Wednesday, December 21, 2016

An Intention for 2017

I wasn't sure I would write a post about 2017. It's kind of a blogger requirement, almost, to close out the previous year and look ahead to the next. But after I read Jana's post about how she's NOT goal-setting for 2017, my comment in response turned into me typing away in my own blogger dashboard to elaborate. There are some things that just seem to be common traits of most bloggers, and documenting important things and planning for the future are two of them. But after the ringer this year has been—for me personally, and for a lot of us as a society—I kind of just wanted to let 2017 happen and just have faith it couldn't be worse than 2016.

But then, I opened the new journal I bought to begin the new year with, and those beautiful blank pages just begged to be written on. And so I started thinking about how I could plan, what I would plan for the coming year. This is what I realized.
I can't make goals for the next 12 months. I can't make a plan for anything past this week, as a number of things hang in the air, waiting for someone who is not me to make a move, a decision, take action. I can't rush that, force it, or will it to be what I want. And the outcome of these things will make everything that follows take a different shape. I am not signing myself up for a process of making a plan to achieve goals that cannot be achieved, and then reflecting on what an utter failure my life is because I didn't stick to that plan. That's not what goal-setting and planning is supposed to be about. I am changing my attitude of aggressive planning to one of patience, acceptance, and confidence. (Well, I'm trying to.)

Long goal lists no longer fulfill me. I made a 101 in 1001 list last year, which was spun out of a long-term goals list and a 30 by 30 list. As the forward momentum of my life came to a screeching halt in the last few months, I found myself obsessing over the 101 in 1001 list, because I felt like if I can't do anything else, at least I can cross off some of these goals. But what I came to understand instead was that these items aren't really "goals," at least not all of them. They were just things I wanted to do. A to do list and a goal list aren't the same, I don't think. I think of goals as things that take work, investment, planning, strategy, etc. And keeping a running to do list just isn't satisfying anymore, and it felt like it was just taking up space in my Google Drive and giving itself a false sense of importance. As if seeing a sunrise (which I accomplished) deserves as much of my energy as finding a job, nurturing my relationships, staying healthy and positive. What started out as a distraction from my lack of control over certain aspects of my life became a horribly skewed view of what is worth forcing myself to accomplish, and what is not.

What I really want to do, I will do regardless. This may or may not be true for everybody—I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this. So, my 101 list had things like "Finish first draft of novel." It's 80% done and I haven't touched it in nearly a year. I also put it on my November goal list, thinking I could take advantage of the NaNoWriMo momentum to get it done. On somewhere around November 4, I forgave myself that goal and admitted that it just isn't a priority right now, and that's OK. It doesn't need to be. And adding stress to achieve a goal I don't care about on a deadline that is totally imaginary is not something my life needs right now. It serves no one and nothing, truly. That book will be finished when it's ready to be—if the process of writing 80% of a book in 60 days taught me anything, it's that.

On the flip side, I had goals like "Run a sub-2 half marathon" and "Run a second marathon" on my 101 list. And making that list disappear doesn't make those goals disappear. They're in my mind always when I'm running, when I'm making race plans, when I'm picturing what success looks like over the next X months. I don't need it written down to know it's something I want. And while there is some satisfaction to be derived from crossing an item off a to do list, it is not enough to balance out the stress I feel over having multiple spreadsheets, lists, notes, and progress labels creating mental and digital clutter that makes anything that should be enjoyable into a chore.

But there are some things I just can't quit, like planning ahead as best I can. Planning and goal-setting are related but ultimately really different. I used to think I loved them both equally, but I don't. I like seeing what I can and making a plan for it all to go off without a hitch, or with as few hitches as possible if we're being realistic. For me, goal-setting for the long term just doesn't work. Priorities change, circumstances change, and I am on the cusp of more change than I've seen the likes of in years. And it's all good. I don't need unachieved goals to make me feel bad about all the things I'm looking forward to, and terrified of in the very best way.

Planning, though. Planning makes me feel at peace. I have a serious problem with being ungrounded or feeling out of control. It's the reason I don't like drinking more than two glasses of wine and why I don't walk into Target without a list. For better or for worse, it's a trait of mine that's not going away, try as I might to be a "figure it out when we get there" type. (Full disclosure, though, I completely stopped trying to be that type, because I can recognize a losing battle when I see one.) So I've gone through my Google Calendar and noted any weddings, events, appointments, and travels I am sure of for the coming year. I've transferred that all into two pages of my journal, so I can see what's ahead at a glance. I've taken notes about things and compiled information I'll need to reference later. But that's the easy part, the part I enjoy.

The hard part has been acknowledging that I don't know what 30 days from now will look like.

This is the point in my life where I have to learn how to be patient and let things unfold as they will. I have to make one decision at a time. I have to move day by day. I have to get used to making big decisions without lots of time to mull them over, and then be confident with those decisions. I have to stop pretending that certain things are within my control.

I want to set myself up for a good 2017, but writing a list of things I'm going to do just won't accomplish that anymore. And if I'm telling the truth, it never has in years past. So for the first time, I'm not making any goals for the new year. I am, however, setting an intention.

I set an intention every time I practice yoga. I encourage my students to set an intention every time I guide them through theirs. I phrase my intentions as mantras, and sometimes I use the same one for days or weeks at a time. The one I'm setting for 2017 has to do with practicing patience, acceptance, and openness, relinquishing control over that which I cannot will my way, and remaining a positive source of energy in the universe. My hope is that my attempts to manifest this intention enable me to achieve all that is waiting to be achieved by me, whether or not I can identify what those things are just yet.

___________

With a week and change left of this rollercoaster year, I am choosing to focus on what I am grateful for and what I hope to do better next year. If I don't talk to you before the calendar turns, I wish every one of you dear readers a happy holiday season filled with joy and love, and a positive, healthy start to 2017. Thank you for sticking by my side and being the incredibly uplifting and supportive influences you have been this year. Cheers!

Friday, December 16, 2016

I Fell For Fall

Weird how it isn't officially winter yet, but it feels fully in swing around here. In Northern NJ, we've had a few teensy dustings—followed immediately by rain or temperatures warm enough to melt any trace of snow away. And while I'm not looking forward exactly to the three-plus months of snow we're sure to get as soon as January comes, I'd love a white Christmas this year to help me really feel in the holiday spirit.

But we still, in the technical sense, have a few days of fall left. I always think of fall as October; the end. Seasons take different shape after that: November means it's "almost the holidays" and then from Thanksgiving to New Years it's "the holiday season," something that feels wholly separate from the burnt oranges of October and the gray blanket that covers the whole of actual winter. But autumn it remains, and these have been a few of my very favorite things of this past season...
Bigelow Green Tea with Mint & Decaf Lady Gray Tea
A mug of tea is sometimes the only thing that beats the cold once it sets into my bones when the weather turns chilly. These have been two of my favorites this fall, the former without anything added; the latter with a little raw sugar and almond milk.

Community & This is Us
David and I have, for the most part, pretty different taste in TV. Community is one of the few shows we can agree on, and we've been making our way through the whole series on Hulu. And This Is Us is the perfect drama to fit the space left by my other loves, Parenthood and Friday Night Lights. Thank frog (and David) for Hulu.

Coffitivity
Whether I'm working at home or at David's apartment, there's no such thing as real quiet. He's facing 49th Street; my downstairs neighbor is quite fond of an old-fashioned radio that he turns up full-blast and that is on a frequency low enough that it basically feels like a bass vibration under my apartment all the livelong day. So while science says quiet is best, I find pseudo-quiet that's constantly interrupted by low mumbles and shrill firetrucks to be anything but productivity-promoting. Coffitivity is my favorite thing! It's coffee shop-inspired ambient noise that is just loud enough to drown out the downstairs neighbor, but not interesting or in any way coherent enough to be distracting.

Archer Farms Apple Cider Donut Coffee
Bought this on a whim, because if there's apple flavor involved, it's usually something I want to be a part of. I was browsing Target (because when am I not?) when I found this and promptly went home and made a pot. Oh my yum.

Essie Stylenomics and Licorice
I love fall nail polish shades more than any other season. You can still play with some color, but the dark polishes are my favorite—the way they pop against pale fingers just looks really pretty to me. I have a lot of dark blues, reds, purples, and grays that I reach for, but the ones I repeated most this fall were Stylenomics, a deep green (that stays relevant through Christmas and beyond) and Licorice, a shiny, bold black that I'll keep wearing through March.

Bullet journaling and gratitude all in one
I mentioned in my post last week how I took this year to refine some habits, including my planning and journaling system. I fully embraced the bullet journal in the truest sense this fall—meaning, it's a list of things to do, and not a hand-drawn planner like some of the very artistically-inclined Instagrammers post under the #bujo tag I suddenly found myself stalking on the weekly. The result has been better organization and productivity and more peace of mind after expelling the thoughts that keep my mind reeling.

Dove White Bar
I honestly can't remember why, but back in the summer I decided to try using bar soap rather than body wash. And I'm converted. I'm super happy I switched and I feel like this might be a weird thing to list, but I seriously feel so much cleaner and like I produce so much less product waste. I'm also pretty positive a bar lasts longer than a bottle of body wash, and a pack of three bars is definitely less expensive than even inexpensive body wash.

Have a look at my favorites from last summer here.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Non-stop, Won't-stop One

When weekends are as full of fun firsts and good times worth remembering as this one was, they're deserving of a photo-filled recap with details I hope I'll never forget.

Friday night was the first public event for Iris Studios. In case you missed it, here's the skinny: two other yoginis (collectively, @threeyoginis) and I launched a business within which we host public and private yoga (and similar) events in local studios, homes, public venues, etc. Following a private birthday party (which we booked THE DAY we launched, November 1), we just held our first open-to-the-public event: a workshop called Malas & Merlot, where 15 ladies came out to join us in making their own malas and getting to know new friends over wine and snacks. It was a beautiful event and our hearts are so full of gratitude.

 

Next morning was the Donut Run 5k, hosted by the BEST donut bakery in my town and from which proceeds benefited Covenant House of New Jersey. It was sweet and special for a few reasons. I haven't run a 5k in a year and a half, and hearing the chatter of people in the pack around me reminded me of life before marathoning. I was hit with a flood of memories from my very first race, how excited and anxious and nervous I was to start, and how proud I was of myself after the fact. I tell you, it nearly rivals the feelings I had before and after my first marathon last year. Those first 3.1 miles gave me a love of racing and distances great and small.

But on the flip side, it was a cold, windy morning and I was lucky enough to retreat to my warm home after the run. Too many kids, even here in my state, don't have that. Homelessness isn't happening in some far-off, distant land. It's happening in front of all of us, all the time. I was honored to have been able to donate to Covenant House this year to help provide shelter and care to those who need it most this year.

Afterwards, David met me here in NJ and after too many grocery store stops, we headed over to my friends' place to mull some wine, spread some holiday cheer, catch up with friends I adore, and play dirty word bananagrams. Because we're adults.

And on Sunday, my siblings and I headed to my mom's to celebrate her birthday a few days early. Rather than, ya know, take the day off, she made a delicious dinner for us and accidentally dropped a saucy spoon on my head, resulting in this:
but the more important result of the day was this:

And now it may be a gloomy Monday, but with so much joy in my life, how could a rain cloud ever take away from all the good?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Simpler 2016

It's been no secret around this blog that I've had a challenging year. Every time I say that, I have to stop and think, because it's strange: this isn't the year my grandmother died. This year wasn't like the tumultuous childhood I had, shuffling between houses and dealing with my parents' bitter divorce and custody fight. I didn't get dumped this year; instead, I entered what has doubtless been the best relationship of my life. But I still consider 2016 one of the hardest years of my life, because I remained unemployed and on the job search nearly all year, after my brief stint as a freelancer (that I accidentally fell into) proved to be exactly what I had previously thought it would be: not worth it, and totally not for me.

Even though this year was full of good things—two half marathon PRs in back-to-back races of that distance, some fun travels and getaways with people I love, meeting and falling into life with David—the bad thing was ever-present and it touched everything. Job (or lack-there-of) stress led to money stress, social stress, self-worth stress, apartment/housing situation stress...it touched everything, and it spun me into a depression the likes of which I haven't seen (thankfully) in a really, really long time.

It's a vicious cycle. Depression and unrelenting stress and reasons to lose faith in yourself cycle into bad sleep, disinterest in hobbies and things that take any effort at all, but which bring joy, which feeds depression, and round and round we go. I've tried as much as possible to look at my life this year from an outside perspective, look at the whole picture rather than the small piece I'm drowning in, and I think that's helped. I was emailing with Kristen this week and said something about how I feel like a downer, constantly writing about how hard 2016 was, but I feel like each time I examine my feelings about this year critically, I come up with a new perspective, a new solution or action plan, a new *something* that helps keep me out of the depths of that dark water.

In that vein, thanks to that constant reflection, throughout this year (and oh, man was it a long one) I've made a couple small but big changes in my daily life, in my habits and routines, and they all add up, I think, to a big happier, more intentional me. Of course, there's no way to control for this so my hypothesis may be way off, but I think these 6 things contributed to the sanity of yours truly this year. Some of them seem so obvious, but some are less so, so I wanted to share...

1. Deleted the Facebook app and turned off all social media app notifications.
You guys know what I always found really annoying? How the Facebook app for iPhone (the primary way I use FB, which already is little) sends push notifications for really insignificant things. I used to complain every time I had a red-encircled number pop up on the icon, opened the app, and saw that it was to tell me about something completely unimportant like June liked Jake's status that I commented on 6 months ago. It was maddening, because I hate a) wasting time and b) app notification bubbles on my phone. I also learned how much data and battery my Facebook app was sucking and got even more mad at the Zuck and Co. It was actually Tracy's husband who suggested to me that I delete the app and just place a bookmarked Safari page on my home screen for quick nav to Facebook.com, and I am HONESTLY happier since I did that.

It led me to turn off notifications for all my social apps—no Twitter push notifications, no Instagram like pop-ups. I just realized that there really is NO need. If someone needs to urgently get in touch with me, they have my phone number. And also, let's go ahead and start redefining the meaning of "urgent" now that we're in 24/7 contact. I check all my apps at least once a day. There's nothing that can't wait. There's nothing so pressing that its lighting up my phone screen is a worthy distraction from whatever else I'm doing at the time. I already hate excess noise and keep my phone on silent with no vibration; this year I realized that "visual noise" is a thing too.

I feel like I wrote more about this than I should have, but it has made THAT much of a difference in my life that I want to scream about it. It shocks me that I didn't do it earlier.

2. Adopted a “one page inbox” system.
Inbox zero sounds great, but I can't do it. I can't get to everything the second it lands in my inbox, and sometimes I need to hold onto emails for a few days (for example, event details or race info) and moving all that info to a different place just moves the clutter to a less compact or foldable location. Emails I'll need to reference in a few days or reply to after something happens, I need them visible. I'm very much an "out of sight, out of mind" person, so my inbox is a good way to keep something on my mind. But after going through hundreds of emails sitting in my blog and personal inboxes, plus all the other ancillary folders I had and deleting what was no longer (or never was) necessary, I now keep a strict one-page inbox, with an added rule that if I have to scroll to see the bottom of the list, I have too many things in there. My folders are more organized, I feel more in control, and am way less bombarded with information I don't constantly need.

3. Changed my planning system.
I was about two weeks into 2016 when I realized I was done with paper planners. They just don't work with the way I plan. I don't have a ton of appointments or meetings, but I use a planner to keep track of habits, workouts, time-blocking, and other essential time-management stuff to make sure that just because I work from home doesn't mean I work until midnight. I hate cross-outs and I hate not having an up-to-date planner, so I switched.

I'm working on a post about how I plan now, but it's taken me a long time to really refine the system and get into a method that works perfectly for me. I currently use a combination of Google Calendar (for the big stuff, appointments, meetings, time-blocking), Reminders app (for non-essential personal tasks and other lists like shopping), and a sort-of bullet journal. With this combination I manage all my long-term planning, short-term views, and daily to-do lists. I also accepted the idea that what I'm doing doesn't have to work forever. It has to work for now. There's no need to get bent out of shape when I realize my once-perfect planning system doesn't align with how my daily tasks have changed; I just have to change it too, and that's fine.

4. Committed to (week-)daily journaling.
I've been keeping a gratitude journal since January 2014. There have been silent periods, but 2016 has been, by far, the most consistent year ever of both gratitude journaling and just...journaling. I've had journals off and on since high school, and I really can't bring myself to read old old entries, but I have absolutely flipped back through the pages of journals I've filled this year more than once. I tried the "morning pages" technique where you just sit down first thing and empty your brain; I've tried the nightly brain dump technique where you write down the thoughts that come before sleep. I've landed somewhere in the middle. I basically have my journal with me all day and write when it feels good.

Here's what I do now: on the left side, I write my day's to-do list, usually the night before. I pull from my Reminders app and a weekly to-do list I keep a few pages back and fill in anything I didn't complete the previous day, sort of using the bullet journal method. (I don't go insane with illustrations and stickers though, because ain't nobody got time for that. I mean, I know a lot of people make time for it, but I don't. Also, can't draw to save my life so there's that too.) It's a simple list, sometimes flagged with ! to mark priority. On the opposite page, I journal. Whatever I need to. Sometimes it's a recap, sometimes it's things I've been thinking about, sometimes it's another list, whatever. And before the day is over, I write down at least three things I'm grateful for.

Some days, coming up with three things is hard. But those are the days I stop and think, "Hey, I'm inside my apartment, drinking clean water, wearing clean clothes, looking at my warm bed, smelling my dinner cooking in the oven," and remember how very much there is to be grateful for always.

5. Stopped tracking my workouts.
I wrote Sunday Sweats posts every week from January 2015 through late September 2016. And then I just stopped. Because I realized I was drafting my run recaps while mid-run, taking myself out of the moment. Most runs just don't need much said about them; my Garmin tracks and saves all the data, and coming up with a description of each run was getting tiring and ingenuine.

But even worse, I found myself obsessing over what qualified as a workout: "We walked a lot in the city today; can I count that as a workout?" "I stretched for like 20 minutes before running, does that count as a restorative yoga practice?" "I demonstrated a lot while teaching tonight, should I qualify that as a practice?" and counting minutes during my most special moments on the mat: "She started a few minutes late and we had a really long savasana at the end; can I really call this a 75-minute yoga class?" and just UGH. All of that is SO besides the point of why I do any of what I do, and yet I was doing it. It's not like you guys are going to hold me accountable for a short class or scold me for not counting a 2-mile walk around the city as exercise. What on earth? I stopped, because for me, when I get to obsessing about something, cutting it off is the only way to gain balance.

6. Took myself off of unnecessary, unfulfilling, or unsustainable projects.
I took myself out of three projects this year. One was paying, two were not. All, in some way, contributed to negative feelings, stress, angst, and simply too much going on with not enough brain space to cover it all. One of them was actually a MASSIVE stressor—to the point where I hated unlocking my phone because if I saw the app I used for that project with a notification on it, I would freak out and panic spiral. Really, really, really not okay.

I realized this year that sometimes you have to set free things you love when they just don't love you back. I realized I cannot operate out of guilt or a sense of commitment or obligation that *I* am imposing on myself. I realized that feelings about people, places, things can evolve, and that when that happens, your relationship to them absolutely should follow suit. I was making myself crazy over this idea that I just had to keep cutting myself in smaller and smaller pieces in order to give a piece to everyone who was asking for a part of me, and it left me too scattered to do absolutely anything well. It was hard to say the words, but absolutely nothing bad happened to anybody when I took myself away.

___________________________________

All of these things happened at different points throughout the year, as I came to realization after realization (upon excessive self-reflection and analyzing. Sometimes there is some good to be derived from over-thinking things, I guess!) about what my life was too full of or too short on. What I hope most is that I can continue to think critically about what I do on a daily basis, and what about that works and what doesn't. It probably saved my life, in a sense, this year.

On this good note, here's hoping for a simple 2017, right from the start!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Late Autumn Lately

I've been thinking a lot about what I think we mean when we say things like "I can't believe the year is almost over" or "I can't believe it's almost 2017 already." I haven't come up with anything definitive, FYI—just thought circles.

It's like, I can't believe 2009 feels like such a recent time but it's actually the better part of a decade behind us. And also, it's hard to believe how much has happened, been documented, been felt and experienced over the past 11 months. I can think back to January 1 this year and it feels like only yesterday, but I can think also about how many high highs and low lows have happened since then—how is 11 months enough time for all that to have happened in? And also, it's hard to think about how this year is almost at its close and I haven't done much in the way of getting to where I want to go.

I can't say, of course, that this year has been a wash. It's the year I finally earned my RYT-200 teaching certificate and became a yoga teacher—something I've literally been talking about since college. It's the year I met David. It's the year I fell completely apart and started to pick the pieces back up, forming a new picture of life along the way.

It makes me think of a quote told to me by Steph during one of my particularly steep valleys this year: "There are years that ask questions, and years that answer. We truly need both because that's what life is." (Zora Neale Hurston)

That's what life is: a collection of questions and answers. A collection of daily movements and happenings, of laughs and tears, of hugs and fights, of highs and lows. Of moments at the breakfast table and glances across dinner plates. Of alarm clocks and bus schedules and train tickets and doctor's appointments. A collection of little things and big things, and big things that make little things seem so little and little things that show us just how big the big things are.

Sometimes the mundane things that make up the everyday aren't interesting or noteworthy at all, the "life lately" updates and the "currently" verbs. But I have a thought: They can be the things that stabilize, that help us keep equilibrium when balancing on one hand while juggling knives. Some of them stay constant because, hopefully through all our ups and downs, there are some parts of us that stay constant: things like how we laugh and love and where we find comfort.
Lately, I'm...

burning | Flannel and Marshmallow Fireside

writing | cover letters, still or again; job applications; christmas cards; love notes

reading | the Harry Potter series on audiobook, and not much in physical book form

eating | soup, pretty much daily, and candy in between... it's the most wonderful time of the year?

listening to | the new John Mayer and similar, slow strummy sounds

planning | to plan. I am wary of making plans for outcomes that haven't been reached yet, but I can't help but fantasize about new job things, new apartment things, possible vacation things...

watching | Gilmore girls: A Year in the Life. I loved it, and I'm kind of weirded out by the people absolutely freaking out about how much they hated it and how depressed it made them. But maybe that's just me

drinking | red wine and hot apple cider

running | a few miles, a few days a week. A big training cycle is scheduled to start in a couple weeks, and while I'm looking forward to it, I know it's going to be an intense couple of months. I am trying to maintain a base fitness level but not burn out before I begin the long road to a second 26.2

There's not much notable about life lately, other than maybe this: it's going on. So many times this year I thought the sky was about to fall, the world was caving in, I didn't know how I would make it through. But the fact that I'm sitting here watching Gilmore Girls with a Flannel candle burning on the coffee table and a glass of red wine sitting next to me is proof that life continues to move forward, or at least continues to beat on, even in the years that seem to ask more questions than they give answers.

Linking up with Kristen.