Checking In On Yourself

”If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?”

Confucius

I’ve been focusing in on the importance of self-care and self-awareness lately, and one of the essential components of it is to know what you need and when you need it.

And it can be as complex as an elaborate checklist detailing all your physical and emotional parts (think something like a vehicle inspection), or it could be as simple as asking yourself “how is your heart?

As usual, I am writing this post as much for myself as I am writing it for you. I feel like our home and possessions are out of balance these days, so I need to take a moment to evaluate the root cause of that (I’m guessing that it’s overwhelming busyness).

Let’s take a look at what a middle-of-the-road self check-in might look like.

Check In On Yourself

Give yourself space

Commutes and random time spent waiting at a coffee shop for a friend are good times to do a quick alignment check, but to really dive in you should give yourself the time and space you need.

Grab a notebook (even if you don’t use it – am I the only one who thinks better when I have a notebook nearby?) and a beverage and set up camp in a comfortable space. Allow yourself the pleasure of an uninterrupted span of time (I’m going to go with 30 minutes).

A 3-point check up

You might want to add more or only focus on one of these at a time, but here’s a good place to start.

Emotional

This is where you ask yourself about the state of your heart. Are you feeling full and whole? Do you feel balanced, or are there things nagging at your gut that you haven’t fully addressed? Get in the habit of digging deeper to find what is truly at the heart of the matter.

Here is also the place to ask yourself about your relationships – with yourself and with others. Are you connecting in the way that you want to? Do you need another friend to fill a space you currently are missing, or do you need to say goodbye to someone who is detracting from your happiness?

Physical

This is the one I’ve been focusing on lately. It’s a different way of approaching your gut!

Is the beautiful machine that is your body functioning as it should? Are you aching or stiff from sitting all day? Are you pushing yourself too hard?

Many of us are too tough on our bodies, so approach this check-in with a lot of love and kindness for yourself. Don’t make it an opportunity for harsh self-criticism, focus on positive ways you can serve that already miraculous body of yours so it can serve you back.

Mental

Allowing yourself to stagnate is easy once you’re out of the structure of a school. Here is where you ask yourself what you’ve learned lately. What are you excited about learning? Do you currently have projects that you are passionate about and motivated to work on?

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

Henry Ford

Now is also the time to ask yourself about your current goals. What is guiding you right now? Is it a solid guiding principal or is it a vague direction? Whatever your answer to that question should be followed up with this: is that how I want it to be?

Ask yourself why

After each check-in, ask yourself why you feel that way. Filtering your grievances through a few layers of “whys” will help you discover the values behind them. Maybe the real reason your are frustrated with clutter in your home is that you don’t find your space inspiring.

From there, evaluate if there’s a way to address the issue. Search for other spaces that you feel are more inspiring, or seek out ways to create a truly inspiring home from what you already have.

This is the most important part – if you’ve had headaches lately, don’t just stop at that. Find out if it’s caffeine or sugar or stress and then actively seek answers.

A quick gratitude warm-down

Warm downs are important when you’re exercising, and I don’t see this as any different. Bring yourself back from the check-in by listing five things you are grateful for right now.

Just like with each check-in, ask yourself why you are grateful for these things. Reflecting on what you are grateful for (and, in my opinion, why you are) makes for a happy brain.

Simple living and intentional living are one and the same: you can’t have a simple life without knowing yourself and knowing the intentions that drive you.

So what do you need to check in on today?

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My 3 Words for 2016

New Years Resolutions: I’ve made them for as long as I can remember, but I couldn’t tell you one off the top of my head. They’ve always felt important, but they’ve never been impactful.

I actually just checked back on my blog to see if I had written any of them down and found this post about an alternative way to view resolutions. It was refreshing. Thanks, past me. I don’t remember writing that, but apparently I knew what was up two years ago.

But that’s not what this post is about. I wanted to share a little look into what I’ve set up for 2016. This year, I’ve created simple new years intentions.

They’re more like guidelines anyway

I think the biggest hangup people have with resolutions is that they’re so resolute. There’s no room for error, and a simple slip up can ruin the whole project for the year.

I wanted something a little more open to interpretation. And to mistakes.

It always goes back to being kind and gentle to yourself instead of holding rigid expectations. So without further ado, here are my intentions for 2016!

Three guiding words

There is no heirarchy here. I based these on three personally important areas of my life: my relationships, my all-around health and my work. Turns out, they all ended up being relevant for all areas.

3 words

Nourishment

I chose this one specifically with my relationships in mind. I have been surrounded by some awesome support this year, and I want to make sure I keep up healthy relationships by giving more energy and commitment to them.

But beyond relationships, this hits another area of my life: my own health. I’m notorious for putting work ahead of my own well-being, and that’s something that needs to change this year.

Balance

I’m talking all sorts of balance here, folks: work-life balance, physical balance (hello, yoga) and mental/emotional balance. All of these have been out of whack lately, so I’ve been setting up gentle rules guidelines to help regain my balance.

Again, like I said, these intentions are not meant to be hard and fast rules that I’ll break and then feel bad about. Think of it like meditation – whenever you wander from these core intentions, gently bring your focus back. Self-defeat is not useful here.

Rhythm

I discovered this concept from Brooke McAlary while I was binge-listening to her Slow Home Podcast. She has a great episode about rhythm, and this blog post will help you get started creating a rhythm for your week.

I love this concept because routine is such a danger zone for people like me – if one thing goes wrong, I’m ready to scrap the whole thing until the next day when it starts over. I want to create a rhythm in my life that is kind and productive.

It also doesn’t hurt that I love the musicality of this word, and everyone can use more music in their lives, right?

Picking your own words

I started by picking three areas of my life I wanted to work on, but you don’t have to be that specific.

Chris Brogan has a clear way of explaining this concept, and really helped me get started with mine.

The most important things:

  • These are your words. You don’t have to share them or feel like you have to copy others’ words. Choose what speaks to you.
  • Leave room for change (a year is a long time!) and allow yourself some space to grow into the words. Mine are a little less specific than I wanted, but I loved that I had a little wiggle-room on how I interpreted them.
  • Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t let these words become negatively restrictive or impeding. The only way it will work is if you allow yourself some grace for unforseen circumstances.

With that, I wish you and yours the best new year! And I want to thank all of you readers for joining me on this blogging and simplifying journey – you truly made my 2015 extra special.

Now it’s your turn – what are your intentions for 2016?

Simple, Real Eating

This post is not about how to use fewer pots or less ingredients. This post is not about fast, easy ways to feed a family on the go.

This post is about taking back real food and re-learning the joy of cooking. It’s about taking simple ingredients and turning them into something healthy and magical. Yes, magical.

I just finished devouring a bowl of stir fry made from all fresh vegetables over rice. Broccoli, green onions, cauliflower, cabbage, red pepper, carrots all lightly cooked with some cashews tossed in – sounds complicated, right? Not at all. It was as easy as throwing all of those ingredients into my wok.

Simple Stir Fry

How minimalism has affected my diet

Since I began simplifying my life a couple of years ago, my diet has changed too.

I used to eat simply in a different way: spaghetti and marinara sauce was my go-to meal for most meals. I was always tired, always grumpy. But then I started learning more and watching food documentaries.

It started with buying only organic mac and cheese and whole wheat pasta. Then I discovered organic canned vegetables and how simple those could be. I discovered organic soy milk and ate that with organic cereal.

Those cans and boxes were technically simple, but they weren’t the basics. As I’ve explored going back to basics in many aspects of my life, my food choices are following the same pattern. By basic food, I mean I choose the groceries with the fewest ingredients (want an easy tip? Fruits and veggies are only one ingredient).

I’ve been hanging out in the produce section a lot more and can regularly be seen carrying my shopping bags with giant greens sticking out of them.

My diet has become more complex, but it’s because I tend to eat whole, simple/basic foods in new and endless combinations.

But I don’t like vegetables

There are hundreds of excuses to not eat right: I don’t have the time, I don’t know how to cook, I don’t have the right kitchen supplies…

But if you fuel up with frozen foods and sugary processed snacks, how can you perform your best? Treating your body right isn’t difficult, and it makes a huge impact on your life.

And what’s the harm in trying to cook and eat more vegetables?

Vegetables

Rules for simple, real eating

I am not a specialist or a professional when it comes to food, so take my advice into your consideration and do your own research until you find the diet that’s best for you.

That being said, here are my rules for cooking, eating and general nutrition:

  • If it has a package or a coupon, it’s probably not the best option. This rules out a lot of the food in a typical American grocery store. Packages are covered in terms like “organic” and “gluten free” and “all natural” and “no added preservatives” to make you think they’re healthy. None of those terms mean healthy. Seek veggie alternatives to your usual snacks – carrots and snow peas dipped in hummus, trail mix or roasted chickpeas are some of my favorites.
  • Always cook for four. If it’s just for one or two people, don’t try to cook just a single meal. I try to cook at least four servings of everything because healthy leftovers are a cheap, healthy lunch for the next day and help me avoid impulse food buys. Sometimes I cook for six or even eight, but that gets a little hairy if it’s a new meal we may not like. Committing to gross leftovers is bad, but food waste is worse.
  • Get to know your produce department. Spend some more time getting to know what your grocery store has available. This helps you open your mind to new ingredients, and when you try new recipes you’ll know where everything is at. Another tip is to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store – all the healthiest whole foods tend to be on the edges aside from spices, beans, rice and pasta. The aisles are filled with tempting packaged food.
  • Spices are your friend. When we moved, we left all of our spices with family members. So we’ve been building back up! I consider spices an investment since we’ll always have what we need on hand and it opens up a lot more recipes. I like to keep things simple, but I have a lot of spices and wouldn’t change that for the world. Don’t be tricked by prepackaged seasonings like those for tacos and guacamole – with the proper seasonings on hand, you can make them yourself and they’ll taste better and have no preservatives.
  • Get the proper supplies. This doesn’t have to be expensive. First, know your eating habits and what you can see yourself actually doing. Don’t get caught up by this post and buy a blender, only to realize later on that you’ll never use it. But I do recommend a blender. Broccoli, kale, pears, bananas, cucumber, celery, avocados, almonds…all have found their way into my blender for intense and delicious smoothies. I also recommend a wok (and/or a large stockpot) and a good knife or two. I rarely use anything other than my 8″ chef’s knife and the wok or stockpot are awesome for cooking large batches of veggie-heavy foods.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. Browse Pinterest, search for new recipes with your favorite veggies, explore new spices. Just don’t get caught in a bland routine. If you don’t want to spend time and money cooking a specific new dish, order it at a restaurant. If you like it, get all the necessary ingredients and try to recreate it. I’ve learned that it’s so much more fun to stay in and cook than it is to go out to restaurants, so once you’ve got it down there’s no need to go out for it again.
  • And finally, vegetables. Eat vegetables. I’ve come a long way from canned tomatoes and green beans, and it’s so fun to learn new ways to cook veggies I’ve eaten for years.

Some resources to get you going

I’ve been poring over food books and documentaries for a couple of years, but here are some of my favorites.

  • Anything by Michael Pollan. Food Rules is a short and sweet guide to eating right and isn’t preachy or filled with data. If you like data like I do, I loved In Defense of Food. His motto? “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
  • Forks Over Knives is a documentary that focuses on how the standard American diet affects disease. If you’re anti-vegetarian, this film is not for you since it emphasizes a no meat, no dairy diet.
  • I saw Fed Up at the Traverse City Film Festival and realized how much sugar is in everything. This film calls out processed foods and the sugar industry’s impact on the obesity epidemic.

You don’t have to be a nutrition fanatic or a chef to know what to eat and how to make it. Eating right takes patience, practice and a bit of research but it’s worth it.

You’ll lose the cravings for processed foods and you’ll notice little things like healthy fingernails that let you know you’re heading in the right direction.

Of course, occasional pizza and mac and cheese won’t hurt – remember what Emerson says about moderation?

Moderation in all things, especially moderation.

What does a simple diet mean to you?