Quilting Happiness

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Recently I had a conversation with someone where they helplessly said “I don’t know…I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m just not happy with anything in my life.” ¬†Hearing that broke my heart; living unhappily is such a terrible existence. ¬†And yet, so many people live the majority of their lives in a permanent state of misery.

Sometimes, this misery becomes so ingrained that it doesn’t even feel like misery. ¬†I had no idea that I was living such a wretched existence until I separated from my ex-husband and felt little inklings of happiness stretch like tentative rays of sunshine after a storm. ¬†While I certainly knew I wasn’t ecstatic, I had no idea how bad that life really was while I was in it.

In this moment, if you were to ask me if I was happy with my life, I would unequivocally answer “yes.” ¬†This may seem strange if you know my present circumstances: recently laid off, freshly single, one million minor crisis’ happening at work on a daily basis. ¬†And yet, overall, I am joyful.

This got me thinking: WHY am I so happy? ¬†What is it that I, or anyone with a constantly positive state of mind, do or don’t do that contributes to this feeling of joyful contentment? ¬†After some contemplation, I settled on several key factors:

Have a reliable, positive, and multi-leveled network.  This is such a big component because we as humans are wired to interact with others.  However, you cannot have all surface acquaintances or all deep bosom buddies; our connections need to be varied.  I have a couple of extremely close friends, several good friends, and lots and lots of positive shallower connections.  Going through my recent breakup, I lost one of the major keystone connections in my life, and had he been all that I had, I would have been completely at a loss.  However, with the help of my close and good friends as well as my continued positive interactions with everyone else, I have been able to stay afloat and keep my spirits up.

Putting in the time and effort to create and maintain these relationships may seem like a burden, but I firmly believe that if you do not have quality relationships in your life, it is impossible to be truly happy.  However, these relationships must be reciprocal; you cannot simply mooch off of someone else, and you should never allow someone to mooch off of you.  When both parties put in the same level of effort, that is when this piece of happiness falls into place.

Exercise. ¬†As much as we like to deny the hard science of how our minds work, putting in some sweat equity on a daily basis is a serious piece of the happiness puzzle. ¬†Although starting a workout is pretty much the worst thing ever, finishing it is one of the best feelings in the world. ¬†Your endorphin’s are kicking, and anything that negatively effected you throughout the day simply fades away into a haze of “ahhhhhh that was awesome”.

And lets face it, it’s hard to be happy when you don’t like what you see in the mirror. ¬†Presenting the best version of ourselves physically primes us to be the best version of ourselves mentally. ¬†It’s difficult to be miserable when you reach for something and notice a little baby bicep flexing as you bring it back. ¬†Hard work is hard freakin’ work, but it seriously boosts your mood to see results.

Work towards something specific.  Throughout my entire life, I have always had something to work towards.  First, it was my degree.  Then it was finding a job.  Then it was my Masters.  Now, I am working on getting my real estate license and have plans for an admin credential and possibly a life coach certification within the next ten years.  The point is, I am never resting on my laurels.

If you are working towards a specific goal, it is obvious if you have achieved it or not.  And working to get that accomplishment tucked under your belt gives you a sense of purpose, which contributes to happiness.  If you know you are on the road to achievement, you feel excited about getting up each day and have the gumption to persevere through the rocky patches.

Actively seek improvement.  I am constantly looking for ways to make myself a better person and teacher.  If I hear of an awesome teaching strategy, I try to implement it in my classroom.  Outside the confines of my work, I am constantly reading all different types of books and online articles as well as listening to podcasts on various topics.  I love getting into deep conversations about the world.  All in all, I am always trying to be better than I was before.

Truly desiring to make yourself better requires a humble acceptance of yourself as you are right now. ¬†However, acceptance does not mean stagnation. ¬†Just because you have accepted that you have slid into the ditch does not mean that you stay in the ditch. ¬†Seeing yourself grow and looking back to see how much you’ve changed for the better is a big piece of long-term happiness.

Love the majority of your day. ¬†There are very few parts of my day that I dislike. ¬†I love breakfast. ¬†I love jamming to my tunes as I drive to work. ¬†I love getting organized for the day. ¬†I love interacting with my students. ¬†I (usually) love the gym. ¬†I love writing blog posts. ¬† I’m ok with learning new real estate things (although I’m not going to lie, I’ll be pumped when it’s over). ¬†The only things that I truly hate about my day are when I have some students act like a-holes, or when something goes awry that I did not forsee (usually traffic-traffic puts me in a TERRIBLE mood).

If you genuinely LIKE/LOVE 80% or more of your day, it is highly unlikely that you will be unhappy. ¬†So many people tie themselves to jobs, people, or circumstances that they hate, and then wonder why they are miserable. ¬†If you find yourself unhappy with something, make moves to change it. ¬†Money, “security”, and comfort are NOT worth a constant state of misery.

Be ok with YOU. ¬†You have to be ok with who you are as a person before you can truly settle into a state of contentment with your life. ¬†I recently went through a period of time where I thought that my career goals and life aspirations were not good enough because I saw other people passionately pursuing other things that seemed ‘better’ or that might bring in more money. ¬†My happiness severely diminished during that time. ¬†When I mentally slapped myself and replanted my foot firmly on the soil of MY dreams, my joy returned.

You are a unique person.  It is impossible to accomplish the exact same thing that someone else has accomplished, so it is silly to even try.  You know what gives you joy, you know how you want to live your life, and you know what gives you a sense of purpose.  When you fully embrace what YOU want, not what the yoga masters, hardcore businessmen, or spiritual gurus tell you to want, THEN you can embrace your personal happiness.

Overall, your happiness is like an old, hand-pieced multicolored quilt that has been in your family for generations. ¬†It blankets everything. ¬†It is handmade. ¬†No one else has one just like it. ¬†Sometimes, a square or two might come loose, but if it’s a quality quilt, those squares aren’t completely lost and there are still enough squares to cover up with until the damage gets repaired.

If you find that you are unhappy with your life, take stock of all of the pieces. ¬†Magnify those squares that give you joy. ¬†Mend the squares that let in the draft. ¬†Sometimes, an entire square might have to be replaced, and that’s ok. ¬†Happiness IS something that you have complete control over, no matter how much we lie to ourselves and argue that we do not. ¬†Take charge now; in the end, our money will be spent or given away and our possessions will break or change hands. ¬†It is only the intangible-our relationships, our integrity, and our happiness-that we will get to keep for all time.

Choosing the First Domino

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For the last couple of days, I’ve been in mild panic mode over something most people would consider glorious: I have an interview every day for the next three days.

Now, most people in the California teaching world would be excited to get one interview, let alone three. ¬†And don’t get me wrong, I am over the moon that three schools consider me a strong enough candidate to want to meet me in person.

So why am I not JUST excited?

If all goes spectacularly, having three interviews means three potential job offers.  However, I can only take one.  Which means I have to make a choice.

Having choices is slightly immobilizing. ¬†Now granted, I don’t have the actual choice yet between these three schools, but I COULD, potentially. ¬†And that makes me nervous because I want to choose the right one.

Many times, we are faced with choices that are not really choices. ¬†For example, should I take this job 10 miles south that pays $X, or ten miles north that also pays $X. ¬†Either way, it’s pretty clear that either choice is going to have the same outcome.

However, my three jobs prospects are in LA, Irvine, and Encinitas. ¬†For those of you not in California, these jobs are essentially perfectly placed along the coast in a 150 mile radius from Los Angelos to San Diego. ¬†Which means I have to decide where I want to live. ¬†I also have to decide how much money weighs in versus location since all three schools have varying salaries. ¬†To top it off, I may not even have to take a new job at all if my RIF notice is recalled, so I’d have to decide between the known and the unknown.

In a word….AHHH!

But before you mark this post off as simply a self-indulgent, woe-is-me, first world problems post, let me get to the meat of what I’ve been thinking.

There is no right choice.

Each time you are faced with a decision, all of the options will lead you in a specific direction.  It does not necessarily mean that any of the choices will bring you to a better or worse place, it simply means that the destination will be slightly different.

Of course, there is always the exception, which is why this truth only applies to comparable options; if you are choosing between McDonalds and a corporate company with benefits, that really isn’t a choice.

So, then, what exactly IS a choice?

A choice is a decision between two or more outcomes that are equally valid. ¬†This is what makes them so hard. ¬†I’ve made decisions to move across the country and/or across state lines more than once in my life, but the option of staying seemed so ludicrous that I didn’t really ‘choose’ to leave; it was simply the way my life went.

You can only make decisions based on the information that you have now. ¬†This is where really knowing what you want comes into play. ¬†There are many stories of people who settled into the family life at 22, only to regret it in their 30’s and 40’s. ¬†There are an equal amount of stories of people who put off relationships to become successful, only to end up jaded and lonely. ¬†Of course, if you find the right person, you really can do both.

It all boils down to how you see your life going on a macro scale.  If you envision yourself traveling the world, why would you NOT accept a job offer where travel is a major component?  If you see yourself raising a family and cannot picture your life without children, why would you take a time-consuming, highly demanding job?  If you picture yourself enjoying fresh breezes all winter, why would you agree to take a long-term management position in your company in Iowa?

And honestly, once you figure out what you really want, the choice becomes as simple as the one between McDonalds and Goldman-Sachs.  Once you have lasered in on your true vision, you will gravitate towards the options that lead you closer to your end goal.

Our lives are simply a series of different elaborate domino set-ups. ¬†One decision leads to the next, to the next, to the next. ¬†When you take a step back, you can see the awesome pattern laid out before you, but when you’re in the trenches, straining to push over that first domino, it can feel like the most confusing and random scene ever.

And yet, if you don’t push that first domino, you will get none of the awe-inspiring affects that come with perfectly placed events cascading one after the other. ¬†So if you are faced with a true, difficult choice in your life, take a step back. Breathe. Realize that either domino represents an adventure. ¬†Take some time to get to the root of what you want your life to look like. ¬†And when you figure that out? ¬†Simply put your finger out and push.

 

Do YOU

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I have a million things on my mind that I want to blog about today.  And of course, knowing me, I am choosing the hardest one. But as I feel it is the most important one, here I go.

Last weekend it was pointed out to me that I have become less authentic to myself.  Not personality-wise; I am still the same positive, goofy, spontaneous, organizational freak that I always was, but I am in danger of applying other people’s ideas and life goals verbatim onto my own.  In other words, I am failing to take a step back and truly think about what I want for my life and unapologetically issue my personal stamp of approval.

Now, I feel that this happens quite a bit in life.  Parents are a big offender: Sarah wants to try to be an actress, but Mom and Dad want her to have a more stable life, so eventually Sarah takes on their thoughts and ideas as her own the more and more they preach about it, forgetting that she actually has a passion for the arts and not for inputting data.

I think the hardest culprit to discern, however, is the one that is the most subtle: the people around us whom we admire, with strong personalities and goals for their own lives who are charging full steam ahead.  Oftentimes, their belief in their personal project or path is so strong that they come across as looking down upon anyone not on that path without meaning to.

When you admire someone, you naturally want them to think highly of you.  And as the saying goes, imitation is the highest form of flattery.  But the thing is, if you are truly admiring the right people, they will want you to become the best version of yourself, not the second-best version of them.

It is only the secretly insincere individuals who crave followers; leaders want to surround themselves with leaders.

This realization that I had moved into fangirl territory was upsetting to me.  I pride myself on my strong personality, and I have always thought of myself as independent and able to carry my own torch.  The fact that I am in danger of losing my own personal vision for my life is heartbreaking.

This problem could be easily solved if I got rid of everyone in my life and had no outside people influencing me.  But that solution sucks, obviously.  No one wants to go through life alone, and it’s pretty much impossible to avoid outside forces unless you live out in the woods eating roots and berries and communing with nature.

So how do you keep those strong, admirable individuals in your life yet still stay true to your personal vision?

You have to have a personal vision.  Lately I have come to realize that thus far, I have had a vague sense of direction of where I want to go, but I have not taken the time to sit down and specifically map out what I want out of life.  As I have discussed in other posts, this is dangerous; a ship without a compass is pretty much just a bathroom toy subject to the whims of any giant two-year old splashing around in the tub.  You need to have a sense of direction, and a sense of direction only comes when you have a sense of purpose.

You need to be in tune with yourself.  People avoid actually getting to know themselves.  Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Orange is the New Black, and millions of other ways to entertain ourselves are waiting to be utilized at the snap of a finger.  Entertainment in and of itself is hardly a bad thing, but when it is used to avoid introspection and examining your life, it becomes a convenient set of blinders rather than a small moment of fun.  It is critical that you spend some time alone; not alone with your music or your books, but really, truly alone with nothing but your thoughts.  Who is this person you only slightly know as yourself?

You need to stop living in fear.  We are social beings.  We want to be liked.  And that makes us shy away from anything that may potentially end up in us being put in the outer circle of society.  But in all honesty, if you are true to YOU, people who are really true to themselves will recognize that and appreciate it, even if it is different from their truth.  If someone doesn’t care for your vision, fuck ’em.  People who don’t value an honest and true expression of intent aren’t the type of people who are worth keeping.  And it all honesty, it becomes so much easier to shed people you don’t want and attract people you do when you simply commit to your truth.

When we are not fully focused and committed to what WE want to do, we project other people’s judgement onto our lives before they even have a chance to, and for some reason allow this mythical judgement to influence us.

The cliche of ‘dancing in the mirror’ has come to represent freedom, self-expression, and self-acceptance.  It sounds hokey, but when you try it, you realize how much of yourself you are hiding from yourself.  Back in the day, I couldn’t even watch myself dancing for two seconds without being embarrassed and thinking omg, I look SO dumb and stopping–and I was alone.  There was no one to judge but me.  Why the hell did I care how dumb I looked?  I was looking at myself from an outside perspective, and I found lack because I had not embraced my inner truth that I just wanted to freakin’ dance.

When you take the time to get to know who YOU are, you become dissatisfied with becoming anything that doesn’t align with your desires for your life.  Take  the time to get to know yourself; at the end of the day, you go to your grave wrapped in solitude, and eternity is a hell of a long time to spend with a stranger.

 

Master the Forge

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While I was being productive browsing Instagram the other day, I scrolled past the following quote:

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking.

-William B. Sprague

I absolutely love this. ¬†In other words…

Don’t wait for the skill, create the skill. ¬†For much of my life, I avoided putting in large amounts of effort into anything in which I wasn’t already relatively skilled.¬† This meant I got really good at writing essays, and stayed mediocre at band, choir, and drama (my activities of choice in high school).¬† Last summer, I went out of my comfort zone and joined a flag football league just to try it out (I had never played a sport in my life).¬† I sucked.¬† Pretty badly.¬† But I stuck with it, and this past Tuesday night I played an awesome defensive game, good enough that the other team was commenting on how many flags I pulled.¬† While this was, to be fair, a bit of an anomaly, I nevertheless would have missed out on so much if I had shied away just because I never developed the coordination to make me excel at sports.

There are so many times where people don’t even try because they know they are going to be terrible at something.¬† Those are the people that are going to stay terrible.¬† However, if you accept that you are a beginner, no matter what age you are, you can open up so many different and awesome avenues for yourself simply by taking the time to build up the skill, no matter how painful it might be.

Don’t wait for the time, make the time.¬† This September, I finished my Masters degree in Teaching and Learning.¬† It took me six months since I took two classes at at time (I had also received credits for another program I had completed).¬† The kicker was I started it in March while teaching full-time.¬† I could have put it off and completed it over the period of a couple summers while I had time off, but I decided to put my nose to the grindstone and get it done.¬† There were many, many nights when I would be mentally exhausted from teaching all day and have to come home, open my laptop, and write papers and discussion posts until bedtime.¬† The thing is, I did it.¬† I could have made the argument to myself that I did not have the time with a full teaching load and working out and having a social life.¬† But I carved out the arduous hours that it took, and now I have a higher degree and a nice pay raise to go along with it.

There will never, ever be enough time to leisurely fit in every activity that you want to do.  We always claim to be too busy, yet somehow, there is always enough time for Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.  Time is the only thing that is distributed equally to everyone every. single. day.  If you really want something, you will find a way to make it happen.  Somehow, everything unimportant takes care of itself or fades away, and everything that is important finds its own niche in the 168 hours we are freely given each week.

Don’t wait for the money, create the money.¬† The universe is quite unfair in that, for most of us, there are so many ways that our money can be spent, and only a few avenues where money can be made.¬† I saw how my parents struggled while I was growing up, and I subconsciously knew that I never wanted to have that conflict in my life.¬† I took the traditional college route, and my income now supports me comfortably in a way that I never experienced as a child.¬† Now that I have established this standard for my life, I have realized I have even bigger dreams.¬† While I haven’t worked out the details just yet, I know myself well enough to be confident that sooner or later, I will accomplish them.

Most of us allow our money flow (or lack thereof) to dictate our life when really, we should be trying to devise any way possible to achieve our ideal vision.¬† Our lives are finite, and our existence is but a blip on the radar of the cosmos.¬† This alone should make us crave an experience so rich that it defies the gravity of mediocrity.¬† This conception is unique to each person, but majoritively, life experiences cost money.¬† If you have always wanted to travel the world, but are off put by the steep price tag, don’t wait for this experience to miraculously manifest: find a way to make it happen.

Don’t wait for friends, create the friends.¬† I have always been envious of people who have large groups of friends that are always doing fun, cool events together.¬† When I moved to California, I was in a relationship and therefore didn’t establish a friend group.¬† When we broke up, I found myself adrift with no one to remotely consider a chum save my coworkers.¬† Rather than sit at home alone, I did everything I would normally do with a buddy alone, including going out to the bars, eating out, and attending various events.¬† Fast forward a year and a half later, I am living with one of my best friends (whom I met at a bar, mind you) and I have a whole other group of friends from work and flag football.

The moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to do things alone.¬† Nine times out of ten, people label things as weird because they are too afraid to do it themselves.¬† Doing public things alone requires confidence, and people gravitate towards confidence over all other attractive qualities.¬† If you don’t want to spend time with you, why would anyone else?¬† If you want to have friends that love the beach, go to the beach.¬† If you want to have friends that motivate you in the gym, go to the gym.¬†¬† If you want to have friends that are spiritual, go to a church or other arena of spirituality.¬† The point is, you are in control.¬† Make yourself available, and you’ll be surprised how many awesome connections you can make.

Don’t wait for the perfect love, create the perfect love.¬† I was married at age 19, and divorced at 23.¬† Those four years were the most miserable years of my life because I tried to force love between two people who simply were not compatible with each other in any way.¬† As with any type of pain, however, it has bestowed upon me so much knowledge about myself, my desires, and who my future spouse needs to be.

You will never find someone who completely fits your vision of a perfect partner.¬† That is a burden of expectation that no one should be forced to bear.¬† I do know, however, that you can find someone who fits your standards, gives you secret butterflies, and makes you feel like Rachel McAdams or Ryan Gosling in your own personal romantic comedy.¬† The mistake that so many people make is letting that person go when it gets hard.¬† A perfect love is only made perfect by both parties’ belief in its perfection.¬† Once the focus shifts from the flawless movie-screen moments to the inevitable rocky off-set interactions, the sparkle fades.¬† The difference between a life-long love and a fond memory is the elbow grease that both people put in to keep the iridescence radiating, time after time after time.

Everything that you want in life is within your grasp.¬† Sometimes, however, people treat their life like it’s controlled by a remote that’s over on the other side of the couch; we all know how many times the channel simply stays the same.¬† Don’t wait for the ideal time to make your visions come to life.¬† The ideal time will never, ever come.¬† Get off the couch.¬† Create your own channel.¬† Inspire others to do the same.¬† Become the ruler of your own forge, and let the resulting sparks ignite your life into a full blaze of masterful existence.

 

 

Making a Choice

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If you are a frequent social media user (and really, who isn’t these days), I’m sure you’ve seen the “Just Do It!” video put out by Shia Lebeouf over a year ago. While his gesticulations,¬† posturing, and total commitment to this piece invite a lot of humor, his overall message fits in nicely with my thoughts today.

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We as humans are masters of making terrible choices and of avoiding decisions whenever¬† possible.¬† Which, of course, is the opposite of what we should be doing.¬† Most people avoid making choices because a)they don’t know what they actually want, b)they don’t want to work hard, or c)they want to keep all options open as long as possible.¬† In order to get ahead in life, you need to Make. A. Choice., which means you need to have an awareness of the following things:

What do you actually, honestly, want?

There are few, if any people in the world who are true free agents.¬† Every person has obligations to someone, whether it be to a parent, a spouse, a child, a boss, or another established relationship in your life.¬† Before you make any choices, you need to think about how your options will affect those commitments, if at all.¬† Most of the time, we find that we have been using our responsibilities as an excuse to get out of making difficult decisions.¬† “I know I need to eat healthier, but my family won’t eat the healthy food I make” or “I know I need to work out but my boss demands so much of my time time” or “I want to stop drinking so much but my friends go out all the time”.¬† The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that you actually don’t want it that bad.

If you really, truly want something, there will be nothing that stands in your way.  I have a friend whose boyfriend drove an hour and a half, in traffic, every weekend in the beginning of the relationship because he valued her.  He actively CHOSE her, against all inconveniences and drawbacks, because he knew what he wanted.  I have another friend who uses his lunch break to work out so he can focus on other personal goals before and after work.  He actively CHOOSES to sacrifice sleep and social time because his aspirations are important to him.  I get up at 5am every weekday so that I can complete my cardio workout regardless of what might come up after work.  I actively CHOOSE to forfeit lazy mornings because I want to maintain my health.

Figure out what you want.  Make that knowledge so ingrained in your mind that no one can make your focus waiver.  Then, make choices based on that solid foundation of desire.

What are your options? 

When people make a passive choice (something that they chose by their thoughtless actions rather than actively pursuing it with their mind) they are allowing themselves to believe that they don’t have any other option.¬† Passive choices come from not acknowledging that there are, in fact, two or more options, but instead simply falling into the easiest pattern of behavior.¬† “Ah, its after dinner, time to sit and watch TV” or “It’s Taco Tuesday-margaritas again!”¬† Stop.¬† Think. What are your actual options?¬† Which ones are going to lead you closer to where you want to be?

There are always alternatives.  Absolutely hate your current job?  Get a new one.  Sick and tired of constantly buying a bigger pants size?  Change your lifestyle.  Completely annoyed with your roommate?  Find a different living situation.  For every passive decision you have made, there were 2 or 3 other choices that may have led you down a better path.

“But wait”-you’re thinking-“It’s not that easy!”¬† Of course it’s not easy.¬† If it was easy, you would have already done it.¬† We are more than water falling down a hill-we should not always take the path of least resistance.¬† Honestly look at all of your options, and choose the one that leads you closer to where you want to be, whether it is one big decision or many small cumulative choices.

What aspects about that choice are going to be tough for you?

If you already have a set pattern of behavior, making a choice that directly conflicts with your established system will be difficult.¬† But what’s even more difficult is looking back ten years down the road and realizing that your life could have been so much different (i.e. better).¬† Yet you are also not doing yourself any favors if you blithely make a decision and skip off towards your goal without actually considering where you may stumble.

Take measures to be successful.¬† I know that if I come home from work absolutely starving, it’s going to be extremely hard to wait for my healthy meal to cook without devouring everything in the kitchen beforehand.¬† Therefore, I cook everything a day in advance so that I don’t have to wait and tempt myself.¬† If you know that you cannot say no to cookies in the break room, don’t go into the break room.¬† If you know that being alone with a certain person may cause you to be unfaithful to the man or women in your life, don’t be alone with that person.¬† If you know that you won’t go to the gym if you stop home beforehand, don’t go home until your workout is complete.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can will yourself through any and all temptation that comes your way when you are first starting out.¬† Believe me, I’ve told myself that “I got this” for many a social gathering, and then the next day I wonder how the hell I let myself get so out of control.¬† By anticipating your weak moments in advance, you can make sure you have barriers in place that prevent total collapse.

What do you have to sacrifice?

For some choices that we decide to make, there will be nothing to sacrifice.  However, for most life-changing or hard decisions, there will usually be something that has to be given up.  If you want to lose weight/get in shape, you have to give up unhealthy foods and sitting on your butt all day.  If you want to start a business, you have to give up time spent on happy hours and Sunday Football.  If you want to initiate a new relationship, you have to sacrifice one night stands and going out on weekends prowling for the opposite sex.

However, most of the time our ‘sacrifice’ is not really a loss.¬† Once you start eating good food, you feel amazing and can’t believe you ever ate crap to begin with.¬† Once your business gets off the ground, you realize that most of the hours you ‘gave up’ would have actually just been wasted existing rather than growing.¬† Once your relationship is established, you appreciate the steady love of someone who supports and complements you more than the momentary excitement of a new conquest.

If you truly want what you are choosing, the things you are giving up will not feel like losses.  And when all is said and done, you may realize that your sacrifice actually ended up being a blessing in disguise.


In the end, our most defining feature will be our choices.¬† Don’t let fear, other people, or routine make your decisions for you.¬† Don’t make half-choices where you waffle back and forth between two or three different things because you don’t have the cajones to take a stand.¬† Decide who you want to be and focus your selections based on that conception.¬† Once you start narrowing your vision and making strides towards your optimal life, you will find whole other planes of existence opening up to you.

You control your future.  You control your present.  You control you.  If you really sit down to think about that, its a terrifying reality yet an amazing opportunity.  Decide what choices will get you to where you want be and Just DO IT!

Optimal Connections

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Tonight’s thoughts have been about our day-to-day connections; specifically, what it takes to create optimal relationships.¬† These thoughts were spurred by a small act of kindness that I received this morning:

I had 3 minutes to go until my first period class started, and the copier was acting like a spoiled brat.¬† Since I have a slight flair for the dramatic, I was making quite the comic scene of frustration and horror as my coworkers passed by.¬† After some (well-deserved) eye-rolling and snickering, one of my colleagues said “Here, give it to me, I’ve got kids that can help during this period” and proceeded to troubleshoot the copier, make me two different sets of copies, and deliver it them before first period finished.¬† I was relieved and amazed by my stroke of luck.

And then I started thinking.¬† Is it really just luck that caused me to stumble into having awesome alliances at work?¬† Maybe…but I feel like the answer really lies in the value I place on all my relationships and the steps I take to maintain them.

If you want to receive, first you have to give.¬† This is true for everything in life, but especially for relationships.¬† In today’s world, there is so much emphasis on what others can do for you.¬† What can YOU contribute to MY life?¬† People rarely ask themselves how they are contributing back.¬† Based on my personal experiences, I feel that there are at least five things that you need to do in order to create valuable connections with quality people in your life.

  1. Be Positive.  Nobody likes to be around someone who is constantly sighing and moaning about this or that problem or this or that person.  Constant negativity can shut down a budding relationship or sever an established bond.  While I definitely have my moments, the majority of the time I am happy and giving off positive vibes by smiling, waving, and goofing around.  Being upbeat makes quality people want to be around you, giving you an opportunity to establish firm connections.
  2. Be Earnest.¬† Sincerity has become a luxury today, and people tend to gravitate towards someone who is being honest, whether they completely agree with their statements or not.¬† I am able to create great relationships with my students, even during times when I am grumpy, simply by being honest and open with them on a daily basis.¬† I rarely put up a “teacher front” and I make sure I verbalize both the positive and negative things that I see in the classroom.¬† This has created an atmosphere of trust and accessibility, and even if my students don’t always like what I say, they never respond in a disrespectful way because they know that I am genuine.¬† If you trust quality people with your true, honest feelings, they will reciprocate in kind.
  3. Inconvenience Yourself.¬† Being selfish has its place in making sure that you are taken care of and healthy.¬† However, there are times when the duties that come with relationships are inopportune and annoying.¬† Do those things anyway.¬† Recently I had a friend’s housewarming party scheduled for the same day as I had planned on going down to San Diego.¬† The kicker?¬† The party was an hour in the opposite direction.¬† I had already committed to both, so, I did both.¬† Later, she sent me a text thanking me for being a such a good friend and coming to her party even though it wasn’t convenient for me.¬† Quality people will notice the sacrifices you make, and will make sacrifices in return.¬† I am not advocating that you completely neglect what you need in order to please everyone around you, but if the relationship matters to you, little inconveniences are a small price to pay.
  4. Communicate.¬† There are few things more frustrating for both parties than finding out you mistakenly took something someone said, did, or texted completely the wrong way.¬† Always try to convey your message clearly, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you are tempted to get offended by something.¬† Quality people will not be afraid to work through any issues that may arise.¬†¬† As I have gotten older, I have become more straightforward with asking people what they mean with this comment or that text, and it has saved me a lot of hurt feelings and wasted time sulking.
  5. Make an Effort.¬† If a puppy is not fed, it dies.¬† If a flower is not watered, it withers away.¬† If a house is not maintained, it falls into disrepair.¬† This is analogous to our relationships.¬† Many times we get so engrossed in our own lives that we can go for months without speaking to a friend or a colleague.¬† Take the time to keep your relationships alive.¬† My best friend lives in South Carolina and we see each other once a year.¬† But we always make time for phone calls, texts, and the occasional Skype session.¬† Every time I pass a coworker in the hall, I purposefully say at LEAST ‘hi’, if not have a slight exchange in passing.¬† Making an effort does not always have to mean dedicating hours and hours-it can be as simple as shooting off a text or picking up someone’s favorite food while you’re at the grocery store.¬† Any effort you give is a gift that quality people will appreciate and return.

None of the five things that I have listed are easy.¬† But as I’m discovering more and more, nothing worth having in life is easy.¬† Optimal relationships with quality people are 100% worth the extra time and effort they take to establish and maintain because those people make you become a better person.

Take the time to observe the people you choose to surround yourself with.  Are they people of high caliber?  Would they inconvenience themselves for you?  Do they raise you up with positive energy?  If the answer to these questions is no, turn your focus towards yourself.  If you are not attracting quality people, chances are you lack the traits that make you attractive to people of such character.

Everyone is capable of creating relationships that are optimal.  Hardly anyone is willing to do what it takes.  Trust me when I say this, however, the effort is worth it.

 

Discipline

Standard

As I sit here after my final weekend of holiday break, my thoughts keep going back to the importance of discipline.  My last Friday and Saturday of freedom were filled with friends, food, and alcohol.  This makes for great memories and satisfied taste buds, but stepping on the scale this morning sent me right back into the harsh realm of reality and spurred my current contemplation.

This weekend was not a weekend where I practiced discipline at all. In fact, I may even go so far as to say that I ran gleefully into the arms of sloth and then maniacally danced a jig with gluttony.  But why should I care?  I had fun, right?  I spent time with old friends and made new friends, right?  I got to eat delicious food and indulge in all the wine I wanted, right?

Right.

But here’s the thing.¬† My weekend may have been a “fun” weekend, but for the majority of the time, I felt like shit.¬† I woke up exhausted on Saturday, and severely hungover on Sunday.¬† I didn’t do anything productive the entire weekend (minus my workout on Saturday).¬† I severely torpedoed my diet, and I’ll have to work my ass off this week just to undo the damage before I can actually start making progress again.

Had I just evoked even the slightest bit of discipline into my weekend, I could have saved myself a lot of headache.

But, what exactly is discipline?  Websters online dictionary defines it several different ways:

1:  punishment

 

2 obsolete :  instruction

 

3 :  a field of study

 

4 :  training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character

 

5    a :  control gained by enforcing obedience or order

 

       b :  orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior

 

       c :  self-control

 

6 :  a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity

 

The definitions I feel are most applicable are numbers 4 and 5.  If you re-read those definitions, you should notice a couple of things: one, there is a big emphasis on control, and two, the application of these definitions is not fun.

It is not “fun” to correct your personal thoughts and admit that you are wrong.¬† It is not “fun” to enforce self-obedience to a gym routine.¬† It is not “fun” to tie yourself down to a set behavior pattern for work and productivity.¬† And it is definitely not “fun” to say no to a¬† moist, fudgy, warm piece of chocolate cake.

BUT, discipline gives you things a lot more valuable than “fun”.

Discipline gives you self-respect.  I have been a card-carrying member of the Weekend Regret club more times than I can count.  However, the weekends where I have allowed myself some slight indulgences but largely practiced discipline with my time and diet turn into Mondays where I feel amazing.  The momentum from the weekend propels me forward rather than pulls me back, and the resulting feeling of pride gives me the extra oomph I need to completely dominate the week.  There is no replacement for self-respect, and practicing discipline is a essential piece that must be in place for this to manifest.

Discipline gives you opportunities.  Having discipline in the workplace, the gym, or with your relationships is rare and will not go unnoticed.  If you have the discipline to knock out the little, annoying stuff successfully at work, this gives off the message that you can be trusted with the bigger, more important projects.  If you have the discipline to make it to the gym on a daily basis, you will connect with people who can give you invaluable knowledge and motivation towards your fitness goals.  If you have the discipline to not compromise on your values, improve yourself constantly, and be loyal to your friends and romantic partner, you will find that people with these same qualities will be attracted to you.

Discipline gives you quality of life.  While it seems counter-intuitive, there is nothing that sabotages your overall happiness  faster than giving in to your every whim.  If I ate a donut every time I craved one, bought a shirt every time I saw a cute one, and kissed a boy every time I saw a hot one, I would be fat, broke, and very single with a tarnished reputation.  Self-denial gives you the stamina and resources necessary to build a life that is enviable.

Discipline gives you hunger for more.¬† Everyone knows someone who wastes their life eating McDonald’s, playing video games, and working a minimum wage job all while swigging¬† cases of Mountain Dew and heaving themselves off the couch only when absolutely necessary.¬† These individuals completely lack discipline, and as a result, they don’t have any desire to do better.¬† When you start disciplining yourself, the bare minimum is no longer an option.¬† With every goal you reach, your desire to do more and be more burns hotter.

And most importantly, discipline gives you results.¬† The weeks where I am completely on point with my diet and gym routine are the weeks that I can see dramatic improvements in my physicality.¬† The days where I don’t allow myself to get distracted or off-task are the days when I get more done than I had planned on.¬† When I don’t grant myself permission to step onto the slippery slope of self-indulgence, I am able to keep climbing up the ladder to success rather than constantly pass by the same three rungs in an endless cycle of desire vs failure.

It is human nature to resist discipline.¬† Our brains work on a very strong ‘immediate rewards’ based system, and in a world where we can access almost anything we want with a click of a button, the ability to delay gratification and train our minds to focus on rewards that manifest in months, not minutes, is sorely lacking.¬† In order to truly optimize your life, discipline needs to be one of your top priorities.¬† As with anything worth having in life, there are simply no quick-fixes or substitutions.¬† You have to work for it, you have to want it, and you have to tell yourself ‘no’.

My own self-discipline comes and goes in waves and it is something that I need to hone in on and perfect.  However, I also know that the more I practice, the easier it becomes.  This weekend made me take a step back and refocus on the plethora of benefits of discipline that my inner two-year old would rather deny.  Going forward, my Optimization Operation will capitalize on my areas of discipline that are already strong while simultaneously targeting areas of weakness because at the end of the day, I have no excuses and I will reach my goals.