Monday, October 3, 2016

#100 - Why I Write

 (Are you? I hope so! From

We were doing one of our long walks, musing about the future and hopes of doing lots of international travel with our girl. Will she make friends in far off places? How will they stay in touch? The answer is easy in the age of email and social media, where you can Skype or FaceTime someone time zones away and it seems as if they are in front of you. But when I was a girl, I had pen pals. We moved relatively frequently when I was young, and I wanted to keep in touch with my little friends. In some instances, I never saw a friend again, but we kept writing for years. I wrote my grandparents long letters when they sent gifts. I had a diary (early code for a journal) that I kept on and off through adolescence. In high school (still before the internet), I had a long distance boyfriend with whom I exchanged detailed, multi-page letters worthy of poetry. He is fittingly a journalist now, and although I went the way of science and medicine, I still write as well.

In my early career as an engineer, I prided myself on my rare ability to write clearly. My first managers who were far my seniors requested my editing skills for their own documents, and I happily obliged. In graduate school, I thrived during the completion of my Master's Thesis and still have the leather-bound tome full of esoteric equations and experiments and graphs to show for it. I currently provide my technical editing services to my husband's business on a regular basis.

When I decided to go to medical school, I crafted a personal statement that became well recognized by the faculty where I matriculated. It was an ode to our old, beaten down trailer (affectionately named Betty), the vehicle we had used for living and traveling across the country. Although I carried a decent transcript and above average test scores, so did everyone else; I'm convinced that essay got me into medical school amongst a sea of academically talented candidates. And what did I turn to as my main method of stress management during the most difficult times of medical training? My journal. What do I turn to now when I feel overwhelmed with life and want to sort out the many things in my mind? My journal and this blog. If I won the Powerball lottery tomorrow, what would I do with my life? I'd continue learning and writing about what I learn. (Actually, I would do this even if I didn't win the lottery!)

Back to the walk... what I realized that day is that all of these experiences, from childhood letters to research papers, have provided the foundation for my love of writing. It's strong and unique for someone with my chosen career path, but it has served me well for these 40+ years, and I expect it to continue to come through for me until I die.

But why write publicly? Why talk to the WHOLE WORLD about your thoughts, fears, successes, and failures? It exposes you to judgement, criticism, shame... And I would be lying if I said I have never felt any of those things while blogging. The reason to do it is found in these quotes:
Do you know what I learned from writing [How We Die], if I learned nothing else? The more personal you are willing to be and the more intimate you are willing to be about the details of your own life, the more universal you are… - Sherwin Nuland
Whenever you learn something new and want to retain it, you must teach it.... Share your experience and give what you have received. - Denise Druce
People register with the transformation, not just the information. - Trent Baker
I love mixing my passion for writing with the challenge of being vulnerable. I learn from myself with every post. And I hope sharing my experiences and interests provides some learning to others at the same time!

Have you learned anything in particular here at PracticeBalance? Is there anything you'd like to read or learn more about? I'd love to hear from you!

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!