The Joys of Extending Yourself

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Photo by RANGGI MANGGALA on Unsplash

Extend (v.) – Exert or exercise oneself to the utmost.

There is a steady stream of blog posts out there that are all about over-extending yourself. How to not overwhelm the system, how to say no, and how to take time for yourself. These are great and these are important, but rarely do they touch on the joy that can come from pushing yourself hard to do things that scare you.

These articles tend to focus on being too busy with “work” and “chores” and getting too caught up in to-do lists. I have to agree, building your life around a tight schedule of Must-Dos and zero freedom to be flexible is going to break your soul. If a 10-minute change in schedule sends you to a breakdown, you definitely have a problem.

But that said, going from 100 mph to 0 isn’t easy. Going cold turkey is going to leave you feeling filled with anxiety and terror. And no one wants to live that way. Instead of stopping everything and creating a huge void of time that you can fill with “a social life and hobbies” try instead to integrate those things back into your life, one at a time, with ease and care and focus.

Instead of pushing yourself to your limits all week with your almighty list of Must-Dos so you can take a single Sunday to lay in bed for 12 hours eating chips and watching movies (I am not saying you shouldn’t ever do this, btw) try instead to wiggle in a 20-minute session a couple times a week with whatever it is that’s missing from your life. Think of the thing that feels like it’s too extra and unimportant.

Friendships? Meet up for a 20-minute coffee break with a friend who works near you.
Fitness? Take a 20-minute walk after work before doing anything else.
Drawing? Carry a sketch book with you and sketch on the train.

If there’s something new that you want to try, extend yourself. Reach out and grab what you want. Make the commitment to take a class, or go for a run, or read a new book. Chances are your Must-Do List is full of things that aren’t necessarily Must-Dos, they’re just there because if you remove them you’ll panic with the leftover free-time. You’ll have to confront what your life really is–an endless to-do list.

I say this with love because I used to be this person. I’d schedule out my days with epic laundry lists of MUST DOs and circle them 50 times. I just had to write five new recipes for the blog that I was never going to post. And I just had to spend four hours meal-prepping when really I only needed an hour. I was driving myself crazy and yes, overextending.

But when I finally stopped all the crazy lists and took a look (a really close look) on what I actually wanted (ex. a blog to serve people) vs. what I thought I wanted (ex. a food blog/fitness blog/everything blog) I was able to dedicate more time, more focus, and more of my heart to those things.

So yes, take care not to over-extend yourself. Cut back on what does not serve you. Pay attention to what is just taking up time so you don’t have to confront your fears. Cut down on those. Be brave enough to think about what you want, whatever it is, and take those first few steps and extend yourself toward them. You’ll find time for what you love instead of forcing time for things that don’t matter.

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Do a Less Glamorous 30 Day Challenge

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Over the course of 5 years our culture has become obsessed with 30 day challenges– 30 Day Squat Challenge, 30 Day Green Smoothie Challenge, 30 Day No Spend Challenge– they’re everywhere! I’ve done a few here and there to keep me on target for certain goals. Generally, they’re a great thing! They can inspire people to do things that they never thought they’d be able to do because, yes, they can help kick start new habits as backed by science.

But lately these fun challenges are being used as a marketing ploy to get consumers to try a new product and hopefully stick with it for longer than the 30 days. The goal is to change your habits to include a certain product, whether that is a diet eBook or a veggie powder or a certain kind of knitting needle–anything! There are great communities out there creating powerful challenges to help people reach their goals, but for every one of those, there’s 4 corporate backed ones.

The 30 day challenge is HUGE in the health and fitness business and perhaps is the start of our whole obsession with it in the first place. They often come packaged with muscular models and lifestyle images to sway you to join up. They appear to be glamorous and special in ways that we “regular’ people aren’t. But it doesn’t stop at the fitness industry–there are crafting challenges, vitamin challenges, brand building challenges.

I’m proposing we stop doing the 30 day challenges that require us to buy loads of supplements or a deck of 52 workout playing cards and challenge ourselves to the stuff that will really change us and make use work at figuring out (the things that I am obsessed with) what we want in life and who we are meant to be. Instead of spending 30 days doing push-ups, spend 30 days affirming and accepting your body each day. Write it down, say it out loud and believe it.

Challenge yourself to tell a different person each day that you care about them.
Challenge yourself to 30 days of only saying ‘yes’ to the events and things that make you happy and saying ‘no’ to anything that does not move you.
Challenge yourself to be positive every day, no mater what gets thrown at you. (Can you imagine this?!)
Challenge yourself to take ten deep breaths every morning.

These are things that you don’t need to buy to do, but that will deeply move and change you if you dedicate yourself to them. Most of them are harder than push-ups everyday. Really! Instead of sore shoulders you’ll be walking around with a sore heart. But just like the physical work, you’ll be making yourself stronger in the long run.

This August I am going to challenge myself to write and live by a new mantra every week for 4 weeks straight. I am going to be the one telling me what I need to hear because really, if you don’t take care of yourself. Who will?

Now tell me… what’s your challenge!?

What If Writing Isn’t Enough?

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I had this crazy thought pass through me earlier this week when I was meditating on a question posed to me:

If you had an unlimited supply of cash, what would you spend your life doing? 

And while I don’t entirely have a clear answer to that question yet, the notion that writing wouldn’t be enough bubbled up out of me. And shockingly… I wasn’t alarmed or concerned. I didn’t panic because I had just nudged my lifelong dream off a cliff. I took it for what it was and have been thinking about it ever since.

The gist is this: I don’t know if writing alone could fill me with enough purpose to be my singular endeavor. Perhaps this has been the underlying problem all along. I don’t submit pieces to contests or magazines very often. I write in a silo afraid of other writers. I rarely share my words with anyone at all. And while, yes, I am working to remedy those now obvious roadblocks, I’m thinking that there’s a vital piece of me missing in all of this. A part of me that might very well be sabotaging my writing life and keeping me from doing more with it (like I should).

This might be the social piece of me that gets lonely when I write. The piece that loves to connect with people. That loves to answer their questions, hold their hands, work through their problems alongside them. I have always hoped that my words would help people through rough patches. That they’d read what I have to say and not feel so alone. But what if I am also meant to physically be there with them, not just on a page? Then what? Writing will always be on this journey with me and perhaps there’s a way to make it my purpose, but until then I do need to explore this a lot more.

I think in the past this would have really bummed me out. But since I’ve been focusing on making myself happy for the past couple of years, this feels right and like part of my journey as a whole.

Anyway, do me a favor and spend 5 minutes in the next couple of days meditating on this question. If you truly had unlimited cash, what would you do with your life? Maybe endless vacations would make you happy, and that’s cool, but really take the time to envision a life where money was no object and you could do whatever you wanted. What would you do this year? For 5 years? For 10 years? Start a company? Start a family? Move? Write every single day? Record your debut album? What?!

Sometimes the things we’ve been chasing aren’t what we’re meant to be chasing, or they are but they need to be modified. And that’s okay. And the sooner we recognize that, the better.

PS – Don’t be alarmed that I am going to, like, quit writing or something. I’m not! And I’ll probably be writing the same amount. I am just now attuned to the other parts of my life, looking for answers. Do not be afraid to do the same!!! Challenging yourself is a good thing. Always.

How to Find Focus in Summer

bruno-gomiero-94171It’s officially summer! We finally made it you guys! The East Coast is hot enough to go for a swim and it’s time to attend barbecues, head to the beach, and have a few too many cocktails on a rooftop somewhere…

But wait! How are we going to maintain focus on all our projects? How am I supposed to sit inside on a beautiful sunny day typing on my laptop instead of enjoying the weather? Every year I ask myself the exact same question and every year I struggle. It’s not easy to be productive in the summer and it’s especially hard when your projects keep you indoors and alone (like writing does).

I’ve given it some extra thought this year and here’s how I will be keeping my balance while still enjoying myself for #Summer17.

  1. I will make socializing part of my program. For months… okay maybe even years, I’ve been telling myself that I will start to build my community and that by building my community I will become a stronger writer. This is probably all true but I still haven’t made any strong moves to do so. I sign-up for meetups and I read about them and I calendar readings and I never go. I have a lot of mental blocks when it comes to combining writing into a social life.

    This summer I am going to socialize with other writers. And actually attend all the things I’ve always imagined myself attending. I will focus more of my social life on a writing life. It’s a killing-two-birds-with-one-stone kind of tactic. Instead of going out for a happy hour, I will go mingle with new people and other writers. It will be really, really hard for me at first. But I imagine it will be like anything worth doing: terrible at first, but then one of my favorite things to do.

  2. I will take more breaks than usual. Once I get going, it’s hard to tear me away from my laptop. I want to finish everything and get to the next thing without really savoring a full day of writing. This summer I will increase my blocked writing time, but take more breaks to walk outside, get a little fresh air, and visualize the next chunk of working time. Not only do I think this will be a great way to keep me from getting cabin fever on nice days, but I also think it will do a lot for my writing by keeping my head clear and providing me with fresh prospective.
  3. I will stick to a schedule. A brilliant thing I started doing and then promptly stopped doing because I was traveling all the time and losing my mind, was setting weekly hour goals for how much work I was getting done. Instead of setting a goal like “Write Every Day”, I would set a goal for the week like “6 Hours of Total Writing.” I am going to adopt this same idea for summer. This way, I can crank out several hours of writing on a rainy day, or a slow social day, and have free days to just enjoy myself. Chances are I’ll get a lot more done than just “Write Today” type goals. They really do not work well for me.
  4. I will use downtime wisely. If I do have time off from my writing work I’ll make sure I am doing exactly what I wished I had been doing when I was writing. If I wished I was going for a run instead of editing a paragraph for the 100th time, than I’ll make sure to spend my downtime running, instead of just getting lost in an Instagram feed or boozing it up at brunch. I have to remember exactly what it is I wanted and then give that to myself later when I have the time.
  5. I will pick less time consuming activities. Instead of going away every weekend or taking long vacations away from my work, I will spend this summer being low-key. I will go to the beach for a day, I will spend time walking my dog, I will exercise outdoors and attend local barbecues with friends instead of going away. By staying local and keeping my outdoor activities small, I am freeing up time I would otherwise spend in a car or time spent recovering from a long journey.

I am hoping that these 5 goals will provide me with a successful but also enjoyable summer and will also inspire you to be mindful of how you spend your time and who you are spending it with. I may be a writer but I am extremely social, which makes it hard sometimes to buckle down and get work done. If you’re like me, then setting some guidelines for yourself will help you to achieve what you’d like to rather than feel regret when the fall rolls around.

Please feel free to use my guidelines here for yourself or come up with your own! If you do create you’re own, I’d love to hear all about it. Let’s knowledge share!

How to Be More Authentic (And Be Cool With It)

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How meta is it that being my authentic self means writing this crazy blog post and then posting it? Kind of amazing, right? I wish I could say this post came to me in a flash of inspiration but I honestly spent most of my time this week avoiding a post because coming up with good blog ideas is hard.

So here we are at AUTHENTICITY. Honoring our true selves is so freaking challenging in this world and I swear it gets more challenging everyday. We’re so “out there” now. Our lives are recorded on multiple platforms in multiple mediums and it opens us to be judged, and questioned, and hurt. Sure, it opens a lot of doors, but with open doors comes a lot of weirdos and jerks who can just walk right on into your life.

I am the closest to my most authentic self I’ve ever been. I want to say, so very badly too, that I am my most authentic self today, but if I’ve learned anything it’s that we’re never quite right about this. But the past year has felt like a giant puzzle piece has finally found its spot and locked in. And being a puzzle with a lot of its pieces in place is a freeing feeling. And very rewarding.

The best part about this huge piece falling into place is that it isn’t surprising. I DO know what I’ve done to get here. To get to this place where I feel like I am myself in all settings: At home, at work, on this blog, on social media, on my couch, with my family, in group texts. All of those Amandas are ONE Amanda. And if you were born one version of yourself, cool, you can probably stop reading and celebrate how freaking lucky you are! But if you are like me… If you have spent a lot of your life trying to navigate all the different “yous” looking for the one that feels most comfortable… then read on.

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I am using stock from Unsplash.com of little kids because they are the definition of authentic.

Here’s What I Did/Do…Didgeridoo:

1. I Honor My Energy

I have spent a considerable amount of my life trying to be the upbeat, problem-solver, with good energy. And that’s because 80% of the time that is who I am. That’s me. The other 20% of the time is when I am sapped of energy, or sick of someone else’s bad energy, or sad, or hurt, or overwhelmed. These days I accept that I am not at my best during these times and I do not try to pretend that I have the wherewithal to be upbeat and helpful and energetic. It’s like plugging in a cellphone. I have to take that time to charge up and fix what’s wrong with me so I have the energy to be in my natural state of being which is saying “How can I help?” on repeat.

2.  I Honor My Feelings

I started telling people how much they mean to me. I started asking for equal love and time and attention from those people too. I work on both daily because these are particularly hard for me for some unknown reason (I’ve written like 50 essays trying to figure it out). I have found that the love I pour out of me is almost always matched by the wonderful humans I surround myself with. And if it isn’t enough or right, I stop it there. I am only here to share love for love. I was once someone who was embarrassed to tell someone that I love them, that they’ve changed my life, that I need them in my life. Now… I actually say it quite a bit. And it has only freed me further. (PS I love you guys!)

3. I Honor My Beauty

I cannot tell you how hard this one is. And I’m not just talking about your face or your body. I am talking about embracing what makes you special and what makes you happy. I prefer wearing slacks and loafers to work. I prefer sneakers to heels on the weekend. It’s just who I am. I started describing my sense of style as a Punk Ellen DeGeneres and giving it a title actually helped me embrace it. It took me a long time to negotiate my femininity with my desire to dress like a 12 year old boy. And I come up against this challenge more than you would think and I am always working through it. But I can tell you, by accepting that beauty is complex and unique to the individual, you can find what your true beauty is and aim your arrow at it. Also, anyone that feels the need to tease you for your preferences is locked in their own hell. Don’t get locked in too.

4. I Honor All That is Good in My Life

Negative thinking patterns are sooooooooo soooooooo easy to fall into. I am especially prone to them when I am busy or have a lot going on. I will have a party and trip and dinner coming up and think, “Ugh there’s so much going on…blah blah.” But if I stop and center myself and think “I am so thankful I have friends who want to eat meals with me, I am so grateful that I get to travel, I am so proud I am living the life I always wanted.” I remember that I chose these things, that I am lucky to have these things, and that without them I’d feel pretty empty. Being grateful isn’t a script. You have to see it and work at it.

5. I Let The Dead Things Go

Being upset and angry and really, downright enraged is okay. What’s not okay is harboring those things and letting them lead your life. Get good and mad and then find a solution. Get sad when someone leaves your life, and then find happy things to fill that space. Let. The. Dead. Shit. Go. It can’t serve you anymore.

6. I Honor My Future

I actually hate this one but I do it because it’s good for me. When I meditate… I totally meditate like 5 times a week you guys! Who am I?… One of my go-to mantras is “I will find my gift to give.” It gives me peace when I feel lost about the direction of my life. I use it when I have a bad day at work. When I feel like I am not doing enough. When I am wondering if I’ll actually publish anything worthwhile. It keeps the spiral at bay and keeps me working toward my goals.

7. I Honor My Place

Ever get impostor syndrome? Where you’re like… Why do these people like me? I can’t do my job properly? Why would someone love me? That’s some toxic shit and you gotta stop. Chances are you have a job because you’re pretty good at it. You have friends because they like you (or you have a yard… lol jk jk). You are awesome so stop pushing the good stuff away from you and hugging in the bad.

Well, this turned out to be a lot longer than I thought but I’m glad! I carry this stuff around with me all the time and feels good to store it somewhere and HOPEFULLY help someone. Once you start doing some of things, or one of these things, or half of one of these things you’ll start to notice a difference. And that difference will make you want to do more! Take it easy, don’t rush, and listen to the you that you like.

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