Nourish and Forge Wellness

taking wellness beyond the physical

Tag: joy

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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?


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