Life in Flow Motion

flow

Life is busy. Does it ever feel like your to-do list is endless and ever expansive? Like you cross three things off, but add five more? Our days and attentions are fragmented – pulled this way and that between running errands, taking care of children, working, picking up at home, trying desperately to keep up with friends. Monotasking seems like an antiquated, slow moving idea. All the while our monkey minds work overtime in the background giving us a running commentary on how we are doing, what we should be doing, how that last conversation should have gone, what next thing on our to do list needs to be crossed off.

You need a break. Your brain needs a break. You are not a robot. You cannot keep up this pace indefinitely until the kids move out! You will break down at some point.

But how? Well you probably know me by now. I’d recommend starting out by trying meditation. But what if meditation isn’t your thing? I have a dear friend for who the just thought of sitting still for 20 minutes and not doing anything stresses her out even more. But your brain like any other part of your body needs a chance to rest and recharge in order to be able to do it’s best work with positivity and creativity.

Herein enters the idea of flow. Flow is not a new concept. It was coined in the early 1980’s by a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihályi. You may of heard of people referring to flow as “being in the zone.”  Flow usually happens when you are doing an activity for which you  have the skills and knowledge but also is slightly challenging for you. Flow is an active process (rather than something like meditation or relaxing in the hot tub). Your brain is engaged and challenged and you seem to know exactly what to without hesitation. People who experience flow often report loosing track of time because they are so immersed in what they are doing. It is also sometimes called “The Deep Now”.

Here’s the part I think is really cool. The idea of flow has been around for awhile now, but more recently they have been able to study brains of people who are in a state of flow. The original hypothesis was that much of the brain would be active while in flow in order to create such a state of optimum engagement. What they found was actually the opposite. When a person is in a state of flow much of their brain actually shuts down leaving just the part that is focused on the activity engaged. The prefrontal cortex – which is the part of our brain that houses our ego, our inner critic, our constant commentary – shuts down. Leaving us with the ability to be more confident, more creative, braver and focused.

At the same time our brainwaves also slow down – going from the fast moving waves we have while moving through our normal busy days to a much slower speed found between daydreaming and REM sleep. We also get a flood of wonderful neurochemicals. A heady mix of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin. And this optimum state of being lasts past just the time we’re doing the activity. Studies have shown that not only are people more creative when they are in a state of flow, they are actually more creative the following day!

What are the times in your life when you have experienced flow? I’ve been in a flow state while running, writing, drumming, reading. I know my husband finds it when he goes mountain biking or skiing. Often people report finding themselves in flow when making art or dancing. Usually flow is great not only for our brains but we enjoy it, it builds our self confidence because we are excelling at something that is slightly challenging. We feel happier. There are so many reasons to find and make time for flow in your life!

It might be possible to take flow to an unhealthy extreme – to get so immersed in what you are doing you loose track of time and forget to take care of your body or pick up the kids from school. If you find you have that tendency I’ve heard the suggestion of setting a timer so you know when to stop. But when used in a productive healthy way flow might be just the thing to helps part of your brain put the endless chatter on hold and finally take a well deserved rest.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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5 Free Apps For Better Health And Wellness That I Love

girlwithphone

Maybe you’ve heard that sitting is the new smoking? I have had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with technology over the years. For a long time I resisted it as much as possible. I was the last one in my office to get on Facebook back in the day.  It’s hard to ignore the fact that as a society technology has played a major role in moving us indoors more and making us more sedentary – contributing significantly to the obesity epidemic and all kinds of other health problems our nation is now facing.

But as with most things in life the issue of our society becoming technologically driven is not clear cut good or evil. There are of course many great things that technology provides us with. I get pretty excited when it contributes to helping us live healthier, happier lives. I keep an ongoing list of health and wellness apps that I use myself or have been recommended to me by clients. Here are 5 of my favorites that are free:

  1. 1 Giant Mind – If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and like you don’t have enough time a daily meditation practice can help. Here’s the thing though, you can’t use meditation like a band-aid. It would probably help a little  to sit down just on those days that you are feeling particularly under the gun and meditate but much more effective is a daily practice. 1 Giant Mind makes it very accessible, it walks you through the basics of meditation and runs a 30 day challenge  where you unlock more great teaching along the way. I can’t recommend this app highly enough. I honestly can’t believe it’s free.
  2. Fooducate – Fooducate is touted as an app that helps you with weight loss, but that’s not why I like it (you know me, I like to focus on your health not your weight). You can certainly use it to track calories if that’s your gig, but what I like to use it for is as a way to learn about products and get ideas for healthier alternatives. The Food Finder feature allows you to scan barcodes on any products you are considering and then it will give it a “grade” and more information about it. But what I especially love is that it will provide you with alternative ideas for healthier items. Other fooducate users can post about ways that they have used that food. Fooducate does a great job of making you feel like part of a community of people who want to eat healthier. There are paid features to this app, but you can do a lot with it for free. It’s definitely worth checking out.
  3. Runtastic – If you are ready to get moving and are looking for an app that will track your workouts Runtastic Pro is a great option. I used this fitness tracker for years and found it to be really user friendly and accurate. It used to be that this tracker was just for running and walking, but now you can track all kinds of activities from rock climbing to cross-country skiing to wakeboarding. Seriously if you can think of it they can probably track it. One part I love about Runtastic is that they will give you a map of a course you’ve been on with the mileage and time, making it easy to challenge yourself to work on improving your time. Again their are some fun paid features (i.e. you can pay for stories while you are running), but the free version is pretty powerful and all you need to get started.
  4. Water Time – Drinking more water is a goal that a lot of women I work with have and it’s a good one! Drinking plenty of water flushes out toxins, it transports nutrients to your cells and helps your body to work more efficiently. But sometimes it’s hard to remember to stop and take the time to do it! There are lots of water apps out there but I found this one to be simple and easy to set up. It gives you reminders throughout the day to stop and drink (you just have to remember to have your water bottle with you!). With the free version there are some ads, but if they bother you an upgrade to the ad-free version is just $0.99.
  5. Lotus Bud – This sweet app is surprisingly simple and often exactly what I need. Throughout the day at random times the lotus bud app will “ring” a meditation bell reminding you to take a deep breath and be mindful of the present moment. It’s funny because my kids love it too. If they hear the bell go off they stop whatever they are doing and say, “time for a deep breath Mom!” A great app for all of us!

I’ve come around to embracing technology, especially when it can help us with our health and happiness. I’d love to hear what apps you use and would recommend. Leave me a comment below if you have one that you love.

Be happy, be healthy, be well!

 

One Foot In Front Of The Other – How To Know When You’re On The Right Path

mountain-path

I’m going to tell you right from the get go that the title of this post is a little bit misleading because here’s the thing. I don’t believe there is a right path. There is a right direction, there is a grand and inspiring and enlightened and vibrant place that you are moving towards but there is no one “right” way to get there. We make about 35,000 choices EVERY DAY! How would it be possible to get every single one of those “right”?

I like to think of it like this. Whatever it is that you are looking for in order to be happy, in order to be fulfilled, in order to be the best version of yourself in this lifetime – it is out there. It is out there like one amazing awe inspiring view. For me that would be the mountains filled with alpenglow but for you that might be the ocean or big sky country or a sparkling city vista at night. We’re not born seeing the view – we may have a sense that it’s out there and a general idea of the direction but there is never a straight direct path with blinking neon lights saying “GO THIS WAY”.

Instead there are subtle signs. Gentle nudges. We can’t always see them, we FEEL them.  We start out in the trees and have to find our way through. It’s easy to get turned around, or distracted and even completely lost at times. Like any good life wanderer the more we pay attention, the more signs we come across pointing us in the right direction.

Every “wrong” choice can be a gift too if we are paying attention. It becomes one of those things that nudges us back to moving in the right direction.

In my early 20’s I moved to a magical little mountain town where I ended up meeting my husband Mike. It was one of my first “real life” experiences after college. This little town is full of amazing, self-reliant people. People who grow glorious gardens. People who know how to cook and bake and can their own food. Potlucks – which happen frequently – are an amazing site to behold. These are people who know how to knit and fix things. They are people who have spent extensive time hiking in really remote parts of the mountains. Strong, kind, community focused kind of people.

When I first started meeting people in the community I felt a little like they were beautiful, magical creatures. Amazing and fascinating but not quite real.

Every other week Mike and I would make the hour long drive to the nearest town with a big grocery store and we’d load up our shopping cart with Rice-A-Roni and boxed mac and cheese (sometimes we’d throw in a can of tuna or some frozen veggies to make it “healthy”). We thought that was pretty normal but after living in this town for awhile it became apparent pretty quickly that the locals had a very different way of approaching food.

I remember distinctly one pivotal night for me. We went to have dinner with some new friends on their organic farm. Walking through bamboo groves and into the house they had built themselves 30 years ago felt somehow like coming home. On top of the burning wood stove was a cast iron pot of something that smelled delicious. Exposed wooden beams and comfy couches made up the living room.

When we sat down to dinner there were candles on the table. The beef stew that Anne had made was made up of only things that she had grown on the farm and beef from a neighbor that raises cattle. It was very clear that this was not a special occasion type meal – that this was a way of life (I doubt very seriously that there is Rice-A-Roni lurking in any of their pantry cabinets).

When we left their house that night my heart felt filled up to overflowing while simultaneously desperately aching for more. Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? That my friends is a sign you are moving in the right direction!

But you have to act on it! Otherwise it becomes one of those happy/sad memories. The kind that make you feel nostalgic and like you may have missed out on something more.

For awhile Mike and I continued on with our regular shopping habits because they were familiar and easy and normal to us – but now on the drive home I would feel disgruntled and grumpy. That unsettled feeling was a clear a sign that I was supposed to be moving in a different direction.  It took me awhile to tune into what was going on, but finally I decided to stop wanting to be like those magical people and try to start living like them.

Maybe it will sound silly to you, but the first time I walked into the local food coop I was completely nervous. I felt like there was billboard above my head walking around with me that said, “This is the girl who mostly eats ramen noodles!” I didn’t know what all of the vegetables were, I didn’t know what half of the things in the bulk section were. The people who worked there were friendly, but I was shy to ask questions. After I bought our groceries that week I felt a little out of my element, but also exhilarated. It was a start. I could catch a glimpse of the mountain view through the trees.

The key is to pay attention. To look up from time to time and ask yourself what’s really important. To take the time to catch a glimpse of the view through the trees so you know generally which way to go. You are already on the right path. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing more than you do right now. You are right where you are supposed to be. And although it might be a little scary, if you take the time to notice what makes you feel unsettled or unhappy you can change your path and walk towards something bigger and more beautiful. Towards the life that’s right for you.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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Book Review: The Happiness Project

thehappinessprojectHow is it possible that I have not stumbled across Gretchen Rubin before? I feel like now after reading her book The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent A Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun that I want to read everything she’s ever written. The title of the book is a nice summary of what her year-long experiment entails but what you can’t know unless you read this gem is just how utterly charming and relate able the author is.

One of the main points of the book is that everyone will have their own path to happiness – an idea that I personally hold near and dear. I was curious before beginning this lovely read what it would be like to dive into the details of a happiness project that belonged to someone else. Someone with different interest from me (she admits readily to not being such a fan of the great outdoors, and yoga – at least laughing yoga – also did not make the cut). It was great! The author is humble and honest and funny (sometimes without meaning to be). She admits to her faults and admirably tries to improve upon them without being preachy about it. She talks about a lot of feelings that I think many of us can relate to — one example being the idea of wanting to become a better listener without just waiting impatiently for a break in the conversation to jump in with her own story or experience.

I love how she gives an honest account of what it’s like to juggle home and work life. She talks in detail about how she came round to figuring out what it is that is really important in her life. So often we get caught up in our daily grind that it’s easy to forget to stop and take a minute to ask ourselves the big questions like, “What is it that really makes me happy?” And, “How am I making space for that in my life?” Conducting your own happiness project might be just the ticket!

I know I’m gushing here but one last thing that I love about this book is the incredible recommended reading list at the end. Gretchen Rubin is clearly a reader – she makes a lot of references to her favorite books and the impact they’ve had on her life. I don’t know if you are like me but sometimes when I’m reading a book that I really love I feel a little sad when it’s over. The silver lining for me on this one is that now I have a huge list of book recommends to add to my reading list from an author that I really love.

Check out Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project for an uplifting, enlightening, very personal journey towards finding greater happiness and be on the lookout for more great stuff to come from this author.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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Are The Best Things in Life Really Free?

christmaspresents

We were at Costco. In December. On a Sunday. Needless to say it was a zoo. People were honking at each other in the parking lot and inside the store the isles were so crowded that all you could do was shuffle along like a Christmas zombie at the same pace as all of the other shoppers through the entire store even though all our family really needed was dog food. Let’s be honest those free sample counters are hardly free – somehow while I was innocently trying a taste of Tillamook cheese the rest of my cart was inexplicably filling up with items that would add up to hundreds of dollars at the checkout.

I shuffled past the women’s clothing section and being stuck in a zombie pile up I HAD to look at what they were selling. Two of my weaknesses are hoodies and the color purple. Lo and behold there was the cutest purple hoodie  sweater I’d ever seen! It was like it was made for me (well, and probably thousands of other women across the country).

I checked out the price. Definitely not in the budget – especially this time of year with so much other spending going on. And so I, the girl with a cart load of yummy healthy food for my beautiful family, sank into a serious case of the holiday grumps. Did I stop at just being grumpy about not being able to afford a purple hoodie? Oh no! That would not be enough of course. I then had to get down on myself for being materialistic. Didn’t I recognize all of the blessings I did have?! What was wrong with me! But berating myself just made me feel worse and didn’t fix it so I sunk deeper. At the check out I looked at all of the other holiday shoppers with their carts full of gifts and came head to head with the super ugly and uneasy feeling of jealousy. Ugh!

Now to my own credit this is not a normal feeling for me. I’m generally a pretty positive practical person and so I was kind of shocked to meet up with these yucky feelings there in the Costco check out line. My husband and I over the years have chosen jobs that we felt made a difference and that we liked doing over other potentially higher paying occupations. Things are sometimes tight but we are a long ways off from being poor. Things were a little extra tight this year with both boys in preschool and myself working only part time, but those were choices we made to have the life that we wanted.

I reminded myself of all of this and the queasy feeling eased a tiny bit but still lingered. I didn’t really feel like partaking as the family sang boisterous holiday songs along with the radio on the drive home.

I got home and took a nap. Okay. A little better. I asked myself what I would tell someone I was coaching in this situation. Gratitude. Focus on all of the good things in your life. I keep a gratitude journal next to my bed and every night I jot down three or four things in that journal that make me happy and I’m grateful for each day. I started to wonder how many of those things cost money. So I did a little study of myself and looked back over the last week to take a tally of what things that I was grateful for cost money and which things didn’t…

Here is a snippet from 11/21 through 11/23:

  • I’m grateful that my workshop is full (free!)
  • That we had a super awesome healthy dinner AND the kids liked it (mixed bag)
  • That all of the laundry including the socks is sorted and put away (free!)
  • I had a good run at Fit School and am starting to make friends with Meg and Aly (mixed bag – paid for the running program, but new friends are free…)
  • My warm comfy bed (not free)
  • Our sweet kitty (mixed bag – she costs some, but her sweetness is free)
  • That the kids spent an hour today happily playing together without needing me (free!)
  • Sam’s creativity and Orion’s funny sense of humor (free)
  • The beautiful color of light this morning at sunrise (free)
  • Delicious smoothies for breakfast (not free)
  • Hot showers for water and tea (not free)
  • That blogging is so much fun (free)
  • That I have a family that loves me (free)
  • That there is a turkey in the fridge waiting to be cooked (not free)
  • For all of the sweet things people have written on the thankful tree (free)
  • That snow is in the forecast (free)

I kept reading through my gratitude journal tallying as I went. Total tally for the previous week; Free: 23, Cost Money: 5, Mixed Bag: 4

Somewhat to my surprise this little exercise was making me feel a whole lot better!  Not only was I steeping in the happy memories of all of the things that I love in my life I was seeing a pattern that was not as materialistic as I had feared. Whew!

I called my sister and she made me laugh like she usually does and life was looking up a little more. I took a deep breath and headed downstairs. There, my sweet and incredibly intuitive husband who had not only refrained from asking where I had disappeared to but had also made dinner and was now playing legos with the boys walked over and gave me a big hug. All of a sudden the ridiculousness of all of this brought on for want of a purple hoodie shifted into perspective and the sweetness of my life came back into focus. Thank goodness!

Why do I bother telling you my purple hoodie sob story? Well the night of my gratitude tally I did a little research on happiness. According to the Association for Psychological Science studies have shown people who are happy, “have more stable marriages, stronger immune systems, higher incomes and more creative ideas than their less happy peers.” Well who wouldn’t want all of those benefits! But the other exciting thing their research has show is that, “people can increase their happiness through simple intentional positive activities such as expressing gratitude or practicing kindness.” (Lyubomirsky & Layous, 2013).  Awesome! Science backs up that not only did my gratitude experiment help to make me happier (which I knew of course but always nice to be scientifically backed up), but it also probably had a positive effect on my health and well-being.

Some people say money can’t buy happiness. Other studies have shown that to be true but only with an annual income over a certain amount. Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs suggests people can’t focus on things that make them happy until they have their basic physiological and safety needs met first.  I’m curious what you think? Are the best things in life free? Or do you need a certain amount of money to lead a happy and fulfilling life? Leave a comment below and let me know what your opinion is.

Be happy, be healthy, be well.

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