6 Simple, Daily Choices that Made My Week Better

This past week was a good week. And it was actually the simplest things that made it good. Nothing revolutionary. Just intentional, simple, daily choices. This is a concept I often think about. How seemingly small choices can make a day, a week, a year, and I am going to go as far as say a whole life.

Emily P. Freeman’s “The Next Right Thing” is a podcast I have recently been devouring. I love Emily’s podcast for a lot of reasons: her soothing voice, short yet largely informative episodes, and mostly for the fact that she is a resource full of amazing wisdom. She is wise and reflective. I think we could all learn a thing or two from listening to her podcast. Anyway, a lot of what she talks about is how the process of decision-making is so important because it is the decisions we make that inform the life we live.

When it comes to making decisions, I am an incredibly indecisive person. I am always the last one to order at a restaurant. I always overthink my ice cream order, then end up with the same thing I always do: a strawberry cone. I scroll through amazon, obsessively read reviews, add things to my cart, and then remove them and then add it once more. I could go on and on. Making decisions is not my strong suit. So, “The Next Right Thing” podcast is helping me. It is reminding me that I don’t need to always be thinking 5 steps ahead. I can be present and just focus in on what truly my next right step is. It could be as simple as taking the time to actually make myself a grown-up lunch, and not settle for those dino chicken nuggets. This is such a small choice I can make in my pretty ordinary days, but it does have the power to transform my perspective, mood, and attitude.

This week was good because I intentionally made a few very small decisions. There is so much I still need to learn about myself, but I am slowly beginning to catch on to the things that help me, and the things that easily trip me up. Listed below are the 6 things I have identified as the very things I need in my life on a daily basis. Again, we aren’t talking about anything extravagant or expensive. Literally, it is as simple as getting up early and sitting down in the afternoon to read. Sometimes the difference between a good and bad day is just a few very minor adjustments.

1. Rise Early

I have written about this before and you can read more about that here. I am a big believer that waking up early is one of the best decisions you can make for yourself all day. Depending on your personality it could also be one of the hardest decisions. By waking up before Hudson, I give myself the time to wake up to the day in a quiet and calm state. I often do not feel very good as I step out of bed. My brain is often flooded with excuses the moment I wake up at this early 5 am hour. And the thing is, sometimes those excuses win. I find that when I get out of my normal routines when on trips, it is more difficult to get back into the swing of waking up early. After the marathon and our family trip to Maui, I had about a month of not getting up early. I felt so tired from the past month of miles and travel, that I convinced myself that I needed extra sleep. Therefore, I would just wake up when Hudson woke up. The result? Not good. The month of August was definitely a slump month for me. I felt tired all the time. I felt incredibly unmotivated (you will notice that my posts on here have not been as consistent). And mostly I just felt like not enough.

It is not like waking up early is some magical solution, but I remembered this week the power in making this first choice. All week I have gotten up early, sometimes at 5 am, sometimes closer to 5:40, but everyday this week I have had at least a solid 30-minutes of time to wake up. And let me tell you, it makes all the difference.

2. Open Bible

After I get coffee, I jot down a few key things that happened the day before, and then I open my Bible. I need this to be the first thing I consume in the day, along with coffee of course. My days absolutely start off shaky if I choose Instragram over the Word. There are days where I fall short, but I try to always read the Bible before anything else begins. Sometimes it is multiple chapters, sometimes it is just a few verses. This simple act of choosing to open and read God’s word is more powerful than choosing to make your bed. Making your bed is a good habit, but it will not literally transform you from the inside out like the living word of God will.


3. Journal

This is a new one that I added this week. I have always been the diary-keeping, journal-writing type of girl. Except here is the thing, if you were to go through the numerous notebooks I have kept over the years, you would notice a trend. They are all half-filled. I am really great at starting journals, but rarely do I stay consistent enough to get to the very last page. When I get back on a journaling kick, I often want a fresh start, so hence the many half-filled notebooks that I have stuffed in my bedside table. I want this half-filled notebook phase to end. I want to be the person that fills up an entire notebook before moving on to the next one. The only way I will get to this point is if I treat the act of journaling as habitual of a routine as taking vitamins or brushing my teeth.

Just like I must consume the word of God first, I then must output the feelings and questions and anxieties of my heart. The pages of my notebooks, along with the ever-present ear of the Lord, is my personal sounding board. When I journal honestly, I see things more clearly. This week, in my early morning journaling, I used this time to pray to God. I sometimes struggle with prayer early in the morning. I easily lose focus and the words are more difficult for me to vocalize. Prayer through writing just makes more sense to me. For you, it might look very different, but find a mode of output that allows you to gain a sense of clarity, peace, and connection before the chaos of the day begins.

4. Exercise

After the marathon, I basically stopped running again. And let me tell you, my body felt this break. I often complain about the hard work of running, but the truth is, I am not very kind when I don’t run regularly. Even if it is just a few easy miles, my body, mind, and heart need it. I need the rhythm, the space, the quiet that running creates for me. Even though I rarely feel like it, after a run or a yoga class, I always feel more motivated and inspired. I almost always think of my best ideas when I am out on a run. Running gives me a greater capacity to show patience and love to the people in my life. I am a better overall mother, wife, sister, friend, and daughter, the more I carve out space to run or go to that 6 pm barre class. Last week was my first week back to exercising every day except Sunday, and my mood was the best it has been all month. There is something to breathing hard and sweating daily.


5. Read

I started 2019 off with the goal to read at least one new book per month. I know for some this might not be that much, but for me that was an ambitious goal. And the truth is, I began to read less as the year went on. This week I changed this trajectory and I started my habit of daily reading again. This all happened two Wednesday evenings ago when I felt exhausted from the day and needed some alone time. So, I left the house and I drove to the library. I know, a slightly strange place to retreat to, but for some reason it felt right. Here in this tired, worn out, and slightly discouraged state, I stumbled upon Imperfect Courage by Jessica Honegger. The Lord led me to this book. It is the perfect combination of being a good, faithful woman, while also not being afraid to chase after our God-given ambition and passion. I am loving it. I also find that reading books like these help make me feel more connected and inspired. I almost always notice that my writing comes more naturally the more I read.

Reading is just another small, daily choice that makes a huge impact in my days. The choice to intentionally sit outside and read while Hudson naps is also a way that I force myself to rest. This one act allows me to get off my feet and just take in words without any other agenda. Not to mention, our dog Nala loves when I choose to read because I am able to also throw the tennis ball for her!

6. Plan

This is such a small thing, but the weeks that I take time to plan out, are so much better than the ones I don’t. I go a little crazy when we stay at home. I also easily become stuck with trying to figure out what to do the day of when I don’t plan ahead. This week I got back into a rhythm of loosely planning out my week on Sunday evening. I quickly jot down the days I will run and how many miles. I write down a few days that I will intentionally make time to escape by myself and make it into a yoga class. I write down a few major household tasks. And I look at our MOMS Club calendar and pencil in a couple playdates or text some mom friends and create playdates. This does not take much time at all, but it gives me so much clarity as I go to sleep Sunday night. I can wake up Monday morning and feel like I am waking up to a schedule and routine. I know what is ahead. There are things to do, people to see, and places to go.

Hopefully that all was not too boring. I wanted to specifically write this out because these few small choices, while definitely not revolutionary, are really making a big difference in my overall outlook and mood. It is amazing what these consistent and simple behaviors can do to a day, a week, a year, and yes a whole life. I am curious, what are your go-to daily choices? Comment below!

You Just Can’t Do It All

Obviously, I know this. There is no way I can do it all, let alone do it all well. However, I live and plan out my days acting otherwise. I think part of the issue is the fact that my main job is being a mom. Since I don’t have a typical 9-5 job, I tell myself the lie that I should be doing more. The problem here is this logic is ignoring the fact that being a stay-at-home is an all-consuming, 24-7 job. If I was still working, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t feel the same type of guilt when I run out of time to go to the grocery store or fall behind on 1st birthday party planning. Actually, I probably still would, and I’m sure working moms can attest to this as well. The point here, is no matter what type of job or lifestyle we live, none of us can do it all and mom guilt is a real thing. Just because I’m a stay-at-home mom does not mean I have the time to have every cabinet in my home perfectly organized or be able to make everything homemade. The truth is, my floors never even look that clean and it almost is always a scramble getting a relatively good tasting meal on the table. I can’t do it all.

Back to my previous point, about guilt and staying at home. I think since I am not physically bringing in a pay check to help support our family, I feel a tremendous amount of pressure (solely created by me) to hold my end of the stick by ensuring the house is kept orderly, healthy meals are on the table, and parties look like Pinterest. Not to mention that Hudson is well-fed, clean, and happy, which let me tell you, just that is a full time job. And that is the problem. Just doing that sometimes doesn’t feel like enough, so I tack on all the other things. Train for a marathon. Be involved in MOMS Club. Teach bible study lessons. Create fun experiences for Hudson. Plan playdates. Organize all the cabinets and closets and drawers. Substitute teach. Write a blog. Create a podcast. Go to yoga. Wake up early. Budget. Buy all the gifts. Plan and host events. And the list could go on. I don’t want this to sound like I’m complaining because I really am not, I feel so thankful to be in the place to do those things, but what I am saying is that it can quickly feel overwhelming, even if my main job title is “mom.” I can’t do it all.

I tell myself I can do it all because I see through the windows of social media what other moms are doing. But here’s the thing, I am just looking through a window, I don’t get the chance to see the things that she has chosen to let go of or say no to. This is huge. This is what I need to constantly remind myself. No one can do it all. I see the perfectly made lunch, but I don’t see the mess in the kitchen. I see the miles and miles of training she logged, but I don’t see the nanny. I see the beautifully laid out blog, full of amazing content, but I don’t see the strained relationships. We are just seeing windows. Remember this. We can’t do it all.

This is a lesson I am currently learning. If I’m honest, even typing this up I feel a bit phony, as Holden Caulfield would say. I am still figuring this lesson out. I say I can’t do it all, but I still convince myself I can run 50 plus miles a week, write 2 blog posts a week, record a new podcast every week, keep the house clean, plan Hudson’s birthday party, and most importantly be the most present and loving wife and mother I can be. This last one is the most important to me, but sadly my days do not always reflect this priority. That needs to change. And it will. Words and miles will always be there for me to come back to, but this time with my husband and sweet little boy, that I can’t get back. So I will keep typing it until it sets in. I can’t do it all.

Starting Slow, Finishing Strong

This mama needs to start slow.  In college, I used to be able to roll out of bed, slide on my shoes, and hit the pavement at a 6-something-minute pace.  Emphasis here on used to.  The funny thing is that college for me was not even that long ago, I am just three years out, but my sense of pace has already greatly shifted, both in a literal and figurative sense.  My pace in terms of running has definitely changed.  My current pace now is what I used to think of as a slow, shakeout run.  But it is not just running, it is an overall life pace that I can feel is shifting as I type this.  In college, it was about going.  It was about jumping into cold pools before the sun rose.  It was about midnights in libraries and drinking coffee at 1am.  It was about miles and miles; pages on pages; words upon words.  It was all about speed and getting things done.  Trust me, I am still all about getting things done and accomplished, but my pace is entirely different.  I need to start slow.  I need to warm-up.  I need to lie in bed just a few extra minutes and wake up as I read just a couple pages.  I need to sit and sip in silence.  I need to stay in pajamas just a bit longer.  I need to hold my baby and not worry about my to-do list for just a few moments longer.  I need to take it slow.

I am all about the slower starts, the lazy mornings, the clear schedules.  My whole essence thirsts for the slower pace.  This easing into things is becoming essential to me.  It is essential for how I run and also how I live.  The danger in this, however, is when we stay in the slow and never learn to shift gears into the uncomfortable.  I start slow, but I never finish there.  While starting slow is key to me, shifting gears into uncomfortable speeds is also required.  I was reminded of this inherit need for speed (ignore the cliche rhyme) last week when I returned to the track.  My feet literally have not touched a track in just about 3 years.  Last time I was on a track was June 2016 in Kansas for my last collegiate 5k.  So, it has been some time.  And I could feel this separation.  I was doing a 10 by 400 meter workout with my dad so kindly agreeing to take my splits.  The first one felt raw and scary and too fast.  The second, third and fourth felt like I had made a mistake in choosing to workout at the track.  The fifth and sixth one felt completely numb, yet still painful.  But it was the seventh one that made sense.  It was in that seventh 400 meters that I hit my stride.  I felt back at home.  I remembered the turns and the straight aways and where to settle and where to push.  Don’t get me wrong.  The 7th-10th 400 were still painful and uncomfortable, but by number 7 I knew I would finish.  I knew I would not slow down.  Is this not life? It is hard, hard, hard, and then you hit a point of endurance.  It does not necessarily get easy, but it becomes endurable.  You become stronger, more confident, and more fierce, that by number 7 you know you are not stopping.

It is a great balancing act to create a life that holds both the slow and the burning speed.  It takes trial and error.  There are days that will feel too slow and days that have way too much intensity.  So you adjust.  You learn.  You create good patterns and break the ones that always put you into ruts.  I am learning that timing and structure are key elements in helping me balance the slow with the quick.  Here are 5 things that help me achieve this balance:

  1. Start Day Slow

I need to start my days at a very slow pace.  If I know I have a commitment or somewhere to be early, I get up even earlier to allow for the space to wake up.  I no longer can just roll out of bed.  I need time.  I need coffee.  I need scripture.  I think a huge part of being able to work hard throughout the day is allowing the start of the day to be slow and gentle, not rushed and frantic.

2. List and Schedule 

I am a list-oriented person.  I really struggle when I do not have lists to guide me.  I am always at the grocery store or Target, with a list in hand.  Even if it is the smallest errand, if I don’t write down: puffs, detergent, tea, and salad, I will become distracted or waste time.  Lists keep me focused.  I need them.  The same is true with my days.  As a teacher, I was my most productive self because I have the schedule of bells ringing throughout the day that kept me extremely structured.  As a stay-at-home mom, I must create these bells on my own.  For those mamas that work in the home, it can be so easy to waste our days.  It is essential to list out the “work” that must be done.  Not only list out what needs to happen in that day, but schedule it in so you know exactly when it will happen.  This helps keep me focused, so when I am doing the work elements, I am not thinking about yoga class and when I am in yoga, I am not thinking about laundry or dishes.  This is the ideal mindset and I don’t always succeed, but this is the goal.  List and schedule, so the lines of work and rest don’t run and bleed into each other.

3. Commit and Don’t Back Down

For me, one of the most important practices when balancing working hard and resting well is making sure I stay committed. It is so easy to back down and choose the easy route. It is so much easier to not do the hard work. It is also very easy to skip your time of rest and choose to do “the more important” things. Achieving balance happens best when we keep our commitments. Once I start backing out of commitments, I easily begin to fall into ruts. Even on the crazy, full days, if I have a workout scheduled, I need to follow through. It is that simple.

4. Schedule Rest 

This is one I am trying to currently figure out. Rest does not come naturally to me. I am learning that if I don’t schedule it, just like I would something important, like a meeting or a workout, it won’t happen. Some days I follow through and take this time of rest seriously, while others I ignore it and prioritize other things. Part of starting slow, and finishing strong, means that there also must be a middle time of slow and quiet and calm. For me, this does not usually mean taking a nap at 1pm. It looks more like grabbing a book and getting off my feet for 15 minutes. It looks like stopping. It looks like sitting. It looks like espresso in my favorite mug right after Hudson falls asleep for his final nap. It ultimately looks like surrendering to the Lord and relying on His strength, not my own work and capabilities and production.

5. Finish Strong

In a race, the goal is always to finish strong. No matter how fast you started or even if you lost a shoe in the first 100 meters, finishing strong is what matters. Just like certain runs, I end my days on burn out. I collapse. I stop. I trudge my feet. This is not what I want for my life. I want to end each day stronger than when I woke up. And sometimes I fail. I hit a wall and waste hours watching the Bachelor. I hate how I do this, but it is the truth. I don’t always finish my days strong. I sometimes, oftentimes, crawl into bed, emptied and exhausted and fixed to a screen. The best ways for me to avoid this place is to set limits on work and screens, so by 8 or 9 pm, I can fill up, spend time with Lance, and rest in knowing that enough has been done. If I don’t have clear time limits, I can quickly crumble into a place of weakness and mindlessness.

There is a time for the slow and a time for the head down, grinding, uncomfortable pace too. I have strong tendencies to live in the extremes. I have days where I stay in pajamas too long. I have days where I am-consumed with work and cleaning. Some days I get it terribly wrong, today might be one of those, but my prayer for today is that I can continue to strive at living a more balanced pace, so I can ultimately be more in-tune to the Lord’s will for my life.

 

 

Chocolate Cake & Blueberries

This mama needs chocolate cake and blueberries.  I am writing this on Sunday afternoon, and right before I sat down to begin writing, I cut myself a generous slice of vegan chocolate cake.  While I normally would not indulge in chocolate cake anytime before 6pm, I figured it is still my birthday weekend so chocolate cake at 3pm is allowed.  To give a little insight as to how my brain works, I chose to top it with a handful of blueberries to balance it out.  Now, blueberries are a perfect topping to cake, but I am more interested in exploring why I tossed those blueberries on.  I honestly did not even feel like eating blueberries.  I really just wanted my leftover vegan cake, but internally that felt too indulgent.  This is a small and silly example, but in a similar vein to my post last week on rest, I too often find myself adding something to what alone is perfectly good and acceptable.  Why is it so hard to just eat the cake?

Reflecting on this further, maybe adding the blueberries is a good thing.  There is something incredibly valuable in balance.  It probably would not be the best to eat cake alone every afternoon, but cake with some antioxidant-filled blueberries every once and a while is a good thing.  I need to start living my days more from this cake and blueberry mindset.  By this I mean that I need to incorporate more balance.  My Mondays and Sundays are in stark contrast.  For me, Mondays are cleaning days.  I spend basically the entire day cleaning.  Sundays are resting days.  Especially recently, I have tried to be much more intentional on the ways we spend our Sundays.  While I don’t think there is anything wrong with having days dedicated to specific things, there needs to be balance.  On Mondays, I usually end the day so burnt out because I spent the majority of my time cleaning.  Continuing with my metaphor, Mondays are all about the blueberries, but even Mondays need a sliver of cake.  Sundays are all about the cake.  No laundry.  Crockpot dinners.  No agenda.  However, a day full of cake is not good for us either.  We need protein.  We need vitamins.  We need color.  As I am currently learning, Sundays also need blueberries.  It can’t just be cake.  Balance is needed on a daily basis, but that balance is going to look different with each day.  Certain days, work will outweigh play and rest; others the rest will be the focus.  I think we can get into ruts when we forget the importance of balancing our days out.  We forget to add the blueberries to the cake.

Will the Sabbath be ruined if we sweep the floors?  Will the Monday cleaning day be ruined if I take a nap? I have a habit of functioning in a black and white mindset that does not leave room for in-betweens.  It is either all or nothing.  I am learning this is not a healthy way to live.  While there is absolutely nothing wrong with occasionally having a big slice of cake on its own,  I hope to better strive at creating my days with greater balance that makes room for both the cake parts of life and also the blueberries elements because the truth is- they both are sweet on their own and even sweeter together.