Victory Rituals and the life-changing list

Photo: TASTEdaily.com

Photo: TASTEdaily.com

I’m blessed and cursed to have my brain. I learn quickly, so I get bored very easily. I’m a skilled organizer and rarely lose anything, but I break out in hives around clutter. I’m an over-achiever, so I always have a running list of no less than 20 goals I want to accomplish. All good, but all very exhausting.

So when I read about the opportunity to be part of the Victory Rituals beta group – a program designed to help participants focus on and achieve one of their goals – I eagerly signed up. With so many items on my “to accomplish” list, I was overwhelmed and ineffective. I’d focus on one goal for a week or so, then divert my attention to another, ending up with a bunch of big and small half-baked projects. Not very motivating or fulfilling.

The beta
Led by Nicole D’Alonzo of TASTEdaily (if you haven’t checked out this site, do it. Like now.), the beta has consisted of two 30- to 45-minute video workshops to date. The first focused on optimizing your morning routine so you can practice those Victory Rituals that will get you to your goal(s). Nicole offered up tips on identifying your long-term goal, then establishing your daily trifecta – those three things you want to accomplish for the day.

The second workshop focused on getting enough sleep so you can be truly productive, as well as the benefits of rituals. By becoming habits, rituals open up space in our minds so we can focus on the bigger picture. And as we work toward the big picture, we get that motivation and fulfillment those day-to-day tasks just don’t deliver.

So here’s what I did and didn’t do
I decided to focus in on exercising consistently, preparing healthy meals and fitting in time for relaxation as part of a larger goal to become healthier physically and mentally. The first few days after the workshop #1, I was gung ho, setting and accomplishing my trifecta each day. Then I lost steam. My overachieving side was fighting back.

“What about writing that book? When are you going to that?” It taunted.

“And how are you going to get that Project Management Professional certification if you’re busy exercising and relaxing. Seriously, relaxing? You have too much to accomplish to do that!”

But rather than give in, I got out a sheet of paper and wrote down all the goals whirling around in my head. Then I ordered them, with 1 being the most important. And I made a deal with myself. I wouldn’t even think about #2 until I did something that day to work toward #1. And #3 would be but a shadow in the back of my mind until I did something to get me closer to #2 that day. And so on.

By prioritizing my goals, I gave myself the mental room I needed to work – or not work – toward them each day and make actual headway.

The results: I’m down seven pounds, physically stronger and less anxious, and I can finally prepare a healthy dinner for myself without setting off the fire alarms. Success!

While I’m still not a morning person (sigh), Victory Rituals did set me in the right direction toward achieving my goals.

Interested in creating and working toward your own Victory Rituals? Get on the waitlist for the program’s official launch.

My holiday sanity toolbox

toolboxHappy holiday season, all! What a few weeks it’s been. I’m in the midst of transitioning from my current job to a new one, studying for a big financial licensing test that I must pass in order to keep said new job and taking a writing class while blogging, working out, holiday shopping and trying to get in quality time with my husband and dogs. Add in recovering from an emergency gallbladder surgery.

I’m exhausted just writing it all.

Thankfully, I have compiled what I call a sanity toolbox, items that help me stay on track mentally, physically and spiritually. Take a look – I hope you’ll discover something new that helps you navigate this wonderful, but crazy, season.

Weekly planner printable
While I depend on my iPad and iPhone for daily scheduling, I love using this free printable (thanks, Defrump Me for sharing it) on Sundays to visually lay out my week. There are spots for calendar items, your weekly goals, notes, even meal planning. I pin it on my fridge Sunday night and am ready to go.

Weekly Planner

Pure Barre
This low-impact workout is huge right now – for good reason. In just 55 minutes, you get a full-body toning workout (the Jello-y limbs and major muscle aches after your first few workouts are proof) that puts your arms, legs, butt and entire core to the test. I’m a new devotee. It’s fun, challenging and yields major results with a minor time investment.

Mini notebooks
I have a slight (okay, huge) obsession with pretty notebooks, and when I saw these at Target, I snatched them right up. They’re super cute, with great quotes and some sparkle, and their small size makes them perfect for tossing into my purse, nightstand, glove box… everywhere. And you can’t beat the $3.99 price tag for three. I jot notes in them, ideas for blog posts or stories, my food logs and basically anything else that’s floating around in my head. Then I can go back to them later, when I have time, and quickly find information.

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Fitbit
There are a lot of wearable technology options out there that track health data, but the Fitbit Flex is just right for me. I wear the waterproof armband around the clock, tracking my steps, activity levels and even sleep patterns. On the online dashboard, I can add notes and track my weight and calorie intake. At the end of each week, Fitbit emails me a progress report summarizing my data. Having this information at my fingertips encourages me to take more steps throughout the day and allows me to keep an eye on my overall health so that I can nip those out-of-whack habits – known to rear their ugly heads when I’m stressed – in the bud.

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Q&A A Day Five Year Journal
I love to journal, but don’t have the time to devote to it most days. I don’t have this journal yet, but am hoping, ahem, Santa sees this and slips it under the tree. It seems like a fantastic alternative, posing one fun question each day that you can answer in just a couple sentences. It’s a great way to record your thoughts, opinions and priorities without taking the time to write long journal entries.

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Evernote
I’m a huge lists person, which makes Evernote invaluable. It allows me to create, access, edit and/or share to-do lists, lists of books I want to read or songs I want to download, notes to myself, recipes, training plans and interesting articles I’ve found, as well as record voice reminders – and it can all be tagged and searched so I can find it quickly when I’m on the go.

What are your go-to tools? Share below!

(Image via)

4 ways writing is like working out (and the best writing tips I’ve heard/read/seen)

writing-exerciseAlong with working out, writing is one my biggest de-stressors and one of my chief sources of happiness. And like exercising, when I haven’t done it in a while, I start to feel twitchy. I often have to force myself to do it. Then, once I have, I’m happy as a clam and wondering why I don’t do it more often.

Last month, I started attending a bi-weekly memoir writing class. I love it. The class is small (only six people), so there is a lot of one-on-one attention and opportunities for sharing my work and receiving valuable feedback. Most importantly, the class has re-ignited my writing spark and filled my head with story ideas.

In class last week, my teacher shared some writing tips, and I realized they weren’t all that different from advice I’ve received around starting – and sticking to – an exercise regimen.

1. You just have to do it
My writing teacher kicks off each class with a free writing exercise. She provides a passage for us to read, then we write for 10 minutes about whatever comes to mind. There are two rules: you can’t stop writing and no editing. What results appears to be a stream-of-consciousness mess at first, but if you take a closer look, you can usually find a gem – a great idea, the germ of a longer story, or something you want to explore more.

The same goes with establishing an exercise habit. You just have to start. You may not know what types of movement you enjoy most, or what will yield the best results for reaching your goals, but starting will get you on the path to finding out.

2. The first draft will be crappy
In Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott writes (and I love her even more for it), “Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts… There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”

Likewise, your first workout will likely straight up suck. Your muscles will ache. You may have to cut it short because your lungs feel like they’re on fire. You might find that your running speed isn’t anywhere in the vicinity of what it used to be, or that you can’t lift half the weight you once could. Don’t banish your workout gear to the back of your closet. The second workout will be better, and the third, even better than that.

3. You have to switch things up
To become a stronger writer, you have to step out of your comfort zone. Try writing in a different voice or on a different platform, read a book outside of your typical genre, or do a writing exercise that challenges you to think in a new way.

On the exercise front, you have to do the same. If you do the same workout over and over, your body will get used to it and will consume less energy. Challenging your muscles and stamina in new ways will allow you to continually achieve new PRs – and see major results.

4. It’s quality, not quantity, that matters
One of my favorite bloggers, Jeff Goins, writes, “History remembers our words not for how much we said, but for the weight of what we said. Take the Gettysburg Address, for example. One of the most famous speeches in American history, this brief oration delivered by the sixteenth president clocks in at just under five minutes… Great communicators present their points in the most concise and challenging way possible.” One powerful sentence goes a much longer way than a paragraph of sentences that skip around the point.

In the fitness world, we’re hearing more and more about fast workouts – the seven-minute workout and Dr. Oz’s highly publicized 20-minute workout, to name just a couple. Research has found that a short blast of intense exercise can rev up your metabolism for the entire day, more so than a longer, slow and steady workout. I put this theory to the test this week with treadmill workouts featuring major spikes in speed and incline. Ten minutes into my 20-minute workout tonight, I was sweating more than I ever have during my typical 40-minute power walk.

Do you have any great writing and/or exercise tips to share? Did I forget any key similarities? Let me know!

(Image via)

Fading fast

Photo: pastoralyn.wordpress.com

Photo: pastoralyn.wordpress.com

Last month, Energy Project CEO and Founder Tony Schwartz appeared on seemingly every news station after publishing his article, “Relax! You’ll be more productive” in the Opinion section of the New York Times. His hypothesis: we can’t work like computers, quickly, for long periods of time, juggling multiple functions, and still be effective and engaged. Instead, we’re most productive when we alternate between expending and renewing four types of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

So rather than try to squeeze all the work out of us that they can, employers should be striving to meet our four areas of need so that we are inspired, focused and, ultimately, producing better-quality work.

As someone who experiences the former on a day-to-day basis, I liked what I was hearing.

I visited the Energy Project website to learn more and decided to take the energy audit – a 20-question assessment that helps determine how effectively you’re managing your four sources of energy.

Survey says? I’m 30 percent energized (a.k.a. burned out). My four types of energy are all “fading.” As a former straight-A student, this did not bode well with me. I’ve flunked… in life?

The assessment includes suggestions for re-energizing my life, recommending I start at the physical level, which is the “foundation for the other dimensions of energy, and where it is easiest to make concrete changes.”

I’ve increased my workouts, and, unsurprisingly, they’ve helped lift my energy levels and keep stress and anxiety at bay.

But they haven’t magically changed my workplace.

Luckily, I currently happen to be reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, another written work generating major conversations. Sandberg discusses setting limits in her book, telling the story of a colleague who once told her that her boss “would never stop making demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide what we were willing to do. It was our responsibility to draw the line.”

Later, she says, “…long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately – to set limits and stick to them.”

As a person of extremes, setting limits and achieving balance have never been a natural strength for me.

But now, after seeing how my extremes are affecting my energy levels, health, performance – my overall life – and understanding that limits are necessary, rather than an admission of incompetence, I’m going to attempt to pull back a bit and take the time to replenish my energies.

What about you? How do you set limits and re-energize?

Finding peace, 45 minutes at a time

Photo: reiki-energy.info

It was serendipity when a Groupon for a Reiki treatment landed in my inbox late this summer. Emotionally and physically exhausted by recent life events, I snapped up the deal and scheduled my appointment immediately. I didn’t know if it would do anything for me (it was my first treatment), but I was desperate to relax and feel peace again.

I walked into the center and was greeted by a sweet, soft-spoken woman, who led me to a table to lie down. She began by holding a pendulum over each of my seven chakras to see which – if any – were blocked. Given my stress level, I expected them all to be, but surprisingly, just my throat chakra was.

“Have you been having trouble with your throat?” she asked. “A sore throat, coughing, or maybe feeling like you can’t say what you want? Anything with your jaw or ears?”

I thought for a second. “Nope.”

“Hmm. It’s really blocked. Let’s see what we can do.”

She then began the session, placing her hands on or hovering over my head, then working her way down to my neck, shoulders, arms, abdomen, knees and feet. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, relishing the quiet, serene environment. Occasionally, I’d feel vibrations in the areas she was working on and – one time – a jolt of energy. But mostly, I felt just her hands.

Forty-five short minutes later, the session was over.  The practitioner held the pendulum over my chakras again. “You’re unblocked,” she announced.

I didn’t feel any noticeable difference, though a general sense of peacefulness had spread throughout my body. That was enough for me.

I booked another session.

A few days later, I realized that the annoying feeling I had been getting in my ears – almost as though they needed to pop – was gone. And it hasn’t returned.

During my second session a couple weeks ago, I mentioned to the practitioner that my “stuffy ears feeling” had disappeared following the first session. She nodded knowingly. “It makes sense. Your throat chakra was pretty blocked up.”

This time around, my third eye chakra was blocked. “Have you had headaches lately?”

“No.”

“A blocked third eye chakra could also mean you’re doubting or distrusting yourself. Do you feel like you’re having trouble seeing whole situations clearly?”

I thought about how burnt out I felt at work. And how I’d begun to wonder if I just wasn’t cut out to manage a team. “Wow. Yeah.”

“Let’s work on that,” she said smiling.

After the session, I felt peaceful again, and my chakras were all open. The self-doubt is still a little there, but I’ve felt a stronger sense of clarity at the office, an ability to see more of the big picture. Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m looking forward to my third session. The peacefulness I get during the sessions is enough to keep me going back.

Have you tried Reiki? I’d love to hear how it’s impacted you! 

Be not afraid

My new tattoo

The official results letter has arrived and it’s confirmed that the lump in my breast is not cancerous, but abnormal (perfectly safe) breast tissue. To say I’m feeling relieved and grateful for my health is a gross understatement.

On the heels of this news, however, I learned from a friend that her husband recently attempted suicide. He is thankfully okay and in therapy to treat his depression, but the news left me reeling and deeply saddened.

Periods of my life have been tough – some downright anguishing – but I’ve never considered suicide. It’s never been an option for me. Something deep down in me told me things would get better. I can’t imagine not having that little voice, that hope, no matter how small a shred it was at the time.

Both of these events have gotten me thinking about fear. As an early birthday gift, my husband paid for me to get a tattoo – a simple phrase on my foot that, when translated, says, “Be not afraid.” A friend uttered this phrase when I was going through a difficult time a couple years ago, and it stuck with me. It’s since become my mantra at home, at work, at the gym…everywhere.

I think it resonated so strongly with me because I’ve come to realize that fear is the root of so many of our actions (or inactions) and emotions, as well the people we become. When we’re stressed, we’re really just fearful. When we’re anxious, we’re fearful. When we lash out at people, fear is likely the culprit. And when we can’t get ourselves out bed every day and see no hope, fear is usually there in the picture.

I don’t want to live in fear, so I’ve made a promise to myself to practice little acts of personal courage each day, whether it be taking on a new challenge at the office or taking on that huge hill I usually avoid on my running route. These acts won’t change the world, but they’ll change my world for the better. I have no doubt about that.