Mindful Intentions this Holiday Season

It’s the week of Christmas and I’m finding it unbelievable how quickly this year has passed. I know it’s not quite over yet, but this has been by far the fastest year of my life. It’s flown by at lightning speed, and I think part of the reason for that is the amount that’s been piling onto my plate in the last 6 months. I’m not complaining — I love the work I’m doing. I love this blog. I love the adventures we’ve had this past year (some of which I shared in my 2 year anniversary post), and I love that I have the luxury of choosing how to spend so much of my time. I think the problem is that sometimes the choice I make is to dive into Instagram or Facebook, and suddenly 30 minutes has passed. That’s going to change in 2016.

I made a promise to myself and to you last year that I was going to start prioritizing mindfulness. In that area of wellness, I’ve seen some successes and some challenges. In some ways, I’ve come a long way, but in others, I’ve regressed — the phone thing I mentioned is a big regression for me. I find myself with my face in my phone more than ever these days, and it’s a personal goal of mine to reduce that this coming year. 

mindful intentions

There’s an App for That

I learned a while back that there was an app called Moment. I learned it when I was doing research for this post about unplugging to get more creative, but I never quite pulled the trigger and downloaded it. Basically, it monitors how often you pick up your phone with the idea that awareness around your habits will help you change them. It works the same way keeping a food journal does — just the act of monitoring can have the power to change the behavior.

I’m doing it right now. The app is downloading as we speak. I’m going for it, and my quest for 2016 is to change my phone habits. It’s a free app — I get nothing at all for telling you about it. I’m just curious to see where I am, how much time I spend on my phone (a more specific quantity than “too much”), and what I might feel motivated to do to improve my habits. We’ll see how it goes. 

mindful intentions

Mindful Intentions This Holiday Season

If you subscribe to my newsletter, you read the note I sent out to you a few weeks back, just as the holiday hustle and bustle began. I mentioned bringing mindful intentions with you everywhere you go this season, and how this simple act can reshape your whole holiday experience.

Bring your mindful intentions to your office every day if you work at one of those places that covers every flat surface with candy and cookies this time of year. Bring them with you to your next holiday party. Bring them with you as you plan to see your family (especially if that’s a stressful prospect for you). 

To bring mindful intentions with you is to check in with yourself as you move through activities you might not otherwise be actively present in.

Mindful Intentions at Work

Before grazing the work candy/cookies buffet, mindfully ask yourself if you’re hungry or if you’re just taking something because it’s there. If you’re hungry enough to eat an apple, try that first before going for the candy. Otherwise, grab some water or tea and head back to your desk. And ask the question without judgement. Just ask it and see what comes up without berating yourself when you find out the answer.

Mindful Intentions at the Holiday Partymindful intentions and mindful eating

When you prepare for a holiday party, offer to bring something that you know you’ll enjoy eating that isn’t full of sugar or junk. Be mindful of your appetite going into the party and prepare ahead of time so that you’re not ravenous when you see the hors d’oeuvres table. Do a quick scan of what’s available to eat and choose your favorite “indulgence” for the night — the one that’s really worth it, and enjoy it without guilt. Leave the rest of the sweets alone. 

Mindful Intentions at Family Gatherings

As you gather your gumption to see difficult family, notice how the anticipation feels, and allow it to dissipate. Understand that you are the master of your own destiny, that you are a sovereign being with control over your reactions and that the power is yours to entertain or ignore toxic people. Recognize that if you choose to “eat your feelings,” you will only be punishing yourself. And remember to *breathe.*

Mindful Intentions Towards Yourself

And absolutely MOST IMPORTANTLY, be kind to yourself. This is a time of year for celebrating, for being with those we love, for showering loved ones with good intentions in the year to come, for deep gratitude for the blessings in our lives, for our health, and for generosity. Don’t forget to be generous with yourself too. You deserve it. We are often our biggest critics. Use this time at the end of the year to acknowledge the things you’ve done well, to celebrate your accomplishments, and to appreciate yourself and how hard you work. 

Thank you for being part of the CWB community this year! I couldn’t do this without you!

And just for fun, Dexter says Happy Holidays too!

happy holidays from dexter the dog

Reconnecting with the Present Moment While Appreciating the Past

It’s been a while since I reflected on the relationships in my life and the value they bring to me and my wellbeing. And in my quest for mindfulness and conscious presence in the life laid before me, I think now is as good a time as any for some reflection. I grew up in Houston, moved to Fort Worth for my first year of college, then to Austin for the rest. I studied abroad in Italy for a semester, then moved to Baltimore, and now I’m here in the SF Bay Area.  While Houston remains my home base and the main hub where I see my family each year at Christmas, I’ve collected friendships in each of the places I’ve lived that contribute to my sweet, rich life on a very regular basis. I have friends I hold dear to my heart in every American time zone (and some abroad too!), and as I get older and life gets busier, maintaining these precious relationships gets harder and harder. 

reconnecting gratitude

the Fab 5 – my grade school posse

 

Growing Up – Or Should I say “Grown Up”

In the last … I don’t know, 3 years? 4 years? … I’ve realized that I’m actually an adult. Yes, I know, I’m 33. I’m a late bloomer that way I guess. My point is that I’m realizing that the life I make here in my new home of California is my actual life — the one I’ve chosen and continue to choose every day I stay — and I only get one. This isn’t a trial run, it’s the real deal. I never felt like I’d stay in Houston, in Austin, in Baltimore forever, and as a result, part of me always felt a little disconnected from where I was — maybe not fully present is a good way to describe it.

I knew I’d move on to find my true home somewhere else, and now that I’ve found it, I’m realizing that I really was connected to those places I left behind. I left behind real, true friends that I carry with me every day in my new home, and I find myself wishing they were here with me. It’s hard to replace those kinds of relationships as an adult. As people get married, have kids, become immersed in their careers, their families, their homes, their pets (I never said I wasn’t immersed too!), the challenge of creating new relationships from scratch becomes greater and greater. At least that’s true for me. 

reconnecting gratitude

Best friends from high school. Pics on the left from 1996 and 2000, pics on the right from 2013

Gratitude

Not everyone is lucky enough to have lifelong friends as I do — keeping in touch through moves across the country, relationships, having kids, break-ups, make-ups, life’s little disasters, and the joys of every day can be a big challenge. But I have been that lucky. I’ve been lucky enough to keep a friendship that started when I was 4 years old long enough and strong enough for us to have been in each other’s weddings in the past few years. I’ve been lucky enough to sustain strong, solid friendships after break ups with amazing people whom I still call my very best friends today. I’ve held on to people I wasn’t sure would want me to when I’ve moved across the country, who’ve surprised me with their consideration and loyalty to our relationship. I’m so impressed with the people in my life, but sometimes it’s easy to take for granted.

reconnecting gratitude

Paige and I have known each other since we were 4 years old. We’ve kept in touch through moves all over the country, even childhood moves.

This post is meant to honor the ones I love in every time zone, whether we talk every week or once a year for hours to catch up. But it’s also meant to recognize that I’ve been chasing relationships in my adult life that mirror these lifelong connections, and maybe that’s not very realistic. Maybe attempting to recreate friendships like these is the wrong goal altogether, and I need to redirect my energy to appreciating the newness of what’s in front of me.

reconnecting gratitude

My wedding day with great friends new and old

Connecting to the Present Moment

Lately, I’ve been focusing so much on the past and the future that I’m missing out on what’s in front of me today, right now. My quest is to appreciate the people around me in more deliberate ways, to appreciate what I have, all the blessings, all the gifts of the universe. It’s true that my friends in every time zone are with me in my heart, but I need to wake myself up to the tangible world in front of me, to the relationships in my life with unrealized potential to flourish and nourish me as a real, bona fide adult person. I need to try harder to build strong foundations here and now, where I am today. 

reconnecting gratitude

the climbing crew

So my promise to myself and to friends new and old is to try harder. To apply myself to our relationships, to express gratitude to the people around me who enrich the life I’ve built. 

Thank you for being you; thank you for making my life a better, richer one; thank you for teaching me something, for learning from me, and for valuing us enough to keep in touch. 

Mindfulness and Wellbeing: My New Year’s Resolution

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to start a mindful meditation practice. I have been talking about it on and off for the past 6 months, and though I’ve attempted to start a morning routine a few times, all attempts have been false starts — that snooze button is just too tempting! My sister has been getting into mindfulness lately, and for Christmas she asked me to get her a book that illustrates an 8-week plan for cultivating a mindfulness practice. I started reading it too, and I’m hoping it will help me stay on track, as trying on my own has barely gotten me anywhere. (Even coaches need guidance!)

Why Mindfulness Meditation?

Surely you’ve heard of this word, “mindfulness”? Possibly at a yoga class or in therapy? Maybe on talk radio or in a weight loss group? I’ve written a post on mindful eating, but a mindfulness practice extends far beyond eating behavior and into how we interface with the world (and all the wonderful things that lie within it). Becoming mindful isn’t something that just magically happens overnight. Rather we have to cultivate our awareness, and as such, having a teacher, a book to follow, a set of guidelines, or even an app can be helpful to get started.

Mindful meditation (a practice rooted in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) has been shown in scientific studies to be as effective as prescription antidepressants to reduce depression and anxiety — and with none of the side effects. In fact, it’s the preferred treatment in most cases. But importantly, even those without depression and anxiety can benefit from this modality. Whether we practice mindfulness for stress management or for a renewed sense of how we see ourselves, both in our bodies and in the world, it’s a useful tool to improve our emotional wellbeing every day.  

mindfulness meditation

Inner Gaze by Alice Pennes of Avenues of Artistry. Click to learn more about her work

What is Mindfulness?

“Trying to understand mindfulness by its definition is like trying to understand what it is like to fall in love by reading a textbook. You might get a general idea, but you’d be missing out on the best part: what it actually feels like. Mindfulness is all about experience, about the actual aliveness, of each moment. You learn to pay attention on purpose, in the present moment, not because someone said that it would be a good thing to do, but because that is where you find your life.”
             – Michael Baime, MD (creator of mindfulness-based programs at University of Pennsylvania)

This word mindfulness is elusive and intriguing to some, heavy and burdensome to others — the second attitude is often enhanced if the word “meditation” comes right after the word “mindfulness.” There can be some pretty heavy associations with meditation. I’ve even had a colleague tell me that she didn’t want to return to a yoga class (after her very first time ever) because she felt that the meditation conflicted with her religious beliefs. I was simultaneously surprised and not at all fazed. It’s just as easy to misunderstand meditation and the intentions of the practice as it is to be intimidated by the stillness and silence that often accompanies it.

The truth of the matter is that mindful meditation is a personal centering practice — not rooted in religion but in behavioral therapy — and while there are countless other forms of meditation, some of which include chanting, it’s possible to receive the benefits of meditation without contradicting any religious practices.

Starting Small

I’ve mentioned before that meditation doesn’t have to be this extreme, long, painstakingly silent process. Rather, it can just be the active experience of breathing — mindful breathing — for short periods of time. The book I’m reading even provides a 1-minute meditation in the first chapter. Noticing your body, noticing the details of how you feel, allowing thoughts to pass through your mind without judgement, and then letting them melt away — this practice is a brief mindful meditation, a tremendous tool for dealing with stress, appreciating life, and overall wellbeing.

My Personal Journey

To be perfectly candid, sitting still without some sort of stimulus is a challenge for me. I might not be theologically threatened by meditation, but I’ve spent a good bit of time working out my own preconceived notions about the practice, just because I’m not great at sitting still.

I’m actually not great at walking with a still mind either. I go through regular phases where I won’t get up from my desk to do anything at all (get a snack, go to the bathroom, walk to my car) without a book in my hand or a podcast in my ear; reading and walking, listening and walking. Why do I crave constant stimulation? Part of this mindfulness practice will be unpacking the stories I tell myself. Maybe one of them is that I don’t have time to read, so I fit it in minute by minute by never doing anything without text in front of my eyes or ear buds in my ears. Maybe that’s true, and maybe it’s not. I suppose I’ll find out.

When I envision a full picture of holistic wellbeing, I see food, movement, creativity, sleep, personal growth, and connection with nature, spirit, and community. I’m approaching this year’s resolution around mindfulness with the intention of touching on quite a few of these components in my own wellbeing. I mentioned mindful eating (food), but this practice will also provide me with tools to help turn off my mind when it’s time for sleep. Mindfulness is also crucial for personal growth and understanding how I affect those around me and in my community. It’s a way to acknowledge that my existence matters and that the decisions I make have an effect. By creating inner stillness and awakening my senses, I will interact with the world around me from a place of deep peace.  

Let’s do it together!mindfulness meditation

Have you been contemplating a mindfulness practice of your own? Why don’t you join me? The book I’m reading is called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Marc Williams and Danny Penman. Click the title for the paperback version.  Click here for the Kindle version. Using these links will help me out if you decide to get a copy. You can also get a sample through the kindle e-reader for free if you want to get a peak at the beginning of the book. As I move through the book, I’ll be posting about my experience and what I learn — knowing that you’re waiting to hear from me will help hold me accountable, in addition to (hopefully) shedding some more light on this topic.

 

7 Tips for Mindful Eating

To be honest, the areas of mindfulness and mindful eating are places where I struggle. I come from a family that eats off of each others’ plates, and I think somewhere along the way I learned that I’d get more food into my mouth if I ate it really quickly. It became a running joke that at the end of each meal, I’d be so full that I had to unbutton my pants and hold them away from my little belly. In retrospect, it’s not really that funny, but I was a pretty cute kid and my parents didn’t know any better. It’s been a challenge to learn my lesson about overeating even as an adult, but I’ve found a few little tricks, which I’ll share with you today.

mindful eating

my love for food started young

Mindful eating isn’t just about avoiding overeating. It’s about ensuring that the food you do eat is nourishing you on every level: mind, body, and spirit. It’s about examining your habits and finding ways to refine or change them into those that feed you in more ways than one. It’s about being present at meal time, whether you’re with company or alone, and truly appreciating what’s in front of you.

Like I said, I struggle with this too, so try not to be overwhelmed with this list. I’ve kept it simple and listed a few small, doable actions that can help you get your mindful eating practice started today. I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to implement every single one of these at once, so keep this list as a reference and try one at a time to see what works best for you. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.

7 Tips for Mindful Eating

1. Turn off and unplug

Mealtime should be only that — mealtime. Not text time, not web-surfing time, not TV time. This might be the hardest task on this list if you’re eating alone (especially in public), but just try it. Set a goal for yourself to unplug while eating for the next 3 days and see if you notice a difference in a) how much you eat, b) how nourished you feel, and c) how relaxed you feel upon completion.

When you engage in activities other than the task at hand during mealtime, your brain doesn’t focus on the signals being sent from your stomach. It’s a lot easier to overeat when you’re not paying attention to your body and how you feel with each bite. If all you have to do is put the food in your mouth, chew, and swallow, your brain has no choice but to listen to your body.

mindful eating

click to see the source of this picture and learn more about this “social etiquette” cause

2. Express/Observe gratitude

These days, it’s just too easy to whip something up in the kitchen, throw it on the table, and start mowing down the second my butt hits the seat without a thought. But what if I took a few extra seconds to acknowledge how the food I’m about to eat got to my plate? is it food I grew in my backyard with the help of my husband? Was it food I bought at the farmers’ market from the farmer herself? Is it an animal that lost its life so I could nourish mine?

Giving gratitude not only innately slows us down, it feels good! I know it sounds silly, but gratitude can improve your health and is a great tool in your mindful eating tool belt.

click through to see more art from avenues of artistry

click through to see more art from avenues of artistry

3. Stop and smell the roses (or the pot roast)

The time I have between the gym and bedtime feels like it’s getting shorter, and the less time I spend cooking and eating, the more time I will have to relax with the dog at the end of the day, right? Maybe, but maybe not. If I treat cooking and eating as part of my relaxing evening, won’t each night be more enjoyable?

Some research has shown that the simple act of smelling your food for a few minutes before you dive in can initiate the physiological process of feeling satisfied before you’ve even taken one bite. These findings have promising implications for weight loss — in fact, this strategy is referenced in the famous HBO-sponsored call to action Weight of the Nation (part 2).

4. Sit at a table, not in the driver’s seat

We’re all guilty of snacking in the car from time to time, some of us more frequently than others. I have to admit that I’ve had to break this habit more than once. At times, it’s been reflexive for me to leave work, plop into the driver’s seat, and open the center console for a snack without thinking.

Eating in the car is another version of distracted eating. Not only is your brain distracted from eating and telling you when you’re full, you’re also distracting yourself from the more important task of driving safely! Sure, eating and driving might not be as risky as texting and driving, but it’s still not the best idea. Sit at a table when you eat to create the memory in your mind that the table is for eating and the car is for driving.

mindful eating

more tips to avoid distracted driving are a click away

5. Plan Plan Plan – Be prepared

This tip is about deliberately setting yourself up for success. If you have the right foods to choose from at any given time, foods that were chosen mindfully, you’re far more likely to choose what you’ve planned to eat than head down to the vending machine for a Snickers to chomp on while finishing up your day on the computer.

Breaking the eating while driving habit took planning my workday better so that I wouldn’t be hungry when I got in the car after work. Having a strategy for meals and snacks at work or away from home will help set you up for a more mindful eating practice.

mindful eating

Here’s what my work cubby looks like

6. Assess your hunger

Mindful eating is just as much about why as it is about what, how much, and how often. Are you truly hungry? Is there a void you’re filling or stress you’re avoiding with that mid-morning doughnut hole or do you actually need food? Are you bored? Tired?

The best way to decide if you’re truly hungry is to ask yourself “Would I eat an apple right now?” If the answer is “No, but I sure do want those Doritos,” then you might not truly be hungry. If the answer is “yes” then actually eat the apple or some comparably healthy food and skip the junk.

7. Try a gentle cleanse

I recently did a very short kitchari cleanse to usher in the spring season, and in the few days I spent eating only mung beans, brown rice, fruits and vegetables, I realized that limiting my choices truly brought about mindful eating. It wasn’t what I was expecting to get out of my cleansing experience, but it was a truly valuable lesson. Being temporarily limited (emphasis on temporary) allowed me to subconsciously utilize a good portion of the list I just spelled out for you. In fact, it’s what inspired this post in the first place. When I only had the few foods to choose from, I had to ask myself if I was truly hungry enough to eat the same thing again, I couldn’t eat in the car, and I had to make my food in advance.

mindful eating

photo taken by Sanjay Acharya

Cleansing can do a lot for us physically, but this psychoemotional piece was a pleasant surprise, and it’s helped me bring a more mindful intention to my daily meals.

Do you have a tip for mindful eating or a challenge you face with starting a mindful eating practice? Share below! Let’s talk!

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