch a lot. During this flair up, I’m trying to be better. Some days are harder than others. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m physically exhausted and sprawled out on my couch, but I feel like I’ve earned some relaxation and couch time.

You see, Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, an amazing fall day, and there was some landscape work around the Loebick cabin that needed doin’. We have a nice little flower garden area in our back yard – two in fact. They’re lined by piles of rocks. Previously, we had cleared one of them out, unburying and moving every single rock, and filled it with pinestraw. For weeks, our yard was out of balance. Luckily, I was feeling well enough to help finally finish this task.

Illness be damned.

I was able to do a lot of the work sitting down. Digging the rocks out and moving them about a foot out from the border line was exhausting, but Greg did most of the heavy lifting (though some of those bigger rocks required a team-lift. That was a bit rough on the weakened system). The second flowerbed was a bit more difficult than the first, because we had a large Japanese Maple and a shrub thingy to work around. That Japanese maple is one of my most favorite features about my yard.

As a kid, I hated yard work with a passion. I didn’t understand why my mom planted flowers and vegetables. I didn’t know why she and my dad spent so much time outside building and maintaining flower beds.

But now I get it. I take a certain pride and ownership in my home, my refuge from the world. I want it to look beautiful, and I want to do that work myself. There’s a certain zen I feel while doing work. It’s difficult. Rocks are heavy and dirt gets everywhere. My hair gets icky and my feet hurt. But I can fully engulf my mind into the work at hand. At the end of the day, that hard, honest work is worth it. I can sit back (after a hot shower) and allow myself to be overwhelmed at the prideful satisfaction of a job completed and well done. Of seeing the before and after, and knowing that I’ve improved that parcel significantly.

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I am grateful that I had enough energy to accomplish this task.

I am grateful for my beautiful home in the woods.

 

 

Gratitude Rituals

Grateful people are happy people. Appreciating what you have and how far you’ve come is one of the foundations for living a more mindful, more meaningful life. Gratitude rituals are present in the teachings of so many wellness gurus that it almost feels cliche. Since I’ve started my intentional journey into mindfulness and wellness it seems that every person, every book, every podcast, and every article that talks about how to be a happier person tells you that gratitude is key and that ritualizing it creates a habit of thankfulness.

So it’s not really cliche–it’s something that actually works.

I’ve incorporated a couple of different gratitude rituals into my daily life. I’ll probably delve into each item much deeper in follow-up blogs. Here are some of the things I do to celebrate life and achievement:

  • During yoga, I’ll do gratitude sun salutations. With each routine set, I focus on one aspect of my life that I’m thankful for-home, marriage, family, financial stability, etc.
  • I keep a simple journal at work that I use as a daily planner. In it, I write out, in long form, three things that I am grateful for each morning before delving into my work day-coffee, corgis, upbeat music
  • During my lunch break, I often take a walk through a graveyard that’s around the corner from my office. My first lap around the path is always mindfulness focused, and part of my mindfulness practice during this walk is to once again think on those things that I’m grateful for that day.
  • I’m currently practicing a meditation method taught by Vishan Lakhiani that guides you through 6-phases. During one of these phases-the aptly named gratitude phase-you are instructed to think of three things your grateful for in your personal life, three things you are thankful for in your professional life, and then three things that you love, or are grateful for, about your self.
I am grateful that this isn’t my sock.

I think my practice here may be a bit extreme, but I want it to become second nature for me to be happy with what I have in this moment.  So when the big sucky situations happen, I’ve exercised and toned that gratitude muscle, and I can focus on the positive instead of the temporary negative of those moments.

I never want to take my life, my felicity for granted. I’ve worked long and hard to get where I am, and I’m going to get even better.

In her book, The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane has several exercises to express gratitude. One that I loved is to sit down with a pen and paper and write out five things that you can see in the room with you that you are grateful for. I am grateful for my cell phone that connects me to so many people. I am grateful for air conditioning because I live in the south and OMG the humidity. I am grateful for windows, so I can see the outside world. I am grateful for my chapstick, because it keeps my lips soft and healthy.

There are so many ways to get into the habit of gratitude. It’s all about taking a moment to stop and ponder on the joys of right now, no matter how small or how bizarre. Just allow yourself to be pleased with your progress and to be happy.

So tell me, what are you grateful for today?