self care

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Wine & Words 2019 Comes to an End

Today Sara, Shannin, and I head home from our Wine & Words Writing Treat in Branson, Missouri. We’ve had a lovely and productive time since we arrived on Wednesday. Each of us tackled a range of writing and work related projects ranging from a scholarly article on “Pretty Little Liars” to freshman composition syllabuses.

We “pommed” religiously, more or less, in keeping with the practice we’ve established through our Facebook writing group called Write-ins for Academics. “Pomming” is the term we use to describe our way of keeping our butts in the chair when writing. It’s a tried and true method of increasing productivity and efficiency called the Pomodoro Technique. Essentially, you work in 25 minute increments, followed by 5 minute breaks. That’s one “pom.”

You’re not supposed to do more than 4 consecutive poms without taking at least a 30 minute break. As a purist, I stick to the 25/5 model for pomming though some in WIFA (Ha! Now we have an acronym so we’re officially official!) are known to work in 50/10 minute poms. I knew I was truly a control freak when, as the founder and administrator of the group, I had a quiet little meltdown in my head because people were breaking the “pom” rules of order. (I’m working on that tendency of mine, I promise.)

When I first heard about “pomming” I was skeptical. I was certain I’d lose my train of thought in the five minute breaks. On the contrary, however, those breaks keep me from going brain dead when writing. Rarely do I write to that horrid state of exhaustion where it seems that all the words in the world have been taken. Pomming has also taught me that if you spend even a short time on something most days of the week, you can actually produce something. On busy days, squeezing in one pom, or even a truncated pom (15/5–oh the horror!) yields more than a pomless day yields. I have been lax about my research of late, but I can’t blame it on lack of time.

Like everyone else, I have 24 hours a day to get things done. That means I have 168 hours a week to work with.  If I sleep 8 hours a night (56 /week), eat/cook 3 hours a day, , work 8 hours a day M-F , CrossFit 1 hour a day M-F, and do horse things 8 hours a week, I still have 38 hours a week left to do other things. Wow.

Now, I know of no academic who works only 40 hours a week. So, there’s that. Likewise, I do grocery shop and drive to and from school and CrossFit and so on. Still, that leaves a lot of hours just begging to be used productively.

 

I know lots of people aren’t fans of New Year Resolutions. I am a fan of them because I love beginnings and endings. I love fresh starts and invitations to take stock of how things are working or not working in some realm or other. That’s what beginnings and endings are; they’re opportunities to regroup and get back on track with things that are already priorities and set new ones.

So, as my friends and I prepare to head home from our few days of indulgence in wine and words, I’m reestablishing my personal priorities and planning how best to use those 38 hours that it is so easy to waste. At the top of my list of priorities is getting back on track with eating habits that are in line with my fitness goals. As Coach Ben says, “all the lemon squeezes in the world can’t make up for a crappy diet.” My showmanship pants, which have grown ridiculously snug, or rather I have grown and thus my pants are snug, support Ben’s claim. So it goes. That’s a fixable problem.

This morning we will restore the cabin to the state of neutralness in which we found it and head out. I’ll have about 6 hours to think about my priorities and I’m looking forward to that time. It’s a new year with no mistakes in it yet, more or less. I’ve decided it is going to be a good one.

 

 

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Don’t Pursue Happiness; Follow These Steps to Get Happy!

There is no point in pursuing happiness. That is, there’s no point in doing stuff that you think will one day lead to being happy. I can almost hear you thinking,  “wow, this one’s going to be a downer. No thanks!” Before you stop reading, stay with me for a minute or two. You’ll be, um, happy you did.

I am a huge fan of Shawn Achor, positivity psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage. His Ted Talk is among the most watched of all time too. Here is a link to it.

Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk

In both his book and Ted Talk, Achor draws on research in his field (who knew, by the way, that studying happiness was a thing?) to teach us that there are things we can do daily to increase our levels of happiness. Increasing our happiness, in turn, improves our relationships with others, our productivity at work, and so on. In other words, happiness isn’t a thing one acquires after achieving certain goals or reaching certain milestones. e.g. “I’ll be happy once I make enough to buy a house” or “I’ll be happy once I get that promotion.” Nope. Achor says we’ve got it wrong. It’s the other way around. We don’t become happy once we are successful. We become successful when we are happy.

So, how do we create happiness?

According to Achor, there are five concrete, simple steps that we can do to increase our levels of happiness. When we do these steps, we increase the likelihood that we’ll achieve our goals, which we once thought would make us happy. Instead, being happy helps us achieve our goals. We had it backwards! Those five things are so easy to do that it almost seems too simple, but the research is tried and true.

The Five Steps to Happiness

For 21 days, which is roughly the amount of time it takes to form a habit, doing the following things each day produces the effects Achor discusses.

  1. Identify three things for which you’re grateful. Again, write these down or tell them to someone.
  2. Exercise–just move. You don’t have to become an ironman triathlete.
  3. Meditate for a couple of minutes. You don’t have to be Deepak Chopra. Just get still and let your mind be. Prayer is fine too.
  4. Perform a random or conscious act of kindness or send a positive email or text to a colleague or friend.
  5. Journal about something positive that happened during the day.

Partner Up to Create Happiness!

In the past, my significant other and I have “worked the steps” for periods of time. Not only has the time we spend talking been good bonding time,  but we both agreed that following the steps changed our outlooks on life quickly and in very noticeable ways. Both of us, in other words, felt happier.
Each evening we checked in with each other by going through the five steps. We didn’t write anything down unless we weren’t together and were texting. We just talked. We listed our “gratefuls,” as we called them, talked about something positive that happened that day, and accounted for the other things. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves noticing things to be grateful for throughout the day. Sometimes, I was grateful for little things, like the barista making my specialty coffee just right, or  having a good ride on my horse. Lots of times our “gratefuls” were about each other. What is more affirming than having someone tell you why he or she is grateful for you?
 

Join the Facebook 21 Day Don’t Worry. Be Happy Challenge!

I’ve started a Facebook 21 Day Don’t Worry. Be Happy Challenge group. Anyone is welcome to join, so please visit my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lettersfromthecoffeeshop and join the event: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1932943440349972/?ref=bookmarks
It’s going to be a fun, no pressure, positive, 21 days. I hope you’ll check it out and join us!
Everyone is welcome. Let’s start a happiness revolution.
As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.
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Food is Not the Enemy

We’ve got to stop seeing food as the enemy. Let’s stop beating ourselves up and shaming others, consciously or unconsciously, about what and when and how much we eat. Let’s just do our best to put good fuel into our bodies so we can use them to do things we want to do.

We owe it to ourselves to find ways to be active.  We need to feed our bodies what and how much they need to do the things we ask them to do. Being active and eating well are ways of being nice to ourselves.

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Ditch the Templates; Listen to Your Gut

The Rules of Life aka The Templates

My life has never fit into many of life’s templates so I have learned to trust my gut when making decisions. In fact, many of my best decisions have been bad decisions according to everyone else. Why? Because my decisions have rarely adhered to rules about what one is supposed to do and how and when one is supposed to do it.

High school drop out

People are often surprised to find out that I dropped out of high school in the 11th grade. Why did I drop out? At the time, I would have said I was burned out or I was bored. Looking back, however, what I was calling boredom and describing as burnout most likely was related to the fact that I am a narcoleptic. I would not be diagnosed till I was 38 years old, which is a typical pattern unfortunately, but all the signs were there. It is hard to explain to people who are not narcoleptic what it is like to be excessively sleepy all day, every day. Constantly fighting to stay awake is quite literally painful. Therefore, going to school was painful.

I moved to Toronto where I got a job working at the head office of an insurance company right downtown in the heart of the city. For a few years, I worked in a clerical position in cubicle culture. I made a decent salary for someone without a lot of education. I worked with interesting people.  I also became certified as an aerobics instructor and taught in the company’s fitness center on a volunteer basis. I acquired a few job skills as well.

“That’s where I want to be”

At one point, I took an in-house course on effective business writing. It was taught by a woman whose name was Leesha Van Leewan. Leesha had presence like I’d never seen before. She seemed at least 7 feet tall with a head of flaming red hair, and she moved through space like a dancer. As I watched her at the front of the room, I remember thinking, “that’s where I want to be.” Until that day, I’d never imagined myself teaching. Nonetheless, my epiphany was the beginning of my journey to the front of the university classroom.

I had a dream

The next step came in October, 1989. I had a dream one night in which my friends from high school were graduating from university. I woke the next morning knowing that it was time to go back to school. At work that morning I called several local high schools and found out what I needed to do in order to be eligible to apply to universities. By the end of the day, I had a plan. In February, 1990 I enrolled in courses at a local high school. In September, I enrolled as a physical education major at York University in Toronto.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not advocating dropping out of high school.  But I don’t regret having done so. My 17 year old gut, wise beyond its years, told me dropping out was the right move. And you know what? It was. I know this because I was exactly where I needed to be when my unconscious spoke to me in that dream and said, “Linda, your time is now.” Indeed it was.

When I was ready, I went

When I  started university, I was ready and therefore I was successful. I loved every minute of my undergraduate experience. Was it hard? Yes and that’s what I liked about it. The work was engaging, the professors were fantastic, and the courses were rigorous. In part, because university schedules are more flexible than high school schedules, it was easier to work around what I now know were the challenges of living with narcolepsy.  I loved the process of discovering what I didn’t know I didn’t know.

In 1995, after a change in major, I graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English with a minor in Humanities. I went on to graduate school at the University of Alberta where I earned an M.A. and a Phd in English with specialization in African American literature and culture. After a stint as a post-doctoral research fellow at NYU, I became a professor at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Arkansas.

I’m glad that, even at 17, my instinct was to listen to my gut when making decisions. Some people might see my “I’m a high school dropout” story as an “in spite of…” tale.  They are wrong. It is a “because of ” tale. That is, I am a university professor because I dropped out of high school. My deviation from life’s education template, my bad decision, was the best thing I ever did.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times: if one does not go to university or college directly out of high school, then he or she will never go back. Sure, that may be the case for some people. In my opinion, however, that’s not a bad thing. If someone does not go to college or university right out of high school and never goes back, thus deviating from one of many templates about how to have a good life, it probably means he or she was not meant to go in the first place.

Not going to college or university right out of high school is not a character flaw.  A university degree is not the only way to be successful. The world needs plumbers, electricians, welders, horseshoers, and other skilled trades people, all of whom make very nice livings. University degrees are not for everyone. They do not guarantee success or happiness; we need to stop pretending they do.

I wish parents, however well meaning, would stop shoving their versions of life’s templates down their children’s throats. It’s not just parents who are guilty of template torture though. We all need to ditch the templates–all of them–not just the ones related to education. Even if we live up to the expectations that go hand in hand with the templates, doing so won’t make us happy if our motive is that someone told us we should. As my friend Kelley is fond of saying, we need to stop “shoulding” all over ourselves.

Here’s the thing.

The answers to most of our questions about the paths we should take in life are in our guts. It is wise to seek counsel from others, but when you do so at the expense of your own inner voice, no one wins. Each and every one of us knows what we need. Like Dorothy, we already have the power to determine where we need to go. That power is with us all the time. We just need to believe that we have it and then we need to make sure we use it.

So tell me, how often do you surrender to the power of a template? At what cost? How often do you struggle to make decisions because others’ voices are shouting over what your gut is telling you? And deep down, are you okay with that?

Thank you, as always, for reading. I appreciate you.

 

How to Take a Mini-Vacation

Spring break is just a few days away and I am wilting. This week alone we’re conducting 5 Skype interviews for a new professor and we’ve had two candidates on campus. I’m behind in my grading and I am ready to
 collapse. My students look much the way I feel. We all need a mini-vacation!
 I’m guessing you’ve felt the same way at some point–maybe right now. Perhaps you’re thinking, “”vacations cost money and I’ve got so much to do and, and, and…..”  I understand where that comes from, but stop. Just stop. It’s that kind of thinking that gets us into a state of exhaustion and chaos to begin with. I don’t know about you, but when my brain starts to fire like that I’m pretty useless anyway. I’ve found that the best way to restore order to the chaos in my life is to take a mini-vacation.

What is a Mini-Vacation?

 A mini-vacation does what a “real” vacation does, but in a much shorter amount of time. That is, a mini-vacation is a short time during which you step away from all sources of stress. It can be as brief as 30 minutes or as long as a full day. The length of the mini-vacation is determined by how much time you can legitimately plan to set aside for self-care.
Often, by the time we need mini-vacations, it seems impossible to find time to set aside. That feeling is just another indicator that we need to step back. Everyone can find 30 minutes–even if it is at 3:00 in the morning–to nurture herself or himself. A mini-vacation is less about long you spend on it and more about what you do during it. My mini-vacations involve three steps: planning, preparing, and doing things that make me feel centered and focused.

 Preparation & Planning

When I plan a mini-vacation I prepare for it the night before. Not everyone would enjoy this part, but for me it works. I clean and tidy my kitchen and living area, which is where I usually spend my mini-vacations. I put items of clutter in my “tornado room” to deal with another time and I close the door to that nest of chaos. Not having to look at a nest of chaos, even temporarily, helps me decompress. I have to resist the urge to tidy that room because doing so is not part of the mini-vacation preparation plan.

 Before I go to bed, I set the coffee so it is ready to brew in the morning.The last thing I do before turning out my light is make a list of the things that I feel stressed about–big and small. That’s my way of “storing” my stressors instead of carrying them around as brain clutter. Then, I can spend my mini-vacation, usually a morning, doing things that rejuvenate me.

Let the Mini-Vacation Begin

 I wake up early as I always do. I enjoy mornings. I make the bed–one of the quickest ways to bring a sense of calmness to a space, oddly enough. Then I make a cup of tea in a pretty china cup with a saucer. Tea tastes better in something pretty, in case you didn’t know.
 I usually post on Facebook that I am taking some digital detox time so I don’t feel guilty ignoring texts. Sometimes I spend some time playing on Pinterest. I like Pinterest because it helps me plan and I find planning motivating and relaxing. Playing on Pinterest feels a lot like reading magazines for me–another activity that I find calming– but the content is always new and fresh and no trees die in its making.
 
Mid-morning I make a cup of coffee in my favorite mug. Then, I jot down some goals. I do that in a notebook that I enjoy writing in using a sharp pencil because it feels neat on the paper. I make lists of steps to meet those goals. If I feel like writing, I write. I usually end my mini-vacation around noon–it is important to decide in advance how long your mini-vacation will last .
I find that just a short break from my usual routine surrounded by my creature comforts helps me feel like a new person.–relaxed and ready to get back to work. Tasks like grading usually seem less daunting after a mini-vacation. It’s amazing what just a few hours of  self-care does to restore my sense of balance and control. I don’t spend a dime on a mini-vacation, but the payoff is huge.
If you’re feeling at the end of your rope you should seriously consider planning a mini-vacation. What you do in the time you set aside is up to you. The thing is, we all regain our balance in different ways; it is important to give ourselves the time we need to do that.  None of us can function at our best when our personal batteries are dead. Whether it’s for 30 minutes, a full morning, or an entire day, make time to take good care of you. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.

Why Being Organized Counts As Self-Care

I have always found being organized and decluttering forms of self-care. This is not true for everyone. I remember vividly the day I discovered that some people do not fold their underwear before putting them away. I was in the second grade. I was enjoying a play date at Colleen’s house. We were happily engaged in some activity or other in her bedroom, when I noticed the open dresser drawer.

To my horror, it was overflowing with what seemed like hundreds of pairs of “panties.” (At my house we just called them underwear.) Colleen’s “panties” were thrown pell-mell into the abyss. There was nary a crease line in sight and no order whatsoever to their arrangement. “My gosh,” I thought, “Who are these people? Should I call my mom to come and get me?” I hardly knew what to think.

Prior to my discovery of the state of her panty drawer, Colleen had seemed like a perfectly normal girl. I loved going to her house because her parents were very kind and she had many pets. I tried hard to put the sight of that open drawer full of panties on the loose out of my head and to go on with our play. Truthfully, though, I saw Colleen, and her mother for that matter, differently after discovering that they had no idea how to organize their things. To me, that was a very serious character flaw.

At my house, in contrast, underwear was kept in the top drawer of a dresser. Socks were kept in the second, t-shirts in the third, and pajamas in the fourth. When my mother put away laundry, she folder underwear into uniform shapes and stacked them neatly. I took things a step further by subdividing the stacks into light colors, dark colors, and patterns. I don’t know why I didn’t think to subdivide the patterned panties into light and dark too. I was not to adopt that practice until much later in life.

Today, you will not see a navy pair of striped panties next to a pastel pair with flowers in my drawer. No way. Socks enjoy similar treatment: white sport socks, ankle high, black anklets, black trouser socks, white crew socks, and fuzzy socks that I use as slippers are all folded Mari Kondo style and filed in their respective categories. Thankfully, despite the company I kept as a child, my underwear and sock sorting skills were not seriously impaired. For that I am thankful.

I have always disliked clutter and disorder. I suspect it stems from being raised in a family that, unlike our underwear and sock drawers, was very chaotic and disorderly. My father was an alcoholic. That means that one could never count on life following any kind of discernible pattern from day-to-day. My mother used to say that the only thing predictable about my dad was his unpredictability. It stands to reason, then, that I would try to create the order that our household lacked in the spaces over which I had some control.

It isn’t surprising that I took, and still take, great pleasure in “nesting.” I never had to be told to clean my room because I loved keeping it tidy. Everything had a place. I took great pleasure in carefully arranging my precious collection of dog ornaments–Mitchell, Rex, Prince, and Danny Boy were among them–at particular angles on my shelf so they could see each other and not feel lonely when I was at school. My desk in elementary school and my lockers in junior high and high school were similarly tidy. Even now, colleagues, students, and custodians alike comment on how homey my office feels, which makes

me very happy. I want people to feel at home in the spaces where we spend time together.

Anyone who wants to know what kind of mood I am in or what kind of day I am having has only to look at the condition of my office to find their answer. If I have a messy desk, it means I am really stressed and probably overwhelmed. I have a dirty little secret though.  I have been known to throw caution to the wind, to pack my bag quickly at the end of my last class of the day or week, and make a beeline for home leaving in my wake a nest of chaos and disorder on my desk.

Between you and me, it feels deliciously liberating to leave all that crap behind to deal with on another day. It feels good knowing that I have broken the rules–MY rules–by leaving the evidence of my shortcomings as a human being in plain sight for the custodians to see when they empty the trash or for my colleague Shannin to mock when she scams the key to my office from our administrative assistant to loot chocolate from my Drawer of Sin. (Okay, she only did this once…14 years ago.) “Take that!” I think saucily as I lock my office door behind me on those sorts of days, “Let them think ill of me! I do not care a lick!” Of course, no one else does care a lick–whatever a lick is–because everyone is dealing with his or her own stress in his or her own way on any given day. Whether or not my office or home is cluttered is probably not on the top of anyone else’s list of concerns.

For me, keeping clutter at bay and purging it when it accumulates are some of the ways in which I keep up and/or regain a sense of balance when life is stressful. Discarding material clutter, whether at the end of a day, or in a seasonal purge, makes me feel in control of my work or living space even when other aspects of life feel like they are out of control.  Although I recognize that others find decluttering a chore they’d rather not do, so they don’t, for me, the act of decluttering is a form of self-care. It restoreth my soul, much like an afternoon spent writing or reading in a coffee shop.

It occurs to me that it is probably as, and likely more, important to have strategies for clearing our mental and emotional clutter too. That kind of clutter influences our well-being in ways that we’re only just beginning to understand. As I’ve thought about the pleasure I take in decluttering the spaces that I inhabit, I’ve wondered if I have similarly effective strategies for decluttering my mental and emotional spaces. If so, what are those strategies and am I using them often and effectively enough? How do you “declutter” the areas of your life that can weigh you down and get in the way of your ability to live your best life? What has worked or not worked and how have those strategies changed as you have changed? Please share!

As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.