Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mindfulness Through Uncertainty

(Old pic of her uncertain face)

We were on a rock climbing trip in Colorado, this time with baby in tow. Five days into the ten day trip, I was so exhausted from consecutive nights of very disrupted sleep that I decided to cut our trip short. Bleary-eyed and unfocused, we headed back home hoping for restorative days in familiar territory.

Unable to initially stay in the present, my thoughts turned to our upcoming European "ideal vacation": How are we going to deal with this for a month in a foreign country with a night-and-day time difference? Will we even be able to do any climbing while we're there? And my mind settled on destructive labels: Our baby is a poor sleeper. I'm not doing a good job as a mom.

Then I heard this podcast interviewing Harvard Psychology professor Ellen Langer. In it she said,

"You want to go about life with an air of confidence, but uncertainty." 

It seemed so backward. Why uncertainty? In her view, uncertainty is the key to mindfulness. If you are uncertain, you are open to any outcome, which translates to being completely in the moment. I'm uncertain if my baby will sleep better in the next few weeks, but I'm going to try things to see if I can help her. I am currently testing out a night weaning protocol that I read about, and so far things are looking up. And I'm uncertain if I will climb as much as I'd like to on this upcoming trip. But so what? There are other things to do, and I will be open to exploring them. I'm confident that my baby can become a better sleeper with time, and I'm confident that I'm not a bad mom for having a baby who has sleep issues.

I've also been embracing uncertainty over expectations with my work. Upon receiving my nightly email with my assignment for the next day, I used to obsess over the cases, worrying about how they would go. If the patient or the case looked bad "on paper", I would assume the worst. And yet sometimes, the day would go surprisingly well!

Next time you're faced with something scary, try dropping the labels and leaning into the uncertainty like I've been trying to do. What are you uncertain about today?  

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Double-Send: Are You Meeting Your Goals With Balance?

Playing in the Box Canyon, Maple Canyon, Utah

Double-sending. In the climbing world, this can have varied meanings. It is used when a climber "sends" (completes the climb without falling or hanging on the rope) two project climbs in one day. It also describes two sends by male and female members of a couple in one day - ""his and hers" sends, if you will. But on a recent weekend when my husand and I took our 8 month old daughter on her first outdoor climbing and camping trip, we thought of another meaning for the double-send. He was working on a newly constructed hard route in the area, and I was working on "projecting" something other than a pregnancy after 3 years of fertility struggles. While we both sent our routes, the "double" part of the send in our minds came with the successful completion of our respective goals during a successfully nonstressful family trip. Weather was great. The baby played all day. Everyone, including the dog, had a good time. All family members remained happy and healthy. No major dramas, no emergencies, no big setbacks in the setting of achieving the climbing goals.

When is the last time that you achieved a goal or completed a challenging project? How did it affect the other parts of your life? Setting a new standard of success is a great thing, but if it comes at the expense of your mental or physical health, it's difficult to appreciate what you've really accomplished. We've all been there - we study hard for a big test, stay up late to complete a work assignment, etc., and a few days after it's over, we get sick. A relationship ends. Some other aspect of our lives falls apart. I distinctly remember the last time this happened to me; I spent months studying for the anesthesiology oral board examination while working as a new anesthesiologist, and promptly after it was over we escaped to the Florida Keys for a celebratory vacation. On day two, I got some sort of flu-like illness and had to spend the next few days inside.

Sometimes sending involves a sacrifice of health, relationships, or happiness. So when you're struggling to complete a difficult task, think about whether you're sending with balance. If you are, then consider that a double-send. Celebrate your hard work AND your health! If you're not, then consider the price you may have to pay in order to send. Is it worth it? Maybe yes and maybe no.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Learning to Enjoy Being Bored

(Lifted from somewhere on Facebook)

You're standing in line at the store, waiting your turn. You feel a slight tick. Your hand reaches in your pocket for your phone, and you turn it on. You scroll through, do your rounds... email, social media, etc. Five minutes later, you're still in line, and the cycle repeats...

I recently heard a podcast by movement expert Katy Bowman in which she likened doing "her rounds" on her smartphone to the well worn path a cheetah in the zoo takes between sleeping pad and feeding trough; there's a wide play area with a mini jungle right there for him, but he chooses the same grooved route over and over every day.

We've all done it. With the infinitely reachable technology of smartphones and apps, people have developed a bad habit of reaching for their phones and burying their heads in the little blue light when they're waiting in line, at stoplights (!), at any glimpse of downtime, etc. Why do we do this? Instead of being present with a moment of stillness, we feel compelled to fill it. Busy is the new normal, and we don't want to miss out. We don't want to be bored.

There now exist many tools to counteract the myriad of inputs that bombard us on a daily basis. Longitudinal meditation programs, apps for the phone designed to discourage phone use (The irony!), sleep induction mats, sleep optimization apps, and what Mark Sisson calls "extreme forms of sensory deprivation" (float tank sessions, silent monk-like retreats, etc. Rather than fall prey to the cult of busyness, requiring the use of such counteracting methods, I have recently been trying to just live with some downtime. Every morning when I drive to work (or the first morning drive on a non-workday), I turn off the radio and do a box-breathing meditation. After dinner, I try to leave my phone untouched on the charger and focus on my family. I use the Private Time feature in the settings, which only allows calls from Favorites, and I turn the text volume to silent. I never use Badge App Icons.

Boredom comes with benefits. Daydreaming can lead to a break in creativity; you just might solve that problem you've been ruminating on at work. According to ScreenFreeMom (blogging on MinimalistMom), periods of boredom (like what used to happen during summer break before the advent of the myriad camps and activities of today) are also excellent for children in that they foster creative play, enhance relaxation, and cultivate emotional intelligence. All things we should encourage and work toward as an example for our kids.

What about you? Can you stand to be bored? How do you deal with periods of downtime? Share with us here!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Bittersweet: 21 Day Sugar Detox Results

From now on this is the only kind of cupcake I really want (there's a "cherry" on top of that hat)!

As a result of what I felt was an out of control craving for sugar and sweet foods, I decided to embark on a 21 Day Sugar Detox (read the whole post here). And I survived without my chocolate and candy! Amazing. Here are my observations:

- The first 2-3 days were the hardest. I was used to having sweet flavors all day, and the abrupt change (starting with my morning coffee) was like a slap in the face. At first, I craved a sweet taste constantly. But that feeling subsided, and my tastes did start to change. A green apple began to taste quite sweet, for example. I wouldn't say that I now love coffee without my vanilla stevia drops, but it isn't bad. Now that I've done it, I can vouch for what others have said: curbing your intake of sweet foods definitely decreases your cravings for them. After a while, I just didn't even think about sweets, and if I saw them lying around (like at work or on the sample table at Costco), I just walked on by without hesitation. In that sense, I feel liberated.

- I saw some physical changes, first negative but then positive. I started out feeling fairly low-energy, like my muscles were heavy. Some people describe headaches or fogginess, but I didn't have these. The fatigue subsided after 5-7 days, and I was still able to climb, boulder, hike, and do yoga while eating this way. I ended up eating less carbohydrates and more fat overall, but I did still have carbs in the form of potatoes, squash, and limited fruits such as green apples, apricots, and bananas. While I did not do the 21 DSD to lose weight, I did lose about 2 pounds. My stomach feels flatter, and I feel "lighter".

- I still needed to eat fairly frequently. I was kind of hoping that decreasing my penchant for sweets would change the frequency with which I feel I need to eat, but it didn't. I still seem to need at least one snack per day and sometimes two. This may have something to do with my adrenal insufficiency, which makes my blood sugar and pressure run low. Some people (including my husband) do well eating only 2-3 times per day, but I just don't think I'm one of those people. And while it means making more food choices and allocating for more prep time on my already busy days, that's fine. So what did I snack on? Most often raw unsalted nuts. They are satisfying and filling in relatively small quantities (as long as they are truly raw and unsalted as opposed to highly palatable and "poundable" roasted and salted nuts!). I seem to be able to moderate my intake of them without going overboard. My faves are almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. And I treated myself at night after dinner with a spoonful of coconut butter. If you've never tried it, you're missing out! Speaking of moderation...

- Maybe I'm not a moderator... I realized as I was going through this detox that I was basically "playing an abstainer" for 21 days. It wasn't so bad. Flat-out abstaining from something frees you from making decisions about food, which can lead to a fatigue of willpower over time. However, I do plan to re-expand my sweet food choices to include any fruit of my choosing and things sweetened with stevia. But now I'm going to try adding some rules to my moderation. Mark's Daily Apple recently published a post about the idea of defining moderation, and it made sense to me. In reality, we all moderate some things and abstain from others, blending the two concepts together to create a lifestyle that is both enjoyable and amenable to achieving specific goals. My new rules: no added sugars in the house, no free treats at work, and keep sweet foods to later in the day. We'll see how well it works!

All in all, I found this to be a very positive experience. I feel more confident and in control of my hunger/cravings, and I have a renewed commitment to eating healthier foods. However, I realized through this process that I turn to sweet foods in times of stress. And moderating or abstaining from sweets is not going to make my feelings of stress disappear. Part of long-term success for me is going to come in the form of being mindful about my stress level when I feel I need to have sweet treats.

If you're interested in cutting back or eliminating sugar from your diet, I'd definitely recommend the 21 DSD. You can find the book explaining the whole program at your local library or on Amazon, but Diane also offers online E-book content with support groups if you like that kind of thing. Some other good resources: the Shameless Mom Academy recently put out a good podcast about sugar cravings and "bad food days" with some quick and easy tactics, and Barry Friedman recently wrote a book (although somewhat skewed towards vegetarianism) describing his own 30-day sugar-free experiment called I Love Me More Than Sugar. Love that title!