Becoming Our Best Selves

Photo by A. L. on Unsplash

Yesterday, I had a great idea for this post. It aligned well with last week’s ABCs of a Purposeful WIP focus (Fueling Faith) and it was both interesting and intelligent in its content. The problem is that second word in the first sentence: had. I had a great idea. As in I stubbornly overestimated the staying power of my memory and didn’t write it down and by the time I was faced with a blinking cursor and blank document, I could not recall a single snippet of what I wanted to say.

So, what you’re getting today instead of the original, almost certainly more brilliant post, is a simple reminder. (Maybe you’re not the type of person who needs reminders like I obviously am. If that’s the case, let me just praise your steel trap of a mind and get on with it for the rest of us forgetful folk.)

The reminder is this: It is up to us to take charge of our health. No one—not our doctors, significant others, kids, or moms—have as much stake in the game of our self-care as we do. Sure, these people care about our welfare and they may see (and to some extent, feel) the effects of our lack of health, but for the most part, those side effects are our own to manage.

It never ceases to amaze me how many times I let a good habit fall to the wayside because I no longer deem it beneficial or I can’t seem to find time for it or I allow something else less essential to take precedence. And then, when a certain amount of time passes and I start noticing an increase in crankiness and a decrease in energy, I somehow have the audacity to either, 1) blame someone else, or 2) continue on the same trajectory as if I don’t know what the solution is.

My best example of this is my recent lapse in the four practices I spoke of on Thursday: Filling my mind and spirit with uplifting media, gratitude, reading the bible, and prayer/journaling. Although these may seem exclusively spiritual, each and every one of these habits affects my mind, body, and soul. I am more optimistic and energetic, I have a more purposeful outlook, and I am just plain nicer when I intentionally build these practices into my daily routine.

It sounds easy, so why don’t I just do it, right? Why indeed.

Why do any of us skip out on the things we know make us better, happier, more resilient human beings? Why do we forgo exercising and making healthier food choices and getting enough rest and strengthening our relationships with God and other people? I understand that life is busy and good habits are difficult to form and some of those unhealthy options are just so darn convenient, but are these really worthy excuses?

I think not.

I think I will use the precious time I’ve previously wasted employing them to instead diligently incorporate these transformative practices into my schedule. And I encourage you to do the same. Pick one thing that you know raises your pleasant-and-kind meter at least a notch and commit to doing it every day. Whether it’s feeling the sun on your face for ten minutes or enjoying a quiet cup of morning coffee before the rest of your family gets out of bed or replacing that afternoon carb/sugar fix with a piece of fruit. Whatever it is, don’t wait. Start today. There’s no time like the present to put forth the best version of ourselves.

A Purposeful WIP Fuels Faith

I made a big decision this week (well, not big as in life changing, but big in regards to progress on the novel). If you read last week’s post, you might remember me mentioning that I had completed the third revision, but I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted to retype the entire manuscript into a new document or simply enter the rewritten sections and make the revisions in the previous document. I decided to go ahead and take the full retyping route. As it turns out, after having spent a month and a half on the revision, I am finding that I had forgotten many of the changes I made at the beginning of the document and this path has so far been useful in reminding me of those early edits.

Something else that has accompanied this draft—as it had during the second—is an alternating feeling of awe over the improvement of the work as a whole and doubt regarding my ability because there is still so much work to be done. From what I’ve read about other people’s experiences, this doubt doesn’t ever go away and in fact, even many veteran writers struggle with it. But what I have learned that helps tremendously and is an area of my life that I continue striving to make progress in and that is having faith.

I have to admit that I do feel like a bit of a hypocrite even discussing the topic of faith because I am a serious work-in-progress in this area. But on the heels of that doubt is the reminder that the entire ABCs of a Purposeful WIP series is focused on one main aspect: Progress. God didn’t make us perfect and He didn’t expect us to become perfect, which is lucky for us because none of us can ever achieve such a thing (whatever it really means anyway). But what we can do as purposeful WIPs is grow into better versions of ourselves and that kind of progress—whether in terms of improving as a Christian or writer or spouse—requires Fueling Faith.

I won’t deny that such progress can be made in the absence of faith—my own has ebbed and flowed a great deal over the last year—but I do feel that the places where I have made the most progress (the novel manuscript, included) have come as a result of faith. Over the last fifteen months or so I have seen remarkable growth in this area and I attribute that growth to habitually taking part in four key activities:

  1. Filling up my mind and spirit with uplifting people and media. We live in unprecedented times, having so many different types of media available to us at all times: TV, movies, books, music, podcasts, YouTube videos, blogs, etc. So one change I made was incorporating inspiring and encouraging versions of these options into my daily life as much as possible. Instead of watching old television reruns while working out in the morning, I listened to an uplifting podcast. Instead of tuning into my usual playlists while mowing the lawn, I tried a Christian music channel. These small tweaks, done even occasionally, made noticeable and positive changes in my faith.
  2. Gratitude. Gratitude is something that I talk about often and a subject to which I have devoted hours studying and researching. But while it is still a difficult practice for me, I do make an effort to keep gratitude at the forefront of my mind—like creating a gratitude jar, wherein I drop a weekly note about something for which I felt truly thankful—because when I have a grateful heart and I approach life with gratitude, my perspective toward others and my writing and myself improves.
  3. Reading the Bible. Reading the bible often feels overwhelming to me, so I invested in a study version that includes life application notes. And although I don’t always relate to every verse, it’s hard to miss the overall message: that we were made to love unconditionally and serve unselfishly. I don’t know about you, but those are reminders that I need often and being immersed in them on a daily basis really deepens my faith.
  4. Prayer/Journaling. I’ve heard there’s no wrong way to do either of these things, but my prayers and journal entries are as rambling and busy as my thoughts. So something I’ve started doing when I can’t seem to settle into a conversation with God, is use other’s prayers. I have dedicated a page in my planner where I write down any prayers that I come across that I relate to and that express the feelings in my own heart. Oftentimes, I will memorize these prayers and repeating them becomes a sort of meditation, which along with journaling, slows the chatter in my mind and returns me to a more centered mindset.

None of these things takes much time—it takes seconds to remember blessings or to show gratitude to another person, mere minutes to pray or journal or read a bible passage or two, and if listening to a podcast or reading a book anyway, why not make it something that uplifts and inspires at least some of the time?

It sounds so easy (and it should be), but even something that I claim to be an essential part of my life is still difficult to do with any regularity. Even knowing that these practices improve the quality of my life and my general outlook, they are things for which I need to intentionally make time. And when I do, when I actually live out my faith in these four ways, not only do I feel better and love better and serve better and even write better, but I also feel more connected to God, to other people, and to an overall sense of purpose.

What about you? What fuels your faith?

Embracing Summer and the Essentials

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

As I was preparing for last week Wednesday’s ABCs of a Purposeful WIP video,* I realized I was overdue in revisiting my own priorities. In their usual fashion, these lazy days of summer have been anything but, and I have often found myself easily distracted and distanced from those things I had deemed essentially important at the start of the season.

I had so many plans for these warmer months. I was going to slow down, spend more quality time with my family and close friends, take long bike rides with my hubby, and get more involved in the community. But all I’ve seemed to accomplish thus far is an out of balance sprint from one thing to the next. And a lack of focus doesn’t help. When I waste large chunks of my scheduled writing time because my attention flips from the need-to-do’s to the want-to-do’s before coming back around to the currently doing, every task takes twice as long as it could (or should) and rather than leaving my late afternoons/evenings free to spend as I wish, I am instead in my office until six or seven o’clock.

But as much as I’m annoyed with myself for allowing a full month to race by in this fashion, this knowledge is powerful. Complete and honest awareness of the areas in which I tend to shift into autopilot and backslide into old habits is useful in determining not only how I don’t want to spend my time (with both mind and body pulled in multiple directions at once), but also how I do (with a spirit of presence and engagement, fully immersed in the joy life has to offer).

So, as we head into the last two-thirds of summer, I have pared down my essentials to just three (in no particular order):

  1. Family and friends. This needs no further clarification because, really, what’s more important than our nearest and dearest?
  2. Writing. Not just work on the manuscript and blog/social media posts, but also a return to personal journaling. I haven’t cracked open my journal since May and it shows. My brain chatter tends to get a bit heavy and loud when I leave it to simmer rather than letting it out.
  3. Health of mind/body/spirit. This includes time for outside activities, time to rest, and time to reconnect with God. Like journaling, engaging in these practices on a daily basis also magically transforms me into a better version of myself.

Naturally, my entire existence cannot revolve around only these three categories. There are always other obligations and those pesky, time-consuming adult responsibilities that must be tended to. But what I can change is my approach to them. By centering my mind on what I’m doing when I’m doing it, I can accomplish more in less time, thereby leaving a larger space in my schedule to embrace these three essentials.

What about you? What essentials will you embrace for the remainder of the summer?

*You can get the gist of the video by reading the post, A Purposeful WIP Embraces the Essentials.

A Purposeful WIP Embraces the Essentials

Good news . . . as of yesterday, I have in my possession a completed third revision of my novel manuscript. Well, technically it’s not totally finished. I had been working from a printed version and still need to type my changes and additions into my digital document, BUT I am nonetheless celebrating the progress. And as a purposeful WIP myself, I can tell you that this tangible progress is due in large part to learning how to Embrace the Essentials.

This is a tall order anymore as our lives have become increasingly busy. In fact, a trend I’ve noticed of late is when I run into friends or acquaintances while running errands and I ask how they’re doing, the standard reply seems to be, “I’m busy.” I, myself, have given similar responses. The funny thing is, though, that the label of busy often carries with it a badge of honor, yet when we mention our busyness, our words are rarely ones of joy. We don’t talk about how excited we are to be constantly on the go with little time for rest or our families. Instead, discussions about our busyness are often accompanied by a certain level of weariness.

But if most of us aren’t thrilled with our constantly packed schedules, then why are we continuing to be busy? I think it has a lot to do with the number of choices available to us. Our lives are bursting with so many opportunities to do just about anything—activities and entertainment and experiences and even just everyday responsibilities—that running ourselves ragged in order to not miss out has become the new norm. But we can get so distracted and caught up in chasing these other nonessential things that we lose sight of the essential. We get derailed from our goals, our progress stops in its tracks, and we get stuck.

So, how do we get back to the basics? How do we determine those things that are priorities in our lives? One of the simplest ways to do this is to pay attention to how we’re spending our time. It’s easy to claim that certain things are important to us, but our schedules will actually show the truth. It might sound burdensome and time-consuming in and of itself, but take a week or two to literally track where you are devoting your hours and minutes. Trust me, it is eye-opening. If I had done so about a year ago, I would have seen that, although I called myself a writer, the majority of my days did not revolve around writing. Working on my manuscript was not a priority for me, therefore my progress was at a standstill.

Once you have a clear, honest picture of the largest time consumers in your life, it’s a good idea to think about and even write down, your ideal set of priorities and then compare the two—how you want to spend your time and how you actually do spend it. If the two don’t align, then you know it’s time to make some changes and in what areas those changes need to be made. Easier said than done, right? I couldn’t agree more, so I’ve put together a handful of truths that I remind myself of often:

  1. We cannot and do not need to do it all. This is one of the hardest things for me to remember. I am a doer. If there is something to be done—which is always—I feel like I should be doing it. But when I started shifting my schedule around, I realized that in order to fully embrace the essentials, some of the other things to which I was devoting more time would have to give. For example, I don’t function well in the midst of chaos, so I love a clean and organized house. But there are only twenty-four hours in a day. When I decided to take my writing more seriously, many other things had to give. As a result, over the last year while I’ve been completing my first and second and now third novel drafts, my house hasn’t been near as clean as normal. And you know what? It’s okay.
  2. We are allowed to say no. We are all constantly bombarded with invites and gatherings and requests that we feel obligated to say yes to. This does not include things like work, laundry, childcare, etc. These are responsibilities we obviously can’t say no to. But there are those things that we grudgingly agree to, those places where we spend our precious time even when we don’t want to. These are the areas that need to be considered and reconsidered. If it’s not an enthusiastic yes, it should probably be a no.
  3. Busyness is not a requirement. We don’t have to be doing something 24/7, working ourselves to complete exhaustion. It is not lazy to take some time to breathe or just unplug for a while. This misconception has become even more prevalent because of social media. We are always tuned into what other people are doing. Which brings us to number four.
  4. Stop comparing. We need to remember to run our own race, keep our eyes on our own paper. Even if we are on a similar path, our journey will not be the same as someone else’s and neither will our priorities be the same as theirs. We have to stop worrying about what other people are doing. We have to stop worrying about keeping up and instead keep on doing what is right and essential for us.
  5. Focus. By being fully present in the current moment, we can accomplish more in less time and are thereby rewarded with extra space for the essentials. And with focused attention on our essentials, we create a more fulfilling life experience.
  6. If we don’t intentionally set our own priorities, our life will take on a life of its own and set them for us. It’s easy to get stuck on autopilot if we aren’t intentionally keeping our life centered on those things that are most important. But this isn’t just a once and done proposition. Life happens and our priorities change, so they need to be revisited on a regular basis.

I encourage you to take a good look at your priorities. Think about that area of your life that you’ve been wanting to grow and develop. Is it one of your priorities? Is it something that you have been making time for? If it’s not, what adjustments can you make in order to start embracing your essentials?

*If you’d like more information on the topic of essentials, check out the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

The Sunshine Blogger Award

As a still-newbie blogger of only four-and-a-half months and a greenhorn Twitterer, I am honored to have been nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by a fellow member of the amazing Twitter #writingcommunity. A quick shout out of sincere appreciation for the nomination to the lovely and talented Charlotte, who writes about food, fitness, and reading (among other things) over at Enchanting Moments. You can check out her blog there and also connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

The Sunshine Blogger Award is an award given within the blogging and writing community in support of other bloggers and writers. Individuals are chosen for their thoughtfulness and generosity, positive content and attitudes, and support towards the writing community. Anyone can nominate their favorite blogger, writer, or someone who has made an impact.

Rules of the Sunshine Blogger Award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you, provide a link back to their blogging sites.
  2. Answer their questions.
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
  4. Notify the nominees about their nomination via their blog or social media.
  5. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post.

My answers to Charlotte’s questions:

  1. What’s your favorite season of the year? Christmas was the first season to pop in my head—I love the joyful church services, the magical lights, the warm and fuzzy nostalgia wrapped up in all the ornaments and foods, and most of all the music—but if that doesn’t count, the runner up is Autumn. Fallen leaves are one of my favorite scents (next to Christmas trees, of course).
  2. What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday morning? Summer Saturday mornings are perfect for long bike rides with my hubby. In the winter, I prefer a book, a fireplace, and a cup of tea.
  3. Who do you call in a crisis? My husband. His logic balances out my instinct to overreact.
  4. When do you feel at your most creative? Usually at the most inopportune times. Like in the wee hours of the morning when my mind wakes up well before my alarm. Or when I’m away from my computer and involved in a mundane task like folding laundry or mowing the lawn.
  5. If you had to pick one outfit to wear for the rest of your life, which would it be? That “fit just right” pair of jeans, a well-worn tee, and a cozy sweatshirt.
  6. What’s your favorite type of baked goods? I try to steer clear of baked goods, but I have an inherent sweet tooth that can’t seem to say no to most desserts, especially when they’re topped with ice cream.
  7. You have won an all-inclusive trip to the destination of your choice. Where are you going? This is a tough one. I love to travel and there are a lot of wonderful destinations in the world that I’d like to visit, but for me the ideal isn’t as much a location as it is an experience. I’d choose to go where life is simpler, slower-paced, and retains a Mayberry-type charm. If such a place still exists, I’d definitely like to spend some time there.
  8. Which series would you recommend I watch next? I’m not really up on current TV shows, so I’ll recommend a few older ones that I fully enjoyed and watched in toto: Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, and a blast from a couple decades past that I’ve recently resurrected, Wings.
  9. Are you a dog person or a cat person? Dog. Although my sweet Dolly is starting to exhibit some cat-like behaviors in her old age.
  10. Which achievement are you most proud of and why? One day very soon, this will read: Wrote a complete novel manuscript. But until then, my answer is running a half marathon. I have a tendency to conceive grand ideas, but I habitually lack the follow-through to see them to fruition. So I am proud to have signed up, trained for, and crossed the finish line for not just one, but two of those 13.1-mile jaunts.
  11. Do you prefer breakfast, lunch or dinner? I am a huge fan of breakfast and could eat breakfasty foods for every meal, every day.

My Nominees and Questions:

Randy Susan Meyers, Lindsey Bomgren (Nourish Move Love), Joshua Becker (Becoming Minimalist), Anthony Ongaro (Break the Twitch), No Sidebar, Melanie Notkin (Savvy Auntie), Katie Wells (Wellness Mama), Davida Lederle (The Healthy Maven), Taylor Kiser (Food Faith Fitness), Clayton Snyder, and Christina Herr

  1. If you had no obligations on your calendar and no responsibilities on your to-do list, how would you spend a Goldilocks day (not too hot, not too cold, not too windy)?
  2. What book have you read multiple times and why?
  3. What one thing would you be most distraught to lose?
  4. How many consecutive days could you survive without your cell phone?
  5. What is your all-time, favorite movie?
  6. When visiting the beach, do you spend most of your time on the sand or in the water?
  7. Things that make you go Mmmm. What is the most delicious food you’ve ever tasted?
  8. Rollercoasters . . . yay or nay?
  9. From what decade(s) do the most-played songs on your playlist(s) originate?
  10. What cartoons did you watch growing up?
  11. Do you play a musical instrument?

Thanks again to Charlotte for the nomination and the fun deviation from my normal posts. Be sure to take a peek at the blogs mentioned above and if you’d like to participate, feel free to share your responses to any/all of the questions by posting in the comments.