Update on The Joy of Less

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Identify Your Dream



Everyone deserves to live his or her dream. But not all of us are able to realize our dreams.

Why not?

There may be many different reasons. Perhaps we are too scared to admit our dreams, even to ourselves. We might be afraid of others mocking us, or trying but never achieving, falling flat on our faces. Or we could even be afraid of success. Sounds odd, but maybe we are comfortable in our current lives and living our dreams might mean huge upheaval. If we never try to achieve our dreams, we won't end up failing, embarrassed, or completely stressed out by our success. Everything can remain the same.

However, let's assume for now that you are ready to move toward your dream. Have you already clearly identified what you are seeking? This is the next step in our journey toward manifesting our dreams.

Your dream might be a job, a new home, a baby, a soulmate, a new body, an invention, a novel, winning a race, a degree, or a retirement plan. No matter what your dream might be, the next crucial step is to clearly visualize what you want. 

Keep this step positive. That is, don't get caught up in listing all the things you don't want. Instead, work on picturing your dream clearly in your mind's eye. Try to see all the specific details that are important to you.

For example, let's say your dream is to secure your first job. Visualize yourself sailing through your interview, confidently answering all the questions. See yourself shaking hands with your new boss when you are offered the desired position. Imagine setting up your new office or classroom or studio space, attending to your daily tasks, packing up your briefcase at the end of the workday. Feel the joy and pride in knowing you have secured this dream job.

Beyond just visualizing, you might add a few concrete steps to identifying your dream. You can use journaling, prayer, affirmations, drawing, painting, dance, collages, or any other creative outlet to clarify exactly what you seek. You might drop notes into a dream jar. And of course, you can use technology! Google is a great tool for discovering what is out there, but keep in mind that just because you can't find it on the Internet doesn't mean it doesn't exist! (Or if it truly doesn't exist, you can still create it!)

When your dream becomes clear, you might find that the universe responds to you. There might be subtle (or not so subtle) clues that tell you that you're on the right track. When I was in college, my dream was to dance with a professional modern dance company in New York City. I had a specific company in mind--a choreographer I had admired since my very first modern dance class. In one of those dream-come-true miracles, this choreographer came to the University of Maryland as a guest instructor for my final undergrad semester. Since we had this opportunity to get to know each other, I was eventually invited to join her company.

Life is a series of dreams. And you are never too old to pursue another dream. My 87-year-old mother is still improving her tennis game and making big plans for her 90th birthday bash. No matter what your current dream might be, keep chasing it down. It's never too late!


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Don't Believe Everything You Think



The first time you read the title of this post, you might do a double take. Say what? Maybe it sounds nonsensical, like an oxymoron. But questioning your thoughts is actually an important practice, a vital part of discovering happiness and manifesting your dreams.

Why? Because your thoughts can trip you up. Your brain can play games, distort memories, inflate the ugly. Your thoughts often reflect things you've been told all your life, but these things are not necessarily true. Your mind might even be your worst enemy.

Have you ever caught yourself replaying an embarrassing or painful event in your life, over and over, unable to press STOP? This is an example of how our minds like to linger over negative experiences. I've read that there is a purpose to this: we tend to remember and focus on the negative as a survival mechanism. Maybe this helped us out back in prehistoric times when we had to learn from bad situations like eating poisonous mushrooms or getting bitten by a saber tooth tiger. But is it really doing us any good today?

For the most part, I'd say no. Remembering how someone insulted or hurt you might remind you to stay away from that particular meanie, but I don't believe this offers any constructive ideas for how to relate to others in general. Dredging up bad memories and replaying them ad nauseum cannot lead to greater happiness in the present moment.

But questioning your thoughts and emotions can lead to greater happiness. It's very likely you've been indoctrinated with the beliefs of your parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, neighbors and friends. Have you ever taken any time to assess how well these beliefs are serving you?

Right now, take a moment to sift through your thoughts. You might choose to use a journal or notebook to jot down whatever you happen to be thinking. Try to catch yourself off guard, and record whatever you discover. What do you find?

Are your thoughts leading you in a direction you want to pursue? Or are your thoughts squashing your hopes and dreams? Do your thoughts encourage you to take risks, to explore and create? Or to hold back? Instead of blindly accepting the thoughts that occur to you, try instead to challenge them. Hold them up to the bright light of day and see if there is any real truth to them.

In order to manifest your dreams, it is crucial to put a halt to any negative voices inside your head. The voices that remind you of past failures. The voices that keep you feeling small and scared. Remember that someone planted those voices there, probably when you were young and vulnerable and had no say in the matter. But you are no longer compelled to listen or accept them. You can choose a different path.

Your exercise for today is to question. Once you have listened to the voices inside your head, spend some time challenging those thoughts that no longer serve you. Pick holes in them. Discover the truth behind them. Make room for new possibilities!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cultivate Gratitude



No matter who you are, where you live, what you possess, if you are reading this blog right now, you have a lot to be grateful for.

I'm guessing you have a roof over your head. Maybe you own or rent a lovely, warm, safe home. You have food in your fridge. Maybe your pantry is also full. (I have enough stocked to outlive all y'all come the zombie apocalypse.) If you are anything like me, your closet is filled with clothing that you never wear. You probably have a car, maybe also a bike, a boat, some sneakers. If you were asked what you need, you'd be hard-pressed to think of a single thing that you really need but don't already own.

My point? We all have so much to feel grateful for. And this attitude of gratitude will take us far in manifesting our dreams.

We have already discussed Step One: releasing fear and worry. (See my blog titled Manifesting your Dreams in 2017.) Then we talked about moving from negative to positive thoughts. (Check out my last blog: Moving from Negative to Positive.) Today we will cover gratitude.

Yes, gratitude is very closely related to positive thinking. But gratitude takes these positive thoughts of ours one step further and thanks the universe (God, Jesus, The Higher Self, etc.) for the abundance we receive.

Gratitude says there is a positive force in the universe which wants us to be happy. When we feel grateful, we acknowledge this positive force. It doesn't matter if you call this force God or Hashem or Allah or Brahma or any other name. What matters is that you cultivate this attitude of feeling grateful for all you receive, rather than feeling the lack of something you do not yet possess.

Gratitude keeps us focused on the abundance of the universe. An abundant universe is sure to assist you in manifesting your dreams!

For each step of the process toward manifesting your dreams, I will suggest an exercise to help you practice each concept. (Review the past 2 blogs for exercises to help release fear and move from negative to positive thinking.) Today's exercise is to begin a gratitude journal.

You might make a practice of jotting down things you are grateful for each morning. I've tried various formats, and I encourage you to play around with this idea and discover what works best for you. You might choose to write down 10 things per day, or maybe only 3. (I've found three works better for me as I can easily come up with three specific things daily. Ten turned out to be a stretch, and I ended up repeating myself a lot.) Another possibility is to draw or sketch or doodle or paint your daily gratitude. You could even put on some music and dance your gratitude. Your practice should reflect who you are.

Enjoy practicing gratitude and focusing on the abundance of the universe. This is sure to increase your happiness!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Move from Negative to Positive



Manifesting your dreams is my topic again today. We already discussed Step One: releasing your worries and fears. (Check out the blog I wrote yesterday for more on this subject.) But letting go of fear is only the beginning.

Today we will take a look at Step Two: moving from negative to positive.

For some of us, it might be easier to focus on the things we don't want rather than the things we do want. That is, we spend a lot of our energy pushing things away. Notice if your self-talk is filled with thoughts like: I can't stand this traffic. I hate this horrible weather. My house is a dump. People are so rude. The world is going to hell in a hand-basket.

Although you might believe most of the above statements are factually accurate, they are just negative thoughts. You could easily insert an opposing thought in place of any of these negative ones. For example: as you sit in traffic, you could say to yourself, "Here is an awesome opportunity for me to practice meditation." Or on a cold, gray, rainy day: "I think I'll warm up the kitchen by making a big pot of delicious soup." (I actually did this today!)

Yesterday I suggested an exercise for releasing fear and worry. Once you have mastered that practice, you might choose to move onto a new exercise: transforming negative thoughts into positive thoughts. Again, the key is to catch yourself in the act of negative thinking, like when you are bashing something. It could be anything from your weight or your hair to your spouse or your extremely lazy teenage children. You already know that nagging and harping on the negative will do nothing to change the situation. Hating your body will not transform it. Dissing your spouse will not magically make him or her more loving or compassionate. But changing your own mind and attitude can work miracles.

Once you catch yourself in a negative thought--"I suck as a writer and I will never publish anything!"--you can immediately stop and switch tracks. Insert a positive thought instead: "I love writing and will continue to improve my skills no matter what." After all, there is no point in spending time writing (or any other hobby or vocation) unless you enjoy it. And the more you love what you do, the more likely it is that you will attract success.

Another simple practice you might try is noticing the positive (seeing the beauty) in every situation. (I realize there are certain extreme situations where this might be close to impossible, but most of the time this is immensely possible!) For example, my husband and I walk our dogs twice each day in the park next door to our home. I used to complain about the ugliness of this park--lack of trees, too much asphalt, port-a-potties--on almost every walk. Then I noticed my behavior and made a concerted effort to notice the beauty. And of course, it was there all along. The bluebirds and gold finches are abundant. There are ponds, wild flowers, blackberries, a river, deer, hawks, flowering trees. Looking for the positive is a choice. The more you make this choice, the happier you will become. And the more happiness you will attract.

Good luck with your second step! There is more to come!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Manifest your Dreams in 2017



If you told me a year ago that I'd be writing a blog about manifestation, I'd have laughed in your face. A big, loud guffaw followed by some hearty knee slapping. Although I consider myself a spiritual person, and I believe in the power of prayer, I am not a new-age speak fanatic. (I do own a few crystals but I rarely say incantations over them.)

I woke up this morning realizing that for the first time in AGES--more than a decade--I now have a very clear dream for my future. Until this point, I had a murky image of what I wanted. My vision was clouded with fear: what if I made a mistake? What if I made a bad choice? What if I ended up unhappy and filled with regret? I allowed worry to get in my way. But no longer!

Like most of my friends, I've spent the last two decades raising my children. I dedicated all my waking hours to worrying about THEIR future. Will they get into college? Will they study? Will they find their passion and turn it into a lucrative career? Will the find love? Will they be happy? Will the latest piercing become infected and lead to a complete surgical removal of a vital organ?

Well, I'm guessing parents never stop worrying about their children. My 87-year-old mother probably still worries about me. (Nah, probably not. She's a very happy person.) While I was wasting my precious energy worrying, my daughters have both achieved many of their own dreams. There isn't a whole hell of a lot left to worry about there. I might as well move on.

Because step one of manifesting your dreams is giving up on worry. Giving up the negative thoughts that keep you stuck on a treadmill of inaction. Let go of those fears that keep you frozen. Stop picturing the worst possible outcome of every situation. And begin to let in the light.

Because your dreams are beautiful!

I know mine is! And it is worth it.

Your dreams are worth the mental effort it might take (at first) to release the negative thoughts and the patterns of worry. Start with this exercise: try to catch yourself worrying, imagining something terrible, or getting caught up in fear. Once you catch yourself in the act, stop and breathe. Take 10 deep, slow breaths and release the negative energy. Imagine it is a black cloud hovering over you. Watch the cloud of worry dissipate. Let it go. Let the sun shine in. Imagine a beautiful, bright light shining through the clouds.

Once you have perfected this exercise, you will be ready to move on to the next step in manifesting your dreams. Enjoy your practice!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Baby Steps or Giant Leaps for 2017?



How are you moving into this new year? Are you starting the year with major changes? Did you pledge to eliminate all sugar from your diet or work out for 8 hours each day? Or are you simply tweaking your existing diet and fitness regimen?

I used to be a fan of giant leaps. I went from long hair (past my butt) to a shaved head (half an inch) in one fell swoop when I completed my Masters degree. (The two things were not really related.) I followed a low fat diet for a decade before reading an article on Atkins in the New York Times Magazine; I promptly switched to bacon, eggs, and steak slathered in real butter. I gave up bread, pasta, potatoes, and most of the foods I had previously lived on. No baby steps or halfway measures for me.

But these days I am more interested in fine-tuning.

I already eat (mostly) a very nutritious diet. And I fast for 16 hours out of every 24. Am I perfect? Nope. I allow myself treats here and there. Gone are the days of extreme dieting, the cabbage soup craze, the juice cleanses. I like superfoods, but I eat a wide variety of stuff. So I don't feel the need to completely overhaul. I might make some small adjustments, though.

How about you? Are you starting from a Standard American Diet? A vegan diet? Weight Watchers point system? It doesn't really matter which diet formula you currently follow. Everyone can benefit from taking baby steps in a better direction.

EXAMPLE:

I currently eat during an 8 hour feeding window (12noon to 8pm) and fast for 16 hours (8pm-12noon). I've become very accustomed to fasting now, as I've been doing this since Thanksgiving. Even on vacation I continued to skip breakfast without a problem, although I gave myself permission to eat any time I wanted. Now I feel ready to take my fasting to the next level. (This is like on The Bachelor when contestants try to get a rose by expressing their feelings, removing their tops, or accidentally having sex in the ocean.) I am planning to try fasting for longer on certain days of the week, ultimately extending my fast to 24 hours without food. I might try 18 hours, then 20, 22, and finally 24 hours. I plan to eventually fast from dinner one evening to dinner the following evening perhaps once a week. Each hour of fasting past 12 hours per day offers additional benefits such as lower levels of insulin in the blood, lower fat storage, greater fat burning, better memory, lower levels of inflammation, less moodiness, and more energy.

Tip: if you have tried fasting and struggled with it, you may have been consuming too much sugar during your feeding window. Reducing consumption of sugar, upping your healthy fats, and eating just enough protein will make your fasting hours much easier and more pleasant.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE:

Let's pretend you currently consume a Standard American Diet. Maybe you are a high school or college student. (I know from watching my daughters how terrible you young people eat!) Perhaps you have some kind of sugary breakfast cereal each morning, like Lucky Charms. You would have no trouble at all finding a healthier substitute! Maybe you could make a tiny adjustment and try something like Honey Nut Cheerios. From there, you could advance to regular Cheerios. Once you are used to a less sugary start to your day, you might even switch to hot oatmeal: 100% whole grain oats with absolutely no sugar added. Each baby step takes you in the direction you want to go, but in a comfortable time frame.

You can use this formula to adjust your own diet. You might choose one meal to start with. Make one small change at a time. You can take as much time as you need to get used to each baby step before progressing to the next. Let me know how it goes!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Press PAUSE



The holiday season is supposed to be filled with joy. 'Tis the season to be jolly. Fa la la and all that crap. Whether you are spinning dreidels or baking Christmas cookies, there better be a smile on your face. But what if you are not feeling so freaking festive?

Things were going fairly smoothly around here until today. Today I hit the snag of all snags. No. Strike that. Today I ran straight into a brick wall.

WARNING! I'm about to have a bit of a moan, as they say in the U.K. If you are not up for listening to me moan, here's your chance to click over to something more bright and cheery. Bluebirds singing, maybe. Or a dog pissing on a Christmas tree.

Anyway, today Mother Nature decided to throw us a curve ball. The polar vortex came to visit, way ahead of Santa. The wind roared and the temperature plummeted to a high in the mid-twenties. Now I realize this is much warmer than regions north of Maryland, but this is WAY TOO COLD for me! Walking the dogs was not just unpleasant but downright painful.

Add to this, my body is crying from my bootcamp workout yesterday. I know: BOO HOO! Poor me, I did 100 kettlebell swings and now I want to die. Despite the fact that I did this to myself, I am still suffering mucho.

Not to mention the unmentionable: I got my period yesterday. Add in the usual array of menstrual symptoms such as bloating, cravings, and a headache that will not quit despite ibuprofen, headache balm (thanks, Susan!), caffeine, and gingersnaps. (Not sure the last is actually a headache remedy but I was willing to try anything.)

On top of all this, I still fasted this morning, as I have been every day since Thanksgiving. But today was the first day that I really struggled. The aforementioned headache, but also some dizziness, and some nausea after eating made the whole thing extra ugly.

After dinner, my sweet hubbie made a fire in the woodstove to take the chill out of the air. (Our heat pumps have been running nonstop all day and can't even bring the indoor temperature up to 60F!) I was still feeling like total doggie doo-doo, so I went and sat in front of the fire.

I just sat.

I didn't read a book, or do some knitting, or fill out a crossword, or write in my journal. I just sat with my cup of tea and my two dogs by my side. I watched the fire instead of the boob tube. (Young people: this is an old-fashioned term for the television.) I sat there for an entire hour.

And miracle of miracles, I began to feel better. Sure my muscles still feel like I've been beaten with a two-by-four, and my headache isn't totally gone, and my uterus aches, but my spirit somehow has revived. Maybe it was the beauty of the flickering flames. Maybe it was the peace and quiet. Maybe it was giving myself permission to do absolutely nothing. Maybe it was the gingersnaps???

Whatever the reason, the tea or the fire, my heart grew three times it's regular size. And once my heart wasn't feeling quite so tight, I hopped right up to write this blog.

If you're having a bit of a rough patch, and the holiday season isn't filling you with festive and joyous cheer, maybe you need to take a break. Grab yourself a cup of tea (or hot chocolate or mocha latte) then sit down. Put your feet up. Close your eyes or watch the fire. Let go of all the hustle and bustle around you. You are not a Grinch! You just need to recharge your batteries.

Hit PAUSE and give yourself a time out. Join us again when you're ready!