June 17, 2016

How I'm Learning to Live My Best Life at 32 Years Old (Part 1)

I started reading a book about living your most creative life and all of a sudden I lost my blogging mojo. Maybe it's as the book says, it's Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (affiliate) by the way: the force behind this idea, to write a blog about being a twin mom, up and left me when I stopped nurturing and playing with it. That sounds so sad!

Really though, it's that I've taken on a huge challenge right now that takes up so much of my energy every day that my blog has been put on the back burner for a bit. I do still write, just not here. I've gone back to the art of paper and pen and I'm not just writing rants or lists, but stories and poems and prose and boredom pages - for the first time in years. It's all part of my plan to live my best life as I turn 32 years old. That happened last week, by the way (June 7th to be exact), in case you want to send a gift.

As I faced turning 32, I realized that, at my core, I felt unfulfilled, despite being busy and far from bored much of the time. It felt like my life was something happening to me, rather than something I was actually experiencing. I love my life and my children, but it was time for some changes. So I've spent the last few weeks finding resources to help with that and doing the work to check things off my list. I truly want this year to be my best yet and so far, I'm on a roll. Here's what I've been up to:

Getting Organized and Actually Getting Things Done

I like lists and journals and collections of thoughts. I also like to keep all my stuff together but my previous method of six notebooks assigned to every aspect of my life just wasn't practical anymore (it hasn't been since graduating college really, but old habits die hard). I should have a planner but none have ever worked out for me. It always becomes a disorganized mess of empty calendars, chicken scratch collections of thoughts with a few forgotten to-do lists peppered in.

Enter the Bullet Journal.

I am officially obsessed and although I still have far too many lists and random rambling thoughts, I can now organize and find them easily, thanks to the key and the index, while also being constantly reminded of the important things I need to do. I prioritize my to-do lists and limit myself to only 3 or 4 items total so I don't get overwhelmed. I keep an inspirational bookmark on my daily page so it's the first thing I see in the morning.

Don't you love my throwback to middle school with love, peace and happiness? That's always made me feel good so it had to be included.

Every night I take a minute to check off my to-do list and migrate things I didn't get done, then I write down a few things from the day, a few that I am grateful for and the things I want to do tomorrow. Rather than having things running through my brain, keeping me awake at night, I'm able to get it all out and sleep so much better.

The best part of a BuJo is that it has space for everything! There are no dividers so no risk of running out of room, just flip to the next page and mark it in your index. This way I can jot down any and all thoughts that stream through my head without hunting for the right notebook, so when my next big idea to strikes, I won't miss it.

My BuJo is also home to a lot of collections - books I want to read, blog and article ideas, inspirations I need to remember, recipes I want to try, day trip ideas and fun things do in our community. My favorite collection is a list of ways to play and connect with the kids - rather than trying to rack my brain for a way to lighten the mood or turning to google or pinterest, I just flip open my BuJo and inspiration is at my fingertips. Every time we discover or invent a new way to play or laugh, it goes in the book.

Since I just started, I'm trying to work out the logistics before focusing on decor, so mine is severely lacking in the pretty you see if you google bullet journal. Also, my handwriting is a mess so I'm kind of embarrassed to share it with everyone but it's mine and it's perfect and man has it made my life easier.

If you want to know more about Bullet Journals, start here. And then check here, here and here and go crazy like I did.

Feeling Clear Headed and More Focused

Meditation is one of those things that sounds so easy but is actually a total pain when you try to do it. I can easily drop into the zone during a yoga session, but to just sit and breathe seemed impossible to me. My thoughts would just bounce around my head, getting louder and louder. My eyelids start to flutter, like my eyes are begging to look at something more interesting and my breathing would actually become more labored and forced. For a long time I thought meditation was a hoax.

Really, I just needed to learn how to do it properly. My Dad invited me to join Headspace - an app that walks you through it in small steps through daily training sessions.  In each of these ten 10-minute sessions you practice relaxing, breathing and paying attention to your body with gradually decreasing guidance. It's kind of amazing how easily I can do it myself now after just those 10 sessions. I'm too cheap to pay for the rest of the app's functions (but you should!) so I now rely on free guided meditations or I just do it myself.

I've also gotten the kids started on their own practice. Every day we do some deep breathing, talk about what we're grateful for and spend a few minutes just quietly thinking. It's like hitting the reset button on a bad day and I know I'm helping them create a lifetime habit that they can always turn to.

I've finally learned how to disengage with the world and just be with myself for a few minutes and it feels incredible.  Totally weird and still hard to do, but whenever I can I practice and I can actually feel the weight of my worries being lifted. I wish I had figured this out 20 years ago!

Reading More, Scrolling Less

My kids don't need this - I did. They don't touch phones or tablets and in a day they watch maybe an episode of Tumble Leaf or a Sia music video.  I was addicted to my phone and I knew it. Over time it's become my easy release, my only break from my life. I hated that and was desperate to change it but nothing I tried was working.

So, I downloaded an app to see just how much I used my phone. In just one day Quality Time showed me how vital it was that I start making real changes.

On that normal day at home with the kids I spent almost seven hours looking at or using my phone between 7am and 11pm. That's insane and it's not even including time spent in front of the computer or TV. Even worse, most of it was freaking Facebook and not the ebook I was "reading"! I noticed the patterns; Whenever I felt overwhelmed, anxious or just needed to tune out, I'd Facebook it up, scrolling mindlessly until I found something interesting to read or a dramatic comment thread to get lost in.

That night I unfollowed almost all of my friends (no offense guys, you were just taking up too much space in my head), left most of the mom groups I was in and unliked a million pages. Next, I tailored my Facebook to inspire, educate or bore me, rather than entertain me or kill my good mood over all the bad news, drama and stupidity. I set a 1 hour a day limit and although I don't always stick to it, it's never over 90 minutes and that includes reading blogs and articles in the app.

I deleted all games from my phone except for one escape game and stopped googling damn near everything that drifted into my head. Instead, I keep a list of things to look up in my BuJo and pencil it in as Research on to my to-do list. Unless it's an answer to a kid's question that I really want to know, I get to it when I have time. Same thing with blog and article ideas.

Quality Time also helps to schedule breaks, turning off apps and notifications, except for phone calls from important people. I physically put my phone away for hours at a time now and after just a few days I barely even noticed. If I get bored, I read a chapter in my book, like I did 10 years ago, before I had a phone glued to my hand all the time.

I'm down to an average of less than 4 hours of using my phone and most of that is listening to music, meditations or podcasts, using the apps helping me on this journey and reading things that I actually enjoy.

I swear, it's like someone finally turned the volume down inside my head. My eyes don't feel strained by 6pm and colors seem more vibrant. I make the conscious effort a million times a day to look up instead of down and I can actually feel the difference. It's great having the world at our fingertips but much like booze or gambling - it's all better in moderation.

So that's what I've been up to for the last month. Aside from feeling less distracted, I have a sense of real accomplishment for the first time in years. It's hard to be "just a stay-at-home Mom" or "just a babysitter." Even though I'm super busy all the time, I feel like I never really get anything done. It's like my brain has been on autopilot since the day the girls were born - wake, keep them alive and the house semi-habitable, sleep when you can. Even the easy, mundane goals (like cleaning up my family history files) have sat around gathering dust for 2 years.

Now, thanks to an organized life, a clearer mind and what actually feels like more hours in the day, I'm able to set and accomplish not just day-to-day tasks, but future goals too. A big one is to start making money freelance writing. I've already been published over at Twiniversity a few times and this year I'm shooting for Scary Mommy and MamaLode.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn how I've completely transformed the way I see, talk to and listen to my kids and finally started taking care of myself.