The Science of Giving Up

Why is it so easy to give up?  This past weekend, I was feeling VERY strongly about taking care of myself, trying something new, and doing a series of 30 day challenges to improve my life.  My first 30 day challenge has been practicing yoga.  I am not flexible, my body hurts from a desk job and lugging around toddlers, and I could really use the quiet mindfulness that yoga is supposed to provide.  Last night, I wasn’t really “in the mood”, but I’m holding myself accountable to really giving this a shot, so I pushed through.  It’s hard for me, but my husband did it with me and our dogs were all over us and it was fun and we laughed and we felt better after.  So why did my brain go to such a dark place later while I was in bed?  My inner voice was saying things like, “Ugh, I just don’t feel like doing it,” and, “I already don’t feel like doing yoga again tomorrow.”  That’s crazy!  I stopped myself and thought, it’s a whole day away!  You don’t know how you’re going to feel tomorrow!  Maybe you won’t be so tired and cranky and you’ll WANT to do some stretching.  And really, if tonight was so hard, you can just pick an easier yoga video that will be more relaxing!
First, I don’t know if it’s the yoga, but I’m really glad I stopped the negative thoughts and gave myself a good talking-to, which I’m not normally great at doing.  And second, I really want to understand why it’s so easy for me and others to just quit.  We start diets and exercise routines and online classes and blogs – and then just give up on them.  Why?

So I spent some time researching today and found a few interesting things I wanted to share with you.  Apparently, there are two kinds of “quitters” – those who give up right away, and those who take longer to give up, but still quit eventually.  I believe that I fall into both categories, depending on the subject and what’s going on in my life at the moment.  With the yoga, I was definitely ready to quit last night, and it was only DAY FOUR!  And yet, there have been other times where I’ve stuck to an exercise routine for many months, I completed 4 years of college, I’ve had a veggie garden to maintain for 3 years now, etc.  Perhaps I’m more passionate about certain things and my life at the time is more conducive to completing my goals.

Scientists and psychologists talk about “ego depletion”, which basically means that people have a limited amount of self-control and willpower and it is reduced every time we exert that self control or willpower.  A perceived lack of time also has a big impact on our staying power.  Self improvement projects seem to get hit the hardest, but there is hope.  An improvement in day-to-day focus and an emphasis on the incentive for that project can really help.

Regarding focus, people who can sustain focus in day-to-day life are more likely to maintain perseverance and passion in their long-term goals.  I notice that the more balls I am juggling, the less focus I have, so it helps me when I simplify my life and responsibilities as much as possible.  Mindfulness training exercises, such as meditation, can really help, so I guess it’s really fortuitous that I chose yoga as my first 30 day challenge.

Also, your incentive matters.  People with real “grit” tend to have a purpose beyond “self”.  Grittiness is a personality trait involving sustained interest and effort toward long-term goals.  Grit is also a good predictor of success in career and education, independent of other traits, including intelligence.  Grit is really just interest, practice, purpose and hope.  That sounds simple, but I think an awareness is needed in order to succeed – so often, our lives are so filled with to-do-lists and just basic functioning that we are not aware of how every day matters and how many opportunities we have each day to focus on a long-term goal.

Ultimately, self-reflection is imperative.  I’m sure there are hundreds of reasons why, but I’ve noticed in my life that people seem to be a lot less self-reflective than they used to be, including myself.  Self-reflection is really hard – you have to find the quiet time to think, you have to be honest with yourself, and you have to dig deeper into your long-held beliefs and habits.  Not only is that hard, but it is also very scary.  I’m glad I took a moment last night to stop my negative thoughts, reflect on them, try to understand why I had them, and then create a game-plan for myself.  And that plan is to continue my yoga challenge because if I take care of myself, I will be a better mother, wife, family member and friend.  I love the people in my life so much, so if I can really visualize how this self-care will make me a better person for them, I think I can stick with it.  Although, being a better person for myself isn’t exactly a lame incentive either.  Namaste bitches!

New Year, New Kind of Resolution

I don’t make New Year resolutions, normally.  But this year I was inspired.  I was inspired by a TED talk clip and a Kardashian Instagram post.  Weird, right?

So, about a week ago I was watching a clip from a TED talk that was about “30 day challenges”.  I’ve done these before, as I’m sure most have, on Facebook groups, focusing on healthy habits, weightloss, etc.  However, this guy did all sorts of 30 day challenges, saying that while you can do anything for 30 days, and it will typically become a habit, trying all these new things for 30 days was even more exciting.  Time did not pass in a blur for him – he could remember most days with absolute clarity, truly feeling he had lived in the moment and had been focused and present in even the “mundane”.

A few days ago, Kloe Kardashian posted on Instagram some side-by-side photos of her weightloss, with her message being a focus of self-love and self-care.  She wrote that she was not so much worried about the way she used to look, but on the unhealthy way she was living her life.  She also went on to talk about making a decision to live, not just take a back seat on the ride.  She was tlaking about mindfulness.

As a mom, wife, homeowner, employee, etc, I am very rarely mindful.  I just need to get through the to-do list and the day with my sanity intact.  And is that any way to LIVE?

So I’ve decided to combine the TED talk and Kardashian inspirations into mini “New Year Resolutions”.  I am resolving to commit 30 days to a bunch of things that are important to me, because if I can focus and be mindful on one of those things for 30 days, even that will be a vast improvement to my self-care.

I am holdling myself accountable via Instagram, vowing to post my daily commitments, starting with 30 days of yoga (because most days, my whole damn body hurts from sitting at a desk, lugging toddlers around, etc.)  Then we’ll try 30 days of salads, writing in a journal, going for a walk, organizing a part of the house, and learning something new.  And like the guy on the TED talk, I hope it helps me connect, relax, and take care of my self, so that I can be good for the other people in my life who depend on me.  Wish me luck!

Thankful for my Husband

Happy Thanksgiving!  This is my favorite holiday because it has all the wonderful traits of Christmas without the stress of gifts.  It’s food and family and love.

Becoming a parent has made me a bit sappy.  I have email accounts set up for my babies and I’m using them as “time capsules”, sending them messages of love when the moment strikes.  I’ve already written to them this week to tell them how grateful I am to have them in my life, and now this note is for my husband.

My husband is not perfect.  There are plenty of times when he’s not a “good husband”.  But he is always a phenomenal father.  And I had not expected that.  For the 10-plus years we have been together, I have always felt like the catalyst for change.  I pushed for an engagement after dating for 5 years, then I pushed for the actual wedding 3 years later, then I REALLY pushed for children the year after that.  I literally told him that I was quitting my birth control, so if he really had a problem with that, he would be in charge of the “protection” going forward.  Almost 2 years later, we were finally pregnant.

He was supportive throughout the pregnancy and more than I expected during delivery (because aren’t all dudes useless in the delivery room?  Not my hubby!).  He was in love with our daughter immediately.  I even had to mediate an argument between him and my mother in the first month because of his devotion – she claimed he was not allowing her enough one-on-one time with our daughter; he felt she barreled her way into everything and was trying to push him out whenever she was around.  He is our daughter’s protector and best friend and he has been since the beginning.

Then we unexpectedly became pregnant again 3 months later.  We both freaked out, but it may have been a bit harder for him.  This man takes YEARS to make such life-altering decisions.  But we fell in love with that new life, just like we had before.  My son’s delivery was harder, but my husband was there.  Having two very young babies in the house, always waking us up, always sick, always needing something, was hard, but my husband was there.

People who don’t even know us particularly well take notice of the bond my husband has with our children.  He gets down to their level, he is affectionate, he plays with them, and he shares our duties as parents like a champ.  

My son has been sick all week, either with the flu or some other nasty, ass-kicking virus.  My husband came with us to the doctor.  He rocked and cuddled our son as he shook from chills due to a rediculously high fever.  His heart breaks, just like mine, to see our son suffering, even from something like the flu.  And to have a true partner this week has been such a blessing.

For a guy who didn’t really love the idea of having kids, I am in awe at how amazing he is as their father.  Our adult romantic love is sometimes complicated and messy, but his love for our children is so pure and beautiful.  For that, I am grateful.

We Just Want You to Check In

We get it… You don’t have kids. Maybe you have a dog or a few cats, but you’re basically free and loving life!  It’s no big deal to drop everything for a fun vacation or night out for drinks.  You get to have date nights and romantic weekends away.  So why don’t you ever call us? Just to check in?

Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I don’t want to talk about my kids when I talk to you.  I do that all day, every day.  Time with you is time for me too, as an individual.  So why are you afraid to call me?  Or even text me?  

Maybe I’m not as fun anymore.  I am tired all the time.  I want to know how you are, but when I get a moment of peace, I’m probably going to take a nap.  You are free.  Busy, but free.  Am I asking too much?

My kids are young and have only recently started daycare, so I don’t have “Mommy friends” yet.  And I’m sure that will be nice too, but it’s you I miss.  You remind me of me and you let me be myself, instead of just “Mommy”.  We don’t even have to make the time to hang out – I just want to talk to you more.

Fuck it, I’m going to call you myself!

“Mommy, stop working!”

Guilt.  The ultimate theme of parenthood.  If you’re a working parent, there’s guilt about not spending enough time with the kids.  If you’re a stay at home parent, you may feel guilty about your financial contribution to the household or feel unfulfilled with the title “just a mom/dad”.  But what if we could turn those feelings around in a more positive way?

I have a great job that allows me to work from home.  It’s a demanding job, most of the time, and during our busy season, I find myself working after the kids go to bed or while they nap on the weekend.  I also have to worry about shopping, cooking, laundry, pets, gardens, chickens, maintaining a relationship with my husband, maintaining a relationship with myself, and occasionally seeing family and friends.  I think I feel guilty every day.  The house is a mess, we’re having takeout again, I haven’t worked out in weeks, I just want to cuddle on the couch with my husband, and I am so overdue for a girls’ night out!  But mostly, I worry that I work too much.

When my daughter catches me working in my office “after hours”, the very first thing she says is, “Mommy, no working!” Then she goes through my desk drawers and throws a bunch of stuff all over the floor.  Then the guilt hits; caught again making my job a higher priority than my kids.

We used to have a nanny, so I would see my kids often during the work day.  When my kids recently turned 2 and 1 years old, we wanted our daughter to start socializing with other kids and found an amazing daycare provider.  They don’t take younger kids, and financially we couldn’t do daycare and a nanny, so my son is at another daycare facility.  My daughter’s daycare is amazing, but they take a lot of time off, mirroring the local schools’ vacation calendar (including taking the whole month of August off).  So, we’ve been considering moving her to the daycare my son attends.  But although he is safe and happy, the learning environment my daughter is experiencing is so much more amazing and holistic.  We want my son to have that same experience next year.  So my husband and I discussed prioties: do we take more PTO and enjoy our young children while they have an amazing early educational experience, or do we prioritize our careers?  Because of our privilege and hard work, we can actually choose option number one.  And shouldn’t we use that luck to give our kids the best we can?

Most families require two working parents in this economy.  Personally, we could adjust our lifestyle and my husband or I could stay home with the kids.  Although we’re not the “live to work” types, we do get a lot of satisfaction from our jobs.  I think a lot of people would like to “have it all” – career, family, friends, comfort.  Struggling every day to find a balance is normal.

So when my kids demand I stop working and just be with them, I want to stop feeling guilt.  Instead, I want to just put the work aside and be in the moment with them.  And I want to feel fulfilled by that, having no regrets.  Life is short, tomorrow is not promised (add your own cliche here), so I’d rather be laughing and playing with my kids.  Soon, they won’t care so much about hanging out with me, so I better enjoy it while it lasts!

How to Avoid Politics and Religion

​You hear it all the time – when you’re gathering with family for the holidays, going on a first date, getting a drink with colleagues – it’s best to avoid discussions of politics and religion.  On a grander scheme this means; don’t talk about things that make people uncomfortable.  So how do we avoid it?  Can we avoid it?  Should we avoid it?  And with everything being related to some social media outlet or another these days, how much should we emotionally invest in discourse with strangers over uncomfortable subjects?

I challenge you to “bring it”.  It’s hard, it’s frightening, it can even make you feel like you’re losing brain cells.  But what’s the alternative?  That nobody’s opinions ever be challenged?  That people are no longer asked to grow and change?  To evolve?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that a simple online “conversation” or talking with a relative over a beautiful holiday meal is going to be a life-altering event for most people, most of the time.  People don’t like change, especially if we are asking people to change their set belief system, which is something that has grown and developed with them since birth.  But maybe it’s time to adjust our approach.  Maybe the white girl bringing home her new Asian/African/insert-your-minority-of-choice-here boyfriend doesn’t have to change the minds and hearts of her aging grandparents who still believe that mixing races is a bad thing.  Maybe the homosexual young man introducing his partner to his work colleagues doesn’t have to convince the Christians in the group that there’s nothing wrong with his “lifestyle”.  Maybe it’s time to look to the fringes.  The people “on the fence”.  The kids in the room looking for role models.

If we are to take that approach, maybe we can have some positive impact.  As a parent, I believe in the next generation.  I believe it’s our chance to make things right for this country and this world because, thankfully, kids are flexible.  And as someone who identifies as a tree-hugging hippie bleeding heart liberal, I know my strong opinions are easily met by others with strong (opposing) opinions and that those people are not as willing to truly hear what I’m saying.  But what about the people around you?  Maybe people listening to your debate are undecided and hearing the two sides of the argument is educational for them.  Maybe it makes them want to learn more, to find information for themselves, to think critically and reach their own conclusions.

It’s easier to become mad and defensive and to shut down.  It’s easier to see a friend or family member’s online post that is in direct opposition to your views as a personal attack and a reason to remove them from your “friend” list.  It’s easier to shake your head angrily, remind yourself why you never bother talking to them about such things, and let it bother you for hours or days on end.  Perhaps, instead, we can see it as an opportunity to share.  To share our experiences, information we’ve gathered, or to link those people with other people who are better equipped to have the conversation.  And if you can’t impact the person you’re speaking with, look to the fringes.  Who is watching?  Can you calmly and intelligently voice your opinion in a way that leaves them wanting more?  Can you spark that desire to learn, decide, and then become another advocate for your cause?

Because you know who can?  The “alt-right”, the Neo-Nazis, the terrorists.  Of course, there is a different motivation for feeding impressionable minds with bits of hate to convert them to a specific cause.  But can’t those of us who preach love and peace and unity learn something from this?  Shouldn’t we be recognizing opportunities to feed those minds with bits of love, acceptance and respect?  Shouldn’t we be setting an example by volunteering, showing up to vote, getting involved in local politics, attending worship services that invite spirituality and equality, becoming a foster parent, joining the armed forces to protect American freedoms for all, and a whole host of other vital ways to better spend our time?

In the digital age, all we want to do is surf the internet, post an article on social media that has not been fact-checked (but goes along with our belief system, so it must be right), and then argue about it with friends, family and perfect strangers.  I challenge you to “bring it”.  Find a news source that is at least a little bit impartial, do your own extensive research to learn about issues that intrigue you, share that information in a way that is meaningful and impactful, and then actually do something about it.

So how to avoid politics and religion?  You can’t.  They are the building blocks of civilization, for better or for worse.  However, you can change the way you approach these and other uncomfortable subjects, which in turn may inspire others to change as well.  And if we can do that, we’ve already taken the next step to enlightenment and a true connection with our fellow man.

Kids Connected to the Earth

I was in the supermarket a while back, and a girl in her late teens was ringing me up.  She got to some of my produce, and couldn’t identify a turnip.  I made light of the situation and we laughed, but inside my head, I was thinking about how sad that is.  It seems that every year, America grows to be more urban (as of the 2010 census, 80.7% of the U.S. population lived in urban areas).  And even though I consider my town more rural (we have chickens and veggie gardens, there are farms nearby, and some neighbors have pigs and sheep that get loose and walk around the streets in my immediate area), there is convenient shopping available 10-15 minutes in most directions and some suburban neighborhoods scattered around.  And perhaps I should not have been shocked, but I feel sadness for those who do not get to experience our natural world in a way that allows them to identify a simple turnip.

I am more fortunate than most in this regard.  My grandparents had a lovely vegetable garden on their 1 acre lot in Acushnet, MA.  My husband tells stories of the gardens his parents tended during his formative years as well.  My mother loves horses, so she had one boarded in a neighboring town for most of my childhood and adult life.  My father would take my brother and I on “nature walks”, where we hiked through the woods, spent hours exploring tidal pools at local beaches, and made games of identifying the trees, flowers, and critters we encountered.  When my husband and I first lived together, we rented an apartment on a dead-end street in one of the bigger towns in Rhode Island.  We were on the second floor and created a “fire escape garden”, putting potted tomatoes and peppers on the fire escape at our bedroom window – luckily, there were no fires that would have required us to toss our plants to the ground as we hurried from the building!

And then it was our dream to own a home with some land so we could grow our own veggies on a much bigger scale.  We found a great neighborhood of 1 acre lots where it was kid-friendly, dog-friendly, garden-friendly, and eventually, chicken-friendly.  We have a strawberry patch, raspberry and blackberry bushes, two raised garden beds full of veggies, five laying hens that give us deliciously fresh eggs every day, and two silly dogs to keep an eye on everything.  And although it’s a lot of work, I can’t begin to describe the feelings of joy when I see  my daughter run out to the chicken coop to look for eggs.  She eats all the berries, straight from the bushes, before they make it into the house.  She’s had a tomato on our kitchen floor, eating it like an apple, when she was about 15 months old.  Our son, who’s a bit younger, loves to crawl around in our yard and get messy.  He watches the chickens with awe.  I am fortunate enough to see every day how my hard work has provided my children with a connection to the earth.

If you don’t think this connection is important, just look at what is happening in America today.  At how little respect people have for this precious earth.  At how little knowledge we have of how out ancestors lived and thrived before Walmart, Peapod and Amazon.  Now, I don’t want anyone to take away my electricy and running water, but the earth is all about balance, and we should try to give our children some idea of how important the planet is.  That could be as simple as taking care of a goldfish, growing a small plant or flower indoors, taking a trip to some hiking trails or the beach, visiting a wildlife sanctuary or zoo, or finding a bit of land to plant a tomato, watch it grow, and be rewarded for our hard work with the fruit it bears.  Children are naturally curious and have so many questions about the world around them.  Indulge them!  Spoil them in knowledge of our planet, our ecosystem, our food system, and our connection to it all!  I know I thank my parents for it, and hopefully my kids will thank me some day too.  Or at least know what a turnip is.

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