“Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!”

No wiser words were ever spoken than these from the author, philosopher, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Several years back, I began feeling a strong desire to simplify my life. At the time, I had been using retail therapy to help fill the void in my life while simultaneously feeling emptier and emptier. I realize now that the more stressful moments of my life are also the times when my life is artificially full with activities, people, and things that don’t add meaningfulness or value. It is when my life is going well that I also am practicing simplicity. This is not to say that my life needs to be uneventful, boring, or lacking in order for me to be happy, but rather that I fill it with the right kind of activities, priorities, and goals.

For example, many people feel pressure to get married and have children because that is often the message sent out by society, in the forms of television shows, advertisements, job benefits, tax credits, would-be grandparents, etc. Children can be a blessing, but they also require a lot of time, money, and exasperation. Thus, the decision to procreate should not be taken lightly. Likewise, some feel the need to amass certain items or reach certain goals they feel they need in order to “make it”. These could be a new car, home-ownership, or a certain amount of savings in the bank by 30 years old. The problem isn’t the things themselves or having goals. It’s the fact that they come from an inner uncertainty about ourselves and whether we are good enough, in-and-of ourselves.

A simple life isn’t about lack. Instead, it’s about removing the undesirable noise and chaos, regardless if others tolerate the noise and chaos in their own lives. It’s about realizing how precious time and options are and putting thought into decisions (especially large ones like parenthood) before making a decision based on societal expectations. It’s about understanding that every decision for something is by default a decision against something else.

I think about my own problems and those of people in my life, and I can’t help but find most of them are self-inflicted. Many are as a result of not just one bad decision, but a sequence of them. With exceptions such as a debilitating genetic disease or being born in a war-torn country, we have a lot of power over the way our lives will go. And slowing down and figuring out what is vitally important to us will also make crystal clear what doesn’t actually matter at all. I am still figuring out what is important to me and what is not. I have a lot of it figured out already, but still struggle to hear my own voice over those of others telling me what I should do, believe, think, buy, and spend my time on. I just know for most of us life doesn’t have to be hard if we don’t make it hard. “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

To Wait or Not to Wait and Take Decisive Action?

We’ve all heard the saying “Good things come to those who wait.” But do they? Is it best to wait and hope things will get better or to weigh one’s options and then take the best course of action?

I have personally seen how waiting and hoping that things will get better can backfire and achieve nothing but wasting both time and opportunities. I have witnessed the disastrous effect of wasted lives when someone assumes things will “work out” or that other people will “come through” for them. On the other hand, there are some instances where waiting in order to glean more information about a situation can prove wiser than taking immediate action. For example, it would be wise to put off making vacation plans until finding out from your new job when you can take time off and for how long.

However, if you’re waiting simply because you’re too nervous to take a risk or take decisive action, there’s no logical reason why waiting would be necessary, and there’s no obvious time in the future when making a decision would be easier, then this is nothing but a stalling tactic done out of fear. In my experience, waiting to make a decision or act is in most cases done out of fear, not strategy, and therefore harmful.

Sometimes the reason behind waiting is because all of the circumstances are not perfect, it’s “not the right time”. For example, many people use this thinking to rationalize putting off going back to school, losing weight/getting healthy, or having children. However, life hardly ever offers situations that are perfectly predictable where all possible snags can be foreseen. And it hardly ever offers perfect timing. Often it is only after an opportunity has passed us by that it becomes obvious action should have been taken at an earlier time.

Unless there’s been an impetus to effect positive change, situations don’t magically improve just because a lot of time has gone by. It is empowering to make the decisions for yourself that affect your life. Even if you make wrong ones from time to time, you learn for the future and rest secure in the knowledge that you did the best you knew to do at the time. Is there something you’re currently putting off simply because you’re dreading making a decision that might be of some enormity or you’re worried about choosing wrongly?

How to Increase Your Self-Esteem

There are many terms that all basically refer to an internal positive regard towards one’s self. These include self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, self-assurance, etc. I’ve noticed that nowadays self-esteem is often described as something you’re supposed to achieve before you can accomplish anything else. However, I have a different view of it. I believe that self-esteem is something that must be built, nurtured, and encouraged — that self-esteem can only come after accomplishments, not before. First instance, Baby Boomers have been criticized for rewarding their Millennial children with “participation awards” and doing away with bad grades in order to raise self-esteem. They have been criticized for this, at least in part, because many argue these practices have resulted in children who are unmotivated, unhealthy, and irresponsible (ironically, traits that often lead to self-loathing — the opposite of self-esteem).

I have noticed in my own life that if I give into unhealthy habits (for example, eating bad food, lying in bed all day on my day off, reacting without thinking, etc), I feel nothing but self-loathing. However, if I do what I am supposed to do (eat healthful food, get my cleaning or errands done, react appropriately to a confrontation, etc), I feel good about myself and feel an inner calm and stability. This isn’t because of the tasks themselves, but, rather, because I’ve shown myself I have certain admirable, or esteemable, qualities, such as diligence, time management skills, delayed gratification, impulse control, empathy, etc.

Another factor in building self-esteem is that it should come from permanent, non-superficial sources that are within your control. That way, it will be lasting. It should not be based on being the “best” or at another person’s expense, but rather on doing your best. For example, winning a race is a bad source of self-esteem. Why? Because it’s something that can change (there is a big chance you won’t win the next race), and it’s predicated upon someone else “losing”. It’s also very much up to chance, since the other competitors probably practiced just as hard as you did. Instead, an appropriate source of self-esteem would be setting a new fastest record for yourself. Why? Because you’ve proven to yourself that you are hard-working, perseverant, and capable at the task you set out to accomplish. Reaching goals (as long as they are not harmful, and the motivation behind them is not harmful) and building positive character and personality traits, is always a positive source of self-esteem.

It’s important to note that true self-esteem always comes from the internal, not the external, by doing right by others and to yourself. A friend telling you they like your new outfit is nice and gives a very temporary mood high, but is still a superficial source of self-esteem. Whether another person likes your outfit is outside your control, and clothing styles change, so that trendy outfit you’re receiving compliments about today might be ridiculed in a couple years. Likewise, the fancy car you’re driving might get compliments, but did you work hard to be able to buy it or was it given to you? Even if you did work for it, did the people you went to school with and your current coworkers without fancy cars work just as hard as you? It’s quite possible the answer is, yes. Did your schoolmates go into a line of work that is fulfilling in many ways but doesn’t garner them the kind of salary needed to buy a fancy car? Again, it’s quite possible the answer is, yes.

Before closing, I just want to say building self-esteem is something I continue to struggle with and am really working on. I’d like to get to the point where an insult does not unduly negatively affect me and a compliment doesn’t unduly positively affect me, either. Do you have any tips for building self-esteem or any thoughts regarding what I’ve written in this post? Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions regarding this topic? I’d really love to hear!

Enjoying the Present Instead of Documenting the Past

I used to be an avid amateur photographer. Whenever I traveled somewhere new or did something new or exciting, I’d make sure to bring my camera along and get pics of EVERYTHING (and multiple angles of each, in some cases). It made a time I should have been having fun and enjoying myself a little less enjoyable and relaxful and a lot more stressful and onerous. Finally, I realized that I was spending my time documenting the past, as the experiences I photographed are technically part of the past once they’re over. I decided to begin soaking up each experience and participating in it fully by putting the camera down and living in the present. I achieved two things: 1) I now enjoy each experience much, much more and 2) My memories of each experience are much more pleasant. I haven’t stopped taking pictures, but I’m happy getting a few, and taking them with other people as opposed to scenery/landmarks.

In which ways have you been inspired to live more in the present?

Is Sensitivity a Good or Bad Trait?

“Being sensitive” is an interesting trait because it’s often thought of as positive and yet also often thought of as negative. It is sometimes used to describe someone who is empathetic and can easily tell how others are feeling and how their actions/words affect others. Yet it is also used to describe someone who is too thin-skinned, weak, and prone to become hostile at the slightest provocation. In fact, I recently heard the same person use “being sensitive” as a criticism of one person and a compliment towards another in the same week (she probably didn’t even realize she had done it). It’s interesting, because when I Googled the definition of the word, two of the first synonyms to appear are responsiveness and reactivity.

Responsiveness seems to have an inherently positive connotation to a lot of people. For example, someone who is responsive is bound to be considered caring, responsible, organized, and not afraid to lead. On the contrary, being reactive seems to have an inherently negative connotation. When one is reactive, they are often acting on emotion, without first applying thought, and not altogether in control of themselves, almost explosive.

I think if we all were less sensitive when it comes to our own emotions (which are often fleeting) and our own egoic reactions to situations that come up or things that are said to us, while being more sensitive when it comes to other people’s emotions and reactions to what we do and say to them, this world would be a better place. In doing so, we’d all grow into stronger people who are less swift to anger, less given to making assumptions, and more caring towards each other. In short, let’s all try to practice more responsiveness and less reactivity.

Applying Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in Every Day Life

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular short-term, evidence-based modality used by many mental health practitioners for the treatment of an assortment of mental disorders that teaches applicable skills for everyday life. The theory behind it goes something like this: Our thoughts affect our emotions, which in turn, affect our actions. So if we ruminate over negative thoughts that enter our minds, those thoughts will make us feel like crap. Feeling like crap will incite us to make unwise, rash, myopic decisions.

Controlling our thoughts is often easier said than done. I struggle with obsessive, negative, sometimes paranoid thoughts constantly and often am controlled by my thoughts instead of my thoughts being controlled by me. So what are some ways of controlling thoughts researchers and mental health practitioners advise? One is meditation. This practice involves emptying the mind and welcoming whatever thoughts want to flow through, regardless of content, and without judgment. To quote Buddhist monk and teacher Sunryu Suzuki: “Leave your front door and your back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don’t serve them tea.” This encourages desensitization to negative thoughts and surrender to the inevitability that they will come up at least every once in a while.

Journaling is another way to handle negative thoughts in a healthful manner. Writing them down, with or without showing them to anybody, can be a healthful way to feel that you’ve gotten them out of your system and can now move on — that you’ve “handled” them instead of bottling them up inside and avoiding acknowledging their existence. Writing them down can also make possible solutions to a problem clearer.

Reframing thoughts is another helpful strategy. Reframing thoughts involves seeing the positive even in negative situations, much like the titular character in the movie Pollyanna. For example, not getting hired could mean you get an even better job.

Breathing exercises can also aid in controlling the negative emotions that arise when we have a negative thought by slowing, deepening, and evening out our breathing pattern and relaxing our neck, back, and shoulders. The medical and mental health communities now realize how deep the connection is between physical and mental health, and this is a perfect example.

Engaging in pleasurable activities, such as hobbies, is another way to deal with negative thoughts and emotions, because they are less likely to pop up while you are doing something you enjoy. These activities result in feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin that naturally put you in a good mood.

These are just some of the techniques that could be helpful in dealing with negative, controlling thoughts and allowing you to take back your life. Negative thoughts are a natural part of life and will never entirely go away. However, it is possible to decrease their intrusion into your life, as well as the intensity of their effect when they do appear. And due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, after a while of dealing with negative thoughts and emotions in appropriate ways, it will become second-nature to do so. Does anyone else find themselves dealing with negative thoughts, and what practices have you found useful in managing them?

My Experience Using a Menstrual Cup

A couple years ago I ordered a free (minus shipping and handling) set of two menstrual cups (different sizes) from rebelkate.com. I had been hearing about menstrual cups for a while by then and was interested in trying them, considering the touted benefits. Namely, they can be used up to twelve hours (and I have even used them closer to 24 hours at the end of my cycle, when my period is light), they eliminate the risk of TSS, and they are reusable (so better for both the environment and the wallet). Many women also claim they ease cramps. For many months after first trying them, I found it took a lot of time and effort to insert them correctly (they need to sit right up against the cervix to guard against leaks) and also to take them out (a tight seal keeps leaks from happening but also can make it difficult to pull the cup out). At this point, after lots of practice, I have far fewer issues and feel I can offer some points of advice on the topic.

I find it is convenient to empty them in the morning in the shower because there is no mess and the blood simply washes down the drain. When inserting, there are many different folds you can try, and there are many different diagrams of these folds available on the internet. I have found the C-fold or punch-down fold works for me. After inserting, run your finger around the cup to ensure it popped completely open. If not, take it out and try again. I have had the experience of feeling a pinching feeling sometime after having inserted it and realizing I hadn’t ensured my cup popped open completely. While you’re still getting used to using your cup, you can wear a pad or panty liner for extra protection. Taking out the cup requires pinching it slightly at the base so that the seal breaks.

Adept use of this cup took me some time. There were points I wondered if it weren’t for me and I should just give up. However, I’m glad I stuck with it, as it turns out to have been well worth it. I hope this post helps someone out there who might be struggling with theirs or who is on the fence about trying one. Do you currently use a menstrual cup? What have been your experiences with it? For those who haven’t, what are your questions or concerns?

Sustainable Living

In the past few years, I’ve become more interested in sustainable, less-wasteful living. Not that many decades ago, before the proliferation of easily-attainable, inexpensive, disposable options, Americans were used to living sustainably. It was the only option. However, today many (including myself) rely on paper towels, disposable feminine hygiene products, plastic bags, paper plates, plastic silverware, plastic water bottles, and/or disposable razors, etc. These things are harmful to the planet, costly, and must be bought regularly. Thankfully, there are “greener” options that will save you money, time, and guilt. Some of these I’ve already incorporated into my life and some I’ve yet to try.

Microfiber cleaning cloths and cloth napkins can be substituted for paper towels and paper face napkins. Cloth hankerchiefs can be substituted for facial tissue. Reusable cloth bags can be substituted for plastic grocery bags. An electric razor, safety razor, or using the tip for disposable razor blades I gave in my blog post entitled “Tried & True Life Tips I’ve Picked Up” can replace constantly buying new blades. A menstrual cup (I’ll be doing a blog post about my experience having used one for two years now) and reusable cloth pads can replace disposable pads and tampons. These are just a few of the many replacements I have found. Many, many more can be found through a Google search, which, if you’re like me, you didn’t even know exist (Examples: reusable beeswax wraps and fabric bowl covers for food storage!). Even if you’re not all about hugging trees, saving money by replacing disposable items with non-disposable items and having a way-shorter shopping list each week are pretty nice perks by themselves! I’m also interested in starting my own compost pile and possibly starting to make my own hygiene and cleaning products. There are a lot of areas in which I could improve to live a more sustainable life. There are other ways to be gentler to the planet, such as buying secondhand clothes and local food. I hope to write more on these topics in the future as I incorporate more of them into my life and get more proficient living responsibly and simply, and I hope you’ll challenge yourself right along with me.

The Art of Shower-Sitting

So I mentioned in my last post that one of my hobbies is shower-sitting. This is a hobby that I have had since early childhood, starting with me getting the stomach flu almost every year around my birthday. The hot water felt so good raining down on my ache-y, chilling body, but I didn’t have the strength to stand the entire time. So I got the idea to sit in the tub. Ever since that time, I have used long, hot, sit-down showers as a relaxful respite from sickness, stress, and looming responsibilities. I was lucky for a long time to have my own bathroom so I didn’t have to worry about sitting in someone else’s filth. I have since lost my own bathroom, so have taken to using a $10 plastic patio chair. Generally, I turn off any glaring lights and either have it pitch black or leave on an indirect light or light some candles. This aids greatly in relaxation, especially if you have a headache. With nothing but the roar of the water in your ears and its steady drumming on your back/shoulders/head, etc, the rest of the world and its noise is locked out and you get a partial sensory-deprivation experience. As an introvert, it’s especially important for me to get away from the rest of the world and have time to myself. I’ll sit with my back to the spray, as well as away from the spray. I have even read books this way (with my back facing the spray), which protects the book. Sometimes I use this time to think of absolutely nothing and let my mind go blank, engaging in a form of meditation. Sometimes I use it to brainstorm and reflect. My greatest ideas and epiphanies generally come during two periods: In the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, or during a sit-down shower. And sometimes it’s cathartic to have a good cry in the privacy of the shower stall. Granted, it’s a waste of water (I’ll admit some of my sit-down showers have been 45 minutes long, although I have not taken one nearly this long in several years and most are under 20 minutes), but it’s a pretty mild vice to have, comparatively-speaking. It used to be that taking a sit-down shower was associated with being depressed, elderly, or hung over, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find that, while it’s still considered somewhat of a weird taboo, it’s become much more popular as of late. Does anyone else reading this indulge in this pastime? Let me know! And if not, I’d recommend it as a cheap and easy stress and pain-buster!

Let’s Talk Hobbies

Some people have many, some a couple, some none. Some are expensive, require a lot of skill, and/or take up a lot of time. Some are free, require no special skills/talent, and/or can be done anytime/anywhere. Some people prioritize making time for them, while others only do them as an afterthought when they’re bored.

What are your hobbies? What do you consider the definition of “hobby” to be? According to dictionary.com, it’s “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation”. Using that definition, my hobbies are reading, writing poetry, watching movies, gluttony, taking sit-down showers (more about this in another post!), taking drives, and — my newest! — blogging. I hope to add exercising to that soon, although I guess there are definite non-pleasurable aspects to that activity when you’re first starting out in the pitiable shape I’m in. In listing them, I notice many of my hobbies are passive, solitary, and/or unhealthful.

Do you find you have the time/motivation to put into your hobbies after taking care of your daily responsibilities? Do you consider them important enough to prioritize as part of self-care so that you don’t get burnt out and so your entire identity doesn’t become worker/parent/spouse/etc? I’d love to hear what place (if any) hobbies have in your life.