“To change one’s life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.” – William James
Well, hello, there. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?! One year and ten months, to be exact. I have to say, I’m not surprised. For one, the last 22 months have been almost overwhelmingly chaotic, filled with many wonderful changes (residential, professional, marital!) and challenges. It’s been non-stop hectic, but I can hardly complain – I get bored easily, enjoy chaos for the most part, and my best friend once told me that my motto should be “too much is never enough.” And, in the tough times, I’ve found that my father’s advice is as salient as ever: GO WITH BEAUTY.
So here I am – back on the blog. Mae West is quoted as having said, “The good girls keep diaries. The bad girls don’t have the time.” As someone who has diaries dating back to age 4, I’d think I’m part of that former group. But, as someone whose diaries generally begin with the sentence “Okay, I’m trying again, in a new book, and this time, I’m really going to be good about writing every day!” and then, after five or ten entries, remain completely blank – I am confused about where I land. Perhaps it is a polarity – I’m somewhere in the middle.
And so, that’s where I will begin, here and now – somewhere in the middle. In the past, when restarting a journal, I felt as if I was required (by who? someone unknown, and especially judgmental, future me!?) to “catch the reader up,” to write up a summary of “what’s happened since [insert date of last entry].” This summary was usually in bullet form, and exhausting to write; many times, I didn’t even make it past the review itself, growing weary of recapping what I hadn’t had time to record in the first place.
Another inclination, from my typical diary M.O., has been to start fresh in a new book. The equivalent here, I suppose, would be a new blog, a new URL, a new way to convince myself that I didn’t really just give this up for the better part of two years – I just wanted something different. But that’s not true. I did give it up, and it’s good that I did – because a lot of wonderful things came about in the in-between.
Just this morning, a few things happened: a colleague asked me to write something for a project that he is working on and may want to post online… and I visited a friend’s wonderful blog and saw that she had a few stop-and-starts on her posting timeline… and I was feeling sort of stressed and upset about some news from my doctor – until I remembered to GO WITH BEAUTY. And then all of these things came together, leading me to type www.gowithbeauty.com into a browser that didn’t even recognize the web address. And why would it?! I’d never even visited my own site on my new laptop.
So, hello, again, to you and to me. Welcome back to my exercise in being patient with myself, in giving myself permission to be human, in playing with ideas and thoughts in a semi-public space, in remembering that starting over isn’t always necessary.
After all, it’s by picking ourselves up, brushing ourselves off, and starting again that we really learn and grow and change for the better, that we move toward beauty. So let’s begin, again, immediately, flamboyantly – no exceptions.
February! Beautiful, icy February. If February was a weekday, it would be Tuesday, stuck there in a wintry freeze, lurking after the delicious revelry of holidays and the proud resolve of the first 31 days of year. In the colder regions, February does not often inspire much beyond cracked fingers, templed in prayer for the warmth that comes with Spring.
The culmination of the holiday season also leaves us with a six-month stretch with few holidays to pencil into the calendar. And so I find myself unapologetically in love with the red and pink displays that fill stores during this time of year, head over heels for the frothy holiday that many write off as the over-commercialization and hyper-commodification of sentiment.
It is humorous to me that, after nearly four months of Christmas songs and a season now based in large part on gift purchases, people scoff at Valentine’s Day. Why should a holiday about loving people inspire such hostility, such animosity? Why is it easier to swallow the exploitation of theological thought, whereas one feels that to co-opt the most intimate of emotions is a personal affront: “You can tell me that Christmas requires me to spend thousands of dollars in gifts for family, friends, my doorman, and my hair stylist, but don’t presume to tell me that I need to buy chocolates to show my love for my partner!”
And another group of naysayers exists, those who view Valentine’s Day as a cruel promotion of coupledom, who seem to find that the affront lies, not in telling people how to celebrate their love for a partner, but in pointing out that they have no partner to love.
Both of these camps have it wrong. According to a quick Wiki-glance, the most popular account of “Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.” Today, when we are bombarded with shocking anti-gay statements from those who should seek to provide comfort to others, and when we fight to allow all people to have the right to make a life with whomever they choose, and to be free of persecution, this story should resonate.
According to that same entry, it was not until the High Middle Ages when the day was even associated with romantic love and, in later centuries, the day became a chance to share words of affection, treats of confection, and, of course, flowers.
But is that really so bad?
I have always loved Valentine’s Day. The years when I stuffed into over-booked, over-priced restaurants, I loved it. The years when I spent it at home watching movies with girlfriends, I loved it. The years when I was happily in love, or newly out of love, or pining for someone who would likely never receive any card from me – I have always loved it.
Because Valentine’s Day need not only be about romantic love, nor should it be. In fact, our pre-holiday Hallmark consumption indicates that it is not that at all. An estimated 190 million valentines are sent each year, with about 95 million of those being sent to family members other than a spouse (like a parent or a child). Half of the consumption, then, is spent to share our feelings of platonic or familial love! How amazing!
To generously paraphrase Shakespeare, King of Love Sonnets, if Valentine’s Day is already your holiday of love, love on! But if you have shunned this holiday in the past, I would beg you to reconsider.
Love is not solely confined to romantic love, and we should not limit the sharing of our feelings of affection to our romantic partner, when and if we choose to have one. Valentine’s Day is about sharing affection and love for all of the important people in our lives.
This year, send a love note to your best friend, write a Valentine to your sister, pen a silly sonnet for your cubicle-mate.
And to that final group of naysayers, those who scoff at Valentine’s Day with a “we should show our love to people everyday”: YES! We should share positive feelings of affection – of love – everyday. But just as Thanksgiving is not the only day of the year on which we indulge and overeat, or Mother’s or Father’s Day should not be the only day on which we show gratitude for our parents, Valentine’s Day is not the only day of year on which we appreciate the people around us.
Still, I am grateful for the opportunity to send lovely notes, to receive flowers, to wish strangers a happy something-day, and to wear red. I look good in red. If anything, it shows off my pale, dead-of-winter coloring. Which I love.
As the first month of the year winds down, it allows for a nice moment of reflection. Days, weeks, even months, seem to pass by in a blink. While we recommend keeping a gratitude journal – and making it a daily practice – we know that getting started can be tough, especially if you have a lot of other goals and resolutions that you wish to achieve.
This week’s reflection is just as relevant for those who have kept a gratitude journal and those who haven’t. All it requires is that you spend a few moments looking back over the past month, and that you pinpoint a few standout memories from the first 31 days of 2015.
Find yourself a quiet place, and a comfortable place to sit. Fold yourself into whatever position suits your needs, just as long as your back is straight and you can take some deep diaphragmatic breaths. Allow yourself to settle in for a minute or two, focusing only on your breathing. Enjoy the feeling of your belly expanding as you take air in, and, as you exhale, enjoy the peaceful feeling of the completion of that breath, pausing before you inhale again. Once you have slowed your breathing a bit, and feel focused, turn your attention to the past month.
Even if you had a tough month, overall, there have surely been some moments of joy, of celebration, of connection, that can elicit feelings of gratitude and warmth when you look back at them. Perhaps you had a great family dinner just before everyone headed back to work and school after the holiday break. Maybe you joined a running club as part of a get-fit resolution, and you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy conversations with your new friends during long runs. Maybe just this morning you found yourself smiling back at your puppy, amazed at his ability to greet every day with unbridled joy and thrilled that he shares that joy with you.
In your mind, walk back through the last 31 days. If you remember a less-than-terrific moment, breathe in as you remind yourself that it was just a moment within a full, well-rounded month, and as you exhale, let go of your thoughts about it, turning to another, more positive moment.
Allow yourself to smile as you recall moments of loveliness. Smile as you remember laughing at lunch with your father, smile as you think about getting a hug from your friend, smile when you remember how proud you were when you finally made a perfect poached egg. Big or small, these moments made up the happy parts of your month. Smile as you think of them, and continue to breathe deeply.
After a few minutes, or when you feel ready, take a final few deep breaths, and open your eyes. Spend a few minutes jotting down the strongest, most positive memories, the ones that made you smile most. We recommend keeping track of these memories in a hand-written notebook (ideally one specifically for writing down highlights of 2015, and gratitudes from the year; you’ll love looking back on it in 2016). But even keeping a running Word document on your laptop will make for a nice repository of memories.
Try this meditation on the last day of each month. Give yourself permission to make mistakes or work with your calendar; if you end up running through your memories a day early or a day late, that’s fine!
Just be sure to set aside a few minutes, and you will have many happy answers to the age-old question, “Where does the time go?”
It’s almost February, you’re not sure how the time flew by so quickly, and your “I’ll start tomorrow” mentality has led to a list of 2015 resolutions that never came to be. Chances are, you fell prey to one of the following four mistakes we often make when trying to bring about change in our lives. Here, we will help you to identify which pitfall(s) you need to watch out for next time – and provide suggestions for how to get back on track… in time for a fresh start in February!
The Alternate Route: If you’re not sure of what would be a realistic goal, take some time to do research (Google is your friend), ask an expert (a doctor would be best for weight loss or sleep concerns), or write in and ask us – we’ll do our best to help you craft a realistic and healthy plan for personal and professional change. The key is to focus on incremental steps and small changes. For the goals above, you could set a healthier plan to include moderate exercise and smaller, but still healthy, portions, or you could try going to bed 15 minutes earlier for Week 1, another 15 minutes earlier for Week 2, and continue on from there.
Recalibrate: Don’t scrap your plans just because you aimed too high. Take a look at your overall goal and figure out one small behavioral change that you can make to see results. Don’t try to achieve 100% out of the gate; think 5% change and add more from there.
The Roadblock: Your plan to eat nine servings of vegetables a day was great… but by the third time you tried to convince yourself that the two pieces of lettuce on your burger counted as two servings, you realized you weren’t quite meeting your goal. Often, this type of roadblock is the result of underplanning, another enemy of change. If change was easy, you’d probably already be doing the things you want! In this example, you would need to plan meals in advance to be sure that you are getting enough veggies. Living life as you have been probably won’t put you in contact with more carrots on a daily basis.
The Alternate Route: Change isn’t something you can wish for and forget about. It requires planning and, depending on the goal, will likely require regular check-ins. We suggest setting aside 10 minutes each week (or, if necessary, a few minutes each day) to check in on your progress and plan ahead. The vegetable problem above might have been solved if the goal-setter spent time every Sunday night planning and preparing meals and snacks for the week. An hour spent chopping up and bagging raw veggies, prepping vegetables to use in recipes throughout the week, or cooking and freezing easy-to-reheat meals would help our health-focused friend to reach their vegetable goal.
Recalibrate: Stay positive, and assess your situation: how could some easy advanced planning help you to work toward your goals this week? Do you need to schedule time to prepare something, or rearrange obligations to fit it in? How often do you need to check in on your progress? Will once a week do, or should you take a moment every morning or evening? (Hint: to start, we recommend a daily check-in!) Consistency is the key to lasting change. Get used to a new habit by making it a part of your regular routine and soon, it will be second nature.
You did it alone.
The Roadblock: I have a lot of friends who don’t like to share their resolutions. They’ll tell me, “I have them, but I don’t want to announce them. You know, in case I fail.” These are often the people who, a few weeks into January, declare that resolutions are silly and don’t work.
The Alternate Route: Not meeting a goal shouldn’t come as a surprise to people who eschew support. While it’s certainly not impossible to go it alone, people are much more likely to stick with a goal if they have people helping them. Wouldn’t it be easier to meditate every day if your partner did it with you in the morning? And “announcing” a goal – even to just a few key people – has been shown to help people stick to their plan. I like to think of this as a Center Stage effect. If you know people are watching, you are less likely to slack off. I use the Center Stage effect when running. If I stay on a relatively busy road where I am likely to run into people, I am less inclined to stop running or take a break; I power through. Put me on a side street, however, and I’m working stretches into my routine every ¼ mile!
Recalibrate: Pick one goal, make sure you check above to ensure that it is realistic, healthy, and that you have planned properly to ensure success – and then enlist the help of a few friends. The people who care about you also care that you reach your goals and achieve the success you desire. Let them help you!
You lacked confidence.
The Roadblock: If you don’t start, you can’t fail, right? Often, fear of failure can stop us in our tracks. If we lack confidence that we can bring about the change we desire, it can be enough to derail us completely. The good news is that if you’ve set incremental, realistic goals, have planned accordingly, and have a friend (or three) who you can count on to cheer you on, you now just need to tackle what might be the biggest threat to your confidence: YOU!
The Alternate Route: Concerned that you can’t do it? Now is the time to play a little game… with yourself. Look back on other times that you have brought about positive change in your life, big or small. Did you raise your GPA when you weren’t sure you could? Did you lower your cholesterol to avoid taking medication? Did you sign up for a sports league when you were new in town? Have you ever changed a routine, improved a situation, or lessened a stress in your life? Great! Then you are more than capable of bringing about other positive changes, including the seemingly insurmountable ones that pop into your head when you hear the words “resolution.” And don’t forget that focusing on incremental change – taking small steps and celebrating each success – will also give you the confidence boost you need to keep going!
Recalibrate: By taking the steps outlined in Roadblocks 1, 2, and 3, you can likely eliminate a lot of things that might have been causing you stress. And by focusing on times that you did achieve your goals, you can bolster your confidence further. Now, it’s up to you! You’re the only one who can bring about this change. Consider January as a practice run to work out the kinks. Now focus on getting started in the coming month. Just imagine how great you’ll feel when you’re well on your way come the end of February. Good luck!
The Underrated Appeal of Tess McGill: A “panel” “discussion” of one of my favorite movies, Working Girl. (Highlight: “Speaking of romantic comedies, this movie is usually defined as one. But romance is really not the endgame in Working Girl. Tess isn’t looking for a man; she’s looking to put together a business deal. When Jack (a devastatingly handsome Ford) comes along, she initially sees him as a distraction. She falls in love with him because he’s the first person to ever see her as she wants to be seen: This tough, savvy businesswoman. In fact, the woman who spends the entire film scheming to get married is the antagonist, Katharine (played by Weaver). I love that adorable scene of Jack and Tess getting ready to go to work, but it’s significant that the final shot of the film is Griffith in her new office, alone.”) https://www.yahoo.com/movies/working-girl-perfect-movie-gifs-108085849302.html
As Smart as You Look: Jessica L. Glazer, here, sharing with you a WSJ article on the things we often do to appear smart, the things people actually look for when trying to gauge your intelligence, and what really works if you’re attempting to come across as the next Girl-or-Boy Genius. (Hint: Sit up straight, make eye contact, and use a middle initial.) (Bonus: this article comes with an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand infographic!) http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-look-smarter-1421189631
Red, Red Resveratrol: A quick review of a recent study that shows that red wine contains enough resveratrol to “mimic” a workout. Don’t think about skipping the gym altogether, but this might be enough of an excuse to shorten your Friday night workout and make it to the end of Happy Hour! (Apparently, you could also eat pistachios or grapes to get the same effect but… nah.) http://elitedaily.com/news/world/glass-wine-equivalent-going-gym/770635/
As many of you know, starting on November 1, we began the first #thankoutloud project. Over the last two weeks, it has been wonderful to see so many people sharing their gratitude for others “out loud,” sometimes in person (and then reported via social media), but usually through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We even had some people thanking colleagues via LinkedIn!
For me, the best part has been reading about the reactions of those who have been thanked. One person reported back her their dry cleaner was pleased to have been recognized for his hard work and attention to detail; another person shared that her Mom cried when she was thanked for providing such a good example of how to balance professional and personal obligations. And some of those being thanked have chosen to comment directly on the post in which they are cited. It’s fantastic to read those (pleasantly) surprised and (extremely) appreciative comments, as well.
We started the #thankoutloud project somewhat organically – by just beginning to post our own person-focused gratitude each night. We let some people in on the purpose of the project, and they joined us. We put up a post about it, and others started sharing thanks each night. We kept posting, and were thrilled to see people joining in without having been solicited – they just saw the impact of the project and wanted to participate.
My own experience with the project has been rewarding and has strengthened the bonds I have with the amazing people in my life. I’ve been varying my “thanking venues” – some days, Facebook, other days, Instagram. Sometimes the “venue” is based on whatever network the person I’m thanking is a part of, but no matter where I post the thanks, spending a few moments a day crafting a thank you note has had an amazing impact on me. I feel a stronger, more specific sense of gratitude each day for those who impact my life in ways big and small. And this month, I’ve felt a strong sense of gratitude for all of those participating in our little pay-it-forward, gratitude-boot-camp experiment.
Thank you for sharing thanks and for increasing the amount of smiles shared each day. And if you haven’t started to #thankoutloud yet – join us! Research shows that you’ll be grateful you did!
If you have joined the project, who did you feel most appreciated your #thankoutloud?! How did they react? I’d love to hear about it!
I am not a morning person. In fact, I am so not a morning person that, if I had my druthers, I’d sleep through the whole thing and only wake up once the clock hit 12:00PM. The problem with not being a morning person, however, is that the world keeps turning, even if I stay under the covers.
For this reason, I am teaching myself to not only wake up earlier, but to eat breakfast, as well. As we all know by now, breakfast jumpstarts our bodies,helps our metabolism get going for the day, and provides us with energy to make it through the morning.
It took me awhile, but I’ve found a few good A.M. dining options that are easy to make and I thought I’d share them with you. If a bleary-eyed, morning-hater like me can make them with enough time to still hit the snooze button once (okay, thrice), so can you.
Scooped-out Bagel with Light Cream Cheese, Sliced Tomato, and a Chiffonade of Basil
Sounds labor-intensive and sorta fancy; is really easy and… sorta fancy. How could you not feel like getting the day going with those lovely little ribbons of fresh basil!? Chiffonade is not just for the evening, my friends.
Frozen Waffle with Peanut Butter
I like Van’s organic waffles – and Skippy (non organic) peanut butter. I realize that as a regular Whole Foods shopper I should probably have organic, but I just can’t take stirring that oil around the jar. Especially so early in the day.
Fruit on Hand?: Add some sliced banana or some berries
Note for those on-the-go: this is a good portable breakfast, too. I take it along while I walk my dog.
Oatmeal with dried cranberries and brown sugar
If you want to be lazy: make a big batch and reheat it for breakfast the next two mornings. Just stir in a little milk before microwaving.
If you want to be indulgent: stir in half and half, not milk.
I usually wait to have this until after I workout, but sometimes I split it in half, and have some before and some after. I’m crazy like that. (If you use a Contigo metal coffee cup, your protein shake will stay frozen through your whole workout. Just make the shake before you head to the gym.)
If you make one for me: I like ½ a banana, chocolate protein powder, peanut butter, ice, and some milk (as you can see from the picture below).
If you make one for you: try out some of these delicious-looking options: http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-recipes/20-super-healthy-smoothie. Let me know which one you like best!
So, dear readers: Are you morning people? What do you like to eat for your first meal of the day?
How you doin’?: Visit Barbara Fredrickson’s website to take her Positive Self Test. The quick online test looks at your strongest emotions from the past 24 hours to provide a snapshot of your positive : negative ratio. If you sign up through the site, you can also track your results over time. Fredrickson has found that a 3:1 ratio is needed for one to truly flourish. Not seeing the results you want? Look for assistance (a friend, family member, counselor, or trusted person) and take steps to improve your happiness and well-being! For suggestions, keep reading our page! http://www.positivityratio.com/single.php