Tag Archives: steps

This Summer, Get Your Life Back Together

This summer is all about big and scary changes for me. What about you? What areas in your life — mental, financial, relationships with siblings or spouses, diet, etc. — need the most improvement? What makes you frustrated or unhappy is the area that needs the most work. Let summer 2013 be all about making healthy steps forward, not backward.

1. Mental Health 

Do you wish you had someone to talk to in confidence? Do you feel depressed, angry, hopeless or frustrated and not sure how to get out of this mess? Gather up your courage and locate a mental health professional. Focus on practical methods of therapy that will help you to focus immediately on the major issues and he or she will guide you to make the necessary changes in life.

  • Find a therapist at therapists.psychologytoday.com and enter your zip code.
  • Choose someone that specializes in areas you need work on (eg: anxiety or substance abuse, marriage counseling) and that accepts your insurance or offers a sliding fee scale — one of the most common reasons for putting off seeing a therapist is the thought that one cannot afford it — not true!
  • Make an appointment for next week.

2. Physical Health

Feel sluggish all the time, tired, and winded going up a few flights of stairs? Recently gained weight? Never exercise? It’s time to change.

  • Start small — 3 times a week for about 30 minutes.
  • Make it easy — take a walk after dinner. No purchases required to get fit.
  • Make it fun — involve your friends/family. Play tennis, play tag with kids, go to the beach and walk along the shore, go swimming, take Zumba, etc. Find something you like.
  • Make it last — attach the habit of exercising with something you already do everyday. Drive past a gym on the way home from work? Keep your gym clothes in your car and head there immediately before going home. Need to watch a certain show every night? Exercise during that program.

3. Spiritual Health

  • If you are religious and have been slacking on going to your church/temple/place of worship, it’s time to recommit. It’s a great place to feel a sense of community and faith like nowhere else and feel like you’re part of a bigger whole, which is comforting. Also, start reading your passages and reflecting silently, too. How can you be a better Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/etc. person today? Can you volunteer, help someone, read a new passage, pray, be closer to nature?
  • If not religious, you can still work on your spiritual health. Practice saying a mantra everyday that makes you feel empowered. Or go to a quiet place of nature and reflect silently.Take steps everyday to remain positive in your life and believe in the magick/karma/The Secret. Meditate. Do yoga. Feel more in tune with your body & soul. Align yourself — become more balanced.

4. Diet/Nutrition

  • This is an important step. Diet has a profound impact on the way we feel, think, and our ability to perform/function in our daily lives. Take this summer to practice eating habits that make you feel better. Journal what you eat, at what time, and how hungry you were. Note how it makes you feel after eating and what emotion you were feeling. Note trends in how you feel hours later or the next day, too — especially if you eat a lot of carbs (sluggish, tired, bloated). Change your habits one meal at a time and become more conscious of the calories you consume — though you don’t have to count them, it’s a good idea if you want to lose weight.
  • Eat cleaner, local, organic foods — search for local farmers markets in your area.
  • Eat more vegetables. Every meal. And try a new veggie once a week or so.
  • Drink water, not calories. An easy way to lose weight and feel better is to drink more water and replace sodas/juices/etc. with water.

5. Social Life/Happiness/Relationships

This is an important one to work on. Ask yourself honestly: How can you be a better…daughter, mother, son, father, wife, husband, friend, relative?

  • What relationships in your life are fading and need TLC? Who can you call that will brighten their face? Catch up with old friends.
  • Ditch the toxic people in your life, as well. If you feel negative when you’re around, make bad decisions like drink/smoke, or if they treat you badly, ditch them. Life is too short to hang around with awful friends. You can always make new friends that align with your goals. Seek them out.
  • Do something that makes you happy everyday. Even if it’s a little bit selfish. If you are not happy everyday, than what is the point of living — seek help if you are feeling depressed, and seek ways to bring happiness into your life on a constant basis.
  • Make an effort to be social, friendly, and confident — even if you don’t feel like it, fake it. It will get easier, I promise.

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If this article helped or inspired you in any way please let me know what you will be working on this summer. I have my own list and I’d like to see what you will be up to.

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11 Tips for How to Be Productive Right Now

keepcalmgsd

You may be mindlessly searching the internet, looking for ways to be productive, asking yourself, “what is something productive i can do right now?” You might have a huge list of things that need to be taken care of but you are overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated, and annoyed at your insane level of procrastination  But that will get you nowhere. You can read all the blogs on the internet about productivity and you won’t learn about how to be productive right now without actually GSD.

The hardest part of being productive is getting started. I love the acronym GSD because it’s a quick reminder to “Get Shit Done.” This is based off the popular and less vulgar term GTD which stands for “Getting Things Done”, a term from time management guru David Allen (and from the book of the same name).

The battle for focus is fierce, but you can GSD right now.

  1. GSD right in the morning. Wake up, get dressed and all that, and then go straight to work. Work first, play later.
  2. Do your worst, most dreaded task first. Get it done first, and it will feel like pushing a huge boulder down a mountain.
  3. Unless your work requires it, disable your internet connection and work offline.
  4. Or move entirely away from the computer.
  5. Blast your favorite music (epic movie soundtracks work great for monumental tasks) and GSD.
  6. Work for 5 minutes. Just five fucking minutes, dude. If you want, take a break after. But most likely you will have gotten the hardest part over with (starting) and will continue easily.
  7. I swear by Evernote — if you are distracted by a link, thought, image, video, etc. just copy and paste in an Evernote page and it saves instantly. Go back to it later.
  8. I make to-do lists on Evernote, too.
  9. Promise yourself something to look forward to (like watching that funny video) after you finish say an hour of that project. It’s good to take breaks. Just get back to work right after.
  10. Sometimes it’s easier to just work for the 2-3 hours full speed, no breaks. Then reward yourself with a sweet lunch or a smoke, whatever tips your hat. Think of this tip as “college finals” mode and you’ll get it.
  11. If you have a huge project ahead of you and you are distracting yourself from starting it because it’s so damn hard to start, spend time just chunking it down: take the boulder and turn it into rocks, and then pebbles. Then take that first step, that first pebble and start it.

What productive things did you just do, or are about to do after reading this article? Share any of your GSD tips!

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February, or the month of GSD

So January is almost over, and PROGRESS-WISE, that leaves me barely a stone’s throw away from where I started since 2012 ended.

I figure since February is such a short month (28 days!) that it’s time I mentally, physically, and metaphorically get shit done. Hence, Feb 2103 = Get Shit Done Month (GSD for short or if you don’t like swearing).

I’ve been lurking over at jessicamullen’s blog for a while to generally inspire myself and to think more positively about stuff. I’ve been trying to inject pieces of positiveness into the universe, take risks, and do things that terrify me, like participating in my classes. Just recently I took the plunge and gave myself a raise, technically speaking, on Fiverr: instead of getting 500 words for $5, I’m charging $5 for 250 words. And people are still ordering from me! My fears have been abated. I deserve more. I write good (er..well). People like my work. I’ve been committing to going to classes like it’s my job. I like learning when I’m there. I like my teachers. I like feeling productive, instead when I skip I feel useless and generally crappy.

the only thing that I’m not working on at all is my weight situation, which is, er, a huge problem. I’m tired of gaining and not losing. I want to be healthy, happy in my own skin. But I’m not acting like I want to be those things. I’m behaving like I want to be unhappy, unhealthy, and uncomfortable. I have to reverse this horrible habit. So this month I’m mostly going to concentrate on going to the on-campus gym (which is right there and, free) after classes at least three days per week for 30 minutes to start. The weather is a tad less wintry and awful, so I’ve been walking to school some days, which takes 15 minutes one direction. I will end up not taking my car completely when it is consistently warmer out.

I’ve been adding healthier things in my diet, but I also eat a lot of nonhealthy things, and just plain unfood. Cookies, chips, and other things I inhale to distract myself from other things just has to stop. It’s time for lettuce. tomatoes. broccoli. Things that make me feel better after eating, not worse. not things that make me sick. figuratively and literally.

I also need to make my DAYS more productive. How do business people act? People who freelance professionally? People who have the lifestyle I want? I need to emulate that. People who create multiple streams of income online do not sleep until 2pm. People who freelance professionally do not stay up until 3am eating cookies (I think).

These people wake up early, at a set time everyday, exercise first thing in the morning, eat a real breakfast, get their work done early and don’t bullshit on the internet half the time, and keep their house clean and orderly. They manage their time well and don’t have to rush for deadlines, well unless they like the rush (don’t all writers? we like punishing ourselves this way, don’t we). They know how to get into FLOW and FOCUS. They take breaks and eat regular, balanced meals. They still have plenty of time for other creative and social activities. They know what to do to avoid getting depressed or feeling hopeless.

This February, I will GSD. Will you take the challenge with me?

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Brainstorm Your 2013 Goals Before the Ball Drops

ResolutionsSo, the end of the year holidays are upon us, and I am left laying in bed or day-dreaming in my commute to work about next year. The year 2013, where we will all gain another year under our belt and hopefully work on our goals. Have you given any thought about the new year? If not, it’s time to start, before you’re left in January 1, 2013 wondering how to make your life not suck.

  • Start small. Most people fail at new year’s resolutions because they dream too big, and have unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished in a year. Yes, you must challenge yourself out of the status quo — but do not start out too big or you will just stare out the window, too overwhelmed to begin. Think of your overall goal and pick one aspect, that is workable in your life for one year, and start there.
  • Write in the present. A great trick to shifting your attitude that YES, you CAN do this, is to write your goal as if you are already doing that thing. For example, don’t say, “I want to lose weight next year.” Instead, say, “I am 50 pounds thinner and I feel healthy and more able to do things I love with my children.” Reading the first sentence feels scary, because not only is it an undefined goal (how much weight? what is the deadline? why do you want to do this?, etc), but it doesn’t feel attainable at the moment. When you read the second sentence, you actually feel happy imagining your life through that sentence and can begin shifting your attitude to realizing that very goal. More important, the second sentence tells you non-physical reasons to lose that weight, to be healthier and to play with your children. You feel that motivation stirring you because you have identified WHY you want this goal.
  • Once you figure out the WHAT and the WHY, you can begin chunking your goal into smaller and smaller pieces. These will become action steps for you to work on in regular intervals from monthly tasks, to weekly tasks — as small as what you can do TOMORROW for your goal.
  • Don’t make resolutions. No one sticks to those past Valentine’s Day. Consider these contracts or promises to yourself that you must keep.
  • Find someone to keep you accountable. It can be anyone, even an online buddy from a forum. I love subreddits to find great support and to find lots of information about basically anything.
  • Reflect and re-evaluate every week. Not so good this week? Figure out now what you need to to and change, even if it’s just one thing you focus on each week. Soon, you will see yourself gradually making progress.
  • Accept that you’re going to slip up, fall off the wagon, or lose track altogether. The important part is when you realize it and get yourself back on track. That’s why you re-evaluate, weekly.
  • Be thankful for what you have, everyday. Being thankful for things changes your attitude from negative to positive, and makes you take a look at all the luxuries you possess. I’ll take a wild guess and assume you have: a place to live, a bed to sleep on, heat and/or ac or fan, food and a fridge, a stove to cook food, shoes, a coat, maybe a job, maybe a family, a cell phone, internet connection and computer, money to buy things you like, a car. You’d be amazed at how many people in this world do not even have clean water, let alone any of this stuff.
  • Spend time each week reading something that is somehow related to your goals or inspirational in some way. You do not have to purchase books, support your local library.
  • There’s an app for that. If you have a smartphone, I bet there is an app that can help you keep track of your goals. Try Mint for money-tracking, and My Fitness Pal app for calorie/meal and exercise tracking.

Here is a brief, work-in-progress list of my goals for 2013. Maybe we share the same goals?

  • Lose 50 pounds by June 4, my birthday, which is a teeny bit over 2 pounds per week: I will be 50 pounds lighter and will have established a healthy eating and exercise routine for lasting health. Figure out by January 5 my method of exercise (gym or home? walk around block etc). I will reward myself by buying a new outfit (jeans, shirt, shoes).
  • Promote self as freelance writer on Fiverr and Freelancer and find long-term work to provide me with enough money for rent each month: I will earn enough money for rent each month with my freelance writing.
  • Save at least 10% of all paychecks in savings account not to be touched.
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3 Ways to Immediately Live a More Fulfilling Life

westie painting leftoversHave you ever thought to yourself, “there must be more to this life?”

There is. You just have to figure out what it is.

Stop living your life absentmindedly, going through the motions, and self-medicating with food, alcohol, or illegal drugs. Stop hating your life each morning, swearing under your breath as you brush your teeth. Stop yelling at your spouse or kids because you are so stressed at work and stop being disgusted with yourself. The time to act is now. Grab a pen and piece of paper, and find out what you need in your life to be happier.

1. Do what you love. Stop what you don’t.

There’s no point wasting your time being miserable. Focus on what you enjoy in your life and make a strong effort to replace time-wasting activities with activities and hobbies that make you smile or lose track of time.

DO: Try drawing in a sketchpad, painting on a canvas, reading a good book, hand-writing in a pretty journal, taking pictures with a real camera (not your iphone), going outside and laying in the grass. What makes you happy? Munching on chips probably makes you (temporarily) happy, but choose a more spiritually rewarding or creative task. The key is to replace a negative aspect of your life (what is harming some aspect of your life in any way, big or small, literally, morally, spiritually, or mentally), with something constructive and positive.

STOP: Get rid of mindless web surfing, bad television show-watching, sitting on the couch, sleeping in, toxic friends, smoking, over-consumption of alcohol or indulging in high-caloric food, social media….and anything else that bring no worth to your pleasure or career, things that give you anxiety or are tedious, and things that are not critical to your life and have no sense being in it.

Consciously remove yourself from that negative situation (caught yourself in front of daytime TV again?). If you cannot leave the room or environment (you hate your job, but you need to pay bills? See number two), use some quick relaxation exercises to calm yourself down and bring yourself in the present moment mentally. Stop shutting out your emotions and realize what behaviors or feelings are bringing you to desire this harmful activity.

Example: I mindlessly surf Facebook when I am bored.
What is at the root of this activity? What am I feeling? Boredom.
Why do I feel bored? Because I have no one to talk to, and I feel lonely. Because I can’t sleep, so I’ve logged onto the computer to waste time and distract myself.
What am I distracting myself from? My current financial situation.

This example shows how to write out and get to the root of your stress/worries that is causing the negative behavior. Free-write uninterrupted until you hit the gold-mine.

The next step, of course, is to figure out proactive ways to solve your problems. But first:

  • Remove yourself from the situation.
  • Calm yourself down and get back in the present. Realize why you are doing this behavior.
  • Physically get up, change gears, and begin doing the activity you’d rather be doing — the one that brings you joy, is productive and creative, and more fulfilling to your life.
  • Keep consciously changing gears until you replace the bad habit completely.
  • Feel infinitely better and more creative.

2. Get a job you love – the smart way.

It is easy for self-help books and blogs to say, “if you don’t like your job, QUIT.” But seriously, we all need to pay the bills. Sometimes the only job out there is one that is mind-numbing, below your pay rate or skill levels, or has a horrible and stressful work environment or co-workers. The smart way to do this is to look for your dream job — on the side. Keep your job for the necessities in life: utilities, rent/mortgage payments, car payments, gas, food, clothes, and insurance. But when you’re out of work, fill an hour or so per week hunting down that job. Update your resume, make an account on Linked In or SnagaJob, search Indeed or Monster for open positions, practice job interview questions. Glassdoor is a great resource for getting the inside scoop on job interviews, salary levels, and workplace satisfaction. Discover companies in your area and contact them.

Make a deadline for when you would like to quit. If you find it hard to work without pressure, type your letter of resignation now, and seal it in an envelope addressed to your manager. Bring it to your manager in the two weeks before your previously chosen last day.

Note: you may be tempted to find a job and rush in there, tell off your boss and stick up the middle finger and waltz out the door. DON’T. Remain professional and civil, and you will keep a reference for your future jobs. Also, most managers will not provide a positive reference to your employers if you do not provide the two-weeks-notice or more; please see your employee handbook for specific information for your job. Do not lose out on your reference, especially if you’ve been at the job for more than six months. Consider this a stepping stone to your true job.

If your employment relationship includes either an explicit or implied contract that says you must give two weeks notice of resignation and you don’t, your employer might have the right to take punitive action. For example, your employer might legally have the right to deny you termination benefits, such as accrued vacation pay. (source)

You may consider taking this hour or so every week to contribute your time to starting the business you’ve always dreamed of (see youngentrepreneur.com), starting a website to monetize/sell products/blog, or advertise for handy man work or cleaning positions on your local Craigslist. These side endeavors, with some hard work, and time/money investments (dependent on the nature of the project), will lead to a decent side income or may even a replacement to your paid-per-hour or salary job position. (See SmartPassiveIncome.com)

3. Be a constant learner.

A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study.
~Chinese Proverb

One of the greatest joys of life is that there is much to be learned — everyday. Seek out opportunities to learn something. Whether it’s a new word (like this one), a new language (great list of free language learning tools and sites), a program (like Photoshop), or something extremely out of your element (for me, it’s politics), the most fulfilling life is one that is full of constant learning. Here are just a few amazing online free resources.

  • Khan Academy – online courses/videos.
  • W3Schools – learn HTML, Javascript, CSS, ASP, PHP, etc.
  • Codecademy – interactive code-learning program for beginners.
  • Reddit.com – millions of amazing subreddits with opportunities to learn everyday with user-uploaded content and interesting debates like r/psychology, r/science, or this question/answer format r/IAmA (posters claim they are some interesting person, prove it, and answer reader’s questions). You can literally search anything and they will most likely have a reddit for it.
  • Tell me why? – random tidbits of knowledge and facts in a blog format.
  • DumbLittleMan has this great list of free online resources for learning something new everyday.
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Focus: 5 Things to Do Right Now For a More Productive Life

Focus on SightThere’s a lot of keys to success, and tons of different life paths, but you must have this in order to reach the door.

F O C U S.

What is a life without focus? It’s staring at the bottom of a bottle every night in a dive bar. It’s avoiding the mirror when you wake up so you don’t see the fat accumulating on your belly. It’s a pile of unpaid bills, half of them notices from the college you earned the degree from — the one collecting dust in a bent folder somewhere in your bookcase. It’s like driving without watching where you are going, kind of like texting and driving. Sure, you peek up here and there, just to make sure you’re still on the road. But someday, you’re going to crash. Hard.

Does it feel like a dream? Where does the time go? You have no idea, because you’re not keeping track. You’re not caring.

Suddenly, you wake up and you’re 25, or 30, or 40, and you must pull off that pile of regrets like you pull off your comforter in the morning, and get going with your life.

So how does one find focus in a blurry life? Start doing these things, and you’ll start seeing a more productive life.

1. Wake up 20 minutes earlier. It is true, the early bird gets the worm. But you don’t need to wake up at 5am to reap the benefits of a more productive, relaxed morning. Start at just 20 minutes earlier — enough time to read the newspaper, get a quick at-home workout in (just walk around the block!), eat an actual (balanced) breakfast, or ponder your life’s current path.

2. Write one page a day. It can be a Word document on your computer, an Evernote page, or an actual page in a notebook — just start your day by writing about anything that comes to mind. What is on your mind? What bothers you, upsets you? What are you thinking of doing today – this week – this month? End the page by writing down at least 2 productive things you will do today that is in line with your goals. Don’t have goals? We’ll fix that.

3. Determine your goals. Take a good chunk of time to really think about your life for a minute. Dig deeper until you find an aspect of your life that really depresses you or makes you angry. Is it your weight? Your lack of a job? Not having insurance or a reliable car? Horrible debt lingering over your head? Having poor friends or no one to talk to — or being single? Once you find something that sparks emotion, determine what would change that reaction to happiness and content about your life.

Do this: I would feel happier if I __________…

4. Stop doing something. Everyone has a bad habit, most of us have more than one vice. One way to have better focus is to stop poisoning your body with them. Is is smoking? Vodka? Or something else? Make the decision to quit, and you’ll feel a lot better — maybe not immediately (quitting drugs is difficult and can result in feeling withdrawal symptoms, even physical discomfort or sickness), but overall you will live longer and have something to strive for daily: not using/drinking.

Note: it does not have to be a drug/alcohol addiction. It can be anything big or small that you wish you would stop doing because it harms your body, bank account, friends/family, or life in some way. Do you have a horrible habit of reckless thrift shopping? Collecting new purses? Ignoring friend’s phone calls? Taking anger out on your wife/husband?

5. Remind yourself daily. A habit that is not watched quickly dies, so find ways to remind yourself of your new goals. Tell your significant other to wake up earlier with you, and make breakfast together. Call a friend and go for a morning gym session. Make an appointment to see a doctor about ways to quit smoking. Set your alarm clock across the room so you have to get up. Post photos of whatever inspires you on your mirror, on your fridge, in your car. Find resources online to help you. Check back weekly, and then monthly, to see your progress.

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford

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7 Things I Learned about Packing for a Move

MovingMy boyfriend and I finally scored our first apartment. Being together for over 5 years, this has been a long time coming. I lived at my parent’s house with my family for 20 years and then moved in with my boyfriend for the previous two (out of force…but that’s a personal story). Ever since then it’s been hard to truly feel like I’ve been living independently, since I still technically lived with “parents,” even though they’re not mine. I never thought I would ever be excited to pay rent and utilities! So I am ecstatic to move into my first “real” on-my-own type deal, but I certainly learned a few things — the hard way!

1. Apartment Hunting is HARD
Apartments are expensive, and the ones that aren’t expensive are in well…questionable areas. It takes a while to find a winner. Keep a mental list of your standards, and keep an eye on the budget range you (or you and your roommates) will be able to afford. Look everywhere — newspapers, Craigslist, etc.

2. Finding roommates is even more difficult
Luckily, I had a friend going to the same college me and my boyfriend were, so we decided to look for places together. We found a three bedroom apartment, and needed to find one last person to fill in the last room (since me and my boyfriend were obviously sharing a room). Easy, right? Wrong. July ended up being a stressful chaos that nearly consumed me and threatened me to opt out altogether. Luckily, our landlord helped us to find the last person, but without that help, we would have been “shit outta luck.” Make sure you are looking for an apartment that just houses what you’ll need (2 br for 2 people) and no extras, because finding a stranger to live with you is very difficult and could be time-consuming.

3. Packing takes up far more time (and boxes) than you’ll originally think
When the time came to start packing, I brought home a couple good-sized boxes from my job, assuming that we didn’t have a lot of stuff. We have only been living in one tiny room, I thought. WRONG. I was so dead wrong. Always bring home at least 3 times the amount of boxes you’ll think you need (and try not to buy boxes — there’s plenty of stores who throw out plenty of good sized ones that will be glad to give them to you — just ask!). And set aside a good couple of hours each day (and a couple of days) to pack. If you’re living in a 2-br or house, plan to pack at least for a week — and bring some helpers.

4. Pack heavy things in smaller boxes, and bulkier items in larger ones
Think it’s a good idea to use one large box to store all of your books? Think again — all that weight will be impossible to lift. Keep heavy things in smaller boxes, like books. Keep fragile things cushioned with paper or bubble wrap. Pack heavier things on the bottom, and lighter things on the top to prevent damage.

5. Label all your boxes!
You don’t want to end up with an empty place full of unlabeled boxes. What a mess! Always remember what you’re putting into each box and label or number each one as you go, right after taping the top shut.  Keep like things together (books with books, kitchen utensils with others, shirts with shirts, etc).

6. Plan ahead of time how you’re going to move your stuff from Point A to Point B
You can prevent a lot of last-minute headaches by planning ahead of time — call a truck-owning friend, or rent a uhaul truck. Always try to do it for free or cheap, first, and then use the companies as a back up, since moving costs (and apartment costs) will already destroy your budget. Also, if you do end up needing to rent, make sure you reserve your truck/van a week or two ahead of time, especially since move-in days tend to be on the first of the month and other people will be competing for that same truck.

7.  Wake up early on your big move-in day!
My move-in day is Monday, August 1, and I plan to wake up very early to move in all day. This is important, because I hate waking up early. But I know it’s completely necessary. Think about how far your new place is, plus the estimated time to take moving all the boxes from your place into the trucks, cars, and vans, and then going there only to unload the cars/trucks/vans and then UNpack everythng into the house. Don’t forget moving hefty furniture, and figuring out where to put everything. This will easily take all day, so you want a giant jump-start. The night before, make sure you go to sleep early, and have everything packed. Keep the most essential items on you only — change of clothes, deodorant, make up for girls, phone, wallet, keys. It may also be helpful to write a to-do list before bed so all those details about the move won’t be keeping you up all night.

Stay tuned for a post on my experience with new roommates, and how to save money while on a strict budget.

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Why You Eat When You’re Sad

This is an extension of the post I did a few days ago called How to Stop Emotional Eating – For Good. Emotional eating can take many forms, but most people can probably agree that it is when you are sad that the cravings for cookies and ice cream start calling. I wanted to do a more in depth exploration of why this happens, and of course, ways to help overcome it.

Stress.

The number one reason we will eat is due to the stress that negative emotions cause us, especially sadness. Most times, stress goes hand in hand with depression and can either be a symptom or a factor in being sad. When we’re stressed, our bodies release the hormone cortisol, which creates cravings for unhealthy foods and stores these extra calories in the belly, the visceral fat region which is a danger zone for heart attacks. Some people also feel the need to soothe their oral fixation caused by anxiety or any other emotion, which can be soothed by the repetitive motion of picking up handfuls of food into the mouth.

So how to reduce stress? There’s plenty of techniques, but here’s just a few to get you started:

  • Meditation – it sounds corny, but it really does work. Search around for some meditation videos on YouTube like this one or this one, and lay down face up (or however you’re most comfortable) with arms down your side and preferably headphones on. Listen to the music, or the music with guided meditation (helps with imagery). A good meditation session will leave you less stressed and relaxed like you’ve just woken for a nap.
  • Nap – if the meditation isn’t your thing, then you can take an actual nap. It doesn’t quite solve anything, but it does help you to sleep on some hard decisions.
  • Deep breathing – breathe deeply through your nose for about 5 seconds, hold for just a sec, and slowly release through your mouth for about 5-10 seconds. Do this for a couple of minutes, especially at moments of high stress, and see how you feel.
  • Yoga – yoga is another thing that’s not for everyone, but if you like it, you’ll love it. You can also do some basic stretching (not yoga-y) while using the deep breathing technique to really reap the benefits. You can do a quick pose when you’re feeling stressed at the office, or you can do it every time you wake up (and do the Sun Salutation).

Numb or Distract Ourselves.

Going back to the pain/pleasure principles discussed in the How to Stop Emotional Eating – For Good article, people don’t like to feel pain and will instinctively find any way to stop pain and increase pleasure. This often includes distracting ourselves from difficult news or emotions. Food is a way to distract ourselves from the pain and to induce pleasure with the chemicals and sugars found in foods. The repetitive act of eating is soothing, as well as the sensations of food which cut off our thoughts.

Habits/Learned Associations, such as from Childhood.

Most moms can admit to using an ice cream cone as a pick-me-up for their children when they get a minor injury, such as falling off a bike. However, if used enough times, the child can learn to associate good feelings with food. Food is seen as the way to make the pain go away, or to stop crying. Maybe moms should start using carrots instead of cupcakes, and the world will be a better place 🙂 Ahh, but even though this may be an ingrained response from childhood, it is fairly simple to unlearn the association. One way is fear – imagine spiders and other gross things on your favorite junk food item or literally throw dirt on your junk food item before you’re about to eat it (a waste of food yes, but for an important point). Or as soon as you feel a craving for that specific treat, such as ice cream, pinch your wrist very hard. Soon you will learn to associate the junk food with pain.

As an example: One time I spent far too much time on Youtube watching gross videos about decaying animals, just for the curiosity of how flies and maggots play the role in the circle of life. I had also watched a fascinating time lapse of all kinds of fruit decaying and molding in a bowl. Unfortunately, the next day my sister gave me a cherry to eat, and I literally could not stomach the thought of eating that cherry. It disgusted me to look at the fruit and be reminded of that video. So it can be done. Next time I’ll try to find something about ice cream.

Ignoring the Larger Problem(s).

This is related to numbing/distraction, but usually the problem is far worse than normal thoughts throughout the day. Perhaps you have a dark secret that even yourself cannot bear to think about – do you have a sudden urge to eat potato chips or the like? Some people hide their disparity about their failing marriages or their cheating husbands by gorging on food at night because they can no longer cry about it, or the food helps them ignore the problem. This is when it is time to see a professional, to uproot these issues. Being raped or molested is another huge reason girls will overeat, as a way to provide a buffer so that they won’t be noticed by predators. Short of seeing a therapist, which is highly recommended (especially if you’re eating to cover up feelings about serious depression or suicidal/harmful thoughts), you can try these things:

  • Journal! Write it out, and tackle your feelings head on. Write a story about it, in third person if you must, and share it with someone. Chances are there are a lot of people who can relate, too. Sharing makes it easier to go through the experience.
  • Pick up a creative hobby to do instead of eating. Can’t write or talk about it? Try drawing or painting. You don’t have to be good at it, just do it for the therapy.
  • Try CBT therapy on your own. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a technique that many therapists are skilled in. You can try a simplified version by yourself, if you’d like: CBT’s goal is to find out the reasoning behind your behaviors and to try to alter your thinking patterns and inspire better behaviors. For example, your undesired behavior is that you eat too much, and your cognitive functioning is that you eat because you’re sad. Write out why you do this, and find the real problems. If you’re crying, or it feels hard, then you’ve found the real reasons. Once you’ve pin-pointed the thoughts that are making you do this behavior, then it’s time to find out how to change those thoughts and therefore your behavior. Whenever you think a negative thought, change it into a positive. Work on your self esteem. Change your surroundings so that you can change your problem. And then you can also consciously work on changing your behavior. The two are related, so you’ll start seeing improvement both ways. It’s usually a long, difficult and drawn out process – which is why professional help is recommended. I’ll write a post more about CBT later, however.
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How To Stop Emotional Eating – For Good

Eat Eat Eat Me... Hunger is a basic sensation that all creatures feel and respond to with the appropriate action: to eat. Hunger stems from the very basic idea of stimulus and response as well as the pain principle. The body realizes that there is a lack of nutrients caused by an empty stomach. The body then releases chemicals that inflicts an uncomfortable feeling of emptiness, weakness, and desire to eat (called appetite). The body searches for food to stop this discomfort. This then additionally becomes motivation – a call to action.

So hunger is already very complicated, even in the state of nature. Operating on biology, chemistry, motivation, the pain principle, and the most basic behavioral psychology of stimulus and response. This is important to understand. For a more thorough explanation, click here.

The pain principle – we don’t like feeling pain. It is a natural self preservation tool used to survive in the state of nature. Hunger pangs, terrible contractions of discomfort which begin 12-24 hours after not eating, can be so painful that it is difficult to concentrate on anything else. Add to this state the decreased level of blood sugar and general feeling of lightheadedness and anxiety, and hunger can be almost unbearable. Most people living in developed countries rarely feel real hunger pangs because they are able to eat at normal intervals – every 3-4 hours or so. However, the biological response is still rampant, and once the first sign of discomfort hits, many people instinctively race to stop the pain.

Motivation – The most basic ideas of motivation stems from the pain and pleasure principles. There are two types of motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic is when we are motivated by external things, like a piece of cake, when then stirs a biological response. Intrinsic motivation is internal, and could be anything from a thought or a memory that triggers the same biological response. Motivation is the desire to act to accomplish a goal or fulfill a need, such as eating or sleeping

Behavioral psychology – the most basic theories of behavioral psychology stem from the stimulus and response theory. A stimulus is noticed, a response follows due to that stimulus. The stimulus could be anything – a rabbit sees movement in the bushes, and flees to escape a preconceived notion of danger. the rabbit knew to flee because last time she saw movement in the bushes, a snake came out and lunged at her. The fear response kicked in from seeing the stimulus and caused her to flee. Now the rabbit knows that whenever she sees movement in the bushes, that she must run to avoid getting eaten. In humans this could transfer over to almost anything. The alarm clock makes an annoying buzzer sound, you shut it off and get out of bed. The commercial shows a delicious looking cheeseburger, you decide to buy from that restaurant that night.

What does this have to do with emotional eating? Everything.

When we eat, it is meant to fulfill a need. In nature, this need is strictly biological. We eat to stop the hunger pangs, and we eat to gain nutrition and to feel satiated. As a complex society, hunger means something completely different. We eat because we’re hungry, yes, but we eat for other reasons, too. We eat because we are bored. We eat because we are tired. Angry. Frustrated. Stressed. Sad. Annoyed. Happy.

Eating just got so much more complicated. Eating is no longer just a necessity, it is a social function. Eating is everywhere, at funerals, weddings, work meetings, movie theatres, and eating is shared as a community. Eating is also done after buying or cooking the food, not after hunting or gathering for hours or days. Eating is an easy task, and we don’t even have to cook at all to eat – we just pay other people to. Eating is done on purpose, and it is done as a social obligation. It is also done absentmindedly, when one is not paying full attention.

How do we stop emotional eating for good? We start paying attention.

  • Next time you eat, take note of the time and how you felt right before eating. Note how hungry you felt (on a scale of 1-5) and your mood.
  • Then write down exactly what you ate, including portion sizes and beverages. Note the time when you are finished.

Do this for a day, or a few days, to get a better view, and then sit down in a quiet spot and take a good, hard look. Do you notice any patterns of eating when not particularly hungry (at a score of 1 or 2), or only waiting to eat until you are starving (5) and then eating a large amount in one sitting? How about your mood? Do you eat when you are happy, sad, or mad? How long does it take you to eat? If you are eating in less than 5 minutes, then you are waiting too long to eat, or you eat too fast and don’t feel satisfied because you don’t notice what you are eating. The general rule is that the body needs 20 minutes before it realizes that it is full.

  • If you are not eating when you are hungry, wait until you feel like you’re at a 3-4 before eating. Consciously force yourself to wait until you feel physically hungry. Don’t just eat because it is a certain time of the day (“lunch time”) or because that’s when you’re friends are eating.
  • If you are waiting until you are at a 4-5, find out why you wait until you’re starving until you eat. Do you have a pattern of eating large meals in-between longer periods of time? Do you, for one reason or another (which you should find out and write down), skip meals?

Steps to Stop Emotionally Eating

If you are eating when you are sad/depressed/angry, catch yourself the next time you realize what you are doing. Stop yourself in your tracks and ask yourself, are you really, physically hungry? Do you need to eat to gain fuel and nutrition, or do you feel sad and need to distract yourself with food?

Physically remove yourself from the eating area and go somewhere else where no food is allowed. Stay there for at least 20-30 minutes, if not more.

Bring something to do, such as a journal to write in, polish to paint your nails, or a favorite book to read. Keep a stash of things to do and keep them around you so that whenever the feeling strikes you, you can distract yourself.

Do this every single time you find yourself eating when in a depressed state. Soon the process will become automatic, and you will disengage the link of [sad + food] to [sad + something else]. 

A lot of people have found that writing is the most helpful, so that they can write out their feelings and get it off their chests and away from their minds. But you can pick anything that is not food and that is ideally creative and constructive, not destructive. Find something that you genuinely love to do and find yourself getting lost in.

List of things to Do Instead of Eating

  • write a poem
  • write a short story
  • draw a picture of yourself
  • draw a picture of your pet
  • make a list of things you love about yourself
  • make a list of your goals and how you’re going to reach them
  • watch your favorite movie
  • watch a new movie
  • play a video game
  • find an online game to play
  • write a letter (real or online) to a friend
  • call a friend
  • go to the movies and skip the snack line
  • go to the mall and just walk around the area, avoiding the food court
  • go to a new park and walk around or enjoy the view
  • go to the beach and read in the sun
  • go play tennis
  • go read a book
  • write a book
  • paint a picture
  • go through your closet and organize your clothes
  • clean your entire room
  • listen to music really loud and dance in your room
  • talk a walk around the block with your dog or a friend/family member
  • start a blog or website
  • talk to people on forums
  • play with your pet
  • use stumbleupon to find interesting new sites
  • go through your photos and re-organize them or make a scrapbook
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Pay Yourself First Part II: How to Save Money and Keep a Budget

Save Money So in Pay Yourself First Part I we discussed how to make a budget. Now we’re getting to the juicy stuff, how to actually keep that budget and save money, which is the point of all budgets. If you haven’t read part one yet, go there now. It opens in a new window, so I’ll be waiting for you. It outlines how to make the budget which we’ll be working with today.

Let’s review before we continue, okay?

-you made a budget which outlines your income and your bills
-you included variables and their estimated monthly amounts, such as for gas or shopping
-you probably have little money left over

I’ll show you my budget, which will help in two major ways. First, it forces myself to make a budget, which is beneficial to myself, and second, it helps me illustrate to you what a budget looks like visually. Click on the thumbnail to view a screenshot image of a simple budget worksheet I made. You can mimic this style, too, by downloading the document and inputting your own information.

Since it is a table, you can add new rows and columns as you please. Note: in the variables section, I used three estimates of the three previous months to see my spending pattern, and then the far right column is the amount to stick to, or the budget amount. You can see that all the rows on the far right add up to my income total, which is $1,000.

The savings section is the one we’ll add in today. I broke my savings into two categories.

  • One is for a specific goal that you’re working for financially, such as getting an apartment or paying off a loan. If you don’t need this, save all money into the emergency fund, which should be a savings account and relatively hard to take money from (such as not linked with your checking account).
  • The other is one everyone should have: emergency fund. It is recommended that everyone have 1-2 months of income saved at all times to guard against emergencies, like car repairs or injuries, or other necessities. It also protects when one loses a job or hours. Even if you can only put in $10-50 a month, do it. Over a year you can either have $120-600, or nothing.
So, how do you set aside money in your budget? You can do this two ways, depending on your priorities and situation.
  • You can fill your money with set expenses first, variables next, and savings last (whatever’s left over goes straight into savings.)
  • You can start with how much money you’d like to save each month, and take that away first. Then fill in the set expenses section, and divvy up whatever’s left into your variables.
Either way is up to you. You may also find another method that works better. If so, go right ahead – nothing is set in stone here. Your budget should work for you, and it should be simple and easy to read. I completely estimated my numbers so they end in zeros and fives. You can be more exact than me, or you can keep it simple. It really depends on your personality.
Now that we have set up a cool budget and a plan to save money, the obvious next step is to put that plan into action.
  • Follow your budget. See how it works in practice now, not just theory. Test out your numbers and see if you can live with the changes. It might be hard not to party 2 times a week for you at first, and you might have something huge pop up unexpectedly that takes up a large chunk of money. It’s okay. Budgets are meant to be flexible.
  • Try out your budget for at least a month, and reflect on how it worked for you.
  • If you need to make some changes, cross out the numbers and edit.
  • The point is to keep finding a plan that works without feeling like you need to survive on ramen noodles and beans.
  • When you have racked up a comfy amount in your savings or you have met your financial goal, make a new one. Living in a rental but really want to own? Start putting away for that down payment. When you start putting away money for things that matter, saving won’t feel like work. It will truly feel like you are paying yourself, especially when that savings gets you that cool digital SLR camera you’ve been saving up for 3 months.
  • If you ever have to dip into your emergency savings, remember to work on building it up as soon as you are back on your feet. You’ll never know what else may happen, so it’s safest to be prepared.
  • An easy method to get used to budgeting for different categories is to put the exact cash amount you decided in your budget into different envelopes marked with the category, such as “food” or “clothes.” When you run out, that’s it. Combine this with online bill paying, and you’ll keep your two different types of expenses separate  (the fixed from the variable) and avoid the urge to use bill-paying money for new shoes or what-have-you. Paying bills online, especially automatically, is a great way to avoid late fees!
I hope you learned something on my first two-part series! I hope to do many more series, maybe even a week-long one. Happy saving!
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