Mindfulness

8 Habits I am Committing to In 2018

8 Habits I am Committing to In 2018

Habits have the power to completely transform your life. I have found that little tweaks here and there in my habits makes it easier for me to reach my goals. For instance, last year I wanted to get more sleep and realized I wasn't getting to bed before 11pm (even though I would start winding down for the day at least 2 hours earlier). After having dinner, tidying up, and prepping lunch for the next day, I still had to wash myself up before I could hop into bed. So I decided I would take my shower in the evenings as soon as I got home, before dinner, and then I had less to squeeze in after. That tiny act completely transformed my evenings, and the time where I would then take showers was no longer filled with idling time online "winding down" from the workday.

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Best Apps for Your Mindfulness Practice

I am currently in week 3 of my 100 Days of Mindfulness challenge (already!), so thought it would be a good time to share a couple of my impression and favorite apps that are helping me along in this journey.

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Headspace

I am using Headspace to learn how to meditate daily. I first downloaded it sometime last year and quickly ran through the first 10 (free) guided meditations. I was hesitant to subscribe ($12/month or $100 annually) because I wanted to try out other apps first that may have better features or be more economical (some of them I will talk about below). Yet, after trying many other guided meditation tools I found myself coming back to Headspace over and over again, replaying the 10 free sessions! At the end of last year I took advantage of a $1/month for 3 months promotion shortly after gifting my sister an annual subscription for her birthday. This promotion worked on me because I got hooked on the full version of the app and haven't looked back since! My partner and I particularly love the sleep meditations and found that to be a reasonable way to get into almost-daily meditation. For me, $9 a month for a service that teaches me, adds lifelong value, and I frequently use (daily now!) is a steal. I also love the game-like features including the app employs like tracking usage, instructional videos, and the mindfulness reminders. 

Tide

Tide is a simple and beautifully executed pomodoro style application that helps you focus. I have been exploring the concept of "single-tasking" lately and this app has been perfect for this. I turn the app on and it will play a soundscape for 25 minutes of focused effort and then allow a 5-minute break. I find the gentleness of this type of timer much friendlier to use as opposed to the timer that comes with the clock app on the iPhone. It allows me to really get into the grove of working without anticipating and fearing the buzzer.

Calm

Calm is a meditation app with a few added components meant to help improve your sleep and breathing. I particularly like the breathing exercise because I have noticed through my yoga and meditation practice that I am a shallow breather. If you become a paid subscriber of this app you can unlock many more "programs," which are multi-day series (the Headspace app calls these "packs"). And if you are really into relaxing soundscapes it is very likely you'll love this app.

Simple Habit

This app is a collective of meditation instructors that you can follow and learn from. To access all features a paid upgrade is required (like most of the other apps I have mentioned), but there are lots of free guided meditations and lessons to try out first. This app also offers daily reminders and some tracking features much like Headspace. If you want more choice in who is teaching you (aka the voice that guides you) this may be the app for you. This app also has a great analytics dashboard to help track your progress and set goals in your practice.

Moment

I want to end with both a tool and a tip. I highly suggest turning off non-essential notifications on your phone and even opt to remove counter that appears on the app icon. This is a great way to reduce the number of distractions that pull us out of focus and away from the moment. This strategy is allowing me to control when I check my phone and email and limit how much digital content "consume" each day.

If you really want to dive deep into meditation and mindfulness apps check out this scientific study that evaluates and ranks mindfulness apps. A couple to note at the top of their list includes Stop Breathe Think and Smiling Mind that appear to have a lot of the features I like in the apps above.

What apps have you come across that you either like or didn't like so much? I would love to know, as my never-ending quest for good tools continues!

100 Days of Mindfulness

I currently have a pretty severe strain in my right forearm. I've had it for nearly a week and it will still be there for at least a few more days. I swear I have a reason for telling you this...

The thing is that I know exactly what it is from because I have had this pain before. It's a result of my appalling desk posture. I often will work in an uncomfortable position, mindlessly, for hours only to realize it the next day when I go to grab something and I feel a sharp pain. I, like most people, have a lot of these mindless habits. I bite my nails, I forget to eat lunch, I leave the house to work and arrive at my desk not noticing the 15 minutes that had passed. I just get lost in my thoughts. Often.

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Getting lost in your thoughts aren't a big deal but, as I have discussed in the past, I feel like these little mindless moments add up to a lot of life lost, or enable habits I'd prefer not to have; flashback to all those times I have eaten a whole box of cookies in one sitting and not notice until my knuckles hit the cardboard. Oops.

This is why I challenged myself to the 100 Day Project, but my version of it. This project was initially created for makers to make for 100 days in a row. It is an exercise in appreciating the process and understanding one's creativity. I want to use it to build my mindfulness muscle. I plan to do this through meditating, developing mindfulness "triggers," and studying up on mindful philosophy. I have begin documenting my first days on Instagram (if you aren't following me there please do, that's where all the magic has been happening lately!) and am about to say buh-bye to week 1!

I am very excited to see how this goes, I have no hypotheses at this point. I am just taking a shot in the dark and feeling my way through hoping to be a more present and appreciative version of myself by the end of it all.

A Simple, Difficult Task: Being Present

A little over a year ago it was early morning and I was walking the damp, dark streets of lower Manhattan to my office. Imagine cold winter winds, and the noise of construction added to the rushed feeling of every workday. It isn't surprising that I came to dread that walk each day. I would turn on autopilot for each of the 15 minutes each way and managed to just barely tolerate it. Given that I have a limited number of these half hour periods each day (about 32 intact, I did the math), I began to realize spending even one of them feeling miserable or checked out is a waste of my life. 130 hours a year of just "getting by," NOPE. I decided I didn't want to just give away that time anymore so I started what I though would be a simple challenge.

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My challenge: to be present (or "mindful") during that walk. Despite the fact that I couldn't control the weather or the noise or the all of the city grime, I wanted to pay attention and find at least one thing amongst the chaos I could witness and appreciate. Some of these things I began to document on Instagram, or I would share with friends directly. Some of them I would keep for myself. Sometimes it would be an object, other times an interaction between people. At times I would just savor a feeling I had. This little practice on my walk evolved to observing myself, how I felt, how I walk, how I breathe and very quickly my walk became something enjoyable (even in the cold weather!).

The reason this was difficult is because it required me to quiet my thoughts and acknowledge my environment. I was so used to letting my mind run, usually trying to anticipate what the day would hold, that I didn't notice my surroudings or even myself. This was my perfect intro to mindfulness and meditation. It was a short, consistent activity to get my feet wet in this world.

At the time I had no idea of how vast these practices were. My only goal was to stop taking these 30 minutes a day for granted and try to experience something new before I reached the office and spent 8 hours working away. Now, a year later, I have been done more research and expanded my practice I am experiencing new benefits benefits.

So far I have noticed that mindfulness has helped me limit the anxious rumination and overthinking in my head. It is also improving how I interact with other people, allowing me to be more engaged and a much more compassionate listener. Along those same lines my memory is improving (because I am actually making memories and not getting lost in my head!). And I also feel more appreciation. This one is hard to explain, but I think that when your are present and truly taking in what you are doing, where you are, who you are with, etc. you recognize the miracle and beauty of life. It's kind of amazing. These are just a few things I've noted from my blossoming mindfulness practice so far.

For more on the psychology of why being present is so hard check out this article. That's all for now!

Please let me know if you have any mindful practices, I'd love to hear about them!

Be Outraged and Resist

Trump has been in office for a week and the country is on fire. It started with limiting a woman's right to choose and an effort to start dismantling universal healthcare (see the reinstatement of the global gag rule), setting back climate change efforts and clamping down on science as a whole (see Keystone XL & Dakota Access pipelines and Federal science actions), and attacking immigrants on multiple fronts with a particular emphasis on Muslims (see the border wall and Muslim ban). I have been slow to accept our new reality. I tried to be cautiously optimistic the days before his inauguration, then I tried to avoid the news as my greatest fears were being realized, then I was just sad. Now I am really pissed off and ready to work. Trump and his hateful policies must go. So here is what I am doing and I encourage you to do to. And this isn't where I am stopping, if you have any suggestions of other actions we can take please leave them in the comments below so everyone who sees this post can take part too.

Let's be outraged. Let's resist. Let's take our country back.

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Make Your Voice Heard

Call your representatives, write letters, sign petitions, demonstrate in the streets if you have to! Our representatives are supposed to represent us and so it is our responsibility to make our positions known and continuously apply pressure on them. Use Common Cause's representative locator to find out who your reps are. And if you need a little extra help on what to say, check out this article for some tips about how to talk to your representative when you do call.

Organize

When President Obama told us in his farewell speech to organize I had no idea where to start. Luckily I have some incredible friends who did. We have begun by sharing good information and finding ways to do the above (reach out to our representatives). One friend has offered up her apartment on a weekly basis as a hub to create call scripts, make calls, write letters and keep information sharing. There is also an incredible guide and directory of how and where to get involved called the Indivisible Guide. Start with this and you'll be good.

Share Good Information

This requires staying informed and not propagating "alternative facts." Misinformation/fake news is a dangerous thing as we have already seen with this administration. We need to armor ourselves with the truth and be cynical with the media we consume. Also, good information is power. Articles like  what to do if ICE agents come to your door should be widely shared so that everyone has the knowledge they need. 

Donate

A little can go a very long way if we all chip in. I am personally giving to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood and Justice Democrats(at minimum). I will be cutting out my work lunches, extra coffees, and any other frivolous spending to give all that I can. This is an investment in a country I want to live in and society we can be proud of after all!

Stay Positive

If we stop believing in the power of the people and democracy there is not way we can win. So please take care of yourself and those directly in front of you first. Practice self care and go at your own pace. Do what you need to in order to feel like you (and not a hopeless shell of you), feel strong, and remain hopeful. We could be in for the long haul and everyone of us needs to be able to take some time for ourselves.

"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."

-desmond tutu

That is all I have, again please add ideas to this list. I want to know what actions you are taking and how you are taking care of yourself. Now is the time more than ever to spread love, count our blessings and support one another to ensure this time does not become our new normal! 

XO