Being Present When Your Late Father Drops By (or Vice Versa)

Being Present When Your Late Father Drops By (or Vice Versa)

Today is the last day of the “be present” challenge in my Facebook group. And as a result, today’s post is a little bit (or a lot) stream of consciousness, so bear with me, please.

Basically, this challenge is all about getting out of our heads – out of dwelling in the past or worrying about the future – and living in the now.

And it’s been good. In fact, this now-ness is something I’ve been especially mindful of over the past year. Because, not to be all cliche about it, but “now” is all we really have, yes?

But today … oy vey, today.

First, I had strange dreams last night, which made my sleep weird. My father (who died 32 years ago)  made a little drive-by appearance in my dream just before I woke up. Now, I am not one who dreams often about people who have passed away, so this was a little shocking.

I didn’t get to see him up-close, but I was aware that he was around. And come to find out, he had left a message for me at the front desk at the hotel we had been staying at in my dream. 

And this message was mostly gibberish, and the clerk hadn’t even been going to give it to me because it made no sense, but I insisted:

Sinka inka dinka do 

Sooner or later we all sink.

Which had me like, “What?”

And I woke up late and was preoccupied, which put me behind schedule, and I ended up hurrying to the training studio. The good news about my in-person work is that it requires me to be 100 percent present. I trained some clients and taught County Heat Live class. 

During the class though, I kept thinking: “inka-dinka-do.” Like, I’d heard that before, but I didn’t know where or how.

After class, I ran an errand and then stopped by Starbucks for an iced latte (my Saturday treat!), before heading back home. And basically as soon as I sat down to enjoy my latte, the cat knocked it onto the floor and it spilled everywhere.

Seriously: there was ice coffee on the carpet, I found an ice cube 10 feet away (in another room!), the cat freaked out and knocked over some more stuff, and the dog went into hiding.

And things kind of just fell apart from there. When you’re tired, it’s really hard to be present, because your brain gets fussy. And man, was I ever fussy.

I stayed that way for several hours, despite all my oh-so-serious efforts to be PRESENT.

Then the Dog Started Whining

And I’d just walked her an hour earlier, and there were about 15 more things I had to do on my list before 5:30 p.m. rolled around, and I didn’t have time to take her for another walk, but …

I did anyway.

She’s an energetic dog so I try to let her off-leash as much as possible, and that requires running up a steep snowbank. I got a head start and leaped up the hill, just barely missing stepping on this leaf.

And it was so pretty I had to stop and look. And it made me think of the leaves of the Bodhi tree that the Buddha was sitting under when he became enlightened. 

Gold Bodhi leaf skeleton

Now, I’ve always loved Bodhi leaves. In fact, I used to have them in nearly every room in one form or another. This wasn’t intentional, it was just something that had happened.

There are no Bodhi leaves my life now. As the dog and I were heading back home, I started to think about that … and if I should get some, and blahblahblah.

And then: inka-dinka-do. Wasn’t it a children’s song? 

I was pretty sure it was.

As I recall, my dad had really weird musical taste – if you could even call it music. He was more of a computer/science/math kind of guy. But he got a big kick out of things like Spike Jones (basically sound effects along with big band music), or novelty songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Anyway. Inka Dinka Doo. Jimmy Durante. Totally up his alley. 

And that made me smile. Because how can you not smile and listen that song?

I’m not ready to start thinking about the “sooner or later we all sink” portion of the message. That’s another thought for another day.

But for now, I’m going to smile and say, Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

(You’re welcome to join the Facebook group. Just click here.)

That Time I Let a Friend Taunt Me Into Doing 54 Burpees

That Time I Let a Friend Taunt Me Into Doing 54 Burpees

So, my birthday was a couple weeks ago. It was no big deal, because I’ve reached the age where birthdays aren’t something I celebrate all that heartily. 

I mean, I don’t necessarily dread them, but I’m clearly in the, “WTF? I’m that old? How did that happen?” range.

It’s kind of like I’m not yet old enough to just be happy to have the privilege of being “old,” but I am old enough to worry whether I’m going to be among that crew. (Clearly, I’ve given this a lot of thought, right?)

Anyway, every year I try to do a birthday workout – usually it’s a toughie. But this year, my birthday fell on a day when I normally teach a cardio class (Country Heat Live, which is a blast, even if you don’t like country music <raise your hand if you’re with me on that!>).

And I really didn’t want to put myself through a big workout on a day I had to teach.

So I thought: meh. I don’t need a birthday workout this year. Seriously, it’s just another day, right?

But then the next day rolled around, and I was feeling a little depressed and maybe even slightly sorry for myself. (It happens, and I am going to blame the excess birthday cake I might have eaten.)

Which led me to decide to do a workout. And I came up with one I could do at home, with equipment I had on-hand – a kettlebell, a kitchen chair, and a resistance tube. It was a pretty good one, so I posted it in a Facebook group I belong to with a few of my long-time friends.

And one of my friends coughMariecough posted something along the lines of: “I notice there are no burpees in there.” She was just giving me a hard time, because that’s what we do … but still.

 

And Then the Peer Pressure Set In

It was true. There weren’t any burpees in the workout. Over the past few years, I’ve battled a shoulder injury that was so bad at times I couldn’t sleep or even put on/take off a T-shirt without cringing in pain. Like, I have literally changed my wardrobe because of it. And also my workouts.

In fact, a lot of times I didn’t want to work out because it hurt … a lot. But because I’m a personal trainer I didn’t want to admit I was in pain, you know?

But you know what? Over the past few months my shoulder has gradually gotten better. A few weeks earlier, I’d tested the waters by doing 5 burpees and it wasn’t bad. And I had tried doing some pushups (from my knees, yes, but still …).

And so I wondered if maybe I was just babying myself by not including burpees.

Or, I thought, maybe I was being smart.

I wasn’t going to let that burpee thing get into my head, was I?

Of Course I Was

So I turned on the TV – E!’s Red Carpet to the Grammys – and started the workout, which featured 3 sets of 18 reps of a bunch of exercises (the whole thing is below if you want to do it – it’s a good one!).

And honestly, it wasn’t what I would call a killer workout. I mean, I felt like I had done something, but was it birthday-worthy?

Not really. Because a birthday workout should be something momentous, something to mark an occasion.

And I kept thinking about what my friend had written. Halfway through the second set, I wondered: should I tack on a burpee finisher?

No, I thought. No I shouldn’t. Don’t be silly.

But as I began the final circuit of the workout, I realized that I kind of had to do the burpees. Because the thought was there, and if I didn’t do them, I’d feel like I’d wussed out.

So after I finished the 540 reps (actually more than that, if you count the “each side” reps), I decided to end the workout with a “one to grow on” set.

And that set consisted of …

54 burpees.

Considering I’ve not done 54 burpees in total since May 2015, when my shoulder injury occurred .. well, this decision might have been labeled crazy.

But it wasn’t.

It actually was really awesome.

With my dog and two cats looking on, I counted out all 54 burpees (the no-pushup variety, because I do value the progress my shoulder has made).

I don’t know how long it took me, but it was less than one segment of the E! show I had on in the background.

Happy Birthday to Me

These burpees were a huge birthday gift for myself.

Because I could do them – and honestly, they weren’t that hard. 

They was a gift because the last year has been rough. Not to belabor a point, but splitting from my business partnership was a heart-wrenching decision as it meant walking out on a decade’s worth of hard work with very little to show for it. I lost friends, people questioned my motives (and my character) without asking me, and I heard so much gossip.

When you add that on top of the injured shoulder and some other stuff, I had lost my “strong” feeling.

And all of that made me question myself – which I think ultimately is a valuable experience. Because in the words of Dr. Phil, it makes you “get real.”

And you know what? I’ve come out of all of it even stronger … and I’m really excited to see what’s next because I know I’m ready for it.

Happy Frickin’ Birthday! Yay! #notironic

Are You Ready for a Challenge?

The burpees are optional … (click and save this image to your phone for easy access)

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Also, be sure to join my Facebook group … click this link and get daily inspiration, challenges, recipes, and more!

How to Stay Motivated

How to Stay Motivated

Do you ever feel like the job is just too big?

Say you’re trying to lose weight and get in shape … or pay off your debts or repair a relationship. Maybe you want to start a new business, build a house, or overthrow the government (I kid!).

But sometimes it seems like the task is too much.

It will take too long. There are too many hassles and roadblocks. And you’re not sure exactly how to do it.

You worry that you don’t have the energy, willpower, tenacity, or drive.

Or maybe you think there is something intrinsically “off” with you, that makes the whole thing impossible anyway.

Yes, other people might have achieved the same goal, but down deep you think they’re somehow different than you in a way you can’t describe.

I have a motivation trick for you that isn’t really a trick, but a smart tool that actually began in the car industry.

First, though, here’s the truth: tackling big goals is hard work. It will be hard. But my firm, 100-percent belief is that if you’ve got a big goal in your head, it’s there for a reason.

And with some smart strategies, you can make it happen. You just have to figure it out why you want it.

How to Stay Motivated

It’s easy to get pumped up for a day or a week when it comes to tackling a big job or goal. We all do that from time to time.

In fact, one of the biggest “tells” for me when it comes to client success is the level of enthusiasm people throw at me during our first meeting.

If new clients come at me with a plan to work out several days a week, embrace a spartan ketogenic diet, and hit their goals at a rapid pace, I’m always cautious about a big crash-and-burn within a week or two (heck, even after a day or two).

Because you can’t push through on staying pumped or “getting tough.”

In fact, while an element of discipline and toughness is necessary, I actually think too much toughness is counterproductive.

Going Deep

Real change – the kind it takes to get big jobs done – requires going deep. 

Making big things happen in your life – changing the very shape of your body, or your bank account, or your interpersonal relationships, or the way you live – starts from the inside. 

And if you’re covered in a shell of armor or toughness, you can’t penetrate it to make those deep changes.

True change requires reflection, thought, open-mindedness. It requires evaluation and course correction. 

Plus, it’s scary.

And while, yes, making change does involve actually DOING things, it starts with some deep inquiry.

You Must Ask Why

I’m not talking about asking, “Whyyyyyy??!!!!” in a rending-of-the-clothes, beseeching God way. (Although sometimes …)

You have to ask yourself why in a curious, investigatory way. Usually asking the question “why?” five times is the magic number, because it lets you see your true motivation, rather than the shallow, “pumped-up” reason.

Now, this is not an original idea. If you google “5 whys” you will come up with lots of templates for how to do this. This method of inquiry was actually developed for the Toyota corporation to help with its manufacturing process. (1)

But it works incredibly well for pinpointing the root of nearly every problem.

Here’s a Sample ‘Why?’ Inquiry

  1. Why do I want to lose weight? So I feel better.
  2. Why do I want to feel better? My knees ache, and I just don’t have any energy when I get home from work.
  3. Why do I want more energy? I feel like I’m missing out on things. When I come home, all I want to do is sit on the couch.
  4. Why don’t I want to sit on the couch? I’m starting to feel disconnected from everyone, like life is passing me by.
  5. Why don’t I want to feel disconnected? Because I’m lonely and I’m starting to feel depressed. I am not having any fun lately because things seem like such a chore.

So, the reason for losing weight isn’t necessarily just to lose weight to feel better, it’s about not feeling so lonely. 

Get a Little Uncomfortable

It’s hard to let yourself feel lonely – but letting yourself feel that way (at least temporarily) might be just the kick in the pants you need to take action so you don’t feel that way any longer.

While it’s tempting to want to numb out that lonely/depressed feeling by sitting on the couch and bingeing on Netflix or playing video games, you’ve pointed out to yourself that ultimately, it’s just making you feel worse.

So every time you feel the lure of the couch, you can tell yourself: “Hey wait, this isn’t serving my goals. I need to do something else.”

But it’s kind of important to do that with some gentleness. Because ….

You Can’t Hate Your Way To Success

Let’s use education as an analogy here.

Say you decide to go to college to earn a bachelor’s degree because you need one to advance in your career.

Do you accept the fact that it’s going to take four years (or maybe slightly less if you go year-round) to attain your goal? Or do you immediately start hating on yourself because you’re not already there yet? Or maybe even because you weren’t somehow born already possession the degree?

Many years ago when I was in college, I couldn’t wait to get graduate. I have quite a history when it comes to school (another story for another day), but sitting through boring lectures was like a slow death to me. Seriously, I’d have actual anxiety in class, just waiting for it to be done.

I worked hard to go to (almost all) my classes till I reached the finish line because I wanted to get started on what I called my “real life.” That was my personal why – proving that I could actually see it through, and then being free to pursue “real life.”

And years later, when I decided to compete in a figure show, it wasn’t because I wanted to walk across the stage wearing a tiny bikini or felt that I was somehow lacking and needed to “get shredded” in order to shore up my self-worth.

In fact, I really wasn’t so pumped about wearing that tiny bikini, to be honest.

It was about wanting to feel strong and to prove to myself after surviving a few punishing years of losses, I could do hard (and scary) things on my own.

Honestly, if it had just been about having my physique judged, I wouldn’t have seen it through to the end because that doesn’t interest me so much.

What are YOUR Whys?

Once you have your “Whys” in place, then you can start with the actual nuts-and-bolts how-tos, and employ some of the get-tough philosophy to help keep you going when your willpower is flagging.

Watch motivational YouTube videos, read positive self-development literature, surround yourself with people who will make you feel better, so you can keep marching toward your goal.

But be sure you have your own strong underpinnings in place first – and that you revisit your “whys” often. Because otherwise, all that motivation can end up feeling a bit like an indictment if you’re not clear about why you’re doing all the work in the first place.

6 Ways to Rev Up Your Gratitude Journal for Health, Success and Happiness

6 Ways to Rev Up Your Gratitude Journal for Health, Success and Happiness

When it comes to keeping a gratitude journal, I’m kind of like the malcontent sitting at the end of the bar.

Like, I want to keep a gratitude journal, but it just never seems to work out. I get bored, antsy, and I feel like I’m giving in to questionable woo-woo “magic” that will somehow miraculously create peace and abundance in my life.

In the past I’ve tried to keep one … and there actually were a few months-long spells when I was successful at regularly writing in one.

But it never felt quite “right.”

At least not until I implemented a few tweaks in the format, based on ideas I’ve picked up along the way from various sources.

Gratitude Journal Benefits

There are numerous documented and proven reasons to keep a gratitude journal. For instance, studies show:

  • People who keep weekly gratitude journals exercise more, feel better both physically and mentally, and are more optimistic than those who just journal about random life events.
  • Study participants who documented gratitude were more likely to have made progress toward their goals.
  • People who kept daily gratitude reports were more apt to have helped someone else with a personal problem.  (1)

And 20 years ago, even before all those studies reported measurable benefits, Oprah Winfrey was talking about the general awesomeness of gratitude journals.

Back when I watched her shows about them, I was all in. 

Gratitude! Abundance! New notebooks! And pens – lots and lots of inkjet pens. 

I bought all the Sarah Ban Breathnach books. In fact, I still have them in a box somewhere. Talk about abundance: they survived the cut after I decluttered some 300 books (or more!) from my collection. 

Old-School Gratitude Journals

If you’re not familiar, the original idea of a gratitude journal is pretty simple.

Every night you take stock of your life and express gratitude for 3 to 5 things, people, or events in your life. Some people recommend writing for 15 minutes, while others recommend just writing the list.

Even if you’ve had the crappiest day ever, you can still write down something for which you’re grateful: having a bed to sleep in, a blanket to cover you, whatever.

Which is really nice.

But at least for me, there were a few problems with the conventional gratitude journal.

  1. I am tired at night and want to go to sleep. Or rather, my body demands that I go to sleep. Like, I will straight-up nod off. 
  2. After a couple nights, writing the lists seemed like a rote exercise. “I am grateful for the coffee someone brought for me today. I am grateful for a warm house on a freezing night.” The thing is: I was grateful, but … day after day of writing this didn’t seem overly meaningful.
  3. And while I did (and do!) feel grateful after writing these things, as a very goal-oriented person, it felt almost as if the journal was creating a sense of complacency. Like, the underlying message was: things are good enough. “Just be grateful” … not said in a happy sigh, but in an admonishing tone (but that could just be my issue).

Updated Gratitude Journals

Sometimes my reading veers heavily into the “energy medicine” woo woo area (although, as above, even as I’m drawn to it I’m also skeptical of it). As a result, I struggled with the thought I wasn’t able to fully embrace gratitude because of my problems with journaling.

So over the years, I’ve jacked my gratitude journal up a bit, customizing it based on things I’ve read/heard/etc. or what just “feels” right.

And here’s my latest formula, which kind of kicks ass (and yeah, I’m grateful for it).

1. Don’t Write Daily

This one took a huge load off my sleepy shoulders. Studies show that you don’t have to go overboard and write every single day in your gratitude journal in order to get the results mentioned above.

In fact, writing in your gratitude journal weekly is just fine. (2)

If you’re a goal-oriented person who plans out your weeks in advance – through time blocking or some other method – wrapping the gratitude journal into that practice would be a great way to tie it all together.

2. Gratitude, Plus

I still write down the things I’m grateful for – but I add a why.

“I’m grateful for x being in my life because she made me feel special by being so thoughtful. She brought me coffee without me asking her. Not only was it sweet and caring, but also a good lesson.”

“I’m grateful for a warm house on a freezing night because it lets me be comfortable when so many others aren’t. Grateful I was born into a middle-class family I was, in a first world country.”

Again, those studies I mentioned above? They find going deep with your gratitude rather than simply making a list is particularly helpful. (2)

2. What Went Well

Next, I document what’s been going well. Maybe I had a great week of workouts, felt strong, or I’ve made significant progress on something business-related. Or, maybe I kicked my afternoon coffee habit (yay!), or enjoyed time with friends.

Basically, I just take stock of my week and say “attagirl” on stuff that went well.

But that also means noting: 

3. What Didn’t Go Well

So yes, I even document the things that didn’t go as I had hoped. Maybe I let my schedule get out of control and bailed on my planned workouts. Or – as happened last week – I lost an old friend. 

This isn’t about scolding or being “mad” at myself if things don’t go as I expected. Sometimes stuff just happens – but I think it’s valuable to do an assessment because acknowledging problems allows us to see possible solutions.

4. Was This Week Better than Last Week?

Why was it better? Or why wasn’t it?

Again, as above, this isn’t about beating yourself up. And not every week is going to be stellar. For instance, for me, despite not getting in my workouts and taking a break from the friend, I think the week actually did go better than the prior week, because I took some much-needed downtime.

Sometimes when we can see trends of things not working the way we’d hoped, we can make course corrections that help us regain ground.

5. What’s The Intention for this Next Week?

Keeping this simple – maybe even just setting a single priority – is the key here, at least for me. Otherwise, I can get spun out with well-intentioned and overly long to-do lists.

Maybe the intention/priority is to improve a relationship. Or maybe it’s to clean out that living room closet or not eat sugary foods. It’s up to you and what resonates for you and your life.

6. Express Gratitude for the Coming Week

I think it’s important to end on this “gratitude” note – and expressing what you’re grateful for in advance (especially if it’s related to your intention) can be a powerful way to bring it to fruition.

Not because it’s “magic” but because it gets you psyched.

For this coming week, I have two intentions. One of them is to lean into my fitness and nutrition program a little more, and the other is to put the finishing touches on a new program I’m going to be offering.

And I’m really grateful that I’m able to buckle down and focus on my fitness. I have friends going through some health struggles right now and it really drives home the point that, as the Roman poet Virgil said:

“The greatest wealth is health.”

And as my business evolves, I’m so grateful for opportunities that just seem to “happen.” And I’m even more grateful when I wake up enough to see them in front of me. Seriously, I was asking the universe for something and when it showed up, it looked completely different than I expected so I didn’t even recognize it. 

And I’m grateful for (and psyched about) the opportunity.

Daily Thoughts, Weekly Practice

Those are some really practical ways that I tweaked the conventional gratitude journal to make it fit into my life.

There are so many great reasons to keep a gratitude journal that I think it’s worth playing around with ideas to make them work till you find your secret formula.

Still not convinced? Here’s a good article outlining more benefits.

And I think that’s the key to any of these journals/hacks/programs. You try them, see what works for you, discover what doesn’t, do a little self analysis to find out why, and then come up with your own routine.

Do you keep a gratitude journal? I’d love learn more! Leave a comment or inbox me.

How To Write Morning Pages That Will Actually Make A Difference In Your Life

How To Write Morning Pages That Will Actually Make A Difference In Your Life

Are you feeling stuck anywhere in your life?

Like you’re in a rut, but you can’t quite put your finger on what it’ll take to pull you out of it? Or maybe you know what it’ll take, but you’re just not sure whether you’re ready to actually do it.

Or maybe you just want MORE: a more abundant, richer, fulfilled experience (or heck, even more money and more stuff).

I know it might sound pretty crazy, but I have a great tool for you. And it’s basically free (although you do need a pen and a notebook … or your computer).

That tool is morning pages.

What are Morning Pages?

The writer Julia Cameron first came up with the idea of morning pages in her classic book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, as a way for people to unlock their creativity and find their voice.

But I was writing morning pages way before I first heard about them … as far back as the 70s. Basically, all you do is get up first thing in the morning and – before you’re fully awake – start writing. Preferably three notebook pages worth, nonstop (there’s a reason three pages is the sweet spot for results. I’ll explain in a bit).

Now, if you’re me, the first thing you have to do when you wake up (before you can start writing) is deal with hungry pets who also need to go do their business outside. Also, there’s coffee to make.

But as soon as possible, I like to sit down and write. 

Well, let’s be honest.

Sometimes I don’t “like” it. Sometimes I’d rather poke around on Facebook, get caught up on the news, or stare out the window. However, the times in my life I’ve been consistent with my morning pages, I’ve felt clearer, more focused, and generally on-target.

There’s something about writing before you’re fully awake, before you’ve turned on your internal editor or raised your invisible “wall” against the world, that helps you connect with your inner compass or internal radar. 

And your compass/radar is super important to help you uncover where you want to go, and your unique path to getting there. It’s also one of the first things we tend to squelch in order to “get along” in life.

What if Your Mornings are Too Busy?

If you have kids, a family, early-morning clients, etc., sometimes you just can’t find early time to write. 

I am not going to tell you to get up earlier. Because sleeping is awesome. 

You actually can write your pages any time of the day, but it’s good to set a schedule. And on mornings when you CAN write them, try to bang ’em out early and get them done because your internal editor is less mouthy in the morning. It takes longer to shut it up later in the day.

Journal

Morning Pages Helped Me Get Through:

  • a super lonely time when I lived overseas, a time when everyone thought I should have been oh! so! happy! (my morning pages helped me realize I actually had legitimate reasons not to be oh-so-happy, and to have the guts to do something about it)
  • taking care of my terminally ill mom (so many amazing moments, so many hard-but-worth-it lessons)
  • a divorce
  • training for a triathlon that was way out of my comfort zone
  • getting ready for a figure show (that diet, though)
  • figuring out who I want to be when I grow up (i.e., entering a new decade of life)
  • and so much more

But sometimes, I write them just to write them, not because of something I’m trying to “get through” or figure out. In fact, that may be when they are of most value.

How to Write Morning Pages

There’s really no right or wrong way to write morning pages.

That being said, a lot of people freeze up as soon as they think they have to write something – their writing voice gets formal, and they edit themselves before they even begin to write. (That’s one of the beauties of writing first thing in the morning.)

But here’s the thing with these pages: No one is going to grade them. No one is even going to see them! So you won’t pass or fail a class because they suck, because there’s no way they CAN suck. 

You could write the word “blue” over and over again for three solid pages and voila! morning pages done!

Seriously: there’s no idea that’s too crazy to write about, and you don’t have to worry about being politically or socially correct. You just write. 

All you’re doing is emptying your brain onto a piece of paper. And if you’re not sure how to write morning pages when you first start – how to actually get going – you can check out my prompts below.

Three Pages for the Win

Here’s why I think three pages is the magic number:

  1. On page 1, you’re just warming up. You might even write about how you don’t want to write and how it’s stupid.
  2. On page 2, you’re starting to get into the groove. You’re still a little formal though, because you’re trying too hard. This is where it can get a little academic and you might sound like you’re trying to please your picky sophomore English teacher.
  3. But on page 3, your defenses are worn down. You’re finally looking at the end of the final page, and you let loose, and often that’s when you find a little nugget that helps you get clear on a problem you might be having or a question you’ve been wondering about. Or maybe you discover some random thing that makes you go, “wow!”

But even if it doesn’t come together, so what? Sometimes it’s like that.

In the words of Julia Cameron herself:

Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page … and then do three more pages tomorrow.

Maybe There are Rules, After All

Years ago I loved the classic writing books Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. She is a Buddhist and her form of meditation is writing. She fills notebooks, entire pages from top to bottom, margin to margin.

Here are some rules she offered in Writing Down the Bones:

  1. Keep your hand moving.
  2. Don’t cross out.
  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar.
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don’t think.
  6. Go for the jugular.

Here’s a Little Caveat

There have been a few times when writing morning pages definitely has NOT worked for me. In fact, I’ve gone on hiatus from them at those times.

Why?

Because the writing turned into amplified worrying … turning the same issues over and over, reinforcing the problems or issues I was trying to solve. 

It happened when I was burned out, overtired, not feeling well, or just emotionally done-in. In fact, I took a lengthy break when I was picking up the pieces of my life, after my mom died and my divorce. I was emotionally spent. Although looking back, I think maybe continuing to write would have helped me stay focused on feeling better, rather than diving full-force into my business. 

At those points, my writing just became a rehash of the frustrations of the day before.

Or, I’d wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, but as soon as I started writing, all the old crap would start bubbling to the surface and leave me feeling tired and defeated.

So I took a hiatus so I could break those negative thought patterns. And when I felt ready, I restarted.

Not sure how to get started? Check out these writing prompts. 

17 Writing Prompts for Morning Pages

When using any of these prompts, start by writing the phrase, and then keep going until you can’t think of anything else to write. Then write the phrase again, with a new thought to finish it out.

For example:

“I feel strong when I can carry all my grocery bags into the house in one trip. It’s a good feeling and I like knowing I can take care of myself like that. I feel strong when I can actually pay for my groceries now without even thinking about it when I run my debit card. I remember a couple years ago when that wasn’t the case. But now I don’t even think about it. I feel strong knowing that I’m setting a good example for my daughter …”

But like I said: there are no rules, so if you want to use the prompts a different way, have at it!

Writing Prompts for Morning Pages

  1. I feel strong when …
  2. When I work out I feel …
  3. I love it when …
  4. I hate it when …
  5. The last time I …
  6. When I get up in the morning, 
  7. Next time I go on vacation, I … 
  8. If I had to change one thing, it would be …
  9. My favorite number (color, season, etc.) is … because …
  10. Right now outside my window, 
  11. The last time I saw xxx ….  
  12. I miss xxx because …
  13. If I could do anything, I’d … 
  14. X is my hero because …
  15. When I was a kid …
  16. Next year I want to …
  17. If I could grant wishes, I would …

What About All Those Journals?

So: what happens with the pages after you’ve written them?

Should you keep your filled journals? Or should you throw them out? (Funny note: When I was a newspaper editor, my colleagues and I would always joke: NEVER KEEP A JOURNAL. Because it was shocking how often journals came up as evidence in court cases.)

That’s up to you. I have kept a lot of my journals, and I plan to go back and look at them now, and decide their fate.

That being said, I don’t recommend immediately rereading what you’ve written, unless there’s a compelling reason. It’s better to let them sit until time has passed – they will be an interesting record of your life, thoughts, and ideas.

But if you live in a situation where you’re not sure whether your recorded thoughts are safe, throw them away. The simple act of writing them is enough in itself.

It’s up to you. Go with your gut.

And get writing!

Try this Simple Routine to Make Your Life Easier (and Achieve Goals)

Try this Simple Routine to Make Your Life Easier (and Achieve Goals)

The other day I was listening to a podcast, in which a fitness coach and business guru was outlining his morning routine.

Now, I love this kind of advice, especially when it comes from people who seem to have their lives pretty squared away. Or at least who appear to have their lives squared away (because honestly, he could have been broadcasting from a rusty old camper parked in someone’s side yard, on “borrowed” WiFi, right?).

Anyway, I’m always on the lookout for new things that work for other people, on the chance I can use it for myself. Plus, it’s fun to hear about, in a slightly voyeuristic way.

As I was listening to this guy talk about his routine, I did some calculations, and I was like, “WHAT?”

He couldn’t actually be doing the routine he was outlining, could he? Because as far as I could figure, getting through his entire morning routine would take at least an hour, maybe two.

An Hour-Long Morning Routine?

No thanks!

Who has that kind of time? I mean seriously, how did he manage to get all this stuff done before he started his day? Here are some of the items he was outlining:

  • Cold water plunges
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • A yoga/stretching routine
  • Drinking some specially brewed tea
  • Setting intentions
  • Performing affirmations

I mean, really. How did he do it all?

And then it hit me. Sorry. I don’t mean to be sexist, but just bear with me for a sec.

He is a dude.

And then I got a double-whammy hit. Nearly every one of the morning routines I had failed at trying to replicate over the years had come from a dude.

Dudes who don’t have to worry about the state of their hair, or their makeup, before leaving the house.

Dudes whose jobs don’t entail getting to work before 7 a.m.

And not only that, but dudes who have a support staff (or a wife) to handle the little nagging details of life. (You know, like keeping the bathroom and kitchen clean.)

Seriously.

Women, Can You Relate?

The guy on this podcast has three kids. I’m sure he’s wonderful, caring, giving, kind, and more. But do you think his wife has an hour-long personal-care morning routine? (Rhetorical.)

I mean, I don’t have any kids and can barely get out the door within 90 minutes of my wakeup. I do have a dog that needs walking, and (TMI) I take medication first thing that requires me to wait an hour till I eat breakfast, so there’s that.

But still, I always feel slightly rushed, like I barely have time to brush my teeth, much less my hair.

 And that’s usually because I make a daily swipe at only ONE of the recurring items on all those morning routines I’d failed at over the years: writing morning pages (a post about them is coming up soon, because they’re kind of magical).

As I was fretting over this morning routine problem, I had an a-ha moment.

What if I flipped the script on these morning routines, and focused on the routine that was actually the most important?

And one that was actually doable?

The Evening Routine

Yes, the key to an awesome start to your day actually originates the day before, with what you do before you go to bed.

Every time I’ve made serious progress on my goals, I’ve always paid special attention to my routine before I go to bed. Here are just a few examples of times my evening routine powered me through:

  • When I went from rookie newspaper reporter to sweeping the awards at a journalism event, I spent some time each night organizing for the next day.
  • When I prepared for my figure competitions, my nighttime routine was a must-do in my pre-show process.
  • When I wrote my book, I woke up each day with a clear plan that I’d charted the night before.

There are loads more examples, but you get the gist, right?

Hit the Ground Running (or Sip the Coffee Productively)

Basically, when I followed my evening routine, I woke up each morning with all the bothersome little details of getting my day started taken care of. My marching orders were in place.

And that stopped me from wasting time trying to figure out what to focus on. Because God knows when I don’t have a plan, I’m kind of all over the place in the morning. I flit from one activity to the next.

The fact I am all about this routine is beyond weird, because I actually hate routines. Like a lot of creative people, I naturally shy away from them.

Are Routines Creativity Crushers?

The truth is, a lot of good comes from the calm of having a basic structure (yes, a routine) in place. Because once the structure is there, you can free-range around it.

This is actually a pretty big debate among creative people – does routine promote or kill creativity? (1)

As much as I hate to admit it, Aristotle was right. A routine helps.

Through Freedom Comes Discipline

My Bare-Bones Evening Routine

 This is my current (and very unglamorous) routine:

  1. Make a prioritized to-do list for the next day – appointments, projects, errands, etc. (NOTE:  Because I hover toward the characteristics of a “Type A” personality, my list is always too long, so it never gets done. I have accepted that. But beware the too-long to-do list … in fact, limiting it to 3 to 5 things is awesome.)
  2. Quick-clean my home (Kitchen sink empty!).
  3. Get tomorrow’s meals ready to roll, or at least have a plan.
  4. What am I going to wear?
  5. Take dog for a final outing.
  6. Set alarm for the morning and program coffeemaker.
  7. Skin-care regimen, etc.
  8. Take vitamins.
  9. Unplug and relax.

Now obviously this isn’t rocket science. But that’s what makes it so great: it’s common sense, and it’s designed to make your life easier.

The Importance of Nighttime Routines 

Having a routine in place is really calming for me, personally. Right now I have a lot of balls in the air with various projects I’m working on. And when I get going on my day, it can be very hard to know what to focus on. It gets overwhelming, due to a phenomenon known as “decision fatigue.” (2) (3)

Basically, your brain can only handle making finite number of decisions each day before it gets tired out, a situation that studies show wears down your willpower. (4)

Think that sounds like a stretch? Well, that can happen to me when I don’t follow my evening routine.

That’s because the next morning I end up rushing around trying to find something wear, taking the dog for a quick walk while fretting over what to make for breakfast that will hold me till I’m done with my morning round of training clients. Inevitably, by the time I finish up at the studio for the morning I’m thinking about grabbing a muffin and coffee from Dunkin’. And I don’t even really like their muffins all that much.

What’s Your Routine?

So now, I make sure I go to bed with my kitchen clean, my early-morning to-dos handled, and my day-long checklist in place. (Bonus: I can fall asleep without worrying that I’ll forget something I’m supposed to do).

Want to know the evening routines of some successful women? Check them out here.

Do you have an evening routine? Or maybe morning routines actually work better for you. I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.