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The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle

As an adult, I find myself dismantling unhelpful, internalized attitudes and beliefs that I picked up from my youth. One that I’ve been confronting recently is this belief that “If you aren’t moving forward, you are moving backward.”

Have you heard that one too?

This belief makes me think about moving sidewalks in airports. My kids and I always love to get on the sidewalks that are moving in the opposite direction so we have to work extra hard to move forward toward our destinations. We giggle as we run full speed but hardly move at all. And then, when we stop, the sidewalk pulls us back, defeating all of our progress. This is a good time.

But it’s not fun and playful if we are all on invisible moving sidewalks that quickly eliminate our progress if we dare to stop moving. Operating from the belief that I’m on an invisible moving sidewalk that requires my chronic movement and dedication to not backslide, is exhausting at best, and fear and shame inducing at worst.

What’s funny about this belief system is it doesn’t follow physics. Well, I don’t know much about physics at all actually…but I feel pretty confident in asserting that if I’m not moving forward, I’m actually staying still.

And is there value in staying still?

That is the lesson I am learning in my life right now. In recent years, I have felt like life is asking me to slow down in important ways. I have been asked to confront and settle into spaces of “not knowing.” While this makes me feel messy, confused and vulnerable, I am learning to trust the process. It feels painfully slow and I’m not sure how or when it will conclude, or what that will even look like. Is this my midlife crisis?

I love how Brené Brown describes this messy place like being on Space Mountain. You are on the roller coaster, it’s too late to get off, and you are in the dark and can’t anticipate the twists and turns you are facing, nor do you know how and when it will end. But it does. It will.

Brené Brown discusses how you cannot skip this messy middle place. She even asserts that this messy middle place is “where the magic happens.”

I’m not feeling all sorts of “magical” but I am learning valuable lessons inherent in this space. I was listening to a guided meditation recently where the guru asked me to start breathing in ways I’d never considered breathing before. I’m used to breathing into my chest, or even down towards my stomach, but this guru asked me to breathe into my back and sides. He asked me to attend to the feeling of expansion from my ribs laterally, instead of feeling my breath move up and down.

That’s what this feels like. A new way of breathing that feels sideways. A way that is teaching me about how I can expand in ways I hadn’t anticipated. It is teaching me to settle and not be reactive. I am learning to be more deliberate and slow as I sort through all the messy pieces I am confronting. 

I am learning to be more present. I am learning to be “ok with not always being ok.” I am learning that I don’t have to be “productive” to be whole and worthy. I am learning to be compassionate with myself. Staying still, right now, is where I am learning to truly listen. So yeah, that all feels cool. I haven’t come out the other side, but I am so glad to learn that choosing to slow down and stop for a period is not the same as moving backwards. Just the opposite.

 

Stay in Your Lane

Stay in Your Lane

I recently had my first baby and it has been the most amazing and most exhausting experience of my life! There is a steep learning curve when having a baby and I have learned lessons on lessons on lessons. One important lesson came to me at about two in the morning as I was feeding my son. (more…)

Savoring

Savoring

While on my honeymoon I had the opportunity to eat at delicious restaurants. When I say delicious, I mean some of the most delicious restaurants I’ve ever experienced. As we ate these delicious (and itty bitty portioned—what’s up with that?) meals, my husband and I took the time to really enjoy every bite. Sometimes we would set our forks down and just really taste every single flavor and morsel. I can still taste the chocolate lava cakes and the scallops, truly divine! (more…)

Stop and Smell the (Garden) Roses

Stop and Smell the (Garden) Roses

I will be getting married in just a few days! I feel like for so long it has seemed like it would never come and now it’s here! To say I am excited is an understatement. I am also very excited to stop stressing about all the little details of wedding planning. Although I have actually had a lot of fun planning and preparing, it will be nice to not have wedding details constantly running through the back of my mind.

About a week ago, I was feeling very overwhelmed. It seems like every day something new came up to plan or prep that I hadn’t thought of. I’ve planned large-scale events before, so I was surprised every time I realized there was something else we needed to consider. It was all quickly becoming too much. Juggling work/clients that needed my full attention, students and a class that required emotional and mental effort, relationships, moving, wedding planning, attending wedding events, etc. was really weighing on me. I was not having a very fun time anymore and that made me sad. I plan for this to be my only wedding and the stress was really getting to me.           

I talked with my very level-headed and calm fiancé about this. We resolved to spend more time enjoying what we were doing and to stay present and engaged with whatever was taking our attention at the time. I set my intention to find more joy in the process.

The Perfect Bouquet

One of my unknown hobbies is floral design. I took a class in college and absolutely became obsessed with the unique colors, shapes, and textures florals offered. I decided to create my own bouquet for our bridal photos and was so excited to spend time working with high-quality flowers. I went to the flower wholesaler and spent about an hour in the cooler with all of the blooms. I stumbled across the perfect shade and variety of roses—garden roses, my very favorite. I’m running the risk of sounding dramatic, but I almost cried seeing them. My heart was so thrilled by the beautiful and unique flowers. I was so excited to go home and spend time assembling the perfect bouquet.

The bouquet turned out to be stressful as well. My floral design skills were rusty and I found myself taking to the internet to look up floral design tutorials. I accidentally dropped my first arrangement on the ground, snapping off the heads of several of the precious and very expensive “red tess” garden roses. I was not having a very good time with this endeavor. This exciting, creative, fun process suddenly felt exhausting and stressful, just like the rest of wedding planning.

I thought about it for a second and recognized that although it was okay and made sense that I was frustrated, my frustration was coming from my high expectations of my floral-arranging experience. I did not have to continue to feel defeated and sad. Instead, I could change my expectations to be “have a fun and enjoyable experience engaging in something I love.” I needed to drop the expectations that my florals would look like professional Instagram florist pages. I decided to try again, to just enjoy the process and the journey creating.

This time was much more successful and fun. I found myself returning to the feeling in the floral cooler at the wholesaler. I was excited and almost giddy. The bouquet turned out beautifully, although not professional level (I’m not a professional, so duh it didn’t look that way).

Iphone Bridals 

The next day when we went to take our bridals my future sister-in-law, who was taking our photos, had a catastrophe with her camera and it was rendered useless until it could be professionally examined. She was so disappointed and felt horribly. However, I did not bat an eye. I returned to my intention of being excited, happy, and enjoying the journey. I was in a beautiful landscape with people I loved, playing dress-up with my fiancé, and filled with so much joy. Although our bridals were taken on an iPhone, I am not disappointed! We had a blast and my expectations of “Instagram-worthy perfection” wasn’t helpful anyways. So, in my black winter boots (the snow was very deep), with a homemade, rustic-looking bouquet, we took photos on an iPhone and I couldn’t be happier.

Although it is okay for us to feel disappointment, stress, and discouragement, these feelings are sometimes rooted in our unrealistic expectations and perfectionism. Unfortunately, these two things can steal away our ability to see things as good and meaningful, although imperfect.

Challenge Perfectionistic Expectations 

I don’t know if there’s a magical solution for moving away from this style of thinking, but I have found it very helpful for me to recognize when my expectations and perfectionistic tendencies are getting in the way of me being present and experiencing joy. I think the first step to moving past this is to spend more time recognizing these thinking patterns within ourselves. When we feel discouragement, anger, overwhelm, etc. it might be helpful for us to do a quick internal and compassionate inventory: Why am feeling this way? Could this problem be lessened if my expectations were adjusted? Are my expectations getting in the way of me enjoying what I have and staying present? How do I shoot for “good” rather than the ever-elusive “perfect.”

As I was able to understand my own thought processes and emotions, everything changed for me! It doesn’t mean I don’t still experience stress during this time of planning and prep, but the overwhelm and desire for things to be “just so” has decreased significantly. I can more readily challenge these unhelpful thoughts now that I am more aware of them. What unhelpful thoughts of perfection and unrealistic expectations are getting in the way of your joy and presence? Drop a comment below or on our Facebook page and let us know!

Coping Wake Up Call

Coping Wake Up Call

I recently had a little bit of a coping wake up call.

I’m sure many of you can relate-the unique stress of this year has dialed up the heat slowly but steadily. Are you familiar with the frog in the pot analogy? A frog, if plopped in a pot of boiling water, would jump out quickly, realizing in it’s froggy brain- “hey! A pot of boiling water doesn’t feel good!” But, if you place a frog in a pot of lukewarm water over a flame that will heat the water slowly but steadily to the point of boiling, the frog won’t notice the subtle temperature differences over time and ends up getting boiled. (more…)

Social Media & The New Echo Chamber

Social Media & The New Echo Chamber

One of the best (read: worst), parts of college is the assignment (read: punishment) to write research papers on various subjects. Usually writing isn’t a huge deal, I’d like to think I’m pretty great at throwing some coherent thoughts together (though you probably think otherwise), but the issue is with a research paper, you can’t just put your thoughts on paper. You have to put a lot of time and effort into finding articles and studies that support your claims. I find this research usually leads me to change my claim, or adjust it to better fit the research, which means I have to adjust my paper and constantly check that I’m sticking to the research as I write. It’s all quite exhausting and much more difficult than a normal paper.

All this being said, research papers can be really interesting, and sometimes even rewarding (sometimes).

So let me tell you about my most recent paper. I wrote it for a communications class focused on mass media. Our assignment was to argue one side of a controversial topic focused around media, and find research to support our argument.

I decided to write mine about social media and its effect on political polarization. That’s right, politics. Buckle up kids, it’s time to get triggered.

I’m kidding, the purpose of this blog and my original paper is not to argue left vs. right or to hurt any feelings. The point is that a lot of us feel that our current political discussions are much more heated and extreme than ever before, and it’s important to know why.

What I found in my research, and what is truly worrisome, is that social media is having an effect on political polarization, and it’s not a good one. The ideological middle ground is quickly disappearing as we push farther to the extremes of both left and right-wing philosophy.

A Pew research article told us as much: ““The share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, from 10% to 21%. As a result, the amount of ideological overlap between the two parties has diminished” (Doherty, 2014).

Now I’m not here to say that social media is the only reason polarization is increasing, there are plenty of other factors that we could discuss. But it is clear that social media does play a role.

There were two main ways I focused on social media’s polarizing effect, these certainly aren’t the only ways social media affects us politically or otherwise, but they are two notable ways. They are through availability of information, and echo chambers.

Firstly, availability of information. This is pretty straightforward: social media gives us greater access to information and at a greater volume, this encourages us to be more politically involved, and as a result, we tend to float to one side of the spectrum. This makes sense, because it happens with most other things: you learn about something, and as you do you form an opinion about that subject. You can learn more about this concept here.

The second way social media leads to polarization that I discussed was the concept of echo chambers. If you pay much attention to politics and social media you’ve probably heard this term. Echo chambers are “environment[s] in which somebody encounters only opinions and beliefs similar to their own and does not have to consider alternatives” (Oxford Learner Dictionary). Social media is built to create echo chambers. The algorithms are designed to suggest content that it thinks you’d like, so the more involved you are with one side of the political spectrum, the more your suggestions will reflect that side. It’s easy to see how only seeing one side of an argument would make an individual sympathetic to that side, and unable to see or understand the other side of the argument. Here is a study that discusses this idea in greater depth.

So what is to be done about it? Well, other than getting rid of all social media and living in a hut in rural Peru, I don’t think there’s much you can do to avoid the current political climate. But you can be a responsible part of fixing this issue. You can be more open to other ideas, willing to discuss things across the aisle, and be welcoming to people that disagree with you.

Online, you can diversify your feeds. Instead of unfollowing your politically active friend from the other side of the political spectrum, you can take the time to read their posts and consider their ideas. Note, this doesn’t mean embracing negativity. If someone is constantly trying to start fights, unable to have a discussion, or is otherwise toxic, you have no need to follow or interact with them. But for everyone else out there, embrace ideas that aren’t your own. Before your texting thumbs start commenting angry responses, or you hit the “mute posts” button, take a read, consider the ideas, and compare them to your own, without needing to dehumanize or antagonize the person who made the post. Not only will you avoid anger, frustration, and the risk of losing a friend, but you’ll be able to contribute to a more intelligent, healthy, and inclusive discourse. Heck, you might even find things that you agree with.

 

Lessons in Flexibility

Lessons in Flexibility

I’ve never been a very flexible person. I remember in elementary school we would do the “v-sit reach” and I was always embarrassed watching my gymnast friends mindlessly fold in half while I struggled to get just one more inch (for those of you didn’t have experience with the v-sit reach and therefore don’t understand this story, consider yourselves lucky). I danced for several years growing up and would put so much effort into becoming more flexible, but alas, I never seemed to really improve. It started to feel like maybe I just wasn’t meant to be flexible and I soon accepted that this was okay.

However, being flexible has several important benefits. Flexibility helps you have fewer injuries, less pain and stiffness, greater posture and balance, and an increased sense of physical and mental relaxation. These are things I could greatly benefit from. I’ve continued to stretch, engage in yoga practice, etc. since elementary school, yet I wouldn’t consider myself to be “flexible”.

Flash forward to 2020. I’m teaching a class in-person at BYU, seeing clients, planning a wedding, and trying to navigate family and holidays in the midst of a pandemic. Although it is a really different kind of flexibility than the v-sit reach, 2020 has taught me valuable lessons in the benefits of being mentally and emotionally flexible. I am absolutely a planner, so 2020 has thrown me for a loop in many ways. Having to juggle using Zoom for clients and teaching, not having a clear picture for what my wedding will look like, being away from family for the holidays, etc. has been challenging. However, what this year has been is a beautiful and necessary lesson in flexibility for me.

A few months ago, Jen wrote a blog describing what mental flexibility is and what it looks like (link to blog post). She discusses this as a key part of resilience. I want to build on this blog and talk about why this is beneficial for us. As with physical flexibility, mental and emotional flexibility have huge benefits. I think this pandemic has taught me lessons in flexibility that I will carry with me forever as long as I keep practicing. Here are some of the ways I see flexibility as beneficial, as experienced myself!

Fewer Injuries; Less Stiffness and Pain

Although I wouldn’t consider myself to be a “rigid” person. My default is absolutely not easy-breezy. As 2020 has taught me lesson after lesson on flexibility, I have recognized that being more mentally flexible has allowed me to feel less distress when things don’t turn out the way I plan. At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a trip to Hawaii planned with friends. We soon realized that this just wouldn’t be possible as Hawaii shut its borders. I remember just crying and feeling so disappointed in my plans being cancelled. Throughout the pandemic, we all have faced disappointments both large and small. Those that are flexible can still feel disappointed but do not necessarily have to view these disappointments as “the end of the world.” The last 8 months have been so stretching that increased flexibility has been the natural outcome. The more I have learned to be flexible both emotionally and mentally, the less pain I have experienced as plans have needed to shift. I have become much less rigid in my thinking and planning as a result. Flexible mindsets really allow us to sidestep debilitating and staggering mental “injuries”. 

Greater Posture and Balance

Increasing in flexibility over the past several months has also allowed me to more fully embrace balance. The pandemic has forced me to embrace more balance and less rigidity as my routines have completely had to adjust. With the pandemic I’ve learned to prioritize more time with people around me, engaging in types of movement that bring me joy, and making stillness an essential part of my experience. When we set out with rigid expectations, even subtle shifts in our plans can cause us to stumble and throw us off balance. To use an eating recovery example, when we are rigid around food and/or exercise it oftentimes becomes difficult—seemingly impossible—to adjust our behaviors. Something like a pandemic, with gyms shutting down, working from home, grocery shopping becoming more involved, etc. can throw our entire systems out of whack if we haven’t developed the skill of mental and emotional flexibility. When we are flexible, we embrace balance, recognizing the time and season for all things in our lives.

Increased Mental and Physical Relaxation

Flexibility can lead to greater mental and physical relaxation. Yes, it’s known that twisting yourself up into a pretzel doing a consistent yoga practice is supposed to bring you inner peace, but cultivating better mental flexibility also helps bring about a sense of peace and relaxation. Mental and emotional flexibility allows you to rely upon yourself, knowing that whatever comes your way you will be able to meet head on. Although the unknown may still feel scary at time, mental and emotional flexibility allows you to be more relaxed about things not needing to go a certain way. Although building up your mental and emotional flexibility skills may seem challenging and uncomfortable at first (just as building up your physical flexibility is), the relaxation and calm that comes from knowing you are able to meet the challenges ahead of you truly brings about an deep sense of peace.

So, how are you working on your mental and emotional flexibility? Have you been exposed to lessons of flexibility whether you wanted to be or not in 2020? How has an increased sense of flexibility helped you as you’ve navigated this year?