Thursday, March 6, 2014

Poem: Dancing in the Hidden Sun

I can't stand myself for wanting time to pass
To hibernate during this cold winter
When I know deep in my being
Summer is always Now

The sun shines everyday
Whether you see it or not
Light emulates behind stormy clouds
Dance in the storm!
Rays will burst through

The waiting-game of what's unfolding
The healing
The growing
The reaping of what you sow
Toiling uncertainty and lethargy
Planting seeds of inspiration

I know about those who wait
Expecting a stork to drop a bundle of happiness on their doorstep
One day..
But I don't live in a fantasy land
And neither do you

So what am I waiting for?
How do I shake off this paralysis?
Why do I want to flee the present?
Using future hopes as a shield

Waiting at a train stop
For a train that never comes
I'm already on a bus
Yet I want to jump off
Or drift asleep as it drives through tumultuous lands

As much as I don't want to stay some days
I know the only time and place
Is right here
Enjoying the ride
And guiding myself into the distance

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

30 Day Challenge #3, Part 2: Errrr, I mean the 22 Day Challenge...

When I set out to complete the 30 Day Challenge of No Alcohol, I knew it would be the most difficult 30 Day challenge I have embarked upon so far. Despite this difficulty, I was determined to complete it to the very end.

Until a few days before Thanksgiving...

I really believed I had already thought this one through. I knew the holiday season was not the ideal time for such a challenge, and that this would definitely put a damper on one of my favorite holidays. I weighed all the options and decided to initiate the Challenge anyway, and I had specific reasons for doing so.

But as Thanksgiving approached and I was preparing all the meals and developing my plans... my decision didn't seem quite as wise as it did a few weeks before. So I re-evaluated. I weighed the costs and benefits of completing the challenge, and ultimately decided to end it early.

So... was I successful? Technically, I didn't complete the challenge. But when you consider that 30 Days is a completely arbitrary number, and 22 days is still a pretty substantial one, you realize that success and failure are not so black and white. When I decided to end the challenge, I knew I had already got a lot out of it, which was really the point to begin with. Sure, I could have got more out of it... I could ponder about what could have been and feel disappointed in myself, but I'd rather focus on the learning opportunities! After all it's the journey, not the destination, that matters most.

So what did I learn?

1) I crave stimulation, activity and interaction on the weekends. I have realized that one of the main reasons I pursue alcohol-centered activities is that they tend to be highly correlated with these attributes. Even in the past when I have had a very busy, stimulating, or stressful work week, I always sought out exciting environments as a way to decompress and/or recharge. I'm not someone who enjoys sitting around watching a movie at the end of the week, or laying by a pool when I'm on vacation. These are the types of activities I'd rather reserve for the weekdays or on Sundays as I transition back to the week.

On one particular evening of this challenge I was wanting to do something fun or interactive and I asked the friends in my living room to play a game. The energy in the room was low, and my energy was...apparently unconvincing. Everyone proceeded to watch TV on a Friday night and I felt pretty sad about this. I decided to go to the gym at midnight where I was able to listen to music and read on a stationary bike, which was actually quite fun.  I have since realized this is a much better activity for a Friday night than joining a circle of silent TV zombies. Life is short, optimize you would a burrito! (And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, you and I need to have a conversation about burritos).

2) Alcohol breath is a lot more noticeable and potent than I realized (if you haven't been drinking). Even after one drink, alcohol breath is pretty noticeable! And apparently if you are also drinking, you don't notice how significant your alcohol breath actually is. This realization will definitely encourage me to be more conscious of my breath and to carry gum around with me while I'm drinking.

3) I have some really awesome supportive friends. It was cool to see how many people were supportive and respectful of this challenge. No one tried to peer pressure me into drinking or trivialize my goals. I even had one friend who decided to do the challenge along with me and would send me texts about his parallel experience going to parties where others were drinking. When I was out with other friends who were drinking, I could sense that they were worried that I wasn't having a good time...but I was! It was nice to know that others were aware how challenging this was for me and were able to offer their concern. However it does make me question whether I was behaving much differently than usual, or if it was just other's altered perception of me. I got the impression people didn't find me all that much fun completely sober!

4) Generating presence and energy takes even more conscious effort without alcohol. The good news is, I was able to have a lot of fun in a variety of situations where others were drinking, and didn't feel tempted to break my challenge during any of these times. However, I was more keenly aware of how energetic or "fun" I was, and a lot of the time I did feel significantly more introverted. I was able to be mindful of my experience and make more observations of my physical surroundings, but it was more difficult to connect with others and to have conversations with people that I didn't already have a deep relationship with.

5) It is very possible to have a good time with, or without alcohol! Its really your attitude that makes the biggest difference. If you go into a situation with the mentality that you are going to have a good time, most likely you are going to have a good time. If you go into a situation with the mentality that it's going to be a shitty time, most likely you are going to have a shitty time. Alcohol may make it easier for you to transition from one state of mind into another, but it is not a necessity and does not outweigh the importance of your attitude.

6) Abstaining from alcohol makes it easier to maintain other healthy behaviors on the weekend. But it doesn't eliminate this challenge. Over the 3 weekends that I didn't drink I was able to maintain a healthier diet and attitude of health than I am typically able to. Over the 22 days I lost 5 lbs. But careful: correlation does not equal causation!! I believe my weight loss was mostly due to my consistency with diet/exercise, which may have been facilitated by the absence of alcohol, but certainly not caused by it. My average calories consumed were 1350/day (with a range of 850-1850), and I exercised almost every day for an average of 1.5 hours/day (with a range of 0-4). In case anyone was wondering, I used MyFitness Pal to track this.

Despite the increased health-focus I achieved on weekends, I noticed that my results during the weekends were still significantly less successful than during the week. My weekend calories were still the highest by about a difference of 500, and my exercise was still the lowest by a difference of about an hour. So I can pretty safely assume that alcohol is not the primary factor. I still found myself slipping into unhealthy eating and finding it difficult to exercise on the weekends.

From this experiment I am aware that I have more work to do when it comes to maintaining healthy diet and exercise over the weekends...alcohol or no alcohol. On some weekends I enjoy being able to "take a break," so to speak, and to explore new restaurants, so this is obviously a complex issue. But in general, I could improve my consistency with this. And that's what it's all about: not perfection...but consistency!! A "perfect" week is not as good as an  imperfect but overall consistent few weeks, when it comes to just about any change.

7) Abstaining from alcohol didn't have nearly the level of positive effects I was anticipating. I actually expected that eliminating alcohol would have had a more profound impact on my weight loss than it did, but it didn't seem to vary much from past experiences where diet/exercise was consistent. I also didn't really notice any major changes in my cognition or motivation. I did notice improvements in my mood, however I believe this was mostly due to my increased consistency with diet/exercise. One argument that you could easily make is that 22 days of sobriety is not enough to experience the positive effects of a life without alcohol, and I would tend to agree with you. But all I have is my limited experience and that is what I am here to report!

8) I missed being on the same wavelength with others, and felt like I was missing out on the full experience. There is something to be said about being on the same wavelength with others. Perhaps an inebriated wavelength is really nothing to aspire to, but it is a shared consciousness nonetheless. When you are in a group of people where everyone has the same mentality to have a good time...or whatever it is, that effect is intensified for all participants. The same goes for when you have one negative person in a group, it can bring everyone down a notch. It doesn't mean anyone is going to have a bad time, it just might mean that you knock a little wind out of their sails. I would hate to think that my experiment caused others to feel like they were having any less of a good time, but I did my best to generate positive energy without alcohol. Plus, no matter who you are, your happiness is your responsibility, not anybody else's.

Overall I think I did a pretty decent job maintaining a positive attitude and generating my own happiness in these circumstances. But I'm going to be honest: it's not the same. If I had to give up alcohol forever at this moment in time, it would be a tremendous loss.

9) Alcohol doesn't always equate to fun and adventure. There were days when I participated in some activities that I would venture to say, were a lot more exciting and interesting than some of the activities that my non-abstaining counterparts were participating in. Once again, this life is all about what you make of it!

10) Music and dance can still be deeply appreciated without alcohol. In fact, I'd say No Alcohol+Mind-Blowing Music > Alcohol+Average Music. On the other hand, alcohol can help to dull the pain of downright horrible music.

11) I genuinely love beer for it's taste! Of all the drinks I missed the most, it was beer. Drinking alcohol is about more than just getting tipsy, it's about the experience of consuming it. I consider drinking alcohol an enjoyable ritual, and this is particularly true with beer, followed by wine. I didn't find myself craving hard liquor really at all.

12) Tea was my best friend! Because I was both restricting my alcohol intake and my food intake, tea became my go-to beverage when I felt a void. Tea is also very pleasant to drink, and can be consumed in a social or ritualistic fashion. I would strongly recommend it for anyone that is trying to avoid engaging in a bad habit! At night time I would have a lot of caffeine-free peppermint tea, so even if you are avoiding caffeine this a viable option.

13) It's a little easier to wake up early on the weekends and leave the house if you haven't been drinking the night before. I didn't find this to be 100% the case, but there were some days where it seemed the day got started earlier than usual. For me, alcohol use doesn't have a huge impact on my energy the next day, unless its on one of the rare occasions I experience a hangover. But you can never fully predict this! So I would say this effect is still worth paying attention to, despite it's inconsistency.

Personally I don't think alcohol has to be barrier to other activities, but I may be in the minority here. I have noticed if you have the right planning and intentionality set in can have the best of both worlds!! Just make sure you go to bed at a semi-decent hour, drink lots of water, and then you can still wake up in the morning and go hiking at 10AM! (You've also just slept in a bit too).

14) Abstinence is easier than moderation. For me it's easier to have an all-or-nothing kind of approach, and this challenge reinforced that. When I set out not to drink, it was surprisingly easy to not drink. It's really when you make your intentions unclear and undefined that things become tricky, and moderation extends into this territory. It's also a big part of why recovery (from addiction) calls for complete sobriety rather than "cutting back." Unfortunately some things really are a slippery slope. Once you've had one beer or one bite of cake, it becomes a lot easier to go for another.

15) Life is a balance between increasing wellness and enjoying life to the fullest. Although these two goals are not mutually exclusive, they often oppose each other. Going on a hike would be an example of something that is both extremely enjoyable to me and also very healthy; a beautiful instance of when wellness and adventure coincide. But most things that are enjoyable come at some sort of a cost. And drinking alcohol is no exception. Even if I have a lot of fun while drinking: socializing, decompressing, expressing, building friendships...dancing (things that increase wellness), it still comes at a cost (harm to my body, perhaps less time/energy for other things).

One thing I have continued to affirm about myself is that optimizing health to it's absolute fullest is not my major concern. You could be the healthiest person in the world, but never truly live! There is so much to experience on this earth, and I can't imagine shutting myself off to certain possibilities just so I can live a healthier life. This doesn't mean that I don't think health is important, it truly is, because if you don't have your health you really have nothing. But there needs to be a sustainable balance, paired with frequent check-ins with yourself about whether you are currently optimizing that balance. Then you can make adjustments to your lifestyle as you see fit. I consider myself to be someone moving towards more health and wellness, but in a gradual way, and one that is rooted in achieving an ideal balance between (sometimes) opposing forces.

One thing this experience has taught me is to be more conscious about what I am doing, and to really look towards my underlying values and motivations. If I decide one night I want to go out drinking I want to define for myself what I hope to gain from the experience, and to make sure that I stay connected to those intentions. This type of questioning came up a lot during this challenge, as I would frequently ask myself: "Why am I doing this? What am I getting out of this?" Too often we become more consumed with the goal, than what's actually behind it, and I think this is a good reminder of that.

16) Alcohol helps me be more talkative and outspoken. This could be seen as either a positive or a negative, depending on the situation. One thing I know about myself is that I feel best, and most in my element, when I am expressing freely and energetically! And I did feel a loss of this during my challenge. On the other hand, there were definitely situations where I was talking to people who I connected well with, and I was able to generate this same kind of energy and engagement. It just took a little more effort.

What this translates to is: alcohol is by no means necessary for ideal social interaction, but it is a significant facilitator. Could something else become a facilitator for me at some point in the future? Absolutely! This is merely an observation of what I am noticing right now. And something I plan to explore further.
As for this experiment and my resulting assertions, I know there is even more to process than I can process here. I think if I was to do this experiment again I would write more along the way, rather than try to reflect back on it all at the end. But just because the challenge is over, doesn't mean my exploration is. I will continue to ask myself questions, gain insights, and experiment with new ways of being related to alcohol consumption.

Some of the questions currently bouncing around my skull are: What has it been like to return to drinking? Has anything changed? What insights can I apply to my current habits to make them more healthy, conscious and beneficial? What motivates me to continue drinking? And more!

I have a lot more to learn and explore in this life...that's for sure. But we all do!! So keep exploring and optimizing your existence!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

30 Day Challenge #3: No Alcohol-- But Why??

NO ALCOHOL for 30 Days.

When I first expressed my commitment to this challenge, I imagined I would receive one of three types of responses:

1) "Are you insane!? But you love beer!!!" (shock and dismay)
2) "So what? I barely drink without trying." (unimpressed, wondering why this is even a "challenge")
3) "Good for you! That's a healthy choice!" (encouragement, approval)

Within my own judgments of myself I have experienced all these sentiments and emotions. Part of me feels like this is an ambitious challenge rich with opportunity for growth. But another part of me is kind of embarrassed that I can even call this a challenge. I mean, does my life revolve that much around alcohol that this is going to be a real struggle?

Good--or bad--or somewhere in between, the resounding answer is: YES. Alcohol is a big part of my life.

Now just to ease any possible concerns or misunderstandings, I drink recreationally and socially on average 2x/week on the weekends. I am very mindful about how it could be affecting my functioning and am always on the alert for drinking becoming a problem. I am careful to ask myself questions about whether I am using it to self-medicate or in a way that is particularly harmful. I am mindful about balance and moderation because honestly, everyone is susceptible to substance abuse. It doesn't matter who you are, how successful or intelligent or emotionally stable you are, addiction can happen to anyone. This isn't to say necessarily that I have sustained some perfect balance. In an ideal world of optimal health and wellness I wouldn't drink alcohol at all!

Many people seemed to assume that one of the primary reasons I chose not to drink was that I wanted to see if I could do it, to show myself that I do have control over my drinking. But these type of reasons barely registered on my radar when I set out to complete this task. Call it naive or cocky, but I kind of KNOW I can choose when to drink and when and how much, and don't really need a challenge to show me that.

So then why No Drinking?

For brevity and clarity's sake, paired with my love for lists, I present to you my reasons for this challenge:

1) Assistance with Fitness Goals. As some of you might recall my previous challenge was to exercise everyday for 30 days for an hour without a gym membership. After this challenge I was disappointed that I hadn't lost more weight, despite my high consistency with exercise and my somewhat spotty consistency with diet. I felt that eliminating alcohol would increase my results in the following ways:
       a) Alcohol calories: When you actually start to add up all those calories in an average night of                drinking, you realize it is actually quite significant. The best case scenario is 100 calories per
       b) Alcohol by-product calories: This includes poor food choices made at the end of a night of             drinking, or the following day when you feed into your cravings for fattier foods
       c) Weekend Mentality: When you have an unhealthy mentality, one unhealthy behavior tends to lead into others, and equally when you have a healthy mentality, healthy behaviors tend to encourage other healthy behaviors. The weekends are always a major problem for me in maintaining consistency with diet and exercise, and it occurred to me that perhaps alcohol was partially to blame. I imagined that no drinking would put me in a healthier mindset which might motivate me to stick to my other goals.

2) Questions about Cognitive Effects. Alcohol is bad for the brain. Period. My brain is really important to me. I wondered whether I would notice feeling sharper when I abstained from alcohol.

3) An Important Exercise in Presence. Alcohol is often used as a way to connect with others or your immediate experience more easily. Your defenses are down, your positive emotions are heightened, your anxiety is reduced, and you can let go of your worries with greater ease. Although I think alcohol can be an acceptable facilitator for social interaction and recreation, I don't think it should be a necessity. I wanted to stretch myself to have fun in situations where I would ordinarily drink, I wanted to socialize and be present with others without relying on liquid courage. I wanted to strengthen my presence muscle, so whether I am drinking or not, I can expand and deepen the connection I have to all my experiences, whether under the influence or not.

4) Mind Altering Substance called Sobriety. As humans we all have an innate desire to alter our consciousness. Typically we associate this with substance abuse, or other extreme situations, but in actuality their are a plethora of ways to alter your consciousness. I was curious about what I would notice...observe...experience...feel when I entered into a sustained state of sobriety that parted from my baseline experience, and in specific situations where alcohol was usually an important variable. What happens when you remove this one variable, but keep everything else constant? I didn't know exactly what kind of things I would see or notice, but I was certainly curious.

5) Increase Empathy for the Experience of Abstinence. I have had friends, family, and clients who have had struggles with substance abuse and who chose to transition to lifelong sobriety. A noble and challenging task indeed. Although a 30 day challenge is chump change in comparison to a life of sobriety, it's at the very least a taste of some of the struggles (and joys) of this lifestyle. It's also worth mentioning that many people make choices to stop using alcohol for many other reasons other than having had a substance abuse problem, and I wanted to know what this might feel like as well.

6) A Desire to Expand My Recreational Horizons. Without alcohol I'd have to get creative with my recreational activities in order to fill the void left by some of my usual alcohol-centric habits. And perhaps through this process I would get more in touch with what actually inspires and interests me, and be more motivated to do things I ordinarily don't do!

7) An Experiment to Aid in Future Moderation. Although I don't imagine I will ever give up alcohol completely, I do want to eventually cut back on my drinking due to the various negative effects it can have on your health. I thought perhaps I would experience the benefits so much that I'd be inspired to move towards more moderation after the challenge. I also figured it would give me the tools to embark upon this task of greater moderation whenever I chose to enact it.

8) Improved Mood? Over the last few months I have struggled with some bouts of depression, and I wondered whether eliminating alcohol for awhile could have a positive effect on my mood.

9) When You Give Something Up, Sometimes You Can Appreciate it More. Perhaps I would find my experiences with alcohol more satisfying after living life without it. When you add something back into your life you can do so more consciously and deliberately.

No...but the real reason I did it was so I could lower my tolerance and get buzzed off one beer. HA!

I have tried my best to reflect back on my motivations for entering this experiment as accurately as possible. I do acknowledge that it might have been better to write this part of the blog before the challenge so as not to cloud my assessment of this with the processing and pondering I've done along the way, but this is the best I can offer you. My next post will be a summary of my experiences and observations that were derived from this challenge.

P.S. Beer is still tasty.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

30 Day Challenge #2: Exercise Everyday for 1 hour Without a Gym Membership

Exercise is something that has been an important part of my life for many years. I am always striving to become more consistent with my workout routine, and to find what kind of routine works best for me and my fitness goals. One thing that I have discovered about myself is that I LOVE CLASSES. I first started out taking classes in college about 9 years ago as a way to start my day: Yoga, Dance Aerobics, Kickbox Aerobics, Step Aerobics, Pilates, Body Pump, you name it. I fell in love! Classes offered variety, a structured framework, and the mental stimulation that kept me engaged. When I graduated from college I transitioned to 24 fitness classes, and have tried nearly every class available. I also take advantage of the random Groupon at other fitness studios from time to time.

In recent months I have found myself less consistent with my exercise routine than in previous years/months. In a good month I would often complete 2 hours of gym classes after work ~4 days out of the week. Of course even then I wasn't content with that, as I really expected myself to exercise EVERYDAY. The point is, my exercise habits have always been a work in progress, with some periods being more consistent than others.

So part of the rationale behind this challenge was to increase my consistency. Consistency is EVERYTHING! You could have the most beautiful behaviors for days on end, but if you are not consistent you are not going to experience the results you are looking for. End of story. And like most people, consistency is something I struggle with in all areas of life.

To help increase my consistency, I lowered my expectations in the number of hours that I planned to exercise each day (1 instead of 2 hours), and instead increased the number of days I would expect myself to exercise (7 days a week, instead of 4-6 days a week).

Beyond increasing consistency, another part of the challenge was to see if I could create a successful routine without a gym membership. Deprived of my beloved classes and gym equipment, I knew I would have to get creative.

Part of the reason for this challenge was to save money on a gym membership for a few months. And another reason was that I felt it would help me expand my exercise horizons. And it did.

The following is a list of the exercise that I completed over the course of 30 Days:

Day 1
Solo Living Room Dance Party 60 Minutes
Walking 15 minutes

Day 2
Yoga 30 Minutes
Walking 40 minutes

Day 3
Dancing 60 minutes

Day 4
Walking 70 minutes
Dancing 60 minutes
Moving Heavy Items 30 minutes

Day 5
Walking 60 minutes
Dancing 30 minutes

Walking 30 minutes
Dancing 10 minutes

Day 7
Walking 35 minutes
Dancing 25 minutes

Day 8
Rollerblading 60 minutes

Day 9
Walking 35 minutes
Ab Workout 20 minutes
Running+Pushups+Squats+Abs 30 minutes

Day 10
Yoga 60 minutes

Day 11
2+ hours of packing/unpacking heavy items
2+ hours walking
5+ hours of dancing
(This was at YOUtopia music festival)

Day 12
3+ hours walking/hiking

Day 13
2+ hours walking
6+ hours dancing

Day 14
2+ hours walking/hiking/paking

Day 15 21
1 hour hiking

Abs 30 minutes

Day 17
Rollerblading 60 minutes

Day 18
Yoga 60 minutes

Day 19
Abs 30 minutes
Dancing 30 minutes

Day 20

Yoga 10 minutes

Day 22

Day 23

Day 24
Hiking 3 hours, 15 minutes

Day 25
Rollerblading 60 minutes
Walking 20 minutes

Day 26
Walking 2 hours
Dancing 4 hours

Walking 10 minutes
Hula Hooping 10 mintues

Walking 10 minutes

Day 29

Day 30
30 minutes walking
60 minutes hiking

In total I was successful 22 out of 30 days, not meeting the 60 minute criteria on 8 of the days. I am actually pretty disappointed with the results of this challenge, especially considering that some of the days I exercised the workout was not particularly intense (e.g. walking). But rather than beat myself up, I am going to examine my experiences and use them to refocus my energy in the future.

Some findings that were supported from this challenge are the following:

1) My favorite forms of at-home exercise include: dancing, rollerblading, hiking and yoga. If you do something you enjoy you are much more likely to be consistent with it.

2) Weekends are always a challenging time for me to work out, even though I tend to be fairly active during these times.

3) Overall it was very manageable to complete a consistent work-out routine at home.

4) I still prefer the structure, stimulation, intensity, and variety of a gym class.

5) It helps to start the day with exercise.

6) Doing an at-home plan allows for more fun adventures in the outdoors. I was able to explore hiking trails, and rollerblade by the beach on multiple occassions.

7) Solo dance parties are a lot of fun!!! It's a better workout than many dance aerobics classes and better music too! It's also a good exercise in letting go of self-conscious thoughts, and to improve your dancing.

8) Leading my own yoga routine is very possible, but not preferable to classes. It was particularly difficult to fill 60 minutes in my own routine compared to a class which seems to fly by.

9) Camping music festivals are the best place to get exercise that is both intense and enjoyable.

10) I need to do this challenge again.

I was fairly consistent with exercise, and had a decent variety but I could do much better. Additionally during this time I was striving for a healthy diet which I would say I did well 50% of the time whereas 25% of the time it was mixed, and 25% of the time it was downright horrible. Over the course of the challenge I lost up to 4 lbs, but ended up only losing a net weight of 1 lb by the end. Very disappointing...

I'm actually embarrassed to share this on a certain level, but my desire for scientific inquiry, authenticity and honesty outweighs my desire to avoid embarrassment. It's possible that a small amount of the variance is from muscle gain, but I have no way of going back and measuring that now. And even if there was some muscle gain that explains why I didn't lose very much weight in my efforts, I imagine the possible impact was very modest (~l lb).

In terms of my very limited weight loss, I don't blame the exercise as much as I do the inconsistencies with my diet. Years of experimentation with diet/exercise, as well as research I have done on the subject, suggest that diet is the most critical contributor to weight loss or gain. So while I plan on continuing my exercise routine and aiming for at least an hour a day, I know that what really needs to change is my consistency with healthy eating. (If my goal is weight loss that is.)

Which leads me to my next challenge...


Try to contain your gasps of disbelief and horror.

Until next time....cheers!!! *Clinks water glass*

Monday, October 7, 2013

30 Day Challenge #1: Mindful Eating

I love new experiences. I love self-improvement and I love experimenting with new ways of being. So when I was introduced to the idea of a 30 Day Challenge, it immediately got my excitement gears turning.

I often experiment with new behaviors: challenging myself to a week of eating as a vegetarian, a week of meditation, or a month of consistent gym visits. When I was a child I enjoyed challenging myself to how many pancakes or pieces of pizza could I eat. (I believe it was around 7). Making arbitrary goals is a motivator for me, and transforms my everyday routine into an adventure.

I was first inspired to try this experiment by a brief TED Talk presented by Matt Cutts which you can view here.

His message is simple: try something new for 30 days. You can maintain almost anything for 30 days if you put your mind to it. (In fact some estimate that it takes 21 days to form a habit, so it just may stick.)

I wanted to begin with something relatively simple, fun, and meaningful. So I chose: mindful eating!

Now before I get into why I chose mindful eating, or the results of this challenge, I first want to explain a little a bit about what mindful eating is (and isn't). Mindful eating is not a diet plan, eating healthy, or even "watching what you eat". You can eat an In-N-Out cheeseburger or a bowl of ice cream just as mindfully as you can eat a salad or veggie stir-fry. Mindful eating is essentially a mindfulness exercise using food, such that when you eat you are present with your food. You become aware of what you are consuming and engage with your senses, attending to the tastes, textures, sights, and smells. It's the opposite of going on auto-pilot and allowing your mind to wander from your physical presence. Mindful eating means you are in the now and are tuned in to your food.

Well, don't we do this all the time? Maybe you do, but I don't! And this is precisely why this challenge was so appropriate for me.

I love food. I adore analyzing the flavors and savoring my meal, but all too often I find my mind drifting away. I have a habit of eating very fast, and before I know it, my meal is gone...all too soon.

So why Mindful Eating?

1) It's an easy way to embed a mindfulness practice into your daily routine. I eat multiple times a day, so this almost guarantees a mindfulness practice. It gives you something to anchor your practice to.

2) It can help with portion control. By learning to eat mindfully, my hope is that I will slow down my eating, which in turn will prevent me from overeating. If I slow it down, I will register feelings of fullness faster and feel more satisfied by my food.

3) It allows for greater enjoyment of food.  I figure if you are going to eat ~3x/day anyway, you might as well enjoy it. Food is a simple pleasure that should be savored!

4) It can lead to healthier food choices. A plan for mindful eating may have the welcomed byproduct of making you more conscious of what you chose to eat in the first place. Or at the very least it can open your eyes to what you might want to change in the future.

5) It can help pinpoint emotional eating issues. When you notice yourself default into mindless eating you can ask yourself: What am I feeling right now? Why did I just dissociate from my food? What led to this? It can also help you be more conscious of the emotions that led you to eat in the first place.

During my 30 Day Challenge I kept a daily log of the things I ate and at what times in order to increase my awareness of the food I was eating and to help hold myself accountable. I was able to record all of my meals and remember to eat mindfully at nearly every meal. However this challenge was not without it's challenges. I would often find myself drifting away during my meal, often due to Internet, TV, or conversation with others. The silver lining is that I would catch myself countless times and refocus my attention, much like you would if you are engaging in a meditation practice. I once heard the analogy of treating the mind like a wandering puppy. If the puppy wanders you don't yell at the puppy, but rather you gently guide it back. And the same goes for mindfulness.

During my own "wandering puppy" moments I made a point to observe what was going on during these times, and to identify what might help me minimize them in the future (facilitators vs. barriers to mindful eating). From these observations, I generated the following tips:

1) Eat fresh, healthy food. The better you feel about your food choices, the easier it is to be present with your food and the emotions that are attached to it. Also, if there is anything that tastes off about your food this practice is going to be much harder. A few times I ate produce that wasn't at the ideal freshness and it made savoring my food almost impossible.

2) Detach from distractions. If you have your phone by your side, the chances of you completing a mindfulness practice are incredibly slim. Of all the pitfalls, this was probably the biggest one for me.

3) Make time for meals. If you are feeling rushed, you're not going to to be able to slow yourself down. Make sure you set aside time in your day for your meal. And take note of when your mind wants to default to "I'm in a rush, I'm in a rush" mode. This is a natural impulse I notice in myself during a variety of activities.

4) Eat your favorite foods. If it's food that you truly like, you are going to have a much easier time savoring it...but only if you can resist the impulse to scarf it down. Look at this practice as an opportunity for self-care: to relax, nourish your body, and enjoy yourself.

5) Remind yourself that if you are enjoying your food, you will get to enjoy it longer if you slow it down! It's very counterintuitive that you would try to rush through something that you are enjoying, but it happens all the time.

6) Challenge yourself to analyze your food. What seasonings or flavors are you noticing? What adjectives would you use to describe it? What would you add/change about the dish? This kind of exploration can help you become more engaged with your practice. It can also help you become a better cook or more discerning in your future culinary endeavors!

7) Set your fork down. If you set your fork/spoon/sandwich down in between bites it's going to slow you down, and make mindfulness much easier!

7) Have some self-compassion. It's okay if your mind wanders, its normal. Just don't let that discourage you from practicing. Like I always say: You get good at what you practice. So don't sabotage yourself with unrealistic expectations, just focus on the process of learning. Also resist the impulse to beat yourself up about an unhealthy food choice. This will only drag you further into the depths of mindless, detached eating. (And you know what that leads to, right? More unhealthy food choices.) Rather take this setback as opportunity to tune into what you are feeling. Explore your relationship with food and target potential emotional eating habits that you can address. Do you eat when you are bored? Sad? Anxious? What could you do differently in the future when this comes up?

8) Keep practicing. It took you years to develop the habits you have now, so it's going to take some time to reverse them. It's not enough to start the meal off with an intention for mindful eating, you are going to have to keep reminding yourself throughout the meal.

Even though my 30 Day Challenge is technically complete, I plan on making Mindful Eating a daily practice. It's actually been a goal of mine for years, as I wrote a blog about it almost 3 years ago which you can view here.

At first I was judging myself for the fact that I STILL haven't mastered mindful eating, but then I realized that there is actually  nothing wrong with this. If anything, I should be delighted that I have continued to remain determined to work on it over such a long period of time! And I imagine even 3 years from now I will still be working on it. But such is life! Most things are not achieved once and for all, but rather practiced and maintained.

I will not allow a desire for perfection to sabotage my personal growth. If I forgot to eat mindfully yesterday, so what?! I can get back on track today! So keep on munching mindfully!

Monday, March 18, 2013

100 Coping Skills

100 Coping Skills

1)      Listen to music

2)     Go for a walk

3)      Take a relaxing bath or shower

4)     Drink some tea

5)     Deep breathe (5 counts in, 5 counts out)

6)     Call/text a friend

7)      Meditate

8)     Stretch

9)     Think about something you are grateful for

10)  Make a list of things you are grateful for

11)    Watch a funny video

12)   Eat your favorite snack while savoring the flavors

13)    Take a nap

14)   Journal (write your thoughts/feelings)

15)   Write poetry

16)   Read a book

17)    Cook or bake

18)   Dance

19)   Sing or play an instrument

20) Hug someone

21)   Express yourself creatively through art (e.g. drawing, coloring, painting)

22)  Smile

23)   Use positive affirmations (e.g. “I can do this, I am a capable person”)

24)  Plan something fun to look forward to in future

25)  Surf the Internet

26)  Watch your favorite TV show

27)   Play a board game or cards

28)  Play video games

29)  Take pictures

30)   Exercise (e.g. running, yoga)

31)    Set a positive intention for the day (e.g.” Today is going to be a good day.”)

32)   Take moment to notice something beautiful (e.g. focus on the colors/textures of an object, gaze up at the sky)

33)   Pray, or contemplate on your hope

34)  Light a candle and relax

35)   Write a letter (to yourself or someone else)

36)   Focus on self-compassion (i.e. how would I talk to myself if I were talking to a good friend?)

37)   Name your emotion, allow yourself to observe the emotion without judgment

38)   Cry

39)   Clean or organize something

40)  Go to a park

41)   Compliment someone

42)  Express your thoughts/feelings to someone

43)  Review old photos of positive memories

44) Paint your nails

45)  Spend time with a pet

46)  Do a relaxation exercise

47)  Redirect negative thoughts to more balanced thoughts

48)  Find the silver lining in a negative situation

49)  Help someone else

50)  Eat something healthy & refreshing (e.g. fruit, vegetable)

51)   Ask for help or support

52)  Accept and become aware of what you cannot control in a situation, and focus on what you can control

53)   Brainstorm or problem solve for possible solutions

54)  Contemplate on your meaning/purpose/values

55)  Use guided imagery (e.g. imagine a relaxing, pleasant scene)

56)  Collect rocks, shells

57)   Make a list of your choices in a situation

58)  Attend a self-help group

59)  Create a schedule for your day

60)  Spend time with someone positive

61)   Sit in a hot tub, sauna or pool

62)  Read inspirational quotes

63)   Read self-help articles or books

64)  Name 3+ of your positive attributes

65)  Take care of your physical appearance (e.g. do your hair/makeup)

66)  Take responsibility for your part of a problem

67)   Make a difficult situation into a learning experience, focus on the learning opportunity

68)  Visit a pet store, animal shelter or feed animals outdoors

69)  Aromatherapy (e.g. smell something pleasant and inhale deeply)

70)   Go for a drive

71)    Sew or knit

72)   Think of all the people who love/care about you

73)   Do a puzzle, word search etc

74)  Go out to eat

75)   Have a picnic

76)   Go to the library

77)   Make a collage (e.g. make an inspiration board of your future goals)

78)   Squeeze a stress ball (or a pillow etc)

79)   Express your appreciation/gratitude to someone

80)  Read jokes or comics

81)   Read a magazine

82)  Ask yourself: “What do I need right now?” and take steps towards it

83)   Go window shopping

84)  Create a specific plan of action

85)  Chew gum

86)  Go people watching

87)   Go to a museum

88)  Garden

89)  Think of something you accomplished that you are proud of

90)  Focus on being in the present moment (rather than being in the past or future)

91)   Write a blog

92)  Make a list of your personal coping skills

93)   Play a sport

94)  Volunteer

95)  Catch yourself when you are over-thinking something

96)  Write a thank-you card to someone

97)   Wash dishes

98)  Get a massage (or self-massage)

99)  Be with nature (e.g. forest, beach)

100) Contemplate on love (love for self, for others, the world)