What I learned during a month of not doing

What I learned during a month of not doing

Giving something up for a month has been a theme for me in 2017. I started the year giving up certain foods, then it was social media and after that I gave up spending for a month. But at the end of May, I was given the opportunity to give something up that had not been in my plan.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know this past year has been a challenge for me. By the time the school year ended, our whole family was struggling. I talked to my boss (it’s hard to call him that when he’s also my pastor and a friend…) about some of the issues we were facing. He asked me if I wanted to take a week off… or maybe two weeks… or even a month… to just focus on all that was happening at home.

A million reasons were racing through my head why this would never work. Who would cover for me? How would everything get done? And how would I ever get caught up.

At the same time, I knew without a doubt that this was what I needed to do.

“Yes… Yes, I do.”

What I learned during a month of not doing

A week later, my month-long sabbatical began. My initial reaction was to start making a mental list of all of the things I could accomplish in a month. Just think. A whole month without going to work!

I could organize all of my closets or have a garage sale or take a long trip. I could read a ton of books or drive around visiting childhood friends. I could work on my blog and research other interests that have long been pushed to the back of my mind.

Instead, I knew that I needed to not do any of those things. In fact, I needed to spend the month not doing anything.

What does that even mean?

One thing I know very well about myself is that I tend to find my value in what I do. I like to work hard. I like to accomplish things. I like to check things off my to-do list. I like to be productive.

We all have something like this that we lean on to find our worth, influence others or gain friends.

For some people it’s their natural beauty.

For others, it’s the ability to woo people with a charming personality.

For others, it’s a talent that people admire.

We all have this thing that we bring to social situations or a work environment or even our own family that we can use to make people appreciate us or like us more.

 

For me, it’s what I do.

I like to do things for my family. I like to make cookies for our kids or create elaborate organizational systems. I like to schedule fun adventures or create awesome parties. I like to decorate our house and make DIY projects.

It’s the same for me at work. I like to take on big projects and analyze hard questions. I like to come up with creative ideas or develop new systems for making things more efficient. I find value in being able to add something, improve something or create something new.

So what if I did nothing for a month? Who am I if I’m not doing anything? Would I still be useful? Would I still have value? Would anyone even like me?

What if I stopped doing and spent a month just being?

My month off began the first Monday in June. I have to admit that it was a constant struggle at first to fight off the urge to do something.

“Maybe I could write on my blog everyday,” I told myself. “Would that really be doing something?”

“Can I at least take a daily photo?”

“It wouldn’t hurt to just clean out every single closet, organize a huge garage sale and donate tons of stuff to charity, now would it?”

I had started the huge job of staining my deck before the month began, so I did allow myself to complete that task. But other than that, I really tried to ward off the temptation to do.

For the first three weeks, the decompression was intense. Instead of inviting friends for coffee and making plans to visit people, I barely talked to anyone outside of my family. I had a hard time even answering a text message in a socially acceptable response rate. (Does four days count?!)

I absolutely loved getting up every morning and not thinking about all that had to be done that day. If one of my kids asked if we could go somewhere or if I could help them with something, I was able to answer, “yes,” instead of “give me about two hours.”

One afternoon, a guy came to fix our garage door. I wanted to be within ear shot of the garage, so I just sat in the kitchen chatting with my oldest son.

For several hours.

I didn’t have to answer e-mail or rush to clean the house because someone was coming over. I didn’t have to pull out my laptop to work on a project. And I didn’t worry about the housework that needed to be done.

I had given my permission to stop doing. To just be.

At first, I thought there was no way that a month would even be long enough to rejuvenate. “I’m going to need at least a year like this,” I thought.

But surprisingly, by the end, I was refreshed and excited to get back to the things I do. However, it was with a new perspective from all that I learned during that month of being, instead of doing.

  1. God really showed me that His love for me is not based on anything that I do. This is such a simple idea and the foundation of the Gospel message. And yet, it’s been a hard lesson for me to learn. God really does love me just for me. That truth became real to me.
  2. Not everything that I think has to be done actually needs to be done. I left for my month off work so abruptly that I didn’t have time to even ask other people to cover for me. I think that was a good thing. Many things did not happen during that month. And you know what? It was OK. It wasn’t perfect, but everyone survived. Sometimes it’s OK to let things go. I learned that the constant attention to ALL of the things can get in the way of what really matters.
  3. I learned that time passes just as quickly no matter what you do. I spent a lot of time in the month of June hanging out at water parks or other places with my kids. The time passed just as quickly sitting by the pool as it does when I’m sitting at my computer. Strangely, spending so much time accomplishing so little actually made me appreciate the time that I get to do something. I realized it’s not a bad thing to spend time using my gifts and talents for a worthwhile purpose. What needed to change was my tendency to lean so hard on doing those things.
  4. I realized how much of an impact stress has on my health. During this past year of learning so much about my health, I’ve read many times that there are three factors that can make a big difference in your health: food, sleep and stress management. I had been placing a lot of emphasis on food, and I was already good at sleeping. 🙂 But during a month without stress, I realized what a huge difference this makes on my health. I also learned that I tend to allow myself to get overly stressed about things. During my month off, I became much better at not letting things get to me. I learned to trust God for the outcome, rather than allowing myself to get so worked up about trying to control results.

Taking a month off work was a huge gift that made a powerful difference in my life. I wish everyone could have the same experience. I surprised even myself that I’ve been able to ease back into my normal life of doing things without letting my desire to do take over.

***

What about you? Have you ever stepped back from something for a month? Do you find your value in what you do? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts!

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My 2017 audiobook list and listening apps

My 2017 audiobook list and listening apps

For all of the ways I struggle with the temptation to spend too much time using my smart phone, one of the things I absolutely love about my phone is how it helps me read more books. My reading habits have changed dramatically the past few years because of how easy my phone makes it to listen to audiobooks.

I set a super attainable reading goal each year of getting through 12 books. But until a few years ago, I rarely made it, simply because I find it difficult to find the time to sit down and read. For the past two years, I’ve switched my reading to about 95 percent audiobooks. I easily fly through one book a month, and often I “read” more than that.

I love listening to audiobooks when I’m in the car. I also pop in my headphones when I walk to keep my brain moving along with my body. But one of my favorite things about audiobooks is how I can use them to motivate me to do other things. I often listen to a book while I’m folding laundry, loading the dishwasher or cleaning the house. Pairing the fun of listening to a book with a task I don’t necessarily love gives me added motivation to get things done.

My audiobook list and listening apps

So far this year, I’ve listened to 13 audiobooks. Before I get into the details of the books I’ve read, I will explain the reading apps that I use.

AUDIBLE

My main audiobook app is Audible, which is owned by Amazon. With my monthly subscription, which is $15 a month, I am able to download one book per month. Audible often offers special deals on extra credits for books, or I can pay full price to download a book (which I rarely do).  At first, I wasn’t sure Audible would actually be worth the price. But the thing I love about it is that I can get newly released books immediately before they are available through the library. I also don’t have to wait for books that are already checked out (as I will explain with my next two reading apps). Another benefit of Audible is that once I purchase a book, it’s mine. I have gone back many times to reference a book I read previously, which is something I can’t do if I use one of the other two apps I’m about to mention.

OVERDRIVE

This is the app that is used by many libraries to offer ebooks and audiobooks. I love the fact that I can check out a book from the library while we’re on vacation or driving in the car, download it and begin listening immediately. The downsides are: 1. They don’t have the selection that I can find on Audible, 2. I often have to wait for someone else to finish the book I want to download.

HOOPLA

A few months ago, I found an audiobook I wanted by searching my local library’s collection. But when I went into Overdrive to download it, I couldn’t find it. After much confusion and frustration, I actually had to walk into the library and talk to a real, breathing human being to unravel this mystery. Even the librarian was confused at first. But working together, we both finally discovered Hoopla. This is another app, similar to Overdrive, that is connected to your local library. Hoopla often has books that aren’t available on Overdrive. I’ve also found that if Hoopla has a book I want, it usually seems to be available. I’m guessing that (like me), not as many people know about it, so it’s easier to find a book there.

When I hear about a book I want to read, I usually look on Overdrive, then Hoopla. If I can’t find it there, I go to Audible and wait until I have a credit available so I can download it.

I always think it’s fun to look back at my book list from the year because it often tells a story of my personal journey during the past 12 months.

Here are the books I’ve made it through so far in 2017:

1. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
Believe it or not, I actually don’t love Jen Hatmaker’s writing style, but I did love the premise of this book. This book helped inspire me to do the monthly challenges I have taken on this year to live more intentionally.

2. Food Freedom Forever by Melissa Hartwig
I read this after I finished Whole 30 in January and as I was starting the AIP diet in February. It was like a friend encouraging me that I could do what I needed to do.

3. Little Things: Why You Really SHOULD Sweat the Small Stuff by Andy Andrews
This was a fun read. I will always think of this book when I peel a banana. (Read it to find out why!)

4. Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do by Chris Gillebeau
I’ve also started listening to his podcast this year. He gives great stories about people who have created successful “side hustles” to pursue their dreams and make extra income.

5. Primal Fat Burner by Nora Gedgaudas
I love learning about different views on how to eat better.

6. Wired to Eat: Turn Off Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite, and Determine the Foods That Work for You by Robb Wolf
I’m a huge follower of Robb Wolf, who is kind of the spokesperson for the Paleo diet. This book helped me gain a better understanding of insulin resistance and inspired me to do the seven-day carb test. After talking to my doctor about what I had learned, she did some tests, and I found out I’m hypoglycemic. Knowing this has helped me eat smarter to keep my energy level more stable throughout the day.

7. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate the Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni
This is a great book that I read for my job. It is helpful to identify your strengths and weaknesses in leadership.

8. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Powerful autobiography by a neurosurgeon who was diganosed with an aggressive form of cancer at a young age.

9. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
I loved this book. It will inspire you to throw stuff away and refold all of your socks! Just read it.

10. Hashimoto’s Protocol: A 90-Day Plan for Reversing Thyroid Symptoms and Getting Your Life Back by Izabella Wentz
My health was obviously a big theme this year.

11. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
The only fiction book I’ve read this year or in a few years. It was totally worth the read.

12. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Great book to help me understand myself and other introverts. (I often fall right in the middle on introvert/extrovert tests, but I definitely crave my time alone to rejuvenate.)

13. Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
I’m actually only a few chapters into this one. It was recommended to me by several different people, so I’m looking forward to gaining some new insights on creativity.

Ohhh… I’ve actually read one book with my eyes this year, too!

14. Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul by Lance Witt
This is a great book for anyone in ministry. Our staff at church has been reading it together this year. It’s NOT available in audiobook! 🙂

So, tell me about your reading habits. Do you love audiobooks? Or do you stick to actually reading? What’s your favorite reading app? What are some of your favorite books this year?

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Because sometimes it’s OK to start over

Because sometimes it’s OK to start over

I don’t think there’s any word that strikes up a more boring image in the world of physical fitness than the dreaded “treadmill.” So actually writing a blog post about running on a treadmill has to be the most yawn-inducing idea ever.

But bear with me, friends, because today I’m doing just that. And who knows. Maybe this blog post is just what you needed to read today!

One of the more difficult aspects of the health journey I’ve been traveling this past year is its unpredictability. For several days, sometimes even several weeks, I will feel great. I’m back to my old energetic self, my mind is focused and creative, and my body is functioning normally. Then, without warning, and often without an obvious trigger, I sink into a difficult place. My digestive system is a mess, I’m exhausted and lethargic, my brain is foggy, and I have trouble focusing.

Sadly, the past few weeks have been a low energy place for me. When I’m in this state, I can sleep for 10 hours at night and still want to take a nap the next day. I can eat a perfect diet of nutrient rich foods and still dread walking up the stairs because it leaves me panting for breath. I basically have to conserve my energy for what most needs to be done, and any thought of exercise gets pushed to the back of my mind.

But this morning, I woke up feeling good, and I wanted to get back to starting my day with some not-too-strenuous physical activity. At the beginning of the year, I began doing the Couch to 5K on my treadmill. You’ve probably heard of the Couch to 5K. It’s a simple running program that alternates short increments of jogging and walking. You start the program with more walking than jogging, but by the end of the nine-week program, you should be able to run a complete 5K!

Because of my ups and downs, I haven’t been totally consistent. But I have done the workout enough that I made it to Week 5, Day 3. This is the day when I was supposed to do a 5-minute walk, followed by 20 minutes of running and then a 5-minute cool down. It was the first day that I basically was supposed to jog the entire time, rather than alternating between jogging and walking.

It’s been more than two weeks since I did Week 5, Day 2. I looked at my treadmill, and I couldn’t imagine getting back on at this stage in the game.

“I should probably just give up the Couch to 5K,” I told myself. “I will never be able to do it.”

But then I had an idea that probably sounds very obvious to all of my intelligent readers, but took some time for me to come up with.

I could start over.

That’s right.

I could go back to the beginning.

Back to Day One.

Getting back on the treadmill: because sometimes it's OK to start over

That’s exactly what I did this morning, and here’s what I gained.

  1. I couldn’t believe how easy it was! I remembered doing Week 1, Day 1 back in January and how I was counting down the seconds each time I had to jog for one minute before walking for 90 seconds. Now, it was such a breeze that I kept losing track of time. I felt great, knowing how far I’ve come in such a short amount of time.
  2. Instead of feeling defeated by the treadmill, I actually felt a great sense of accomplishment that I had completed my workout. It might not have been the workout I had been planning, but I did it!
  3. Most importantly, I did something. And something is always better than nothing.

I started the morning feeling healthier and stronger. I’m getting my energy back, and thankful to be back on the treadmill. So, if you ever feel like giving up, just remember the lessons my treadmill taught me this morning. Something is better than nothing. And sometimes it’s OK to start over.

**

I would love to hear how your week is going! Have you ever had to start over on a goal or plan? What was it like for you? 

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What I discovered during a month without social media

What I discovered during a month without social media

I’m wrapping up my month without social media, so I thought I would check in and give an update. I thought this would be a difficult month, fighting the urge to check in on friends on Facebook or get my fix of visual happiness on Instagram.

Instead, this has been quite a transformative month for me, and it really didn’t have much to do with the goals I set for myself this month. The biggest change that occurred for me this month is that without the constant lure of social media, I freed up a ton of prime retail space in my brain to pursue other things.

I also relieved a lot of stress and anxiety that comes with keeping up with social media. My brain on social media is kind of like having a radio playing all day long. It’s background noise that occupies my thoughts and inhibits my ability to focus. Flipping it off for a while has been so refreshing. It’s been a relief to separate myself from the political conversations, not to mention the constant barrage of food related posts, DIY ideas and product marketing.

Here are a few other things that have happened as a result:

  1. Speaking of “product marketing,” without the ability to promote my blog on Facebook, my readership has dropped by about 98 percent. That was discouraging at first. It was hard to publish a blog post and look at my stats to see I only had three readers. “Hi, you guys!!” But I get it. I know that most people don’t really incorporate blog reading into their daily schedule, and if they do, they are going to jump onto a blog with relevant content that’s right in front of them. It reminded me of why I write, and how therapeutic it is for me!
  2. I’ve really enjoyed the daily devotional that I’ve been doing this month. It’s called, “I Am,” by Michele Cushatt. Each day helps replace negative self talk and comparison with the truth of who I am as a child of God. I have fallen behind on my reading a few times, but for the most part, I’ve been keeping on track. Each day’s passage is short and engaging, and it’s been great to start my day with this encouragement.
  3. The biggest change that has occurred for me in February is once again with my diet. (Just when you thought I was done talking about this!) When I finished Whole 30 in January, I was feeling great overall. But I couldn’t figure out why some of my autoimmune symptoms were actually far worse than they were when I started. Through my research, I found something called the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. I’ve been diving in with both feet, gathering information, listening to podcasts and incorporating this way of eating into my lifestyle. I’m planning to write about this in much greater depth in the next few weeks, so if you are one of my three remaining readers, I hope you will come back!
  4. If you thought Whole 30 was an intense diet adjustment, that’s because you haven’t heard of Paleo AIP (autoimmune protocol). It focuses on removing all inflammatory foods from your diet, so your body can start to heal from autoimmune disease. Back in June when I went gluten free, I thought it was hard. Now I’m also grain free, sweetener free, soy free, legume free, dairy free, nut free, egg free, seed free and free of nightshades, which include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, chili powder, paprika, red pepper and all other spices made from nightshades. The diet also eliminates all processed food, food additives, refined oils, refined sugars and alcohol. Needless to say, I have spent a ton of time researching recipes and figuring out what I can eat. I go to the grocery store at least once a day because I consume so much produce!

I seriously can’t wait to write more about all of this. It’s really making a big impact on my life, and I’m excited to start chronicling my journey.

I will be reintroducing social media in the month of March, and I’m working on a plan to do that gradually so it’s not like flipping on hard rock music at full blast.

Until then, let me know you stopped by! I would love it if you would say “Hi!” in the comments and let me know one thing that’s new with you in the month of February! 

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The gift I give to myself

The gift I give to myself

My husband and I aren’t coffee drinkers. Hot tea is our caffeinated beverage of choice.

But at the beginning of winter, I started getting into a habit of making myself a cup of decaf coffee mid morning. It’s a nice way to warm up on a cold winter day, and let’s be honest. It’s more about using coffee to water down the cream, right?

Because I’m the only person who uses the coffee maker, and I only use it to make one cup of coffee every other day or so, I would usually forget to clean it. I would let the old coffee and coffee grounds sit there until the next time I made a cup. Then, I would have to rinse it out before brewing my single cup of coffee.

A few weeks ago, I had some extra space in the dishwasher and decided to actually wash the coffee maker. I know. Gasp! The next morning when I wanted some coffee, it was such a nice surprise to find a sparkling clean coffee pot and a filter basket that wasn’t full of old coffee grounds.

Huh?

I smiled. It was like a gift I gave myself. 

Since then, I’ve been putting the coffee pot in the dishwasher immediately after I use it. Each time, I think, “This is so nice of me to give myself the gift of a clean coffee pot.”

Eating clean and Whole 30 is the gift I give to myself

I was thinking about this concept the last few days as I’ve been learning more about nutrition and health. Since I changed the way I’ve been eating, I’ve become a little obsessed with the topic. I started listening to a Paleo podcast, and I have a long list of books I want to read on topics like fat, sugar and nutrition.

I’ve noticed that my mindset also has started to change about the food I eat. When I found out I had Celiac Disease last summer, I was really angry at this invisible force that had robbed me of my ability to eat gluten. How could all of my favorite foods just be taken from me without any warning?! I revolted by overindulging in chocolate, ice cream, candy, ANYTHING that I COULD eat.

I quickly found out that gaining almost a pound a month wasn’t going to be a good long-term solution for me. As January approached, I knew I had to make a change to my eating. I carefully researched several different options to determine which one I liked the best. “That one says I can’t have fruit…. This one lets me eat potatoes and caffeine,” I thought. “That sounds good to me.”

Now that I’ve been eating this way for almost 45 days, I can really tell how foods affect me. Certain foods make me feel really full. Others seem to make me crave something sweet. I started drinking milk and then decided to go back to almond milk because cow’s milk made me feel so heavy. Just because I CAN have something (like potatoes) on a certain diet, it doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for me.

I’ve realized that my food choices are my own. I can’t just pick a diet because it gives me options that sound good to me. I have to make the choice based on how healthy I want to be and how I want to feel.

There’s not some unseen force that is making me give up certain foods or eat others. No one else has to live with my bloated stomach or my sugar cravings. It’s all up to me. I can choose to give myself that gift.

I’ve realized it’s great to wake up to a clean coffee pot. And it’s even better to take the time to chop some veggies and snack on protein. It’s the gift I give to myself.

So, what about you? I would love to hear your reaction in the comments. Have you made any lifestyle changes that feel like a gift to yourself?

 

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The powerful motivation of a before shot

The powerful motivation of a before shot

At the beginning of January, I did something I had never done before. I put on my workout clothes. I stood awkwardly in front of a blank wall, and I asked my daughter to take a photo of me.

It was weird.

I don’t love having my photo taken in general. But when I do, I make sure to at least wear a cute outfit. My tightest workout clothes definitely don’t qualify as cute!

But more than that, it was scary.

Taking that “before” shot was a vulnerable moment for me, not just because I hope no one stumbles across it in my camera roll and sees my flabby self. It was scary because I was making a statement to myself. This is the before.

That means, I’m committed to an after.

The magical motivation of a before shot

I can’t believe what a big impact that before photo had on me during the month of January. I looked at it several times, wondering if I would notice a difference at the end of the month. I thought about it when I wanted to eat sugar or grains or dairy. The before shot reminded me not to eat a bowl of ice cream before bed.

That before shot was helping me commit to the after.

This week, I took my after shot to compare. I had completed the Whole 30, and started working out more regularly.

I doubt that anyone but me could see the difference. But I could definitely spot the changes. Now, I’m happy to have my February photo as my new before. As I look ahead at this month and those to come and my plans to live more intentionally, I’ve been thinking about other types of before photos I need to take.

In February, I’m giving up social media, and adding in “truth.” My “truth” is an effort to seek affirmation and acceptance from God, rather than people (in the form of social media). This month, I bought a new journaling Bible, and I’ve been journaling my way through the Psalms. Writing down my thoughts, highlighting important phrases and copying verses in my Bible is one way I’m taking a before shot of the state of my heart.

In future months, my before shots might look like:

  • a photo of the clothes in my closet before I start the purging process
  • a printout of our budget before I take steps to reduce my spending
  • a copy of our calendar before I institute a day of rest into my schedule

As I looked at the two photos of myself this morning from the first day of January and then the beginning of February, I had to smile. The photos were proof that I’m a little bit closer to where I want to be. That before shot had a motivating power I didn’t expect. I’m more determined to keep working on my after until it becomes my new before.

What about you? Have you ever taken a before and after photo? Was it motivating for you? 

Hey, if you liked this post, make sure you don’t miss the next one! Enter your e-mail address to the right and you’ll get an e-mail when I write something new. 

 

 

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