Thank you for the good stuff – the baggage can stay where it is

My morning was rough. Not terrible, just rough. Just wearing. Just emotional. My afternoon and evening were long.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes, but…” But I wish things were different. But I haven’t had time to process my morning. But I had a long day and I feel sad now.

I was carrying stuff. Some stuff was mine. Some stuff belonged to other people. I had to put down their stuff. That’s someone else’s to carry. Someone else’s judgement isn’t mine. So I’m going to stop carrying it. Someone else’s disapproval doesn’t belong to me. Let it ruin their mood, not mine. I’m over here, minding my own business, carrying my own stuff. If I am carrying around someone else’s approval or disapproval of me, do I have space to give myself approval first? Not really.

I’ve been reading Never Broken by Jewel. If you knew me in high school, you knew I loved her songwriting. Years later, I also love her memoir writing. In the chapter I read right before going to bed, she talked about feeling gratitude. She carved out time each day during her troubled childhood/teen years and felt gratitude. Even in adversity, she found something to say thank you for.

What was going on for me was miniscule compared to people with significant problems. I knew that. But that didn’t make my feelings less real. I turned out the light and began to list things I was grateful for that day. Support of family. Running into a good friend. Meeting new people. The first signs of spring. I kept listing until I fell asleep.

What happened next surprised me.

I woke up in a decent mood. I didn’t notice until I was pulling my car out of the garage to head to work. My motivation was higher and my mood was lighter. By the time I got to work, I was inspired to thank someone who was nice to me the day before. Then I thanked a coworker who was nice enough to organize a party for someone. Saying thank you to the universe inspired me to say thank you to specific people. My appreciation spread.

I looked at the stuff that I had carried the day before. It didn’t even look familiar. Why was I carrying that again? It doesn’t belong here.

I have been trying to show more gratitude in my life. Some days are easier than others. Remembering to feel the gratitude is difficult sometimes.

All I know right now is I saw a positive change in myself through being more conscious about what is good in my life and what is mine to carry. Some days revelations come after lots of practice, some days they come after an experiment. What better motivation to keep such a practice going than observable change?

Now I’m trying to examine my gratitude more regularly. I am also trying to vocalize it with greater frequency.

If you’re still reading, thank you for being here.

Who can you thank today? Whose life can you improve?

It might be your own.

What I Tried in January

Life is an experiment. Really, that’s about all it is. I’m not referring to your religious belief system or afterlife expectations. Just in day to day living, everything is an experiment. Should I do the same thing as yesterday? Should I change it up? Should I hit “publish” on this blog post? All experiments.

I try to change things up just a little every month. If each month I try one small project, at the end of the month I can judge success or lack thereof and adjust accordingly. My goal at the start of the year was to pack more breakfasts and lunches before work to avoid eating food that was handed to me through a drive thru window.

Simple, right?

But that was my goal in December as well. And November. And October. But it wasn’t happening as much as I wanted it to. It turns out that lunches don’t pack themselves. Also if the refrigerator contains food that needs to be converted in some way before it becomes and edible meal, I have to intervene with the conversion (cooking) before the edible meal emerges.

This is not profound.

In January I decided to jump on board with meal prepping. On Saturdays I grocery shop and on Sundays I cook and pack. Then my refrigerator contains food to pack for breakfasts and lunches all week with minimal effort at 6 in the morning when I am trying to pack food and make coffee before running out the door.

But since I’ve known myself for quite some time now, I knew that food buying and the resolution to cook on Sunday was not enough. So I added something to the mix. I started an Instagram account. I called it Practical_Meal_Prep. Several times per week I post pictures of different foods I have prepped and packed for my week day meals. I have found that maintaining the photo feed keeps me accountable for what I am doing. If I want to post healthy meals or food choices, that influences what I buy at the store and what I cook at home. It also makes me less likely to order pizza on Tuesday and then eat cold pizza for leftovers on Wednesday. Granted, I don’t post pictures of everything I eat. This isn’t a food journal so much as it is a tool for me to keep up with my goal.

In January I packed 21 of 21 breakfasts and 20 of 21 lunches. In December I packed 14 of 19 breakfasts and 8 of 18 lunches. There were other factors involved as well of course, but the fact remains my new system seems to be working better than my old one. Old system: set a goal and hope for the best. New system: keep myself accountable with public posts of what I am doing.

Will this work for everyone? Probably not. Is it working for me? So far. February is looking good too for prepped and packed meals and healthier choices.

February’s experiment is exciting. I can’t wait to share it with you next month.

What is something you tried that worked? Or maybe something you tried that didn’t? Either way, you can always change it up and try something else. It’s all just an experiment.

Meal Prep Instagram: Practical_Meal_Prep

Personal Instagram: CarlyHansonPresents

School Ruined Me (and it Probably Ruined You, too)

When I was little, I loved school. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I thought school was a colossal waste of time. I was a nerd. I liked books and math. I didn’t have a lot of friends. That was okay by me. Just leave me alone to do my math homework now so I don’t have to do it later. Don’t talk to me during “free time” because the people in this book are more interesting than you anyway.

What I did like about school was having the right answer. I liked being able to answer the question the teacher asked. I liked the circled number on the top of my test. I liked being right. (Yes, I was that kid you probably hated. Unless you were that kid too.)

That’s horrible preparation for life.

In life, you don’t have the answer. I was driving the other day and mulling over a question about life. “Do I do X or Y? What is the right answer?” That was the wrong question. “What should I try next?” is closer to the right question. I’m so caught up in being correct or getting my proverbial “gold star” that I forget that nobody but me cares if I am correct, and life doesn’t hand out gold stars.

The question I asked instead of “What should I try next?” was “What do other people do?” That question is equally horrible. Nobody has the right answer. We are all just trying things.

The key is to learn from what you try.

I’d like to say I had this great “a-ha!” moment when I realized that everyone is guessing, everyone feels like they are floundering sometimes, and everyone is scared to get it wrong. Maybe I did. But then that moment passed. The stress of finding the right answer came back. I had to pull myself back again (and again) from the mental spiral I found myself in.

Maybe you try something and you don’t like the result. You can try something else. Unfortunately as humans we like routine and staying in our comfort zone (I blame school for this as well). So we will try something, not like the result, and decide to live with the result instead of trying something else next time.

So what can I try next? And  what will I try after that?

I don’t have the answer. But I can keep looking.

What will you try next?

When Everything is Priority #1

What didn’t you get done last week? Or yesterday? Did you skip your workout? Maybe you didn’t work on your side business. Or perhaps you didn’t spend as much time as you intended with your kids.

Something came up. Work was crazy. You had money on the playoff games on Sunday and you wanted to know if your wallet was going to end up heavier or lighter. Maybe you were going to “just take care of this one thing because it only takes a minute” and it distracted you from the moment you were in.

I did some of that last week.

I’m sure lots of people did.

My laundry didn’t all get done. It wasn’t a priority because I had other things to do and sufficient clean clothes. I got distracted instead of staying present and accidentally hurt someone’s feelings. I skipped my workout because I didn’t feel well.

I was running too fast and multitasking too much and still behind on what seemed like everything. It was tiring and frustrating and I just wanted a nap.

Then I asked myself where my priorities were. I didn’t write more because I didn’t make it a priority. I didn’t exercise because taking care of my long term health wasn’t important enough to me. It was uncomfortable to say, but deep down I knew it was also true.

How to change that script?

I made a list of everything on my plate right now. Work. Planning a wedding. Packing to move. Preparing to sell my house. Writing ideas. Business ideas. Skills I want to learn. All of it got written down.

For everything I wrote I asked myself if it was critical to do right now or if I valued something else on the list more. Now I know my top five things that are important at the moment. If my options are work on one of my top five things or work on something else, top five wins.

That being said I have an appointment to check in with myself in a few months to see where my priorities are again. Some things on the list will drop off for sure and leave room for something else to become a priority.

In the mean time I can now forgive myself for not learning that new skill. It’s not top five for now, but later it might be. For now I’ll do what matters most and leave the rest for when my priorities shift.

Things I Tried in 2016

BOOKS

I actually successfully completed the Goodreads 2016 challenge. My goal was to read 52 books last year and I read 53! I haven’t officially checked, but that might be the first time I ever completed the challenge. Part of my goal included reading a certain number of books on writing and creativity. On Writing by Stephen King was by far my favorite. It is a good book for writers and non-writers alike. I’m not going to do a “best of” list (at least not in this post) but I did end up with a few new favorite books in 2016.

Podcasts

I started out the year getting caught up on Welcome to Night Vale. That was in part due to tickets I had to an author discussion with the creators in late 2015 to promote their book of the same name. Of late I have not stayed on top of their podcast updates, but I did appreciate it for Twin Peaks-like storytelling. Lately I’ve been listening to the James Altucher podcast. I don’t listen to every guest, just ones who sound super interesting. When he releases a new podcast, he also teases with a blog post listing several things he learned from the latest guest. I click over to listen when I want to learn something from his list too.

Habits

Speaking of James Altucher, I started a practice in 2016 he strongly recommends. Every day write 10 ideas about anything. He claims doing this has drastically changed his life every 6 months. I haven’t made it a daily practice yet, but I have noticed that I am taking action on ideas I generate on my lists. Not all of these ideas are good. Actually a lot of them are terrible. Chances are I would not have come up with my good ideas if I didn’t write the bad ideas too. This has led to blog post ideas, new creative project ideas, and new avenues in writing projects. I’ve also used this at work when I get stuck on a problem to find alternative solutions when they aren’t immediately evident.

At the end of 2016 I also started a habit tracker to promote good habits in health, mind, soul, and creativity. Results have been mixed. From what I learned in December I need to make more time for fitness and writing.

Meditation

This has been something I have tried on and off since reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris. I try for a daily mindfulness practice for just a few minutes, though lately I haven’t been very consistent. Meditation is something you build. Just like your idea muscle with your 10 ideas. This is your mindfulness muscle. I have noticed that I feel the need to get back to my practice when I am feeling most out of line in my life.

Blog

I revived this blog towards the end of 2016 with the goal of posting every Wednesday morning. About that… Anyway, it’s Wednesday and I’m back. I’m going to keep plugging away at this and see what it turns into. The blog, just like everything else I tried in 2016 is an experiment. I’ll try and I’ll tweak and I’ll figure out what works for me and ultimately do that.

Thanks for hanging with me.

Happy 2017. Are you trying something new this year? Are you keeping up with a new habit from last year?

I Forgot to Breathe… Green Day Reminded Me

I was driving home. I was anxious and upset. Overwhelmed. Trying not to cry. A song came on the radio. I’m pretty sure I had never heard it before. Green Day and I have never been on the best of terms. More like they do their thing and I do mine. This single showed up when I needed it though.

The great thing about a song refrain is it repeats. So those particular lyrics are easier to learn. I don’t sing well… except to my steering wheel. Then I’m a freaking rock star. To distract myself from what I was feeling I tried to sing along.

“I’m still breathing on my own.”

At that moment I noticed my breath. It was shallow in my chest. I felt a tightness in my shoulders and neck that comes with stress and lack of deep breathing.

I had forgotten to breathe.

The signal I was waiting at turned green. Right there in my car as I drove through the intersection I started a breathing exercise. I learned it in the book F*** Anxiety. Please get past the swearing. It’s a legit book on anxiety from someone who gets it. He’s a clinical psychologist with a good sense of humor and a straightforward approach. I read it a couple of months ago and it was like getting real advice on wrangling anxiety from my best friend.

The author taught a way to focus on your breath. It can be done anywhere because it doesn’t require closing your eyes and visualizing anything or some loud exhale sound that will draw attention in public. He said it was necessary to practice this exercise when you CAN breathe (little to no anxiety/stress) so when you CAN’T breathe (high anxiety/stress) you are ready to use the tool. Luckily I had practiced at least a little. Inhale for seven counts, hold for four, exhale for eight. Repeat.

And again.

Normally by my fourth or fifth time through this exercise I feel improvement. The tension eases, and so does my mind. When I return to breathing naturally I feel less of the constriction I felt previously. How long does it take? Less than five minutes.

7-4-8

Then I’m breathing on my own.

My November Experiment

I’m trying new things. I want to feel more positive. I want to let go of some of my anxiety.

In November I tried to build new habits. I was inspired by habit trackers shared by avid bullet journalers on blogs and Instagram. I tried one of my own. (I’m not posting a picture because it is not nearly as pretty as the one I linked to). Every day I tracked progress on Physical, Mental, and Spiritual health goals… and sleep. Sleep was a priority for November because I was dealing with nightmares and sleep disturbances that were making it hard to get up in the morning.

Verdict after 30 days of habit tracking: I need to eat more greens and stop looking at my phone before bed.

The best thing about my habit tracker in its pretty Moleskine notebook is not the tracker, it’s the next page. The next page is a list of November 2016 “Best of” moments. Any day something good happened, I wrote the date and a single sentence or phrase.

November 1st 2 years with Matt

November 6th re-launched the blog

November 17th went shopping with friends

I did not have an entry for all 30 days, but I did get an entry for more than 50% of the days. For December I will try for 70%.

Writing down the good forces me to reflect on what went right that day. If I can’t think of anything or forget one day it’s okay. However on the days I think are garbage, I have a list of great things to look back on. I can see at a glance good news, people I love, and life milestones. Good things pass us by in a few moments of happiness but the bad things seem to gnaw at our minds. At least they do for me. The Best of List makes the bad things get in the back seat for a while.

Oddly this list was an afterthought. I looked at the blank page and asked myself what could go there. Since I was working on my gratitude habit and our anniversary happened to be the first day of the month, I wrote it on the top line on the page. I thought I would write down good things on the same page over the course of months. In less than 30 days, the page is nearly full. It turned out happy news was all around. I just had to open my eyes to see it.

For December I am revamping the Habit Tracker. And I am looking to filling my “Best of December” page.

How do you remember the good in your life?

 

Letters to my Future (now) Self

Last week I dug out an old notebook that still had a few blank pages left. I’ve been keeping a weekly to do list this year on scrap paper. My other notebook was full; I was looking for anything to get me through the last few weeks of the year. I remembered the old notebook by the flowers on its cover and vaguely recalled hauling it to meetings and anything I considered to be “development” at a certain time in my life.

After finding a blank page and writing out my things to do for the week, I flipped to the front to see what filled the rest of the pages.

The notebook started with notes from an online writing class I took four years ago. I typed them up with the goal of switching my analog information to digital and becoming more portable. As I typed I realized I must have learned something from that class, as many of the tools described in my notes seem to appear in all of my writing projects.

Next were notes from interviews done with people in careers much different than my own, complete with conversation prompts. I had been looking for meaning in my work and life and I was reminded of a time when I was looking for a much different path than the one I am on now. I have no regrets for the path I chose, but the notes are a good reminder that the Search in life is never ending. Those interviews are a great reminder that people can be really helpful. Some of the people I had interviewed had been cold calls. They were still nice enough to take a few minutes to tell me about how they started their careers and what motivated them. It never hurts to ask.

Sprinkled in between some volunteer meeting notes were first drafts of blog posts which never made it to the old blog. One was about authenticity in life. Another was about the evils of multitasking and overextending and the need to be present in the moment. I’m sure those themes will someday appear in this blog too. My beliefs in those areas haven’t changed.

The whole notebook showed me snapshots of myself two to four years ago. It was a great reminder of who I was, who I’ve become, and lessons I learned but unfortunately may have forgotten. I’m looking forward to typing the contents and moving the pages to the recycle bin. This is in part due to my quest to empty my condo. The rest is to read my notes as a time capsule letter to myself to better remember who I am and who I want to be.

Being Grateful When it Hurts

Gratitude – The quality of being thankful.

On my list of habits I wanted to build this month I included “gratitude.” While I could have been more specific on what that entails, I loosely defined it as, “A daily practice of finding at least three moments/people/things to be grateful for.”

I further constrained myself with one rule: No Repeats.

So if one day I said I was grateful for my fiancee, the next I could be grateful for the time we had together or a nice thing he did for me, but I could not get lazy and keep repeating day after day, “I am grateful for Matt.”

Now we’re halfway through the month and I am trying to keep up with my daily practice. A couple of days ago was a rough day for me. I had a headache. I was in a bad mood. I was feeling a lot of stress. I just wanted to crawl under a blanket and be miserable. I was well on my way to going home and throwing myself a pity party when I stopped at Starbucks.

The barista working the drive through had a wacky sense of humor. “Welcome to Starbucks, this is Angelina Jolie. What can I make for you?” he asked. I faltered for a second, then smiled when I ordered. He told me Marshall Mathers would take my money at the window. After he handed me my coffee he told me to “Have a grande!” as I drove away. Worst coffee joke ever.

I laughed anyway.

As I was driving home I made a mental list of my gratitude for three things that day. That day I was grateful for a Starbucks employee who made me laugh. This is not a story about how one person turned my day around or how the gratitude exercise made some massive improvement in my life. I went home to sleep off the headache. I woke up and did some reading. My day did improve. Massively? I’m not sure. But improvement is improvement.

Gratitude is supposed to have a lot of health benefits. It helps reduce stress, improves mood, and improves sleep quality. Just because it’s helpful doesn’t mean it’s easy. We all know the benefits of daily flossing, eating enough greens, and drinking enough water. That doesn’t mean we’re going to do those things daily without conscious effort.

After researching other people’s gratitude practices, these appeared to be the most popular options:

  • Gratitude journal (literally a notebook and a pen, nothing fancy)
  • Gratitude jar (Pinterest can help if you are into that sort of thing)
  • Several apps
  • Handwritten thank you notes

For my practice I just list what I am grateful for in my head. Another idea I had would work if you still keep a paper day planner or use a bullet journal. List your three things directly in a notebook you are using anyway. No extra materials needed.

Regardless of how you practice your gratitude, the most important part is actually feeling thankful for what you list. That is what gives you genuine thankfulness (and the benefits that go with it) rather than a halfhearted “thanks” and another item checked off on a never ending to do list.

What’s on your list to be grateful for today?

Welcome Back to Blogging

I used to have a blog. I am actually trying to figure out how to archive it here (because right now it is showing up as a recent post, and I want it to hide somewhere in the Internet and not be right below this post). In 20 years, everyone will say they had a blog, right? Even if their blog was a series of snarky Facebook posts, they will still have had a blog. They were posting their thoughts or feelings for public consumption, which is all you really need for a blog.

Anyway, I had this blog. It started as an experiment with the Live your Legend Start a Blog challenge. My first post was on July 5, 2013. At the time I was tail spinning in a romantic relationship. I was 3 months in at a new job. I was trying to figure out life in my late 20’s. At the time I thought I was going to use the blog as a platform to launch a business.

That didn’t happen.

My last post was on July 2, 2014. Just shy of a 1 year birthday, I left my blog. I just reread that post. It was good perspective on a bad situation. After I wrote it, I made a firm decision to change my situation. Within four months of that last post, I quit my job to start at a new company and I had gone on a first date with my now fiancee.

Who cares?

If you’ve hung out with me this far in the post, thanks! That year long blogging experience might not have started a business for me, but it did help me emotionally process a breakup and see that I needed a change in my life. It was a tool I didn’t even know I needed.

So here I am with a new blog.

Live Your Legend just relaunched their Start a Blog challenge. I didn’t join. But the challenge and the act of blogging nudged me in the direction I needed to go once before. I find myself looking for a nudge again.

So new domain, new blog. (same blogger)

Now I find myself planning a wedding, generating tons of creative ideas, reading lots of books, and fighting back sometimes crushing levels of anxiety. I don’t know my end goal, but I know blogging is something I wanted to get back to for a while.

So here’s the dreaded “first post.” Expect books, emotional situations, and some experiments to come. But for now, “Hi, I’m Carly. Who are you?”