Nourish and Forge Wellness

health and life coaching for those experiencing stress, transition, and overwhelm

Coming Home

When my dad died in February, I lost all sense of home. I was half-orphaned — a gaping, black hole in my life and my being. 

Home has been tricky for a while. Long ago, it was my childhood house on a cul-de-sac; the place I did my homework and laundry, where I slept and ate and spent time with family and friends. Then, it was a city—Fort Collins for six years, Denver for seven.

At age 31, I moved overseas and became an expat. Home took on layers; it was not just locations, but people, emotions, experiences. Home was sensory—certain smells, tastes, and sounds. I lived a dual existence—intensely missing one home while working, and yearning for the other while vacationing—never quite feeling settled, but also knowing my life had expanded exponentially. Not always easy or pleasant, but f*%king beautiful.

My dad died seven months after I moved back to the U.S. It’s been nine months since then. I’ve moved three times in those 16 months; I’ve had a few jobs; I’ve hesitated to fully commit to a location, a job, a relationship. My life that had been generally stable and rooted become exploratory—home being something from my past, not my present.

Death is a thief. It stole most of what I believed to be true. It took away the illusion that everything would be ok. It snatched my lightness, joy, and energy. And then it left me crumpled on the floor, disoriented and disconnected. When the ground disappears from beneath you—what’s left? Home carried no meaning, no comfort for me for a while. Maybe until now, in my last few days of a couple nomadic months. I’m in Asia again, feeling at home for a moment or two in the embraces of expat family. Flickers of joy and lightness have shimmered in and out of my days, whispering promises for the future. In odd moments, walking to the subway or gazing up at all the tall buildings, I’m feeling something frantic inside me begin to slow and still.

This strange calm started in a beautiful valley in Thailand, where I came together with three teachers and fourteen other students on a five week journey that culminated in a yoga teacher certification. Sure, we did yoga, but beyond that, it was a fiery, spiritual experience filled with discomfort and empowerment, self-doubt and self-discovery. During our three day silent meditation retreat, a seed of knowing sprouted in me — what if home is not a place, not people, not experiences? What if it’s not a journey somewhere, but a journey within?

Home has been increasingly complicated for so many years. But, in this moment, it’s simple: I am my home. My heart is home; my soul is home; my path towards more love, more meaning, more growth is home. When I stop looking to home as a destination, but instead as a turning inward, it feels like truth. No matter where I go, I am home. So, it’s time to settle in, build my life here, cultivate deep self love and acceptance. Not easy or comfortable, but f*%king beautiful.

Before losing my dad, I wouldn’t have arrived here. I couldn’t have—I didn’t have the capacity yet. So cheers, Dad. I love you. Thank you for helping me come home.

Share

Numbing Works

qtq80-hURYY4

I first learned how to numb when my mom became ill and was hospitalized when I was 13.

She went to the hospital and we went into survival mode—part of which involved numbing things to the “not-going-to-consume-me-with-raging-fire-of-the-miserable-unfairness-of-it-all” level.

So, while my mom was in the hospital, my dad, two siblings, and I watched TV. Like a lot of it. Anything to forget and distract and feel better. At least for an hour or two. We ate comfort food. All the comfort food. Ice cream, pizza, tacos, candy. When I wasn’t comfort eating or watching TV with my two siblings and dad, I was escaping into every book I could put my hands on. And let me tell you. Numbing worked.

Fast forward 23 years. A lot of shit has gone down—as it does. I have weathered soul-sucking jobs, heart-crushing breakups, leaving my entire life behind and rebuilding it overseas, my mom’s continued health issues, my dad’s more recent terminal cancer, the list goes on.

It’s both devastating and completely normal. We all weather horrible ordeals that eff up our lives; we all experience wonderful moments that make life worth living. The degree of these experiences varies from person to person, but the existence of them in each life does not.

I haven’t always navigated the hard times in healthy ways. It could be said I’ve become a master of numbing life’s pain. (I probably should make myself a certificate. Haha.) Throughout my teens, twenties, and now my thirties, numbing has been a constant companion in many hard ordeals. TV and food are still old anesthetizing friends, but I’ve added to my speed dial—alcohol, Internet, social media, and when I’m being a bit healthier, 1000 piece puzzles and podcasts (this offers literally hours of zoning out and forgeting about any crappy crap I’m trying to get through). They have always been there to distract me and take away the discomfort—at least for a little while. Numbing works.

Until…it doesn’t. Because at some point all that discomfort and yuck you’ve been avoiding is going to explode all over everywhere. It will demand your attention. It will leave voicemails and comment on your fb wall and show up at work. Because numbing works, but only in small doses and in the short term. 

When numbing is your one and only strategy to getting through discomfort and difficulty and devastation, you end up half-living. Numbing the bad feelings also numbs the good ones. It limits your ability to grow, learn, and connect with others. It leaves you feeling empty and alone.

I know this; I’ve lived it.

I’ve also come to learn that strictly cutting out my anesthetizing helpers isn’t realistic for me; there are times I need to check out for a little while. But I now know I must couple a great deal of awareness and mindfulness with any sort of numbing behaviors I take into my life. I have to do this during times of difficulty to be sure I’m not getting sucked into the “I’m-checking-out-for-a week/month/year-cuz-this-feels-awful” black hole. So, I force myself to notice when my moods and energy and healthy behaviors are decreasing and reevaluate my choices.

This has come into play during my repatriation to the US. I have had a great deal of time and a great deal of stress on my hands. Recently, I’ve noticed that my TV watching has increased as has my alcohol and shitty fake-food consumption. Not anything drastic, but enough for me to feel thoroughly like C-R-A-P. I know from experience that it’s a slippery slope, so in recent years, I’ve done my best to recognize and face those realities early on.

Here’s what I did: I decided to eliminate one thing. I stopped watching television; I know from experience that it is one of the most needy behaviors—always wanting to be paired up with a boozy bev or a crappy snack. After I stopped, I immediately found a decrease in my other unhealthy cravings. It’s also given me inertia to do other positive things for myself. I’ve spent more time outside, even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve found a gym that I love and go regularly. I’ve meditated. It all started with that one change.

 

Let me break down what I’ve learned during my serious work in this area for the last seven years or so—first, decide that you want to be more present and be willing to sit in the discomfort, face it, and decide what to do with it. Then—know your triggers, bring awareness and honesty to your behaviors, pick ONE thing you want to eliminate, substitute or shift. Do it and then notice what happens. Reevaluate and revise as needed.

It takes bravery and vulnerability and perseverance to sit in discomfort instead of distract, to face hardships instead of avoid, to have moments all over life’s spectrum, fully feeling both joy and sorrow, instead of staying only in the middle and chopping off the ends with numbing agents. It’s hard work, but worthy work. Let numbing be a tool used sparingly and notice what happens.

Does this resonate with you? Do you have times you’d like to navigate stress or pain better? Are you not fully feeling the joy and the sorrow in your life?  If you said yes to any of these, give this idea a shot and let me know how it goes!

Share

The Gym Is NOT the Answer – Part 1

Even typing this title seems like a betrayal.

My family and friends know how happy the gym makes me. How I talked about CrossFit and my gym for the first two years straight, regardless of if the listening party was interested. How my gym was my self-professed “church”, my rock through some of the stormiest times of my life.

The gym used to be my answer. To everything. Stressed? Gym. Sad? Gym. Feel pudgy and unworthy and unsexy? Gym.

In the midst of expatness (four years in South Korea), I didn’t always have my gym and community that I thrived in. Now, in the midst of repatting (moving back to the U.S. after four years in South Korea), I haven’t yet found a gym and community that I call home. I’ve been forced to reconsider.

And here’s the thing: the gym is not the answer.

Let’s zoom out. Why do people go to the gym? Health. Stress relief.  To get smaller (women), to get bigger (men), to get sexier (everyone).

Again, here’s the thing: the gym is not the answer.

qtq80-q7BoDL

Before we talk about what is the answer, let’s examine the question. What are we seeking in the gym? Truly? What is lying under our desire for that killer workout?

My list looks like this:

  • mental/emotional stress relief through exercise
  • community
  • challenge and growth (learning new movements, mastering new skills)
  • physical health and longevity
  • lose body fat (something I think about far more than I’d like to admit)
  • balance out poor food/drink choices
  • be as attractive as possible to attract a romantic partner and be accepted and successful in society

The second half of my list has more to do with self-acceptance and mindfulness work than with the gym and exercise (a whole different blog post). The first half of the list are in fact things I can accomplish at the gym (bolded). And the bottom line is, I feel better about myself and my body AND I function better as a human when I’m going to the gym often.

However, my recent transition has forced upon me an important realization: the gym is not the answer; movement is.

This means that just because I don’t have a gym right now, I don’t have to fall apart. I don’t have to flounder. I simply need to move. Every day.

This also means more freedom—I might go for a long walk one day, and ride horses the next. I might go on a hike with a Meetup group or play around with handstands and backbends in the park. The possibilities are endless.

I’ve also noticed some shifts that have resonated with me when movement (not the gym) is the answer.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-10-39-44-am

For me, the gym is still one of my happy places. When I find that home gym, it will be one of the places I get to challenge myself, be surrounded by like-minded people, relieve stress, and maintain or improve physical health. However, it is not the only place or way these needs can be fulfilled.

Whether I am traveling, settling in to a new country or my home country, insanely busy or with lots of free time, I can honor my body by moving every day. And you can too!

Join me on Instagram and post in what ways you #moveeveryday. The gym is not the answer, but delicious movement is.

 

 

Share

Do less. Be more.

Last Friday, I made a decision to do something new. Something risky. Something audacious.

I’ve always loved being outdoors and have backpacked many times in my life. But on that weekend, I decided to go solo for the very first time. After a quick search on the internet and a visit to my local REI, I was ready to go. (Side note: I’d always wanted to do this, but have never quite had the gumption or the courage to go for it.)

In the course of those three days in the wilderness, I felt expansive—stretched beyond my comfort zone and learning how to deal with conflict alone as it arose. I also felt peaceful—my tornado-brain calmed in a way that only nature and solitude will. But that’s not what I want to write about. Here’s a big in-your-face realization that came to me on day three as I was crunch-crunch-crunching my way down a gravelly trail in the Rawah Wilderness.

I need to do less on a regular basis. And you do too.

In the space I gifted myself, here’s what I did NOT do for three whole days.

  • Go on the Internet or social media
  • Work
  • Check off to-do lists
  • Make to-do lists
  • Feel guilty about ignoring my to-do lists
  • Check my phone
  • Talk to anyone (exception: myself, baby deer, massive moose that scared the crap outta me, tiny chipmunk corpse on the trail)
  • Analyze past interactions
  • Plan future interactions
  • Think about my future, my finances, or health insurance
  • Watch tv
  • Worry about anything except what was in the present moment (Is a bear going to attack me? Will my tent blow over? eff-bomb, I’m a little lost…where am I?)
  • Read for self-improvement or learning
  • Listen to podcasts (this was a temptation…but I stayed in the present, listening instead to the creatures and life around me)
  • Listen to music

You know what? This created a whole lot of space that I didn’t even realize I needed. The surprising part was what happened in that space. I began to notice these inner nudgings that I wouldn’t have ever noticed had I filled up that space with noise or distraction or even productive work.

Nudgings is the best way I can describe the stirrings or whispers inside of me that I began to pay attention to. What I found on that last day was that I was so much more in tune with what I wanted to do in every given moment.

That may sound strange. We all know what we want, right?

I don’t think so. The demands and details that fill our daily lives leave very little room for the nudgings that lead us to the simple and ordinary pleasures of our existence. 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about pleasure and how we deny, deprive, indulge, and overindulge ourselves in the various pleasurable human experiences. Much of this thought is inspired by the incredible Maddie Berky, who writes about pleasure in an engaging and thought-provoking way. (Seriously like brain-crack. Check her out here.)

As I was trekking down the mountain, I realized I had invited awareness around these simple pleasures by simply creating space for them. How? I did less. For just a couple days.

Let me tell you about a few of these moments.

I noticed when I saw a spot on the mountain that begged me to sit and rest—a pair of rocks working together to create nature’s recliner—and watch a blue jay fly back and forth, pecking at pinecones at the tops of nearby trees. As I sat, I felt my shirts clinging to me and decided I wanted to be free of them for a while, to feel the sun warming my skin and the breeze cooling me. I took my shirts off and hung then on tree branches. My feet felt hot, so I took of my shoes and socks and stretched in bare feet, feeling rough rock and sharp twigs under my toes.

I noticed these nudgings towards small pleasures and I followed them. I was rewarded. With each choice, no matter how seemingly insignificant, I felt deep satisfaction. I smiled at the birds. I closed my eyes, becoming fully aware of the sensations on my skin. I relished the spaciousness of that moment.

Do less. Be more present. 

img_0738

 

I rested until I felt the urge to begin walking again. I slowly regarbed and donned my pack, resuming my trek downward. I walked until I found another divine place that was pulling me. This time it was curiosity that led me—a cairn lay by the trail and I wanted to know what it was marking. I was rewarded by a valley exploding with yellow aspens and green pines.

Do less. Be more curious.

img_0755

 

On my last bit of trail before the parking lot, I walked along a mountain stream. It called to me, I could hear it—come, cool off, play! I almost ignored it, my mind rushing ahead to the things I needed to do before the day was done (drive home, laundry, cook dinner for the fam, get some work done). But somehow, the previous two days of slowing down and doing less, prevailed.

I stopped, dropped my pack, unsnapped and stripped out of my long sleeve shirt, rolled up my black pants, and took off my hot, gritty trail shoes and green, wool socks. I stepped down into the river, gasping with utter delight as the icy water touched my skin and the rocks and pebbles at the river’s bottom massaged my aching feet.

I laughed out loud. Reaching down with cupped hands, I splashed the deliciously cold water repeatedly on my face, my neck, my hair. I scrubbed three days of dirt off my calves and feet and arms. I raised my face to the sun and threw my arms wide, taking this moment in. It was full of joy and pleasure.

Climbing out, I did not want to put those hot, dirty shoes back on…I felt a playful inner nudging that whispered, walk the rest of the way barefoot. And so I did. And it was beautiful.

Do less. Be more joyful.

happy-river

I don’t expect to always have the freedom to escape the daily grind for three days alone in the stunning Colorado wilderness.

But, I do expect to carry this lesson forward into my life: do less, be more.

Even if it’s for an hour a week, let’s do less. Let’s turn off our devices, ignore our distractions, and postpone our duties. Let’s create the space to be more.

More present.

More curious.

More joyful.

You might be surprised at how alive you feel.

 

Share

What I Learned at the Gym about Feedback

I haven’t worked out in 6 weeks.

I’ve been traveling in northern Thailand, repatriating from South Korea to Colorado, working on home improvement projects for my parents, and spending tons of time with family, friends, and my beautiful Colorado mountains.

So, when I walked in to my first CrossFit class four days ago, I was ready to get a good sweat on. The coach and people and facility were all nice. I received feedback and cues from the coach (in detailed English) which was something I had been missing desperately in South Korea. It was a good experience; however, I left feeling a little blue.

Here’s what I was able to pull out from the experience—the coach never told me anything I was doing well; he simply pointed out what I could improve.

Constructive feedback was actually what I’d been craving, but I realized that without the companion of positive feedback, I was a little less open to hearing what he had to say and a little less pumped when I left the gym.

What is interesting to me is that I am a seasoned CrossFitter—I know my knowledge and skill sets are solid. Even with this self-confidence, I still wanted needed a balance of positive and constructive feedback from my new coach.

I can’t imagine how defeated I would’ve felt if it was my first class. 

Let me be clear, this coach was a nice guy and had great suggestions. He was a good coach. However, as coaches and teachers, we tend to fall into a place where we focus only on what needs to be fixed.

kb

Herein lay that big ol’ slap-in-the-face reminder for me—speak positivity into people’s lives. All the time, ideally, but especially when you’re trying to help someone improve.

This is relevant in communication with loved ones. This is essential when in a teaching or coaching position. This is the core ingredient for people feeling connected and safe with you when they are in a place of discomfort or when they are stretching their limits.

Here are some practical ideas of how to get a great balance of positive and constructive feedback when interacting with others.

  • Prelude each constructive criticism with a specific validation of something done well. (If you forget, you can always add a positive at the end.)
  • Try using the word “and” instead of “but” to connect your affirmation and your constructive feedback. Example: “You have done such a great job practicing your sight words this week, but and if you want to get to the next level, we can work on your spelling words now.”
  • Visualize the person in front of you achieving their goals; verbalize that bright future to them whenever appropriate.
  • Don’t blow smoke up anyone’s behind. The positive affirmation can absolutely be something small and specific, but above all, must be true.
  • Finish each coaching/teaching session with a positive wrap-up statement that validates time, effort, and achievement in an authentic way.

In a world full of “not ____ enough”, we teachers/coaches/humans have the potential to spread light and possibility. As easy as it is to forget amidst the demands and details of “adulting”, it is essential that we shine light and kindness and affirmation into our fellow human’s lives.

Let this be your focus for a day, and notice the difference.

 

Share

Lessons from My Expat Life: Say No

It’s ok to be a party-pooper.

For reals. After several months of saying yes to, legit, everything in my first expat experience in Seoul, I had to learn the next big lesson: saying no. (A lesson I continue to work on refining in my life four years later.)

Upon arriving in a new country and home, it’s of the utmost importance to start making connections, exploring, trying new foods, places, and experiences. And the way you do that is by saying yes. Yes, yes, YES! It’s a totally normal and super-fun part of the process. The downside is that at some point, saying yes to every opportunity (going out, traveling, socializing, joining a committee/book club/sports team, etc.), becomes utterly exhausting.

Our social (not to mention financial) gas tanks are finite; eventually, they require more discernment. 

The surprising part for me was how difficult it was to start saying no.

The biggest reason? FOMO. The struggle is real. Secondly, my behaviors up to that point had built expectations—expectations that would be consistently challenged as I began to be more picky with my yesses.

fomoLet’s have a real moment here.

I didn’t choose this lesson; it was forced upon me. I loved saying yes to everything, but at a certain point I found myself so depleted that I had to change what I was doing. That’s when I had to start thinking about which relationships were important to me to build, which activities fed me in some way—I had to select my yesses and learn to say no to everything else.

Let me tell you, that sh*% is tough. People hate hearing no. And eventually, when you say no enough times, you stop getting the invites, and your insides squeeze a little each time you hear about things you used to be a part of. Ugh.

But, here’s the thing: the relationships you put more time and energy into deepen; the activities you focus on become more meaningful; your bank account, social gas tank, and zen quotient grow.

Four years in, I go out infrequently (and still experience FOMO often). I usually go to bed early and get up with the sun (grandma status and proud). I spend time reading and writing and walking outside. I have dinners with dear friends. I drink when it’s special. I workout a LOT. I rarely get stressed about teaching because I have time and energy to stay caught up and balanced. I sometimes teach fitness classes. I build a lot of puzzles. I take weekend trips, but not too many. I am more aware of myself and my limits than I’ve ever been.

I say yes as often as I can (because I love my community here).

But, I still must frequently say no because I am keenly aware of my energy gas tank, and I know that driving that thing past ‘E’ takes about three times as long for me to recover from. I try to be clear and honest and gracious when I say no.

Saying no is definitely not as sparkly and joyful as saying yes. But it’s just as important.

As an expat, I’ve become practiced at and grateful for this lesson. Saying no ain’t for sissies.

And it’s ok to be a party-pooper.

Share

Lessons from My Expat Life: Say Yes

The expat life starts with a yes that feels like leaping into an abyss.

Yes. I will sign that multi-year contract, person I met yesterday. I’m pretty sure I would love to work for you.

Yes. I will sell or give away most of my earthly possessions.

Yes. I will move ALONE to a new country where pretty much everything is unknown and trust that I’ll figure it out.

The first lesson I learned from my expat life: learn to say yes. 

Saying yes is not a comfortable thing. Often, it includes some level of risk and responsibility. However, saying yes is the way we humans break new ground. It’s how we find new capacities within ourselves. It’s how we continue to expand.

My first expat yes was at the Search Associates international teaching job fair in San Francisco, February 2012. After three sleepless days of interviews and research, I signed a two year contract to teach at Korea International School. I had never been to Asia before. It was a breathtaking moment that changed my life forever.

That big ol’ yes was followed by so many more yesses. Some comfy-cozy, others super uncomfortable.

Yes, I will move around the world with only two suitcases of stuff. Yes, I will attempt to start learning Korean (a language so difficult, I often teared up during my lessons from sheer frustration). Yes, I will break out of my introvert shell and go out when I’d typically stay in. Yes, I will connect with others, letting down my walls more quickly than I would at home, because I left all my support peeps back in Colorado.

Yes, I will explore (almost) fearlessly. Yes, I will communicate through body language and pointing in public (because I have to). Yes, I will break bend the rules, even when my rule-following, first-child, perfectionist brain wails, “nooooooooooooo, don’t doooo it!”

I will say yes to travel. I will say yes to staycations. I will say yes to getting uncomfortable.

I will say yes to negotiating a deal to coach CrossFit part time to mostly Korean clients in a Korean gym in exchange for a membership, even though it terrifies me. Then, continue to force myself to say yes every time I walked through the doors.

tdg coaching

That’s me, coaching a CrossFit class of mostly Korean men. Annnnd mostly through body language.

I will say yes to learning how to speak up, lead, and be brave. Yes to caring less and less about what others think about me and more and more about if I’m at peace with my actions. Yes to accepting the good and the ugly parts of me that are opened up and splayed out clear as day through the expat experience.

Yes to continue to work on myself, even when I feel like giving up. Yes to knowing that the dark days come and go. Yes to realizing that here, I’ve had my sparkliest highs and my blackest lows. Yes to the conclusion that expat life is fu%&ing hard, but intensely beautiful.

Yes.

Now, I say yes to sharing my personal experiences with others because I believe the more we talk to each other about the hard sh%& in life, the better we get at it and the less alone we feel. Now, I say yes to sharing what works for me, because maybe it will work for you, too.

My expat life has taught me to say yes, when it’s easy and when it feels impossible.

It has taught me that leaping into an abyss is not a bad thing.

In fact, it might be the choice that changes everything.

 

 

Share

3 Reasons to STOP Setting Goals Today

Let’s get real for a quick minute. Teaching is hard. Being an expat is hard. These are worlds that challenge who you are, what you do, and why you do it. Teachers and expats are extraordinary people doing inspiring things. They are brave. They are smart. They are resourceful. They are high-achievers. They are goal-setters.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my years of teaching and expat-ing: setting goals can actually set you back, especially as a teacher or an expat.

There’s a better way. Setting intentions instead of goals has changed my mindset, attitude, and ultimately my level of satisfaction and joy both at work and in my personal life.

Here are three reasons I urge you to start setting intentions instead of goals.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.30.27 AM

When you set a goal like losing 15 pounds, you are immersing yourself in the “what”. Intentions necessitate a plunge into the “why” — they ask you to dig deeper. Why is that 15 pounds so important? Why do those 15 pounds matter?

Do they represent the first years of teaching as all your energy and time got channeled into your classroom and your health fell to a last priority? (Yes, I’ll cop to that one.)

Or is it the expat weight you gained as you dealt with the discomfort of transition and loneliness with food and alcohol and TV? (Yep, I’ll cop to that one too. Annnnd I’ll tack on another 10, if we’re being real.)

The goal of losing the 15 pounds skips over the fact that this is really about prioritizing your own health and well being again. It’s about changing your habits to be better to yourself, which in turn allows you to be better to those around you.

Converting a weight loss goal to an intention might look like:

  • move every day
  • prioritize connection over screen time
  • eat mostly foods that energize me
  • sleep 8 hours a night

Sure, the “why” is important, but goals have helped me achieve stuff before. Will intentions do that too?

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.31.37 AM

I’ve had so many conversations with people who set goals for themselves to eat clean all week. It feels great on Monday. Tuesday, too.

But, let’s say on Wednesday, there’s a mound of chocolate on the tables during an after-school meeting. I’m tired, we think, I deserve a piece of chocolate to get me through this meeting.

So we eat a piece lot of chocolate. Berate ourselves in our heads. Think, well, I already messed up. I may as well pick up a frozen pizza and some wine on the way home. Wednesday’s missteps lead to more on Thursday, during which we decide to restart on Monday. Oh yeah. We’ve all been there: the Monday-Trap.

Goals lead to an unending cycle of Monday restarts after weeks that are 50% clean and 50% crap. Not ideal. Those goals don’t get met. And, they are mentally and emotionally stressful — yet one more reason we are not measuring up.

Ok, ok. Yes that happens. But there are times when we meet goals, too. What’s so wrong with that?

Anyone who has ever met a goal can relate to the high that goes along with achieving it. They will probably also admit (maybe just to themselves), the emptiness of a “now, what?” feeling and, almost always, a binge of some sort on whatever was being restricted or controlled.

I remember doing (and winning) an 8 week nutrition challenge. It was so hard, but I did it and was pretty damn near perfect the whole time. I won the challenge, felt great about my fat loss and energy, and then felt OVERWHELMING FEAR about how to maintain after the challenge and accountability ended. The challenge was a great way for me to experience how drastically food changes my daily moods and energy. It was a great way to experiment with new ways of being. But it was not sustainable. 

When you set an intention to “move every day”, you get to choose in what way you meet this. Some days you might want to take a long walk before school with your dogs. Other days, five minutes of stretching at lunch in your classroom might be it. And some days, you’ll effing kill it at the gym and feel like superwoman.

When you are simply doing your best to align your actions with your intentions, that are deeply grounded in a meaningful “why”, this breeds momentum. It is the epitome of sustainability.

Yeah, yeah…that sounds great and all. But what happens when you mess up?

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.35.32 AM

Goals are tough. They imply perfection (or damn near close) in order to achieve them, often as quickly as possible.

The first year I felt successful as a teacher was my 7th year in the classroom. MY SEVENTH YEAR.

Why? I could quote the difficulties of teaching in the U.S. school systems, or the drain on time and energy, or the unreasonable expectations of districts and admin, but really, my discontent stemmed from my inability to ever meet the goals I set for myself. I defined “success” as getting all my students at or above grade level, being planned and prepped every day, never messing up and saying something that impacted a child in a negative way.

Goals fed my perfectionism and left me gasping for air, drowning in a sea “not enough”.

When I begin to explore the “why” of teaching, I discovered that, for me, it was about two things:

  1. connection
  2. inspiring joy and curiosity

The goals I had set had nothing to do with my “why”. So, I did an experiment. I wrote two intentions on a sticky note and put it on my computer so I would see it multiple times a day.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 8.49.14 AM

So every day, my intentions were to:

  1. get beside kids — get to know them, coach them on their writing, make eye contact, smile, ask questions, be present, listen
  2. share myself — tell stories in my mini-lessons; share my own ideas, successes, and failures as a writer and human; bring in videos, articles, and pieces that inspired me to hopefully inspire them

Some days were better than others. But each day, I aligned my actions with my intentions the best that I could. At the end of the day, I would reflect for a moment to see how well aligned I was. And, finally, no matter how “good” or “bad” the day was, I would tell myself it was enough, pat myself on the back, and go home, knowing tomorrow was a fresh start. NOT MONDAY. Tomorrow.

Because that’s the thing about intentions — they are all about PRACTICE, not perfection.

It is not about balls-to-the-wall hustle till you get that goal.

Intentions are about the consistent, meaning-driven, sustainable improvement of how we exist in the world—how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, and how we contribute.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.56.00 AM


Have you signed up for the Nourish and Forge newsletter?

Click here to get all the juiciest musings, insights and ideas about expat and teacher wellness, right to your inbox. 

Share

Teachers: One Mindset Shift Guaranteed to Decrease Stress and Increase Joy

Seriously?! I just clearly laid out the directions. They’re on the board. We did a comprehension check. We’re five minutes into work time and they’re giggling and pointing at their computer screens. WTF?! Why aren’t they doing what I said?

I remember in my first few years of teaching, having a constant stream of frustration sprinkled with swear words running through my head from bell to bell. The source: students in my classroom not following my directions or doing what I had laid out for them (thoughtfully, in advance, with the best intentions for their learning….seriously….wtf?!).

Let me tell you (and my teaching peeps can chime in here) — this sort of existence is exhausting.

It is mentally and emotionally draining and just plain soul-sucking. By the end of the day, trying to control manage facilitate the learning and interactions of young humans in your classroom becomes a lost cause.

At some point, you just throw up your hands and say, “I give up”. You survive till the bell. Crank out some grading. Prep for the next day. Go home. Drink a glass or three of wine. Bitch to your teacher friends. Brainstorm. Wake up. Try again.

Now over the years, we teachers learn to take fewer things personally and have fewer emotional reactions to what goes on in the classroom.

I’ve always been strong at classroom management, but it took me years to cultivate a different INTERNAL reaction to mirror my calm exterior in order to decrease stress and minimize energy leakage.

It boils down to one simple mindset shift: be curious.

Yep. That’s it. Be curious.

It is actually the opposite of most of our instincts, which is to see what is happening, make an assumption, followed quickly by a judgement, followed up by a snap decision and action.

Generally, my assumption has been that my students are off-task for whatever reason and that is bad. I then would quickly interfere, urging them to comply through a verbal warning, a dreaded “teacher look”, or a conversation in the hallway.

(Note: I’m always thoughtful of a child’s dignity and do my best to never publicly shame or punish.)

With these methods, I had a high success rate. However, my attempts to get them back on track through coersion always ended up feeling like an empty victory. And I still felt drained at the end of the day.

So here’s the shift I’m asking you to take. Before you get stressed and force them back on track, get curious.

Here’s how you do it. Remember this phrase: Slow down, C.I.D. (pronounced “kid”). Just a few, simple steps, and you will be on your way to more joy and less stress in the classroom.

  • First, SLOW DOWN. 
    • When you notice things you don’t like or expect in your classroom, pause. Like a reaaaally long pause. Bring awareness to what is happening in your head. RESIST making ANY assumptions or judgements.
  • Next, get CURIOUS.
    • Begin to wonder what’s going on. Say to yourself, “I wonder…” without any judgement or evaluation whatsoever.
  • Now, INVESTIGATE.
    • Watch from across the room (make sure you’re not scowling at them, but sneaking peeks neutrally). Wander over. Eavesdrop. Smile and ask a question related to either class or what they are talking about. Ask directly what they’re up to—middle schoolers are incredibly blunt, honest creatures when you are direct and they aren’t scared of punishment. Take this opportunity to learn something new about them. (As I’ve practiced this, I noticed that the assumptions I would make without investigating are often wrong. Students are frequently asking questions or discussing a personal connection they are making to the work. Just as frequently, they are not. And that’s totally ok!)
  • Last, DECIDE.
    • Ok, after getting curious and investigating, you think you have a handle on the situation. Now, you get to decide how to wrangle them back in like the awesome brain children that they are. After chatting with them about that totally gross Youtube video for a minute, find a creative way to connect their conversation back to your content. Or share a story about yourself that connects to the situation. Or share a time when you’ve struggled to stay focused and a method that works (or whatever circumstance your dealing with). Or even simply lead them back in to the work with an overly dramatic, awkward segue and a big, cheesy smile.

Here’s why “Slow down, C.I.D.” works.

It takes power out of the equation. I am not convincing them to get refocused through coersion. I am meeting them where they are at. I am interested in who they are, what they are doing, and why. I am noticing and validating their needs, as well as reinforcing my own. When you take power out of the equation, the stress disappears.

It breeds connection. When I take time to listen, observe, and chat with my students (even especially when it’s off-topic) it builds trust. It builds relationship. It helps me know them better, which enables me to connect my content to them more effectively. It helps them know me better, which results in higher engagement in class.

It’s joyful and fun. Teaching is way more joyful and energetic when we spend a little time on silliness. Hearing the latest pop culture gossip or telling a funny story gives our brains a needed break (it’s science) before we get back into the work. “Slow down, C.I.D.” provides perfect windows for silliness, because kids will never be perfect and there will always be opportunities to connect and then practice the sly redirect. *cheesy point/mouthclick/wink move*

So, next time you are feeling stressed or drained due to things in class not going the way you expected or wanted, try out “Slow down, C.I.D.”

  • Slow down before reacting.
    • Get CURIOUS
    • INVESTIGATE
    • DECIDE

I still get to use this every day of teaching. For the sake of teacher entertainment, let me share today’s shenanigans. We had about 25 minutes of drafting time today in my 8th grade English class. I was conferring with students, feeling like I had this Friday in the bag—students were engaged, on-task, and writing their tails off.

Then, I came across this vision in the back corner. Yes. He was dead asleep with his body contorted into angles I didn’t think were possible past infancy and with his face smashed solidly into the wall. (His nose was bright red from the pressure when he woke up.) I mean…c’mon, people. This is hilarious.

IMG_0492

Due to the trust and relationship built our class from “Slow down, C.I.D.”, he readily admitted he only slept two hours last night (and most nights this week) because he’s up all hours, gaming. We had a good laugh, and I resolved to “invite” him to work at the standing desk area for future sleepy days (and advised him, for the sake of his growing body and brain to get some sleep tonight).

I’d love to hear from you. Shoot me an email or comment below.

What other parts of teaching stress you out or drain your energy and joy?

What strategies do you have in place that help reduce stress and increase joy in the classroom?


Have you signed up for the Nourish and Forge newsletter?

Click here to get all the juiciest musings, insights and ideas about expat and teacher wellness, right to your inbox. 

Share

Limiting Thoughts: Stop Living Small

The last few days I’ve been percolating on the idea of limiting thoughts, and how these little nagging buggers have such power to negatively impact our lives and our happiness when we let them have free reign in our minds.

On Friday night, I was getting ready for bed and mentally preparing for the big CrossFit Competition the next day. I had qualified as an individual, but opted to compete with my team to continue to build the friendships started with my teammates. About 8 pm, my coach (Teddy) messaged me asking if I’d like to compete both for the team and individual.

My first thought? My elbow. Is it healed enough? Can I handle five workouts in one day, even though they are short and pretty lightweight? What if I injure something else? What if I can’t give my best to the team because too much energy goes to individual events? In other words, my first reaction—fear and worry.

My second thought? What if I make a fool of myself? I used to be great at competing, but that was before Korea wreaked havoc on my routines, diet, and exercise. What if I suck? What if I start but can’t continue due to reinjury? Will everyone view me as weak? What if I don’t live up to what they all think of me? My second reaction—fear of feeling vulnerable or not measuring up.

How often in life do we let these sorts of limiting thoughts keep us from achieving, or beyond that, keep us from even trying something outside of our comfort zone? For me—many more times than I’d like to admit.

Here’s the thing: having the courage to live more in our edges, to risk vulnerability, to occupy new space…that’s where the vibrancy of this life resides.

One of my fails, captured for posterity. (I nailed the next attempt, though!)

One of my fails, captured for posterity. (I nailed the next attempt, though!)

No matter the outcome (win or lose or epic fail), when we push into new spaces of life and ourselves, we enrich our minds, increase our understanding of ourselves and the world, and begin to build up a resilient and courageous spirit. Not only will you grow, but those around you will too. Because you know what? Courage is contagious.

Friday night, I almost didn’t do it; I almost chose to bypass the individual competition and stay safe, stay comfortable. But, a friend and a whisper in my head pushed me forward. Do it. Try. Why not? 

So I did. And it was the most energizing, scary, fun, triumphant day so far this fall. I felt so alive. I can’t believe I almost missed this experience because of limiting thoughts—nasty little voices that are better ignored (or acknowledged and released for what they are—just thoughts) than heeded. As a friend said recently, “You can’t have the win if you don’t risk the loss.”

What are you missing out on due to limiting thoughts? What can you say “yes” to this week to move into your edge, to practice courage, and to occupy a new space in this world or yourself?

Shocked and happy to be on the podium at the end of the day.

Shocked and happy to be on the podium at the end of the day.


Have you signed up for the Nourish and Forge newsletter?

Click here to get all the juiciest musings, insights and ideas about expat and teacher wellness, right to your inbox. 

Share
« Older posts