6 Simple Ways To Convince Yourself That Skinniness Is Not Next To Godliness

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In case the analogy was lost on you, the title of this post is a play on the well-known phrase “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” – a sentiment I can certainly agree with.  But I think it would be fair to say that in our day and age, skinniness has become far more important to us than cleanliness.  It’s incredibly unfortunate.  And not because I believe in perfect order, function, and wine glasses that sparkle like diamonds.  In fact, I may or may not actually have a problem keeping my own things picked up and neat…  But I like to interpret “cleanliness” in a different way; in the way that many diet food brands [unfortunately] do.

Let’s think about the cleanliness of our bodies.  The cleanliness of what we put into our bodies, how we take care of our bodies, how we value our bodies.

Eating a balanced diet, eating whole foods, exercising, moderating our sugar, alcohol, and coffee intake – these are all things that I would consider “next to Godliness”.

And skinniness is not one of of them.

But that’s tough because the message all around us through [Victoria Secret] ads, [fashion] magazines, and TV is that being skinny is so important.  Like, really important.  Like if I have to see one more article about how to “bust belly fat”, I think I will puke! (no, there’s no pun intended.  That topic is far too serious).

So how do we do that?  How do we change our perspective?

1) Start With You

Starting with ourselves is certainly a great place to kick-off.  Spend some time every morning looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself that you’re pretty okay just the way you are.  Start to embrace those parts of you that you once saw as flaws.  Perhaps you can view them as battle scars, or quirks, or just unique differentiators that make you you.  The more you practice looking at yourself in a positive light, the more your brain will learn that being skinny really isn’t all that important; and carries no weight next to being uniquely you.

2) Learn From Others

Though it’s rare, I have certainly met other women who are incredibly good at accepting and embracing their bodies as they are.  Initially, mimicking them is about the best I can do.  And that’s okay.  Try spending a little time thinking about the things they appear to value more than their weight – perhaps their career, their family, their hobbies…what are those things for you?  Try looking in the mirror only once before you leave in the morning (as I imagine confident women do).  Try thinking about the world around you and your plans for the day.  Mimic those women you find who have managed to get to a place where their body is simply a part of the whole person they are.

3) Learn From Your View of Others

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who was an incredibly active runner and rock climber sprained her knee during a workout.  She had been in amazing shape before the fall, but found herself unable to do any kind of workout for almost 2 months.  I didn’t have a chance to see her until about a month after her fall, and naturally, she had gained 10 or 15 pounds.  (Before I go into what I learned, I just have to point out how ridiculous it is that we so easily notice each other gaining and losing weight.  When losing weight is a significant accomplishment, I definitely think its something to celebrate, but the fact that we can tell when a friend or family member gains 5 or 10 pounds just shows how overly-obsessed we are with this normal human trait).

Anyways, when I saw my friend, the usual knee-jerk reactions popped into my head:

“Gosh, she’s gained some weight.  I hope she’s ok.  I hope she isn’t upset about that.”  But then I looked at her – actually looked at her as a whole person – and I couldn’t believe how amazing she looked!  I don’t really know how to describe it other than to say that when I wasn’t comparing her to her former self or against the ideals I’ve been taught, I actually saw a whole person who had a really neat personality and a matching body to go with it.  Since that moment, I have found myself less and less concerned with the “last 5 pounds” I want to lose or the funny bump on my belly I’ve always had.  It’s part of who I am.

4) Focus On What’s Real

Let’s face it: beauty isn’t a real thing.  It’s all a perception based on our culture and, to some extent, our genetics.  That’s not to say it isn’t important, or that seeking beauty is immoral, it just means that there is no consistent standard for beauty.  Anywhere.  It all changes once you cross country, state, and even sometimes city lines.  Even individuals have completely different views of the definition of beauty.  So this idea that being skinny is somehow ideal is completely fake.  There are no real, basic, life-affirming benefits to being skinny.

There are, however, umpteen-million benefits to being healthy and in good physical shape.  Especially with my daughter growing up, this is what I try to focus on now.  And having someone else to be responsible for makes it so much easier –

To stop thinking about being skinny and start thinking about being fit

To start thinking about all the cool things a fit body can do rather than all the admiring eyes a skinny body will attract

To focus on the range of activities our bodies are capable of, some of which seem impossible (breakdancing, anyone?)

To enjoy the thrill of the endorphins that shoot through our bodies when we work hard

To realize that I just enjoy feeling so light on my feet after I’ve lost 10 pounds

To appreciate having muscles to flex at any time – it’s actually quite fun, try it!

To love not having constant cravings for sugar, chocolate, or fat, particularly in moments of sadness

Our bodies are so cool, and I’m sure we haven’t even tapped the surface of what they’re capable of!  Stay aligned with these real, every day, immediate benefits of having a body that is healthy and the rest of your attitude will naturally fall into place.

5) Find Hobbies, Set Goals, and Pay Attention To Them

I’m sure everyone has hobbies, goals, and dreams, but perhaps we can utilize them more than we realize.  The next time you find yourself deliberating over the fact that you don’t fit in a size 6 anymore, redirect your thought process: what fun things did you do that day?  What are you going to do over the next week to strengthen your mind, your will, your confidence?  What books have you read that you’ve enjoyed?

Find something else to think about.  Eventually your brain will realize that thinking about your weight just isn’t all that important anymore and you’ll find yourself revitalized and living more fully in the life that you’ve built for yourself.

6) Don’t Participate In Weight-Mocking

I’m not talking about making fun of others for their weight (although please don’t do that either!!).  I’m talking about mocking yourself for your weight.  I catch myself doing this ALL. THE. TIME.

“Jane, you look so great today, I love that outfit!”

“Oh thanks, it’s a bigger size than I really want it to be, but that’s what the store had and apparently this baby weight is still hanging on!”

“Jane, you look like you’ve been working out”

“Ha! I wish.  I haven’t worked out in months – maybe all those donuts are finally going to my muscles!”

It’s ok to do this every now and then – often we need a little humor to help us realize that what we’re worried about is really quite silly.  But watch it; avoid it.  Your weight doesn’t matter, ladies.  How you feel DOES.  A simple “thank you” is fine, or even an answer that details how hard you’ve been working to eat well and exercise.  But don’t fall into the trap of making jokes about your weight loss or lack thereof – you demean yourself in doing that and that’s not good for your personal mental wellbeing.  And if you’re in great shape, please, please, don’t give in to the temptation to downplay your progress to avoid making someone else feel bad.  Your progression doesn’t = regression for someone else.  And you might do well to be wary of any person who thinks that.  Your being in great shape doesn’t take away from anyone else being in great shape, nor does it imply that you are in better shape than they are.  It just is what it is, and you should be proud of it.  So own it – and let everyone else own the response they choose to have to your confidence and integrity.

I think that pretty much covers it.  Do you have anything to add?  Are there any additional tactics, viewpoints, or paradigm shifts that have helped you to forget skinniness and embrace health?

We’ve got quite a battle to fight on this one still and the more we talk about it, the more we will bring other women into a more ideal state of self-acceptance and self-love.

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We All Need People Who Frustrate the Hell Out of Us

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I had the opportunity to spend some time with a family friend I haven’t seen in a while recently.  He and I have had a rather interesting relationship – well rocky relationship – over the past 10 years or so.  Once upon a time I think we felt the joy of innocence and agreement on most subjects, but over time things changed and we’ve often found ourselves at odds with each other.  Words have been exchanged behind backs, frustrations have been expressed to friends (an action I always condone, even when I’m the one on the dispensing end of the frustration!), and uncomfortable conversation have often been the best case scenario.

I think I’m proud to say that we both are pretty accommodating, understanding people.  Despite our differences, I think we both value harmony and closeness.  In a way, I think this has made things hard because we’re both trying to hold to our true selves while simultaneously fighting that part of us that wants to build walls between those we don’t understand.  So all in all, I think we’ve dealt with it as well as can be expected.

But the time we were able to spend together recently with other friends was, I believe, a bit eye-opening for me.  It seemed that for just a little while, we were able to put our individual opinions aside, find some common ground and some subjects we are both passionate about, and engage in an enjoyable and relationship-building conversation.  And something very interesting happened; something I’ve seen happen with me and others around me when we’re faced with someone we love who’s opinions drive us mad: we softened a bit.  I found myself taking a sort of “let bygones be bygones” attitude and making jokes about some of the things I’m perhaps overzealous about, and he even made a few comments in support of my efforts to improve the world (even if he perhaps doesn’t see the value).  And it made me realize something that is SO very important for every person everywhere.

Always always always maintain relationships with those who oppose your views.

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Now I’m going to totally butcher this story, but I heard once about a person – a US President, I believe (I want to say Abraham Lincoln?) – who purposely appointed members of his presidency who opposed his personal views.  He did this as a matter of integrity to be sure that his decisions and ideas would be challenged and that he would always be required to give deep consideration to the opposing viewpoint.

We SO need this today.

I worry sometimes about the way we need to gather together at our conferences, our churches, and our political parties to cling tightly to the people who agree with us and support us – almost like a strange parody of our ancient ancestors gathering in groups to survive by battling other groups for resources.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a lot of value in finding like-minded people for giving us confidence, warmth, and a sense that we are not alone.  Particularly for minorities, these connections can be life-saving.  But like anything, moderation is always best, and I think it’s far too easy to reduce our group of influence to those who share the same x, y, and z opinion, political party, religion, or lifestyle.  And with the socially expanded world we live in today, it can be quite easy to get comfortable and set up camp for the rest of our lives.

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But nothing helps us grow more in maturity, spirituality, and intellect than embracing people who walk on the other side of the tracks.  We need people who make us uncomfortable, who make us question ourselves every now and then, who make us think “Why on God’s green earth would any human being ever believe that?!?!”.  It not only forces us to analyze our own thought patterns and methods of decision-making, it also helps us build empathy and understanding.  And the ability to NOT TAKE OURSELVES TO SERIOUSLY!!!

So I’m grateful for my friend.  For the things we share in common as equally as the things we don’t.  We may never walk similar paths ever again, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make our paths parallel and maybe take a jab at each other’s crazy beliefs every now and then.

Besides, it makes for incredibly entertaining and intellectually stimulating conversation (and heaven knows we need that in the era of Reality TV!!).

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And if any of you know who I’m talking about that Abraham Lincoln story (if it’s even him), will you please give me the reference because it’s DRIVING ME MAD.

Changing Habits: All It Takes Is An Orange

My daughter has been learning about patterns in school this year.  It’s a topic she really seems to enjoy.  We’ve spent evenings going over homework assignments, trying to guess what the next item in a certain pattern is, and she’s getting pretty good at it.  So good at it, that when she sees a pattern on a brochure, or on the wallpaper at the store, she shouts in delight, “Mom, it’s a pattern!”.

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Patterns seem to be the topic of a lot of my discussions lately online and elsewhere.  It originally came up during a Facebook discussion about coincidences and miracles – one person mentioned that coincidences are simply a result of our inherent wiring to see patterns.  For example, when you buy a blue Ford Edge, you suddenly start seeing blue Ford Edges everywhere.  You might conclude, “Geez, a lot of people are buying blue Ford Edges lately!”, but, in fact, your brain just has a propensity to identify and assign meaning to patterns.

And, as usual, leave it to me to take a relatively simple concept, tear it into a million bloody pieces, and then duct tape it back together again.

To See Patterns is Human

According to this article, as well as other studies I’ve heard quoted, our brains are hardwired to see patterns.  It’s a simple part of our nature.  This doesn’t mean that every chain of events or objects our brains identify as a pattern actually is a pattern, it simply means our brains are constantly on the lookout for them, without our permission.  What this means is that our brains can convince us that a completely unrelated chain of events is a meaningful pattern when, in fact, it isn’t – our brain simply has a bias to conclude that.  On the other side of the coin, our brains can view a chain of events that on the surface appear to have no similarities whatsoever, and see a meaningful and realistic pattern (think any five-seconds-until-the-bomb-goes-off moment in any movie in the Die Hard series) that is truly existent and can help us solve a problem.  Seeing patterns is an incredible skill we’ve inherited.

The Reality of Pattern-Seeking

I wonder about this.  I wonder how much this actually contributes to so many major human depravities as well as mind-blowing discoveries.  I wonder how much this has to do with our racism, sexism, and stereotyping problems.  Perhaps series’ of negative experiences drive our brains to seek the common element in hopes of averting future pain. It all just comes down what pattern we decide is responsible.

  • A boy experiences abuse from his mother and concludes that parents are naturally mean
  • A woman has 2 or 3 negative encounters with a foreigner and decides to avoid people from that country as often as possible
  • A teenager is mugged at a Motel 6 and can no longer stay at that particular hotel without experiencing high levels of anxiety
  • A girl gets yelled at by a certain teacher several times and develops a fear of people with the same hair and eye color

My sense is that our brains our wired to see patterns as a means of self-preservation.  And once upon a time, that’s probably all we really needed that capability for.  Considering that every species’ first goal is to survive, and that recognizing the enemy is a key element to that end, that would explain why this tendency is so uncontrollable!  But I think in our day and age (and in our first-world country), we can use this for much, much more.

So….uh….How Does Knowing This Help Me??

I’m constantly on this strange long journey for self-actualization.  I know the day will never come, but I have found that the closer I come, the happier and more comfortable I am in my own shoes.  So putting a small amount of energy towards an awareness of the patterns I seek and attach meaning to seems like a worthwhile endeavor.  There’s so much we can learn about ourselves and change about our thoughts and behaviors if we can harness our propensity for pattern recognition.  It’s a fairly simple matter from a birds-eye view: identify the patterns our brains are attaching meaning to and determine if they are true or false, helpful or detrimental.

Luckily, we can use an age-old psychological litmus test to help determine this: If it leads you to do good or improve, it’s probably good.  I have my own RealGirls version of that: if it leads you to value and love yourself authentically, it’s probably good.  That’s pretty much it!  So let’s start looking out how to analyze your own patterns of thinking and behaving.

Take a Mental Inventory

There’s no need to walk around all day obsessively watching every word you say and every thought that crosses your mind.  In fact, that’s a really great way to drive yourself crazy (I suppose if that’s your goal…go for it!).  But it helps to make a small mental note to look out for those patterns as you experience them in daily life.  Since your brain is already wired for pattern recognition, finding the pattern of the patterns should be easy!

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Identifying Positive Patterns

Positive patterns are the ones we’re least likely to notice and most likely to disregard.  Why?  Because they aren’t necessary for surviving another day!  They’re fluff!  But in this day and age where mental strength is paramount, recognizing positive patterns is just as important as improving negative ones.  In fact, if you’re only identifying the negative, you could easily wear yourself out.  The positive ones may be small, but they’re still important.  Here’s some examples of some positive patterns you might see in your daily life:

  • You always eat breakfast in the morning – seriously, this one has taken me ages to develop
  • When you see someone who looks sad, you automatically feel empathy for them
  • You react positively towards yourself when you accomplish something good
  • You’ve learned the kinds of people that you tend to connect with quickly and you seek them out

Figure out what these are, pat yourself on the back, remind yourself that you’ve got a really good foundation to work from, and keep it up.

Identifying Negative Patterns

Negative patterns are probably easier to recognize, but of course, hard to change.  But they need to be acknowledged without judgement to even begin the process of improving. Here are some negative patterns you may have:

  • You groan every time you think about exercising
  • When you get upset, you immediately look for candy or chocolate
  • When you talk to a friend who sounds a little down, you automatically assume it was something you did
  • When someone offers criticism you immediately take it personally

Remember, this process is all about recognizing the negative pattern without judging yourself.  That’s very important.  Put on the most objective glasses you can, look at yourself the way you would a dear friend, and give yourself a comfortable amount of space to less-than-perfect in!

Changing Your Patterns

This is the hard part, of course, but it’s probably not as hard as you think.  See, the bad news is that you have an established pattern that your brain is wired to follow.  But the good news is that once you change the pattern, your brain will shake up its old ideas and begin to establish a new pattern.

There is one change agent that I have seen to be almost universally effective in changing behaviors and thought patterns, and we can use my daughter’s example of pattern recognition to exemplify it: When my daughter is looking at her worksheet and sees a picture of a strawberry followed by a banana, then another strawberry, then another banana, she very quickly concludes that strawberry-banana is the repeated pattern.

What would make her change her mind?

There is only one thing: a difference in the pattern.  She will be utterly convinced that strawberry-banana is the pattern until somewhere down the worksheet, she sees an orange.  Oops!  Well maybe strawberry-banana wasn’t the pattern after all!  Or maybe it was part of the pattern, but it’s a different pattern than she initially imagined it to be.  See, you could spend all day explaining scientifically, philosophically, or metaphorically why strawberry-banana is NOT the real pattern, but until she sits there with her hands on the paper and her eyes staring at that orange, she will not be convinced that she is wrong.

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Experience is the Best Teacher

So it is with everything (assuming this is a true pattern).  Experience is the best teacher.  If you want to change a pattern, be it a belief or thought process or a behavior (habit), you have to experience something different.  The best way to do this if you want to shake up as many patterns as possible, is to simply have lots of different experiences.  Live in different states and countries, make friends with different kinds of people, eat different kinds of food, experience different types of entertainment.  Talk to people who look angry at you.  Ask for criticism.  Building variety of experience into your life will help kill many of those untrue and unhelpful patterns or biases without you even needing to recognize them.  And for those that need a little extra work (usually because the pattern has repeated itself for years upon years), you have to repeat that different experience until your brain learns a new pattern.

Here’s an example.  I read somewhere (I apologize, I can’t find the reference right now, but I will post it here when I find it) that the chemical dopamine, which is known as the “reward” chemical in our bodies, is primarily released by responding to habits.  For instance, when you exercise your body releases dopamine, so if you continue exercising over time your brain will learn to release dopamine when you think about exercise because it recognizes it as something that will produce a reward.  So what’s the best way to teach your body and your brain to start exercising?  Just start doing it.  Look, you won’t get it right immediately – it typically takes me a year of attempting an exercise regime on and off every other month before it sticks – but every time you exercise (even if it’s been 6 months since your last workout) you’re giving your body and brain one more piece of evidence that this could be something it wants to reward you for ahead of time.  (For a little extra boost, take the advice from another article, and try changing your thought patterns as well).

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Don’t Give Up

This is just one more reason to not give up even when you can’t keep a new routine established.  I know, I know, all the fitness and self-help and “positive thinking” junkies out there are telling you that you’ve got to COMMIT and DO IT and GET IT RIGHT immediately or you’ll end up fat, lazy, and depressed.  And if that motivates you then stick with it, this article probably won’t help you much.  But for the rest of us, we just need to know that the world doesn’t end when we fall and that the small effort we were able to make made a difference.

It does.

Even if you are only able to replace one positive thought each day, it makes a difference.  Even if you can only motivate yourself to socialize once a week, it makes a difference.  Even if you can only manage to work out for two weeks and then you lose motivation for the next two months, it makes a difference.  Even if you only get one vacation each year to visit a new place, it makes a difference.  Each one of those efforts adds another orange, teaching your brain that perhaps the pattern is not what it initially appeared to be.

Your brain will take care of most of the heavy lifting; just throw it an orange as often as possible until you achieve the new perspective, schedule, or attitude that you desire.

And maybe eat an orange too.  Cuz, ya know, they’re good.

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The Best Advice I Can Give to Parents

I’m not really qualified to give parenting advice.  Like, at all (at least the last time I checked…I don’t believe an Advertising degree counts…).  Which is why this post is called “The Best Advice I Can Give to Parents” rather than “The Best Advice to Give Parents”.  I realize, of course, that you didn’t ask, but much as it might disappoint you, I think this blog might actually benefit me more than it benefits you.  So perhaps this is more like “The Advice I Wish I Could Go Back in Time and Tell Myself or at Least Remember on a Semi-Regular Basis” (if you’re a grammar nazi, I don’t want to hear a word about my use of caps and/or italics in article titles).

So, here goes nothing.  The most I know about parenting (ha!):

Do things that make you happy.

That’s pretty much the foundation of everything, I’ve found.  I’ve heard a lot of versions of this before, like “don’t forget to do things you enjoy every now and then!” or “don’t forget to take care of yourself!”.  And these are great, too, but not quite as far-reaching as I think they should be.

Your happiness shouldn’t be an afterthought

I don’t think making your own self happy should be a secondary concern as a parent.  I think it should be right up there with providing for your children.  You have a responsibility to yourself and to your children to take care of yourself and show them how to live good lives.

Children learn by example

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I’ve seen far too many mothers (and on occasion fathers as well) give up everything they are, everything they want, everything they need for their children.  While it seems incredibly unselfish and wonderful to be so self-sacrificing, it actually does more harm than good, in my opinion (holy moly, did I just spell out “IMO”? How old am I??).  Because children learn by example.  So when you sacrifice your whole self for them, they learn to sacrifice their whole selves for everybody else.  And, in essence, they don’t chase after or accomplish what they want in life, rather they accomplish what other people want them to accomplish.    Bit of a Catch 22, isn’t it?

My theory

As usual, I have a theory as to why we are so keen to lose ourselves to our children (although I also like this theory).  Specifically in the case of women, I think this has proven to be a result of our culture’s pressure on women to be self-sacrificing, nurturing, and accommodating in all instances especially with children.  This supposedly comes “naturally” to us (easily debunked by talking to, well, almost any woman or man I know), or so we are taught.  This certainly is a major contributor to this problem.  Additionally, there is much talk around the world about how much more frequently we’re seeing cases of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.  My personal theory is that this is a result of our survivalist wiring.  We are wired to survive (or, you might say, chemically balanced to survive) – or at least many of us are.  To struggle.  To be in a fairly constant state of effort, fear, and concern.  In the 21st century things are *pretty* easy for many of us here in this first world country.  It almost seems to me like our brains are looking for something to struggle over.  We’re looking for a reason to survive.  And since we don’t need to survive anymore, our brains just don’t know what the hell to do!

Ironically, those of us who struggle with these things would probably fair quite well in a zombie apocalypse…

So when we have children it’s almost like our minds jump on the opportunity to have something work hard for, to sacrifice for.  Only we don’t have the emotional maturity for it because we haven’t had a lot of practice, so we end up WAY overdoing it and making ourselves miserable in the process.  Life is full of Catch 22’s isn’t it?

So what do we do with that?  We have to adjust.  We have to start teaching our brains to live in the 21st century.  I imagine it will eventually get easier for our offspring (assuming there’s no apocalypse, zombie takeover, or reckoning, in which case I’ll be the chick in the torn tank top with a machete and a crossbow), but we have to start that process.  So…

Start doing things that make you happy

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Don’t just give yourself permission every once in a while to be happy; start doing things that make you happy today.  Of course, of course, having children requires sacrifice.  You really can’t help that – in fact, in my life I’ve discovered that from a few months into pregnancy through the first year or so after birth, you’re pretty much in a constant state of “blaaaaaaaaaaag” (at least I am. I understand there are those of you that love this stage.  I’ve never met one of you…)  But as they grow older you have a responsibility to them.  A responsibility to show them how to navigate life as an independent, confident human being.  That could mean a lot of things: maybe they still choose to dedicate their lives to a nonprofit, a religion, or to stay home with their children, but it will come from a place of surety and confidence.  It will be 100% their choice, and they will do it because it makes them happy, not despite what makes them happy.

Plus, you’re just as important as your kids

You deserve to prioritize yourself.  I hope I’ve driven that point home enough on this blog.  If you’re one of those people stuck in a position of constant self-sacrifice and you feel you’d like higher self-esteem or confidence in your knowledge and love of yourself, try sitting down with a piece of paper and a pen – I mean iPad or smartphone!!! – and list out the things that make you happy.  If you’re at home with your kids would you rather be working? If you’re working would you rather be at home with your kids?  What hobbies do you enjoy?  What new things would you like to try?  Do you need a larger support system of friends?  Do you need more time to yourself?  Then select the ones you can start changing now.  Obviously you can’t change all of them right away, some maybe not for a while, but do what you can with what you have.  Work to make yourself happier.  And if you find yourself reluctant to implement an activity that you know would make you happy because you feel you must sacrifice it for your children…think again.

Think about how great it would be for them to see you doing something that makes you happy.  To see you being a human being.

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Harnessing Your Power

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Whew, ladies, I feel I have neglected you!  It has been a little while since I’ve laid out some new pearls of wisdom before you (hehehe..heh…..hm…), but not to worry: I’m back!

In fact, I’m back in many ways these days.  Many things have begun for me recently, which I hope they have for you as well.  I’ve started trying things again.  It’s common for me to come up with an idea for something I want to do – a business I want to start, a class  I want to teach, a technique I want to learn – and then vet all the possible pitfalls before even attempting to try.  Now I try things and then just see where they go.  It’s a MUCH better way to function and has so many more rewards!

In addition, I’ve begun my Teen Life Coach training (YAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!).  This is the most exciting beginning of all!  I’ve always felt a special connection with teens and young adults, and a strong desire to work with them and walk them through an incredibly confusing, incredibly difficult, and incredibly AWESOME time of their life.  I’m now one step closer to that dream.

I’ve also started selling my artwork on consignment in a couple of stores in Denver (details TBA), and, as is the topic of this post, I’ve started boxing again.

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In fact, tonight was my first night back.  I tried to start last year a few months after my son was born, but I just wasn’t ready yet.  That’s okay, by the way girls, to not be ready yet.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there are seasons for everything, and if the motivation and desire isn’t there, just give yourself some love and patience until it returns.  It took about 9 months this time.  9 months that would have been far more miserable if I had beaten myself up everyday over my negligence.  And anyways, in that time I discovered some other types of exercise and activities I really love that I would never have discovered otherwise.

Back to boxing.  When I’m in that “place”, boxing is SO invigorating for me.  So motivating.  So empowering.  I’ve long felt it is one of the best ways to bring a girl into a state of self-love, self-respect, and personal strength.

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I was thinking about this on the way home and I came up with a new idea: I should teach Boxing Empowerment classes.  I think boxing on it’s own can teach those lessons, but how COOL would it be to combine the physical workout with the vocal life coaching lessons?  To say aloud, and shout to the world words of your own inner strength while exerting your energy towards living them at the same time.

As this idea percolated, I began building a dialogue.  A speech or mission statement, if you will, that embodies the meat of what such a program could accomplish.  I’d like to share that with you today in hopes that it will inspire you as much as it inspired me:

“You’re already good people.  I don’t have to teach you that.  You already know to be kind to others, you already know to consider others’ feelings in your words, you already know to give others respect.  But no one ever taught you how to have unabashed, unapologetic respect for yourself.  The respect to hurt someone else if you have to defend yourself.  The right to be strong, the right to be tough.  The right to own your body and do amazing things with it.  The respect to allow you to be you.  The respect to walk away from people who don’t play fair.

To choose to be powerful instead of being afraid.

There is no apologizing here.  No hiding your strengths or denying your weaknesses.

This is a place to be real.

You are not allowed to play a role, you are not allowed to pretend you are anything other than who you are.

If you throw a good punch, you are going to own it.

If you feel awkward or strange or weak, you’re not going to flinch because that’s life and life isn’t about being perfect.  In fact, life is precisely about not being perfect.

I know that’s not what your teachers say, or your parents say, or the media says, but that’s what we say here.  Boxing is the place to learn to embrace imperfection.  You will not learn to be perfect.  You will not learn to do anything perfectly.  You will learn to love being imperfect.  And in doing that, you will begin to see exactly how amazing you are.

Here: “power” is not a bad word.  “Power” and “woman” are not oxymorons.  You don’t have to be nice.  You don’t have to be sweet.  Here you can be tough.  Here you can be bitchy.  Here you can express yourself, exert yourself, be as pissed off or deliriously happy as you want.

You don’t have to have a certain type of body here.  Because everyone can box.  There are no standards here, no crazy expectations, no ideals.  You’re going to use your body in amazing ways, and you’re going to love your body because of it.

Most importantly, you’re going to let go of the way you used to think.  You’re going to think in a new way, and you’re going to practice that every week.  You’re going to forget everything except for your ability to believe in yourself.

And you’re going to kick some ass.

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Our Bodies Have Middle Child Syndrome

I’ve been thinking a lot about fitness and weight loss lately.  It *might* be related to the fact that we’re coming up on my son’s first birthday and I have some weight loss goals attached to that… either way, it’s been on my mind.  And more than anything, I’m realizing how completely HORRIBLE our society is at approaching this subject.  I could write a novel (and I actually plan to write an eBook on this topic in the near future #shamelessplug), but I’ll try to sum up the problems.  They have to do with sentences like this:

“Push yourself till you can’t go anymore!”

“Work hard for that bikini body!”

“Schedule your workouts at the same time everyday!”

“Get it done, or give up!”

“Keep going until it hurts!”

Has anyone else notice that when it comes to weight loss, there are a lot of people yelling??  Is there really a good reason for that?  It’s like someone woke up one morning and though ya know, psychology says that yelling at your kids stunts their growth…so it MUST be a good motivator for adults!  Logic, anyone?

What I’d like to focus on for today is this concept of pushing our bodies until it hurts, and how it relates to our cavewoman ancestors (sorry, guys, but the blog IS called Real “Girls”).  See, I think we’ve come to this place as a planet where we are just so completely out of touch with our bodies.  Why else would we yell and scream at them and try our best to hurt them in our effort to reach a goal?  I have a theory, which is based on my intellectually advanced education in human evolution and anthropology (HAHAHA…HA…ha…erm):

Back in “the day”, our bodies spoke to us.  A lot.  They had to.  Everything we did required physical effort.  As a result, our bodies made a lot of demands and we had to meet them for survival and happiness.

As time has gone on, we’ve created more creature comforts (at least us first-world folks), and more methods to ease the demands on our bodies. I think this is a good thing for the most part.  We’ve sort of left behind the era of the “body” and entered the era of the “brain”.  Now our brain makes the demands.  Our brain takes the brunt of the effort and strain in our daily lives.  We struggle more intellectually, mentally, and emotionally than we do physically.  And our bodies have no need to talk to us anymore.  Our bodies are pretty much taken care of at every turn!  There are very few situations where we need to “beef up” for a long buffalo hunt or to run or ride to the next colony 15 miles away.

And since our bodies have stopped talking, we have stopped listening.  Our bodies have essentially become the middle child.

And since I am a middle child, and happen to be married to a middle child, I know WHAT A HORRIBLE IDEA THIS IS.

Our bodies are basically the middle child who has gotten pretty self-sufficient and learned to handle things, so we just kind of forget about her.  We know if we take care of the bare essentials, she’ll handle the rest.  We don’t have to worry about her, she’s got it covered.  Until one day when all the neglect builds up and she blows her top and throws a massive shitstorm.  Oh crap, did you want to be cared for too??

I’m not bitter.

We need to start listening to our bodies.  They have a lot to say; you’d be surprised.  It’s amazing how often your body actually DOESN’T want that ice cream bar, or DOES want to go for a jog, or just really needs a 10-minute power nap, if you just took the time to shut off your brain for a few minutes and tune in to your physical being.  It completely shocks me how often I go looking for a piece of candy, and then upon pausing to see what my body has to say about it, find that it actually doesn’t want candy.  It’s my brain or my feelings that want the candy (probably from all that childhood neglect).

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So this week, start getting reconnected with your body.  Listen to what it says, and even try to just follow it’s lead even when your brain doesn’t want to.  Your brain has been running the roost for so long, it will probably feel awkward at first, but keep at it.  It doesn’t require any effort, just a little mindfulness.  Just a little reminder here and there to check in. After a while it will become a habit, and you will find yourself close to both physical health and personal wholeness.

Because even middle children need a little love.  Even as adults… who would never think of holding a grudge…

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The Five Motivational Drivers

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Last week, RealGirls had the amazing opportunity to hold an online Facebook event to get to know other RealGirls around the world.  What a success!  We had a great group of participants and we all learned a lot about each other and also discussed some concepts to help us enhance our self-knowledge and self-improvement.  You can still view the event and discussions here.

One of the major topics of discussion was motivation.  Motivation is such an important part of everyday life and determines what we accomplish and what we don’t.  So one of the first things we can do to bring more meaning and accomplishment to our daily lives is to identify our top motivators, and find ways to incorporate them more frequently in our daily lives.

To bring more clarity to this conversation, I chose two definitions of “motive” from dictionary.com that I found to be most accurate and most positive:

“the goal or object of a person’s actions”

and

“prompting to action.”

I’m particularly fond of the second one because it gives a layman’s view of what motivation looks like: you know you are motivated by something when it catapults you to action.  Which means there may be things that you find inspiring or enjoyable, but not necessarily motivating.  It’s an important distinction!  So a few years back, one of my bosses gave me and my co-workers a list of 5 motivators to rank.  The 5 motivators purposely didn’t include anything of charitable nature because the belief was that everyone, right down to the guy that owns a business that sells printer cartridges, is motivated by their ability to contribute to the world in some way.  Here they are:

Freedom/Autonomy

Challenge

Personal Growth

Financial Gain

Recognition

The goal is to then rank these motivators in order of their ability to drive you to action.  That can be a pretty difficult distinction, so here are some more detailed descriptions of each one:

Freedom/Autonomy – this is the ability to pave your own path, make your own decisions, and be the master of your domain. It doesn’t *necessarily* mean you have no schedule to live by; rather it means that you are the one who gets to decide your schedule or lack thereof.

Challenge – this is very closely tied to risk. How important is it to you that you are challenged on a daily basis in some way? How willing are you to step into the deep unknown and take a big risk to attempt to overcome or surmount a major obstacle? Challenge usually involves high levels of stress for a large payoff. Your tendency to be motivated by challenge is probably highly related to your propensity to navigate stress and a lot of not-knowing. It’s fueled by a drive for accomplishment.

Personal Growth – this is the ability to feel yourself stretching and changing and enduring through pain and difficulty to come out on the other side better than you were before. I think it’s safe to say that though a lot of people are motivated by extensive personal growth, a lot of people are simply content with who they are and where they are in their life. And that’s okay! In fact, many of us could probably use a little more contentedness.

Financial Gain – well, everyone needs money, right? We all need to support ourselves and our families! This goes a little beyond the survival factor to being motivated by increasing one’s financial state. Being a person who is motivated by financial gain usually has a very negative feel to it, and I suspect this is due to the reputation of major players in the business world to “do whatever it takes” to make a buck. But I think there are lots of ways to look at the reasons for financial motivation. For some its the fun of the reward for hard work; for some it’s having a little extra spending money; for some it’s feeling like they are contributing to the economy; for some it’s simply being able to buy cool stuff. It’s a perfectly legitimate motivator and a very common one!

Recognition – this is typically viewed as a “bad” motivator, but, like these other motivators, it’s not good or bad. Some of us are simply driven by recognition. I would go so far as to say that ALL of us are driven by it to a certain extent, but I think for many there is an extra strong “buzz” associated with seeing our name in the paper, or a degree next to our name, or our face on TV, or to hear we are being discussed in other circles (not in a gossipy way, of course, although that typically accompanies recognition without our permission).

What is the order of your motivators?  Still having a hard time?  Here’s a short online quiz that I found to be accurate and helpful in determining your motivators.  It includes 8 motivators, but many of them can be sub-categorized into these 5.

Once you’ve worked out your motivators, what next?  Well, I believe its always helpful to look at the positive – the ways you are doing things right – before delving into areas of improvement.  So take a look at your life and identify the areas in which your top 3 motivators are already playing a primary role.  Where are these motivators already built-in to your daily life?  Write your thoughts down if that helps.

Now brainstorm ways you could build those motivators more intrinsically into your life.  It’s usually best to start small, but if you have the ability to make big changes, go for it!  Perhaps you could talk to your spouse about giving you more recognition for your efforts and accomplishments.  Maybe it would be helpful to arrange your schedule so you have more free time for yourself.  Why not buy a self-help book or take a seminar to help you grow spiritually or emotionally?

Then make some plans to take those steps.  You might call them goals – this word typically sends me into an anxiety spin, so I don’t particularly like it, but call it whatever words for you – or steps or plans.  Start small, or big, or medium – whatever makes you feel both inspired and confident in your ability to accomplish them.

The basic formula to using motivation to your advantage is this:

1) ENHANCE the motivators that are currently at play on your life and

2) BUILD more of your motivators into your everyday life.

It may surprise you how much more real and satisfied you feel when you’re stimulating the best parts of your core self.

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Second Real Girls Giveaway Winner: Poetry

I am SO excited to announce our next Real Girls Giveaway winner: Sarah!  This fantastic lady sent us a brief glimpse into her life and her talents by submitting a poem – all the way from Dubai!  Inspired by the last Real Girls Giveaway winner, she wanted to share this poem she wrote on being real.  

A few comments before I post the poem: I am so unbelievably inspired by this poem.  It is so eloquently written and uses very sensual visuals to illustrate the raw reality of being “real”.  Poetry has such an incredible ability to express things that we cannot say in any other way, and it takes real talent to be able to bring together the harsh reality of our everyday lives with the beauty and subjectivity of the written word.  I am also in LOVE with her handle: Desencajada, which, according to her blog, means “out of her place”.  I believe it is Spanish (Foreign languages have such an amazing way of conveying meaning we often can’t express in English!).

You’ll love this read – 

What’s yours?

Link to the original poem on Sarah’s blog:

 

To stop resenting others for their happiness,
to unclench the knot in your throat that forms when they smile, 
pouring out their joyous abundance.

To start sculpting your own happiness, 
with bare trembling hands and tears in your eyes.

To dig deep in the dirt of your own secret garden 
and bury deep in the fertile soil 
all of your own dreams and hopes 
and grow and care for that garden, 
not allow the winter nor the beaming sun 
to either freeze nor burn your desires and destinies.

To gouge your own ditch 
to let the countless little streams of your heart flow 
until they form the thirst quenching sea 
and to have the courage to jump into it, 
not be afraid of its depths nor shallows 
and swim all the way through it 
to get to know its tide and temperature.

To untie all the strings that your fears have woven around your ankles,
keeping your feet from walking 
away from this house, this backyard, this fenced garden of deafening monotony.

To embrace the pain of growing wings, 
of tearing open your best guarded box, 
that chest, treasurer of that little throbbing muscle, 
and let the sunlight undisclose all the hideous secrets,
yes, 
to live and not dread the honesty of being real, 
range of possibilities exposed, of steps untaken and peace unmade. 

And yet to love, deeply, freely, guiltlessly, oneself…

To Love Freely Oneself

My favorite line is:

“To start sculpting your own happiness, 
with bare trembling hands and tears in your eyes.”

What’s yours?

Thanks again, Sarah, your gift will be arriving soon!

If you have a story, poem, experience, thought, piece of artwork, photo, or anything else that tells us about who you really are, please email Real Girls at BeaRealGirl@gmail.com and you’ll have a chance to win the next Giveaway!  

 

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I Am So Proud of My Daughter

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A couple of months ago my daughter encountered a very distressing situation.  She had a friend at school she had been spending a lot of time with and she wanted to invite her to her birthday party.  I sent her off to school with her invitation, and she was so excited!  Much to my dismay, she was NOT so excited when I picked her up.

Apparently, when she had presented her friend with her birthday invitation, her friend had said “No, I don’t WANT to go to your birthday party!”.  My daughter was devastated and very angry.  We talked a little bit about how that was not a nice thing for her friend to do, and its perfectly ok for her to be angry about it.  I let her feelings run their course through the rest of the evening.

The next morning while we were getting her ready for school, I asked her what she wanted to do with the invitation.

“I want to try inviting [her friend] to my birthday party again.”  Ok, that sounded like a reasonable idea – you never know what her friend may have been dealing with the day she invited.  I prepped her a little bit, letting her know that she didn’t have to try inviting her again, and if her friend reacted the same way again that she might want to consider whether or not this was a good friend to have.  She seemed to understand, but was insistent that she wanted to try again.

This time it went well.  Her friend simply said “thank you”.  The issue seemed to have been a simple case of someone who had a bad day.

A couple of weeks ago, I entered the school again to pick my daughter up on our usual schedule.  This time she was sitting with two different friends I hadn’t seen before.  After introducing me to her new friends, she said “[her friend she had invited to her birthday party] isn’t my friend anymore.  She was being mean and pushed me down on the playground.”

Now, even just 5 years ago I probably would have said “well, that’s not nice to say someone isn’t your friend” or “maybe she had another bad day” or “think about what she might be going through”.

Not anymore.  I’ve learned a little something about boundaries in the past few years.  About valuing and prioritizing myself.  About drawing the line between me and toxic people.  So what did I say?  “Sounds like you made a good decision.  You don’t need people like that in your life.”  I congratulated her.  I told her ‘good job’.  I encouraged her to continue to find people like her current friends to spend time with.  I gave her a big hug.

I am SO proud of her.  I knew very little about setting boundaries when I was a child.  I took the friends I could find and rarely had the courage to say “no” or to stand up to mistreatment.  I’m thrilled to see my daughter paving the way to a very healthy life with very healthy relationships.  I realize that this little girl she is no longer friends with may have perfectly valid reasons for behaving the way she does.  But I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like she needs to stay in, or enter into any kind of toxic relationship with someone for any reason at all; it doesn’t matter what the other person’s circumstances are.  Boundaries are good for my daughter and, frankly, they are good for her ex-friend as well.

Here’s hoping I am raising my own Real Girl (and Real Boy as my son gets older!) who is unafraid to be herself and embrace her value!

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Looking Out for Number One

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We’ve all been there, right?  You’re walking down the street, or through the mall (do teens still hang out at malls?), or at the park talking about your friend’s ex-boyfriend or girlfriend or boss who has been less than kind lately, and your friend utters the cliche we all know and love: “You know her: always looking out for Number One.”

Ok, maybe I’m dating myself thinking that’s a common phrase, but either way, you’ve heard it before, right?  We all know that those who put themselves in the #1 spot every day of their lives have a problem with being selfish and don’t spend enough time thinking about or helping others.

Right?

Actually, no.

Wait, wait WAAAAAAAAIIIT!!!!  Don’t go yet!  Just hear me out first!  This is very, very important because I think so many of us have been conditioned throughout our lives to always put others first, to forget yourself, to exist only for the good of others.  And these are all great and wonderful sentiments!  In theory, anyways.  But they can cause a lot of confusion, as does this idea that putting yourself first is a self-absorbed way to live your life.

So let me see if I can clear this up.  Now, I’m not a big fan of labels for myself or anyone else, but I do think it’s important for us, as we go about our lives, to make judgements about the acts or humaneness of others so as to help us decide what we want to choose for ourselves and what kind of people we want to be in our lives.  The purpose is not deem a person “good” or “bad” or to pit ourselves as “better” or “worse”, but instead to simply and objectively say, “That thing that person did, or the person that human is seems selfish, so I don’t think I want to live my life that way, it doesn’t seem like it would benefit me as a person.” (I find it helpful to avoid “that person is selfish” and rather say “they seem selfish” because it reminds me that I don’t really know their circumstances).

So, with that in mind, I will openly acknowledge that I have known a lot of people throughout my life who seemed to live rather selfishly.  Some of them have had a very drastic effect on me, and others have just made for good observable guinea pigs.  Either way, I’ve tried to learn something from them.  And this is what I’ve found:

I should probably remind you that I am not a psychologist or sociologist, or even anything cool like a Magician or a Lance Corporal.  Nor do I really have any credential for anything related (though a certain affinity for card games has earned me the nickname ‘cobra’ – more on that later), so I am speaking very simply from careful observation and a [fairly obsessive] desire to understand.  

Being selfish or self-absorbed has very little to do with putting yourself #1, and everything to do with how far beyond #1 you put #2 and #3.

I’m a visual person, so I’ll try to help illustrate this with a picture.  Let’s say we’re looking at an “Importance Meter” where you’re ranking the people/things most important in your life.  At the very top you have #1 followed by #2, #3, #4, etc.  But in this case, there is no set distance between each number.  So while #1 is always at the top, #2 can be halfway down the meter, a quarter of the way down, or even all the way at the bottom depending on how important your second priority is to you.

According to much of the common knowledge we’ve been taught, #1 should be everyone else at the top, and  #2 – you – should be (depending on how much the “think of others before yourself” rhetoric has been drilled into you) halfway down, maybe even at the very bottom in some cases.  Fantastic idea in theory; great way to overexert, exhaust, and depress yourself in practice.  But wouldn’t the reverse – putting ourselves at #1 – make us incredibly self-absorbed and not concerned about others?

I often wonder who came up with that idea – maybe someone who was worried that if s/he taught people to put themselves first they would cease to serve him or her’s every whim?  There’s the cynic in me for you. 🙂

It’s simply not true.  BOTH selfish and unselfish people put themselves at the top in the #1 spot.  The difference between a selfish and an unselfish person (assuming labels for simplicity’s sake) is that a selfish person puts #2 (typically family and friends) at the bottom of the meter, or maybe doesn’t even have any other numbers on the meter at all.  An unselfish person, by contrast, puts #2 perhaps just inches below #1, or maybe even feet below at times when their individual health and sanity needs more attention than usual.

To be sure this idea makes sense, let’s look at it a couple of different ways to see if it justifies itself.  There’s, of course, the most common justification I hear for putting yourself first which is that “if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else?”.  Which has some merit, but at the end of the day is kind of like saying “put yourself first so that you can put other people first” which is confusing and takes away from this incredibly valuable truth:

You are worth putting first.

Put yourself first simply because you deserve it.  Because you are valuable, because you are worthy, because you are amazing.  Put yourself first because no one in this world merits your love more than your own self.

If you’re anything like me, your brain fights you on this justification.  It wants to step back and take a holistic viewpoint: isn’t everyone as valuable as me?  Ok, let’s humor that side of us.  If you’re looking at it from an outer space view of the whole world, yes, every person is equally valuable.  But even in this paradigm, it does you no service to value others over you because you are the only one you have control over.  You are the only one you can truly nurture, love, and embrace and KNOW that it makes a difference and brings value in your life.  Yes, please, absolutely keep your loved ones very close to the top; there will be times when their needs take over and you have to give unrequitedly for a while.  But always, always return vehemently to the respite that is the caring and nurturing of yourself.  Maintain it as often as you can without letting your loved ones slip too far down the meter.

The ironic thing is that, by doing this, you will inevitably teach others to do the same.  Prioritizing yourself and your physical and mental health makes the world a better place, and more importantly, you a better person.

It makes you more Real.

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