On Beauty and Aging

A discussion of the article, “One Woman Discovered the Fountain of Youth — And It’s Closer to Home than She’d Thought” by Leslie Garret (Redbook Magazine, May 2016)

http://www.redbookmag.com/beauty/anti-aging/a44196/leslie-garrett-on-beauty-and-aging/

In just a few hundred words, Leslie Garret writes an article that wonderfully captures a profound truth about women and how we feel about getting older: that despite the fact that “our culture doesn’t encourage us to see beauty in aging faces, programmed as we are to speak of beauty and youth in a single breath;”  real women come to realize that we grow more beautiful with each passing year, not less.

Garret argues that as the years pass and the list of things our bodies have helped us accomplished grows — running marathons, climbing mountains, birthing babies, weathering grief — our pride in our bodies and ourselves grows. We come to learn that beauty only rarely has to do with our looks, but far more often has to do with our strength, our kindness, our generosity, and our humor.

Reading this article, I was reminded of a quote by Laura Stavoe I found years ago, when I had just started to work with pregnant women. The quote reads, “there is a secret in our culture, it’s not that birthing is hard. It is that women are strong.”* Leslie Garret’s article reminds me that our culture has another secret: a woman’s beauty is not in constant decline as she ages, women do not grow more and more unhappy with themselves as they get older. The real truth is the older we get, the more we come to appreciate our bodies and the more we see just how beautiful and amazing they are. We get to leave behind the insecurities of youth and accept that our uniqueness is an asset, not a liability. We learn to listen to the people in our lives when they compliment us and begin to let their positive messages sink in and become the truth. After all, what mom has not had her small children tell her — with absolute sincerity and love — that she is the most beautiful woman in the world?

As Leslie Garret says, beautiful is not something we are, “beautiful is something we become.”

*I feel that I must qualify that this quote is was never meant to suggest that only mothers who birth naturally are strong; rather than the birthing process for all women demands strength and courage that is seldom discussed in popular culture. Read the author’s explanation of the quote in context here: https://birthtraumatruths.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/laura-stavoe-speaks-why-she-wrote-there-is-a-secret-in-our-culture-but-it-is-not-that-women-are-strong/ of

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Transforming Infomania into Infomagical

Transforming Infomania into Infomagical: A new campaign by WNYC to “reestablish sanity in a technologically crazed world”

Image- note to self

Winding through a few podcasts that I have been meaning to catch up on this week (I love listening to podcasts while I take walks), I stumbled upon an interview with Manoush Zomorodi, the host and editor of “Note to Self,” a podcast I had never listened to. In her interview, Zomorodi introduced the audience to the WNYC social science study the staff of “Note to Self,” along with several academic partners, had launched in January  2016.

(The full link to the site and the study can be found here: http://project.wnyc.org/infomagical/)

The experiment, which bills itself as a “digital literacy campaign on steroids,” was created as an attempt to demonstrate to tech-obsessed individuals that they can stem the tide of information streaming towards them from millions of websites, apps, social media platforms, TV shows and (yes) even podcasts. Developed in response to the panicky, distracted sensation that so many Americans feel at the end of a day spent “connected” through their various tech devices, the experiment tasks listeners to practice single-mindedness, quiet reflection, and task-orientated use of technology.

Note to Self” asked listeners to sign up and pick a goal, and then they were issued five daily challenges — “each task designed to cut through the information overload and help you think more clearly.” The five challenges include things like spending a day only single-tasking, web-surfing only with intention, and spending a day connecting in-person with people around them.

The two podcasts that bookend the week-long study are very well-crafted, well-researched, and really fun to listen to, with various experts weighing in on the effects of digital overload and making the case for working to do less with our brains. I will not attempt to summarize; rather if you are interested in the specifics of project, I recommend that you spend one hour listening to them yourself. (You can even break the golden rule and multitask, like I did, and take a long walk while you listen.)

The first episode can be found at this link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/note-to-self/id561470997?mt=2&i=361289565  and the last episode at this link:https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/note-to-self/id561470997?mt=2&i=362580738

However, I will say this about the brilliant experiment: I find it shocking and disturbing how much of themselves so many of the people around me have ceded to their online lives. I certainly feel less connected to these frantic souls who can never seem to keep up with the demands their phone makes on them and I can only imagine how they feel themselves. Calling attention to the downsides of all this connectedness is important and laudable.

Caveat: I have to admit that I have a very, very limited online presence. Other than this blog and my email account I have no other online “selves.” I am on no social media sites and I only follow a handful of blogs (many on WordPress who also follow me, so thanks!). This is all a conscious decision, not a “I can’t figure that website out” sort of decision. For the most part, I do not want to be more connected, more current, or more up-to-date. In a life that is already busy with the physical demands of work, home, children, spouse, and self, I am loathe to add any more mental demands to my life, especially the false ones crafted by social media or the entertainment industry.

What I really want more of in my life is to do less; to sit and reflect; to contemplate and discuss deep things with my husband; or to hike through the woods with my children. Of course, as this blog will attest, I also want to spend a large amount of my free time reading books. I have made a decision that empty demands on my time — web-surfing, watching too much TV, scrolling through social media sites — come at too high a cost: namely, the elimination of time and energy for the things I really love. As a result, I may seem extremely unhip (my tech-savvy sister who lives in San Francisco — upon learning I still check out DVDs from the library — called me, lovingly, “a dinosaur”) and I may miss out on a few important events in the lives of my friends who are on FB, but I have so much more control of my head space than I would otherwise. Quite honestly, those consequences are not game changing.

All that aside, I find the podcast “Note to Self” to be a real gem and the project they have created to be not only entertaining but important. Every one of us can benefit from focusing more, doing less, and striving towards that things us happy. Being alone, knowing ourselves, and nourishing our minds with joyful activities whenever possible: I strongly feel that those are noble goals we all should reach toward, and I resoundingly congratulate anyone who uses their platform to champion those values.

Energy Management for Work-Life Balance – Part 2

Making the Most of Your Time — For Yourself, Work, Parenting, and Partnerships

This is part two in a series of posts in which I will attempt to synthesize the ideas from two articles I recently read (Washington Post, Harvard Business Review), followed by a Real Simple podcast I heard while (multi-tasking!) on a jog last week, including some of my own thoughts on the topic of Energy Management.

NOURISH YOURSELF “It is scarcely news that inadequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, and rest diminish people’s basic energy levels, as well as their ability to manage their emotions and focus their attention. Nonetheless, many people don’t find ways to practice consistently healthy behaviors, given all the other demands in their lives.”(Harvard Business Review, see notes)

Schedule in non-negotiable time every day for at least two things you love. My two things are always exercise and reading. Some days in order to fit it in, I have to get up at 5:30am to work out in the basement; other days I have to say no to a tenth round of Candyland with my preschooler (or another episode of The Walking Dead with the hubby) in order to read a chapter of a good book. Either way, skipping my “two things” is not allowed.

Say no much more often. Some of us really struggle to remember that we do not have to give any reason at all for saying “no” to something we do not want to do. You may have time to bake cookies for the PTA, but you will feel much more nourished if you take a bubble bath instead. Traveling for work might be thrilling and give you a chance to network, but sometimes the stress, cost, and inconvenience to your family might be too much to ask. While you’re at it, try saying no to: kids birthday parties where you have to stay the whole three hours; selling girl scout cookies; watching reruns on TV; dinner parties with people who are boring…use the time to go out with just your husband instead. This is not to say we should spend time only on what we want to do, but when the extra tasks start to intrude and cause stress, then we have the right to turn a few of them down.

Get enough sleep everyday, even if it inconveniences someone, means skipping an evening event, or means some tasks must be postponed. Almost nothing is more important to me then getting enough sleep. Every single part of our lives is affected by a lack of quality sleep, so it is critical to come up with a routine that allows you to get enough sleep every single night.

Stop wasting time on “low value” activities. Author and podcast contributor Laura Vanderkaam makes a critical distinction between Low and High Value activities, a dynamic that is worth considering when scrutinizing the activities that make up your day. Everyone swears they have no time in the day, but each of us dedicates hours to Low Value actions such as checking FB, watching TV, or answering emails. We can reclaim every one of those minutes for High Value activities such as reading, talking to our spouses, taking a walk around the neighborhood, or fitting in a 15 minute Pilates workout. (Check out my favorite short Pilates videos here https://www.youtube.com/user/blogilates/featured )

Work out everyday, outside if possible. This is related to item number one, of course, but even if you don’t think you can possibly find time to do a workout you can and should. Exercise is essential for managing stress, improving sleep, maintaining health, and staying sane. It does not need to be complicated or lengthy! I have personally fit in exercise by pushing the stroller while walking the kids to school, taking a hike after school with the kids, running laps around the field during soccer practice, and doing free You Tube workout videos while the lasagna cooks. No excuses! (Bonus: your kids will see you making your health a priority.)

NOURISH YOUR CHILDREN

Remember the Difference between Direct and Indirect Parenting “Transactional Parenting” was the term used by Jennifer Meer in the podcast, which I interpret to mean the millions of time-sucking moments or “transactions” that are required when raising children (attending PTA meetings, shopping for soccer cleats, scheduling flu shots, coordinating carpools). These moments are NOT parenting! Your children may benefit from these actions but only very indirectly (in their minds, maybe not at all). It helps to think of this as “Indirect Parenting.” These things matter but not as nearly as much as one-on-one time. “Direct Parenting” is the time that your children recognize as spent together: reading a book at bed time, laughing at dinner over silly things that happened at school, or walking to school looking forward to the day ahead. Be cautious of how much time and energy you allow the “indirect” actions to take…it can be easy to push aside the “direct” or real parenting moments because we are exhausted from the first.

(NOTE: I plan to steal an idea mentioned by Jennifer Meer and start a book club with just me and my nine-year old son. Every night we pledge to read one chapter of Little House on the Prairie and talk about it at breakfast.)

Less is more, especially in the winter. This is often repeated by parenting experts, but children need time to recharge and we must build breaks and free time into the calendar for them (this includes not dragging little ones to big kids’ activities.) Especially in the dark, cold months of winter, kids need a chance to hibernate at home with just the family. Give their schedules a break during these slow months so they can read more books, get to bed a bit earlier, and play spontaneous rounds of Monopoly with their siblings. (BONUS: During the holidays, kids with open schedules mean they can better take part in those spontaneous moments – ice skating in the park, mid-week holiday movie night – that make the best memories.)

Being with your children does not mean micromanaging their every move –presence and proximity can be enough. We can take a break from what author Jennifer Meer calls, “parenting as a verb, that 24/7 job we can never take a break from.” There are times when you have things to do that do not include sitting on the floor playing Legos. That is perfectly fine! There is no requirement that you have to spend every single moment of the day deeply engaged with your kids. Sometimes, sitting and reading a book while they play at the park is a way to meet everyone’s needs.

Being at every event, every time is not nearly as important as you think. Your kids will be just fine if you do not go on every single field trip or attend every soccer practice and game. It matters much more to my children that I come to the occasional soccer game but give it my full attention, rather than come to them all – grouchy, rushed, and resentful – and stare at my phone the whole time. Quality over quantity really applies here. Drop them off and go do something for yourself or with your other kids! In support of leaving the kids on their own, I once heard a Child Development expert give a talk in which she argued that kids cannot really develop their own sense of self unless they are allowed to do things completely alone. Always being present can crowd them in moments in which they need grow into themselves.

NOURISH YOUR PARTNERSHIP

Use the time you do have together to talk about life, not just chores, work, and kids. My husband and I try to have a quick “home life” catch up session as soon as he gets home from work, and then we talk about ourselves, our interests, world events, or good books. (Yes, we are constantly interrupted.) Just trying to talk about the larger world helps retain a sense of our grown-up selves even while we make tater-tots and check homework. We get the chores done, but we have deep conversations while we do it.

Have “stay at home date nights” at least once a week. This was a suggested to us by our midwife when our oldest son was an infant and has been a staple in our marriage ever since. Once a week we put the little kids to bed, tuck the older ones in with a book or a movie, and have a “date”: grill a steak, open a good bottle of wine, maybe even watch a movie…all without going out, spending a ton of money, often even while wearing sweats! We reconnect, feel pampered, and we are on deck (when inevitably) someone throws up or has a nightmare. We have a modified version that involves putting everyone to bed early on Wednesdays so we can drink wine while we fold laundry, watch Modern Family and chat.

Have at least one thing that you both love and regularly share together. It is easier than you might think to let being parents become the only thing you have in common. But it is so important that you have something that you both love to do (and are passionate about!) so you have a reason to connect during the week on a more personal level. My husband and I both love reading, and we often cannot wait to get together to discuss a book, blog, article, or radio story we have been thinking about. We send each other emails or texts with links to interesting stories throughout the day, and we often have a two person book club by reading the same book and chatting about it while we fall asleep. (Also, whenever we can make it happen we take a run together and chat about books or world events while we break a sweat.)

Chores and errands can be dates, too. More than once we have found ourselves with free time – without kids – during the school day but also with a list of errands or chores that also need completing. By doing them together, we get to spend time chatting (without interruption!) and get the work done faster because we are working together. Sipping coffee while we stroll through Trader Joe’s can be as romantic as a dinner out if we keep an open mind about what a “date” is. Splitting up the “to-do” list means less time together.

Don’t squander the post-kids to bed hours. Laura Vanderkaam points out that no one is coming to inspect your house to make sure is clean at 11pm. Skip the dishes, leave the toys on the floor, and share a glass of wine instead. Jennifer Meer also points out that frantic feeling while trying to get everyone to fall asleep so we can finally rest….only to fill that “rest” time with chores is totally unfulfilling. Leave the clean up and snuggle up instead.

SOURCES

Labor of Love Podcast (Real Simple Magazine on Panoply)

“Making Time for Us” October 21 2015

http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/time-management/labor-of-love-time-management-parenting

“Clock Management and Parenthood,” Jennifer Meer,The Washington Post, October 13 2015

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/10/13/clock-management-and-parenthood-finding-the-time-to-shower-and-to-think/

I Know How She Does it, Laura Vanderkaam, 2015

http://www.amazon.com/Know-How-She-Does-Successful/dp/159184732X/ref=as_at?tag=REASIM03-20&linkCode=as2&

“Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” Harvard Business Review October 2007

Tony Swartz and Catherine McCarthy

https://hbr.org/2007/10/manage-your-energy-not-your-time#

Energy Management for Work-Life Balance – Part 1

Making the Most of Your Time — For Yourself, Work, Parenting, and Partnerships

A long, loud cultural battle is being waged in an attempt to determine ways that busy adults can manage the competing expectations of self, work, family, and marriage. It is a topic of morning news shows and elementary school pick-up lines…how can we get it all done and still stay sane, we ask ourselves? Mothers in particular seem flustered on how they can keep all these parts of their lives buoyant and healthy.

Since the topic is always on the minds of busy parents, I was interested in the intersection of two articles I recently read (Washington Post, Harvard Business Review), followed by a Real Simple podcast I heard while (multi-tasking!) on a jog last week. All three sources (linked and listed below) were puzzling out the ways in which adults can manage both energy levels and time in order to complete the work that needs to be done and still nourish themselves and their relationships. All three offer interesting ideas and methods for perfecting this balance, so I write this post hoping to synthesize the ideas from the articles and include some of my own thoughts.

In short, the arguments laid out by all three sources conclude that with only a finite amount of time each day, we need to spend a dedicated amount of that time doing things we find pleasurable and relaxing. An hour spent doing something we do not want to do is draining and stressful, but that exact same hour spent on something we love can be energizing and restorative. All three experts agree that our days need to include some (small) pleasurable moments…but how?

While I certainly am not an efficiency expert, I am a real life woman who manages – pretty well on most days – to work a part-time job, volunteer with several organizations, help her husband raise three busy sons, be a partner in a loving marriage, and still fit in daily workouts and household chores. Oh, and read books and write this blog of course!

In this two-part post I explore coping skills and time management ideas — Part one focuses on work, Part Two on Self-care, Parenting and Partnerships.

WORK WITH PURPOSE BUT NOT SLAVISH DEVOTION

“Confronted with relentless demands and unexpected challenges, people tend to slip into negative emotions—the fight-or-flight mode—often multiple times in a day. They become irritable and impatient, or anxious and insecure. Such states of mind drain people’s energy and cause friction in their relationships. Fight-or-flight emotions also make it impossible to think clearly, logically, and reflectively.”(Harvard Business Review, see notes)

Do the work that needs to be done, do it well, then log off. Especially when you are working at home, it can feel like you are never done. You are compelled to read a few more (nonessential) emails or do a little (extra) research. Don’t! Finish your assignments and get back to your life. Unless you are performing life saving operations for Doctors without Borders, lives will not be saved by your overworking.

When you are working, give it your full attention. Set aside time when you are alone and alert, have a written to-do list with deadlines at hand, and turn off all devices so you can work better, with fewer errors, and be done sooner. Being able to multitask and perform well is a myth. Nearly all the research shows that we cannot do things simultaneously without making mistakes.

Only offer more to employers or supervisors who recognize and appreciate the extras. If you have a job where all that matters is filing the TPS report on time, don’t kill yourself spending extra hours formatting it. Save the extras for the people who care, your family and friends.

Remember that work is NOT more important than life, even if your employer wants you to feel that way. If you are sick, stay home. If you need to skip a budget meeting to make the school talent show, do it. As Laura Vanderkaam points out in the podcast, “it is very self-indulgent to think you are so extremely important” that you cannot take any time off work. Skip the false guilt, the office will NOT come to a stand still because you went to the gym at lunch.

SOURCES

Labor of Love Podcast (Real Simple Magazine on Panoply)

“Making Time for Us” October 21 2015

http://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/time-management/labor-of-love-time-management-parenting

“Clock Management and Parenthood,” Jennifer Meer,The Washington Post, October 13 2015

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/10/13/clock-management-and-parenthood-finding-the-time-to-shower-and-to-think/

I Know How She Does it, Laura Vanderkaam, 2015

http://www.amazon.com/Know-How-She-Does-Successful/dp/159184732X/ref=as_at?tag=REASIM03-20&linkCode=as2&

“Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” Harvard Business Review October 2007

Tony Swartz and Catherine McCarthy

https://hbr.org/2007/10/manage-your-energy-not-your-time#

 

Breaking Up with Your Worst Habit

“Breaking Up with Your Worst Habit,” MORE Magazine, 2015 (link to full article here http://www.more.com/relationships/attitudes/breaking-your-worst-habit-going-straightforward )

My mother has always been a huge supporter of my love of books. A devoted reader and former librarian, she always made sure we had books to read. Every week when we were children, she dutifully drove us to the library (or walked us to the BookMobile) to pick up stacks and stacks of books. At one point when my four siblings and I were young, I remember the library giving my mother a shopping cart to push around the library so she could “carry” all our books easier. Talk about committed!

Currently, my mother has been trying to support my love of magazines while helping me keep costs down by collecting magazines from her neighbors on my behalf. She regularly delivers huge bags of magazines to my doorstep, regardless of their topic (Time and Good Housekeeping, but also TV Guide, Active Living for Seniors, Romantic Country Inns.)

Recently while reading a back issue of More magazine, I found myself quite moved by an article entitled, “Breaking Up with Your Worst Habit.” In particular, I was drawn to a segment of that article written by Jacquelyn Mitchard about her habit of being sarcastic.

I have long been interested in the topic of habits — I love collecting strategies and methods for forming good habits and revamping bad ones. In fact, I am a die-hard fan of Happiness and Habits Goddess, Gretchen Rubin, and have read, and re-read, all of her books on the subject. I also read every column she writes and listen weekly to her podcast on the topic. (Find more about Gretchen Rubin here http://gretchenrubin.com/) (You can also read the three part blog series I wrote about Rubin’s books here https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/gretchen-rubin-part-1/.)

In the More article, Mitchard writes that she had long-cultivated her sarcastic personality, wielding it as a tool she thought enhanced her sense of humor and offered proof of her intelligence. She was always quick to point out others flaws and mistakes with a sharp retort until the day she she realized her stinging comments were not humorous. Her comments actually hurt her loved ones and made everyone around her wary. They were always holding their breath, waiting for her biting commentary of their every mistake. Mitchard writes, “Being good at sarcasm, I’ve come to realize, is like being good at torture: It’s a skill everyone notices but no one admires.” She began to see that she had held her family hostage with her harsh comments, each one waiting for her not only to recognize their faults, but to make fun them as well. She admits she never failed to hand out a “nice work” for a dropped cake or failed test, until the day she decided to change.

Nothing was more shocking to her than how terrified her friends and family were when she stopped! She noticed they seemed to hold their breath, wondering if she was saving up her criticisms to really zing them later? Was she going to wait until there was a larger group to laugh at them in front of? Mitchard was forced to see how her sarcasm made her someone to be avoided, someone no one wanted to admit mistakes in front of, someone around whom they had to walk on eggshells to avoid her attention.

I had never quite examined my own acute discomfort around people with very sarcastic personalities, but reading her piece brought it to my attention. Yes, I thought, it is very scary to be poised on the edge of my chair in a meeting, wondering — while talking to a boss well-skilled in sarcastic comments — if his “good job” was praise or a joke about how unsatisfactory my work actually was. Where did I stand? What was the truth? What was I supposed to take away from the conversation?

Changing the habit changed her life. Mitchard finds herself forming better, more honest relationships with those around her. Others can be vulnerable, and so can she. Mistakes can be made and then commiserated with, rather than laughed at; hard work recognized and truthfully appreciated.

After all, what most of us hope for are honest interactions with others that lift us up. From our loved ones we seek support when we are in need and praise when it is due. We do not have to accept less than that from others. We can speak out, ask for kindness, and make it known when someone is hurting us so that we can all get more from one another, not less.

Small changes can change lives.