An Attitude of Gratitude – Weeks 3 and 4

Yesterday marked the end of Week 3 for My Year of Mindfulness. My focus for Weeks 3 and 4 is gratitude. I’ve mentioned before that while planning out my year, I wanted to find a way to make stepping stones into some of the harder stuff. Starting the year with meditation was a great way to ground myself and set an intention for the year. For me, the next stepping stone, is to focus on what I already have and all the things that are going right in my life. The best way to do that is to practice gratitude.

19e97cb0b66fe5672961b0853bb52ab7Part of the point of this year, is to learn to focus more on being present. I’m a planner – I like to know what I’m doing, where I’m going, what I need to bring, where I’ll be 5 years from now, you know, that sort of thing. And I think that there is nothing wrong with planning ahead. It’s a good way to stay on top of things and stay organized and be a responsible adult. However, I also struggle with focusing *only* on the future and where I’m going next and what I need to do to get there. Again, nothing wrong with that, except that if I’m directing all my energy toward the future, I can’t enjoy where I am right now. What’s happening right now is meant to be lived and loved and enjoyed. If I don’t enjoy myself along the way, then I’m always just waiting for the next thing. I find myself limiting my own joy because I haven’t reached a certain milestone or goal yet.

The best way I know to break the thought cycle of obsessing over the future and what I don’t have or haven’t accomplished yet is to shift my thinking and concentrate on what I do have and what I am grateful for. There is so much research out now linking gratitude to joy. And I’m all about incorporating more joy into my life.

Over the past week I have been experimenting with gratitude journaling. In the past when I have done gratitude journaling, I listed out 3 things at the end of each day that I was grateful for. This was a really great starting point for me, but as I kept up the practice, it was very easy to just repeat some of the same things on days I was feeling less inspired and soon I became lazy and just wrote things down without really even thinking about them.

This past week, I’ve changed the timing my gratitude journaling to both morning and evening. Each day takes a full page and looks like this:

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This method has me start the day already grateful and set an intention for how I want to feel that day. Then I end the day on a good note by listing positive things that happened. So far this has helped me really put thought into what I’m grateful for and why and I feel like I am being a lot more intentional with how I want this to impact how I feel.

Going into Week 4, here’s the game plan:

Goals:

  1. To continue to use gratitude to stay in the present moment and find joy
  2. To start to build an abundance mindset – where what I have is enough

Mindfulness in Action:

  1. Start a gratitude jar for the year
  2. Continue gratitude journal
  3. Send thank you notes to people who have made an impact on my life

What I’m reading:

I’m currently still working on Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown, but I’ve almost got it finished. Next on the list, and super appropriate for these two weeks, is The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan.

Tune in next week for an update on Week 4! Do you have a gratitude practice? How do you stay present?

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Practice Makes Progress – My Week 2 Meditation Recap

The second week of my year is complete. I started this second week with a little more of a plan than week 1. I guess the first week I thought, “Oh, breathing and meditation? That’s easy, I’ll remember to take time every day.” Turns out, if you’re not intentional with your time, it’s easy to make excuses.

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During week 2 I focused more on meditation than the breath and used this as a tool to ground myself for the day. I took time to meditate every day for a full week! And I feel…about the same. Honestly, I guess thought I would have had some sort of a magical moment of inspiration at some point during the week. But I’m not discouraged, if anything I’m more determined to keep up the practice. Here’s how the week went down:

I chose to take 5 minutes first thing every morning and either sit in silence, listen to nature sounds on my phone (sadly, the sounds around the house in the morning are usually traffic and school buses. Not exactly inspirational) or play a guided meditation on the Stop, Breathe, Think app. Instead of trying to meditate in bed, where I would inevitably fall back asleep, I moved my meditation spot across the hallway to the home office where I have a comfy arm chair. This works perfect because the physical act of getting out of bed wakes me up a bit more, but I’m still in a nice relaxed state from being asleep.

I gave myself the first minute of my time to really get situated. When you tell yourself that you’re going to sit still for 5 minutes, what’s the first thing your body wants to do? Move. I found that if I get all my wiggling out of my system first, I’m much more focused. So I start by stretching my arms above my head, tilting my head from side to side, shrugging my shoulders a few times, popping my knuckles, finding a comfortable seat and planting my feet on the ground. This works a bit like a body scan – starting at the top of my head and scanning all the way down to my feet, I’m prepping my whole body for a few minutes of stillness.

After meditating for a week, physically and mentally I feel about the same, but I have been surprised with the effect it has on my day as a whole. Initially, I thought that sitting quietly first thing in the morning would just make me want to fall back asleep, but actually I found the opposite to be true. Once my 5 minutes are up, I feel a bit more focused and energized. I’m ready to get up, make a cup of coffee and start my day. By the time I get to work, I’m feeling alert and motivated.

I’m also pretty sure you can’t expect that have amazing results after doing only one week of anything, which is why I plan on keeping up the practice as this year progresses. I’m hoping to slowly increase the amount of time as I get better at quieting my mind.

AND I found the perfect thing to help really make this new habit stick. I recently came across an e-course by a woman named Suzanne Heyn. The course is called The Magic of Meditation. The 30-day course is centered around meditation and using it as a tool to connect with deeper with yourself and transform negative emotions into a feeling of freedom and peace. Unfortunately the e-course was not free, but I decided that this was an investment in myself I was willing to make. And for the amount you get in the course, I thought the price was fair. I’m excited to see how this course helps and transforms my new meditation practice and I hope it ends up being a great opportunity for growth.

One final resource I wanted to share was another new app I found. Pacifica is an app that contains daily tools to help manage stress, anxiety, and depression. The app prompts you at a chosen time of day to answer the question “How are you doing/feeling?” You can choose  between “great” and “awful” then pinpoint specific emotions that you are experiencing. Based on your answer, the app then gives you a couple of actions you can take to help with those feelings. For example, sometimes it offers a meditation, or another action like taking a walk. You can also set goals or track your thought cycles that you feel stuck in. I like this app a lot because it gives a lot of helpful options and it prompts me to take a minute to really think about how I’m feeling each day. If I’m not feeling awesome, it allows me to acknowledge that and then try to let go of the negative and find a more constructive route.

And there you have it! Tune in next week for an intro on what Weeks 3 and 4 will be all about!

Side note: Since this post was a bit word heavy, here’s a couple pictures of my dogs. They like to come and sit with me whenever I take my laptop out to work on a blog post. 20170921_19325420170928_195600

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And it’s adorable.

 

 

 

 

Weeks 1 and 2 – Breathing and Meditation

I told myself when I decided to start my Year of Mindfulness, that I would set myself up for success. If I’m going to stick to it this year, I want to be all in and really do the work. I figured the best way to do that is to set some groundwork and some stepping stones into mindfulness. If I started right away with really deep questions and harder topics, I knew I’d get discouraged and probably not follow through. So it’s important to me to build up to the bigger more meaningful topics.

My focus for weeks 1 and 2 is going straight to the basics with breathing and meditation.

Goals:meditation

  1. To use these two weeks as a grounding point for the rest of the year and to discover (rediscover) this as a tool to come back to when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious
  2. To develop a meditation practice – focusing less on what meditation is “supposed to” look like and more on what feels good for me in that moment

Mindfulness in Action:

  1. To meditate every day for the next 2 weeks
  2. To experiment with different types of meditation (guided, silent, walking, sitting) and different resources (apps, other listening devices, nature sounds, books)
  3. To set up a meditation space and time, experimenting with different times of day in different spots to find what feels good
  4. To use breathing as a way of grounding and resetting when I’m upset, anxious, or stressed

(Side note: Week 1 is already over. In the future, I plan on writing a separate post to set up the 2 week period with goals and actions, then “check-in” posts for each of the two weeks. Turns out, I need to have a more strict blogging schedule, or I’ll never get anything written. Live and learn, right?)

inhalecourage_exhalefear_2Week 1 Recap: During this first week, I set aside time for meditating 4 out of the 7 days. Not an awesome record, but I’m working on being gentle with myself as I learn new things. I did, however, focus on my breath A LOT. I found myself using different deep breathing techniques like Ujjayi breathing (yoga breathing, in and out through the nose, making an audible sound in the back of your throat) and the 4-7-8 technique (inhale through the nose to a count of 4, hold the breath to a count of 7, then exhale slowly and audibly through the mouth to a count of 8) when I felt myself getting upset, while driving in the car, or even when I was lying in bed before falling asleep.

What I’ve learned:

  1. Meditating is hard…and sometimes boring. In theory, meditation is easy, just sit still and quiet and let go of your thoughts. Except letting go of your thoughts is sometimes like trying to play Whack-A-Mole – get rid of one and a new one just keeps popping up.
  2. Focusing on the breath is SUPER helpful. It could be that this one is easier for me because of Yoga Teacher Training. In yoga, the breath is crucial to the practice. It’s even one of the 8 limbs of Yoga – Pranayama. Since starting Teacher Training, I find that I’m much more aware of my breath and my ability to use it as a tool. To read more about why the breath is so crucial in yoga, check out this article from MindBodyGreen.
  3. I’m learning that I’m the type of person who needs to step away from intense situations before reacting. If I’m feeling angry or upset about something, I do better if I take a step back and look at the situation from a distance before coming back and talking about it. This helps me to take the emotion of the moment out of it, so I don’t say something I regret or take things the other person is saying personally.

Goals for the next week:inhale

  1. Meditate every day (the first two days of this week have already been a success!)
  2. Set up a meditation space
  3. Experiment more with different types of meditation

What I’m reading/ Resources I’m using:

“Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone”  by Brené Brown – Not necessarily a book on meditation, but it’s her newest release and this seems like the perfect book to kick this year off as I learn more about myself and how to speak my truth.

Stop, Breathe, Think – This is the main meditation app I have used so far. I like it because it has lots of different guided meditations to follow along with based on how you are feeling or what direction you are wanting to take with the meditation.

Wish me luck on Week 2 of My Year of Mindfulness!

My Year of Mindfulness

20170722_224045Today I turn 27. The halfway point between 25 and 30. And I’m excited! For once I’m not worried about the whole “getting old” thing. (Now ask me when I’m 29 turning 30 and it might be a different story). But In my current life state, I’m excited about what this next year has in store.

I haven’t always been this chill about “getting old”. I remember when I was 22 and 23, I would freak out about being close to 25 and would always say “I’m so old!!” and I would worry that I haven’t done enough things in my twenties and if I don’t do x,y, and z by the time I’m 25 then I’ve basically wasted my life away.

Somewhere along the way as I’ve matured (I’d at least like to think I’m more mature than I was at 22) my mindset changed. Two years ago I joined a group called Real Life Book Club, which despite the name, is so much more than a book club, though we did read some awesome personal development books. I learned about what it means to love myself for exactly where I am and how to stay curious about my life and accept things about myself that I couldn’t change. I did so much growing as a person and I surrounded myself with women who supported me and held me accountable and taught me so much about myself.

IMG_20170904_122422_285Earlier this year I started a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training program. This has turned into another unexpected opportunity for personal growth. Yoga challenges me both physically and mentally. Over the past 6 months of teacher training, I have learned new ways of looking at the twists and turns life throws at me. By digging into old, yogic philosophy I have been given a whole new viewpoint on what it means to be a human on this earth, in this life. I feel like I have gotten a peek at who my true self is, buried deep inside and I don’t want to lose her again. She deserves to shine and find her place in this world.

The past couple of years have changed the way I looked at so many different aspects of my life and it has changed how I have shaped my adulthood – the people I surround myself with, the way I treat myself and others, the very way I want to live my life. This doesn’t mean life is always sunshine and roses and it definitely doesn’t mean I don’t fall back to old habits and mindsets. Living a joyful and authentic life takes a little work every day.

quoteA few months ago I found a quote that said “Honor the space between no longer and not yet”. This has really stuck with me ever since I read it. Growth and change aren’t always easy to maneuver. And sometimes it’s really hard to let go of the way things used to be or how you expected things to be. Especially when you don’t know what the future will bring. The fear of uncertainty can dictate the present moment and make it so that all you focus on is what isn’t here yet. But the space between these two things is where you are right now, in this moment. This space in between is your life.

So going into year 27 of my life, I’ve decided to give myself a new challenge. I’m calling this year: My Year of Mindfulness. Throughout this next year, I will tackle different aspects of my life and approach them in a mindful and curious way. These aspects range from physical aspects to mental aspects to emotional aspects – the whole shebang. I want to turn my life upside down and really figure out what helps me live my own, authentic life. I want to experiment with different ways of thinking and speaking my truth. I want to learn even more about myself, about how I think, about what motivates me, about what outside factors have a positive or negative effect on me. I want to take these things and then learn how to live a joyful life. I want to learn what makes me truly happy and how to let go of the things that I don’t need and aren’t serving me anymore.

As a way to document this year and to try something new, I have started this blog! Go big or go home, right? I know the best way for me to stick with something for the whole year is to have a game plan, so I’ve mapped out this “Year of Mindfulness” with a list of 26 things to focus on throughout the year. With each of the 26 things I’ve jotted down some resources and experiment ideas to try out. I will dedicate 2 weeks to each thing on the list. I plan on journaling throughout the year and using the journal to dig a bit deeper when I feel like I’m stuck. Then I’ll post here throughout each of the two week periods and document what I’ve learned. I think this is the best way for me to really notate a change and keep myself accountable.

So bring it on 27! I’m so excited and ready to dive in and float around in this new adventure in mindfulness…this inspired adventure. This beautiful and messy adventure called life.20170802_201010.jpg