How was your week? Did you keep up with your gratitude journal?
I did – even if it wasn’t until the next day some days! I have to admit that keeping a gratitude journal at night was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and this coming week, I’m going to try doing it as part of my morning routine.
Let’s talk a bit about habits.
According to Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, there are three parts to a habit: the trigger, the actual action, and the reward. Understanding this, helps us to build new habits. Here it is, applied to my gratitude project.
- The trigger. So, if I want to start writing a gratitude journal daily, the trigger could be after I brush my teeth, I write in my journal for a few minutes before turning off the light. The trigger should be consistent for this to work. For example, I brush my teeth every night. I don’t watch a movie every night. Brushing teeth – good trigger; watching a movie – not a good trigger)
- The habit. Writing in my journal.
- The reward. Intrinsic rewards are best, and rewards can be small. For most of my habits, the satisfaction of checking it off my list has been enough. I know that the rewards for writing a gratitude journal are many – including physical health, self-esteem, and mental strength. (See this Psychology Today article.)
I think the reward is where my problem starts. Since I’ve already checked my list for the day by the time I go to bed, I didn’t get the quick satisfaction of the checkbox and growing streak that I get for my other habits. (I use an app called Habit List for that.)
Since I have a great morning routine, I’m thinking of writing my gratitude journal in the morning this week. I’ll let you know how it goes.
How about you? Is gratitude becoming a habit?
Want to be more present?
Want to be more content?
Want more joy?
Start a gratitude practise.
I believe in gratitude.
Gratitude vaccinates us against discontent, entitlement, the endless desire to keep up with the Joneses.
I’m probably actually a tiny bit fanatical on this subject. When my kids get an attack of the gimmes, I make them talk about what they already have. I ask them about the things for which they are thankful at dinner.
I use gratitude to stop myself in my tracks when I’m feeling discouraged, or when we get bad news. “I didn’t get x opportunity, but I’m so grateful that I got to try. I have learned to do this better.”
It has become the conversations we have when things get tough, it has become the way we make a tight budget feel spacious, and it has been the one habit that saves me from a downward spiral during the crazy ups and downs of expat life and culture shock.
However, I have never actually kept a gratitude journal. I want to write these things down to make my habit of gratitude more concrete and enable me to look back on these days and remember all the grace I’ve been given. So, since public accountability is a great way to start a habit, I thought I would recruit all of you to help. Sign up here.
Why start a gratitude practice?
According to the Greater Good Center at Berkeley, people who practice gratitude consistently experience many benefits:
Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
More joy, optimism, and happiness;
More generosity and compassion;
Feeling less lonely and isolated.
Need another reason to join this challenge?
There will be a prize at the end. I’m giving you the book of your choice from my list of favorite life changing books. Amazon will ship it directly to your grateful hands. All you have to do is participate.
Sign up today, and let’s all feel a little more thankful this thanksgiving.
Or why “go big or go home” is terrible advice.
Today is the first day of the last quarter, and around here, I’m reviewing progress I’ve made on my many goals for this year. How about you? Have you looked at those new year’s resolution lately? No? Well, its not too late. Let’s talk about the power of incremental change.
Many years ago, when I was much thinner, I joined Weight Watchers. I believed I had to lose 10 pounds. (rolls eyes at younger self.) The first week was great. I stuck to the suggested meals like stubborn pounds to a thigh – 2 pounds down. The second week was my brother’s birthday… I only lost half a pound and I was furious. The nice lady cheerily told me that half a pound down was great! While my brain understood that many half pounds would add up, the rest of me wanted results now. I practically stopped eating the third week, and promptly gained 2 pounds. Now, I promise this will not become a diet blog. But there was wisdom in that weight watchers lady, and it applies to those new year’s resolutions.
Say your resolution was to save for retirement. You planned to stick your entire tax return in a high-yield investment in March. But then the car needed tires, and the kids needed shoes, and now, on the first of October that IRA is just a dream, and the ambitious goal is now impossible. What would have happened, if instead of going big, you simply saved $1 every single day? Some smart people did the math and came out with $23,646.79 over 50 years with a 1% return. While that will not fund your retirement, it will fund more than the imaginary IRA.
Wanted to exercise? Many elaborate routines have gone by the wayside, but the 7 minute circuit I added as part of my morning routine has stuck around. If you do 20 crunches and push ups every morning, it is a 140 push ups a week, and that has to be better than an elaborate plan you cannot consistently do.
Want to organize your house? Marla Cilley (Flylady) has build an entire empire on shining your kitchen sink and decluttering just 15 minutes a day. For that matter, just look around you and put one thing away every time you leave a room.
What about relationships. How would your relationship with your spouse or children change if you paid attention to what they did well, and gave them just one very specific compliment, or thanked them for one specific action every day.
“My big boy, I saw you help your brother when he got frustrated with the train set today. That was very helpful.”
“Thank you for changing the paper towels in the kitchen this morning – I was so busy helping the kids and it really helped me.”
“I really liked what you said about [topic] – it made me consider a different option.”
So here’s what I challenge you to do:
What was on your list? What tiny (and I mean tiny) step can you take towards that goal?
We have 91 days left in 2016. That could be 91 compliments, 1,820 push-ups, 91 reasons to be grateful.
It’s my birthday! In celebration, here are 40 things I know to be true. And because it’s just boring without pictures, a few of my happy places. If you make it all the way to the end, I have a little gift for you. Because what is a birthday without presents?
- Don’t leave sharpie markers on the counter with toddlers in the house.
- Family is everything.
- You cannot have it all. Which part of “all” matters?
- Sleep! 7 hours is my absolute minimum do, 8 is better.
- Never do complicated when simple will work.
- Less is more.
- No is a complete sentence.
- Risk management is not just for bankers (and that’s probably the most important thing I learned in banking.)
- Other banking lessons? Character trumps all – it is more important than a financial position, history, future plans.
Gratitude is the antidote for the blues, materialism, entitlement, all that ails you.
- If you don’t know where you are going, you will not know that you’ve arrived.
- There is beauty and worth in every single person, no matter how annoying. My job is to find it.
- Read. Read. Read.
- Sometimes we don’t deserve the good things we get. Sometimes we don’t deserve the bad things we get.
- Grace is enough
- Tomorrow I’ll wish I started today.
- One mess-up does not ruin the rest of the day/week/month/project.
- Done is better than perfect.
- Make your bed every day. (Thanks Mom.)
- You always have a choice.
- Travel is mind-expanding. What people everywhere have in common is so much greater than our differences.
- You can only change yourself.
- Two ears, one mouth. To be used in that proportion.
- Garbage in, garbage out.
- Nothing lasts forever. That gets me through the tough times, and reminds me to be here now.
- Saying “yes” to one thing always means saying “no” to something else.
- What other people think is true for them. It doesn’t have to be true for me.
- Imagination is the way to solve problems.
- Create something everyday. A doodle, a dinner, a clear sentence. Anything.
- A small decision to do the next right thing can determine your whole direction.
- Being a mom is the toughest (and most important) thing I’ve ever done.
- Encourage your children.
- Optimism is indispensable.
- Your children want you. (Thanks April Perry!)
- Those long quiet nights up with a nursing baby? You’ll miss it.
- Plan for the unexpected (especially with little guys around!).
- Marriage? Forgive, forgive, forgive. And try to forget.
- A smile and a kiss go a long way, as does saying you’re sorry.
- I don’t know who said this but I believe it wholeheartedly: “you can be right or you can be happy.” Your choice.
All you need is love.
And because every birthday needs presents (who doesn’t like presents?) I want to give you one.
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Don’t know what is vital to you anymore?
Jump on the phone with me for 30 minutes and I’ll walk you through my step-by-step way to clear your head, find what’s next, and focus on making your highest contribution. I have set aside some spots on my calendar – click here to book your appointment now. (And yes, since it’s my gift to you, it’s free.)
Don’t you love starting your day on a quiet note? I love a little peace before my little people wake up. My whole family’s day is better if I’m feeling relaxed and accomplished. While my kids are now 5 and 3, and it is easier to out-rooster my little roosters, I still need a plan to make the most of my quiet moments.
Below, I share my rituals. While these seem really involved (and long!) it didn’t start that way. I initially read my devotional (sometimes in bed) and then added morning pages. Later I added a meditation, and most recently a small bit of exercise. Every action builds on the last, and I don’t have to think about it anymore. It is also great to know that even if nothing else got done today, I already nurtured myself – body, mind and soul.
:: The night before:
- Put my journal and favorite pen on the kitchen table.
- I put my phone on the charger across the room from the bed. (When my alarm goes off, I have to run for it before it wakes the kids.)
- I put my exercise clothes, including my shoes, fitbit, and a hairband in the bathroom.
:: 5 am.
My alarm goes off. I go to the bathroom, change into exercise clothes, and drink water. I grab my phone and head for the living room in the dark. There, I read a devotional. If you aren’t Christian, I still suggest you find something that inspires you to read for just 5 minutes. I meditate for 10 minutes (some days I meditate on how awful I am at meditation.) After that, I do a quick 7-minute exercise circuit.
:: 5:30 am.
I sit down at the kitchen table with my journal and write morning pages. (Inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way) If I’m working through a journaling course or book, I write the prompt in my journal the night before.
:: 6:00 am
I start the kettle for my French press or tea, and go wake up my kindergartener. We have a few sleepy snuggles in the kitchen, and I hand him his school uniform and a bowl of cheerios. While he gets dressed I start to get breakfast ready for my husband (two eggs and gluten-free toast) and have my first cup of tea or coffee. If needed, I remind my son to look at his chart, and that reminds him to go brush his teeth and grab his backpack.
:: 6:30 am.
We head outside to wait for the school bus. (I know – it is ridiculously early for the poor guy but that’s the reality of Lima traffic.)
I have breakfast with my husband, and he leaves for work (ahh Lima traffic.)
If my three year old didn’t come to the kitchen yet, I go wake him up. I help him to get dressed in his preschool uniform, and then he has breakfast while I have my second cup. We do a little drawing or reading, and he does his morning chart. (Feed the dog, brush teeth, get backpack.) I clean the kitchen, and sneak a peek at my email or social media if there’s time.
Walk to preschool. It is a 10 minutes stroller walk, or 30 minutes if he wants to walk himself. (Oh look, dandelion!). I walk or run home the long way while listening to an audio book or podcast. (If the day is crazy or everything goes pear shaped, this is what I cut)
I take a quick shower and dress for the day. My routine takes 10-15 minutes, including some minimal makeup and loads of sunscreen.
I start Spanish classes or work.
Want to build your own sacred time?
- Start with the time you have to leave your house (or start work) and work backwards to determine what time your alarm should go off.
- Add extra time, because you know it doesn’t always go to plan. (Especially with kids!)
- If you hit roadblocks, see what you can do to make a frictionless. Putting out your exercise clothes at night (A friend sleeps in her running clothes!)
- Most importantly: Keep it small. Start with little goals. If you get up at 7, maybe you can get up at 6:30 and read or journal for 10 minutes.
Here’s to peaceful mornings, and that first cup of coffee.
Do you have a morning ritual? Come join us on the Facebook group to talk about it.
While I can be as Pollyanna as it comes, I have to acknowledge that life, motherhood, expat life is not always what we imagined it would be. Sometimes there are wonderful surprises. Sometimes, the surprises are not what we might have hoped.What did you think mothering would be like? Did you expect that your heart would break every day when you saw a child struggling to make friends? That reading your favorite books would not be sweet moments snuggled together on the coach, but rather admonishing of “If you don’t stop pulling your brother’s hair right now, I will stop this story.”
Expat life? The expectations would fill a book, the reality another. Maybe even in a different genre.
I’ve been learning so much about persevering through the tough times. Sometimes I think those are lessons I could really do without, but in all honesty, I know this is where the growth happens. Here’s a few lessons I’d like to share with you, so you can make the most of your tough time lessons.
1. This is now.
Sometimes, when times get tough, I find myself wishing for the next phase – please let this little kid fighting phase end. Please let them outgrow this habit. Only 18 months until we leave this country for the next, only one more Christmas here. When I catch myself, I stop and wonder at the questionable wisdom of wishing your life away.
This is now.
Cliched as it is, this moment will never happen again. In this moment, there is something beautiful. Take a deep breath, slow down just for a second, and think about the beauty, the joy, or if nothing else, the growth, in this moment.
2. Embrace the tough.
Hear me out. I’m not saying that you should be grateful that something horrible is happening to you. In fact, let me say that sometimes life is hard, and I’m so sorry that hard times are happening for you.
Here’s what I’m saying. Lean in. Feel hurt, feel sad, feel angry. Then acknowledge the growth opportunity. You are strong enough to do this. Hey, if you belt out a chorus of “I will survive” all the better.
3. Ask for help.
There is nothing that says you have to tough it out alone. Talk to other parents. Talk to other expats. Maybe the situation requires professional help. Get help. Ask. You never know what resources may be at your disposal. Figure out what you need to make it better, and then ask. People want to help, but often don’t know what you need. Are you overwhelmed with the needs of the new baby? I bet you a friend would be happy to pick up groceries, bring a meal, or take your older child to the park. Allow others in. Ask for what you need.
4. Nothing lasts forever.
It is the great tragedy and the great joy of our lives – babies grow, we get older, times change. I am a huge fan of the Anne of Green Gables books, and here is one of my favorite quotes:
“I’ve kind of contracted a habit of enj’ying things,” he [Captain Jim] remarked once, when Anne had commented on his invariable cheerfulness. “It’s got so chronic that I believe I even enj’y the disagreeable things. It’s great fun thinking they can’t last. `Old rheumatiz,’ says I, when it grips me hard, `you’ve GOT to stop aching sometime. The worse you are the sooner you’ll stop, mebbe. I’m bound to get the better of you in the long run, whether in the body or out of the body.’” Anne’s House of Dream by L.M. Montgomery
While I don’t wish my time away, I know that this will end. My boys will get bigger, the challenges of parenting will change. This tour will be over, and our new location will have its own challenges.
If I do this right, I will be ready to face those new challenges stronger and maybe a little wiser, because of the tough times I face today.
My grandmother passed away at 104 and three quarters. She was a doer of crossword puzzles, a voracious reader, and a great cook. I remember her garden – there were early peach trees, and a giant grape vine, and a hydrangea bush so big and fragrant that it dwarfed everything. The back of the house was cool and smelled of sunlight soap. She cooked macaroni casseroles for the day we arrived, served with chutney. We ate fried fish and chips hot from the oven in the garden before she served dinner, and she made biriyani – an indian mix of rice, lentils, chicken and fragrant spices.
I’m sad that she is gone, sad that she never got to meet my little boys, sad that I have not seen her in 15 years.
As expats, it seems that there are two things we miss most: family, and food. We miss births, and deaths, and weddings. We miss Sunday lunch after church. We miss the comfort food we were raised on. We talk incessantly about the place to find peanut butter your kids will actually eat, the difference between vegemite and marmite, and the acceptable substitutes. (Fray Bentos for me, none for the Australians.) We talk about who got chocolate chips from the U.S. I know the (three) places in Lima where I can find whole-wheat flour.
But our food genealogy changes. My favorite biriyani is that of my grandmother despite my travels in India. My favorite foods of all time might be my other grandmother’s chicken casserole, my mother’s chocolate mousse, the t-bone steaks with salt my grandfather grilled over a half-drum. Of course, there is my husband’s award winning chili.
But now it includes more: the lamb curry we ate after a dusty day on the road in Rajasthan. The koshary we ate at Cairo Kitchen, the cilantro hummus so good that I would eat the leftovers with a spoon while cleaning up after dinner. Dates from the street corners. It includes my finds at the fruit market here in Lima – cherimoya, lucuma, maracuya, and the small sweet bananas. Of course ceviche is great, but my new comfort food may be Lomo Saltado – a saucy stir fry with asia and new world blended like the rice and French fries that accompany it.
My family has also grown. Our small circle is tightly knit, and I count the days until my mom comes to visit obsessively. But now, my family includes the family we make for ourselves when we are far away… the women I can call to pick my kids up from school when I’m stuck in traffic. The women who showed me Cairo, and the way to live with grace in this crazy life of ours. The families with whom we share Thanksgiving – to me, the most sacred of American traditions.
We miss food and family. We miss so much. We gain so much more.
How’s your to do list looking today? Is it longer by the end of the day than when you started? Have you stopped looking at it because it is too discouraging? We often think a new fancy app will solve our todo list problem. But maybe we don’t need a new app, rather we need a new list.
Prioritizing the most important things in life has been a bigger challenge ever since I had children. Before having kids I never felt that overwhelmed despite working full time and doing an MBA as a newlywed, with our first home to repair and manage. On week nights I learned to build complex financial models and during the day I would evaluate restructuring proposals. On the weekends we would build a fence, or paint a room. I would write papers and do laundry while my husband wrote his doctorate. My Franklin planner was filled out, prioritized, and always with me. Life was full, but not overwhelming.
When I brought that first eight pound tornado home, everything changed. What I thought was valuable changed. What I thought I could fit into a day changed. My neat financial records became piles of unopened mail. My days were filled with pumping milk in between conference calls and meetings. But the whole time, my heart and mind was filled with only one thing: the little boy in the basement of a federal building on the other side of the national mall.
Kids have a way of forcing us to make choices right from the get-go. Nap when the baby naps or mop the floor? One more bedtime story or pay the bills? Go to the park or catch up on email?
We want to do it all, but how?
Here are five clarifying questions I think you need to ask today when you look at that to-do list.
- Do you love doing this? Is it aligned with what you value most?
- Are you uniquely suited to do this? Someone else could mop your floor or manage your email list. What are the thing only you can do?
- Does it support your long term goals?
- What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do this? (None of us love doing our taxes, but the consequences of not doing it… ouch. But the bake sale? There are plenty of moms who can do it, and you probably won’t get kicked out of school.)
- Is this related to a relationship? OR Does this impact someone else? While something may not be a priority to you, if it is to your spouse or your boss, you want to prioritize the relationship.
And if the list is still too long? Take a deep breath and quiet your thoughts for just a moment, what rises to the top? If I were you, I’d skip mopping the floor today. After all, the muddy feet running in from the park will get it dirty again.
PS: Now that you have some space in that to-do list, why not find out what makes you bloom?
Arriving in a new country, you often don’t know anyone. Sometimes you don’t speak the language. You don’t have your house or car; you don’t know where to buy groceries. The kids have a new school, but you have to take them in a taxi. “Don’t let them rip you off,” people warn about the taxi. But how could you possibly avoid getting ripped off when you speak none of the local language, and haven’t quite figured out the currency and conversion rates. How much should temporary housing to the store/school/husband’s office cost anyway? I know I have shoved a hand full of bills at a taxi driver and hoped that he would give me the appropriate change.
Your husband goes off to work, and you are left to figure it out. When we move to a new city, my husband has learned that he probably shouldn’t ask how I’m doing unless he wants an earful those first weeks. But if he doesn’t ask I get mad that he goes off to his great job and doesn’t even care how we are doing! This is lunacy at its finest. Those first few weeks are rough.
The kids must be first, you think. You unpack whatever things you brought to make them feel at home. Toys, maybe their own sheets and blankets. Eventually, you get the school uniforms, the giant list of school supplies that has to be bought at 14 different stores, and the kids start school. You find their classes, chat with the teachers, and do your best to make friends for them. “That boy looks nice! Tell him your name! Can you ask him if he wants to play with you?”
You get home, and it is quiet, messy, and empty. You haven’t figured out the weird smell in the plumbing yet, or the best time to take a shower that won’t freeze or scald you, and that has enough water pressure to rinse out the shampoo – the last bottle brought from home. Once you get an internet connection, you respond to every facebook post in your feed, skype friends and family whenever they are on-line, and long for your previous life.
What now? What do you do? You pick up the breakfast dishes, you try your language study books. You try to plan a meal with ingredients you can find or pronounce. And you realize that you are exhausted. And lonely.
While those first weeks may feel like an eternity, they do pass. Eventually you get a home, a car, maybe a few friends made at school or through an expat group. One day, you arrive at the grocery store, and realize that you drove there without thinking about it.
Being an expat mom can be a pretty tough gig, but I want to tell you that you can bloom where you are (trans)planted. This can be the best adventure you could possibly imagine. In this new space, I’ll share what I’ve have learned about self-care, routines and rituals that can make your family more resilient, and simplicity that will make your expat life feel… well, simple. Let’s do it together.
Please, will you take a moment to tell me what you’re struggling with today? Use the contact form to drop me a line – I can’t wait to hear from you.
Foreign service parents – a quick note to share a fabulous resource for your young kids – enjoy!
Embassy Kids Coloring Book.