Finding Zen Experiment: Savoring

Recap (Week 4)

During Week 3, I realized that I was savoring multiple things each day, without making a concerted effort to do so. In fact, it became harder to pick just one thing as the week went on. In Week 4, I savored a number of things each day: tasks, chores, activities, quiet time, meals… I found myself slipping almost automatically into a focused state quite frequently, which was really neat.

When I chose this experiment, I had hoped it would give me some tools for dealing with my tendency to rely heavily on escapism. At the beginning, in Week 1, I needed to specifically pick something each day to savor, and then walk myself through the steps of savoring the activity. As the days went on during Week 2, while I was still choosing a specific thing to savor each day, I found I was no longer consciously following the steps. It became much easier to flow into the savoring mentality. By Week 3, I was mid-savor before I realized what I was doing, so I was pretty much deciding upon my daily choice post-savor!

During the final week – Week 4 – I found myself simply savoring things frequently throughout the day, without consciously deciding to savor anything in particular. That’s why I stopped posting daily updates on Facebook and Twitter, and why I am not including a daily recap of items savored in this final recap of the experiment. I was simply savoring too many things to choose just one, every single day.

That was a glorious discovery – realizing that I could savor without deciding to savor. It meant that I had reached a comfort level with myself, since savoring requires that you accept that you’re doing the exact right thing at any given moment.

This experiment has given me more than I’d hoped to get out of it, and I intend to continue to be mindful of opportunities to savor each day. However, my hope is that I am able to simply flow into the savoring mindset frequently throughout the day, without having to consciously choose. I feel as though that would be a step back, but I’ll certainly keep tabs on it, and will do my best to keep practicing these new skills, so that I don’t end up where I started. I like where I’m at now too much to let myself backslide.

Thanks for coming on this journey of discovery with me!

This is the last post in this series – what did you think? Would you like me to try another experiment? What would you be interested in seeing me do?

Advertisements

Just… can’t… focus…

When dealing with overwhelm at work, I often struggle with analysis paralysis.  Heard of it?  It’s the inability to choose one option, when presented with a boatload of options.  That’s a scientific term right there – boatload.

analysis paralysis do mindless tasks instead

So many Pop Tarts! Which one to choose?

Now, where was I again?  Oh, yes – trying to pick which task to start on first at work.  So damn many choices!  How do I pick just one!?  What if I don’t pick the right one?  What if…Squirrel!

Well, on the days when everything is important, but nothing is urgent, and you just. can’t. focus…  The option might be to choose “none of the above”.

“Blasphemy!” you say?  I say, “No!”  In a University of California, Davis study cited by Erin Doland in a couple of posts on Unclutterer, it was found that over-worked employees who introduced mindless tasks into their daily routine enjoyed enhanced efficiency and creativity.  In a November 2011 article, Erin provides a great list of mindless, but absolutely useful, tasks that often go undone.

Recently, I employed this tactic on a day when I just wasn’t feelin’ it, and I went down the list, item by item, and completed each one.  Here’s Erin’s list, and what I did with it.

  • File.  I keep my work files up to date, so I reorganized my files a bit, to eliminate a stand-alone file cart that I was able to move out of my workspace.
  • Review your bulletin board. I don’t use a bulletin board, so I reviewed the papers in my reference files.
  • Clean your work surface.  I disinfected my work surface, keyboard, mouse and phones – desk and mobile.  I even disinfected my lotion bottle, since I use that several times a day.
  • Enter info off business cards.  I plugged in a couple of business cards I found while moving my file folders around.
  • Back up your computer.  This is taken care of by our IT department, so I decided to clean up my computer desktop, and moved/deleted files as necessary.
  • Unclutter your bookshelves.  I used to use a lot of binders in my daily life (before moving almost to exclusively digital files), and I had held onto several from two years ago.  I cleaned them out, and placed the empty binders into a community supply area for my still-analog coworkers to use.
  • Equipment check.  Erin recommends taking stock of all your electronics – are you using all of it?  Do you know how to use all of it?  I don’t have any equipment I’m not using, so I took this time to review the apps on my iPhone, and ended up deleting a few.
  • Restock.  I went “supply shopping” when I dropped off my old binders, and picked up some paper clips and some more correction tape I’d been a bit low on.

The mindless work took the better part of the morning, and by lunchtime, my desk was the envy of the neighborhood. I felt better in the space, too.  The desktop was clean and well organized.  I had put away many of the papers that had been nagging at me, causing a surprising amount of mental drain, and I felt lighter and freer of mind.

Coolest part?  I was able to crank out two major deliverables that afternoon.  I was surprised by the boon I experienced.  I had more energy that afternoon, and was really able to focus on my work.

The benefits have lasted a few weeks now, since my workspace is still clutter-free and organized.  I have come in each morning to a clean desktop, empty in-box, and a calmer workspace.  I still have more to do than I can get to, so the overwhelm still exists, but my workspace certainly promotes a calmer environment in which to feel overwhelmed.

What I haven’t done yet is to add mindless tasks to my daily schedule at work.  The study found that the effects were greatest when the mindless work was intermingled with the mindful work – the employees had to switch from mindful work to mindless work and then back again, in order to experience the increased efficiency and creativity.  Therefore, taking a morning to be mindless was great, but if I want to reap ongoing benefits, I should schedule the upkeep of my desk into my day on a regular basis.

Will you try this?  Have you tried this?  How did it affect you?  What mindless tasks do you have on your schedule?

I’m very disorganized, and I know exactly why

disorganized paper

…what my paper problem feels like

I love all things Organize. Anything at all relating to organizing. Books, blogs, articles, products… I love ’em. I have so many books, bookmarked blogs, Pocketed articles, and yes, products, that they’ve become clutter, and now contribute to my chronic disorganization.

Just last night, I was trying to find the invitations I’d purchased for my daughter’s birthday party, and I knew right where I’d put them (to keep them safe, of course), but they weren’t there. I knew I’d placed them in the spot where I was looking, but when they didn’t turn up there, I didn’t trust myself enough to believe that I would have left them there. That trust would have prompted me to check in the immediate vicinity, and without it, I began a whole house search for the invites. My clever husband checked behind a nearby play kitchen, and found them wedged between the cabinet and the back of the play kitchen. Whew!

I believe that part of my problem with being disorganized at home (because I’m incredibly organized at work) is that I have never paid much attention to how I or my family actually function in our home. I’ve read enough organizing advice to know that every organizing system will fail if it doesn’t match up well with how a family actually lives.

Monitoring how we live and discerning why the clutter piles up has always seemed like so much work that I have never devoted any time to it at all. I just make assumptions about stuff, and institute a new organizing solution. When that solution fails, I get frustrated, but move right along to the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. I can’t tell you how many mail sorting solutions I’ve instituted, and abandoned. The one we have now isn’t working, either. But it was expensive, and it looks nice, so I’m keeping it for a while longer. Not sure why, but I am. So there.

Knowing that the real solution to our clutter and organization problems lies in studying US, not our STUFF, I need to bite the bullet and just start really paying attention to how we actually handle ourselves and our stuff when we walk in the door. Oh, and I should probably place a moratorium on buying any new organizing products during this time frame, too.

Are you satisfied with your level of organization? Have you always been organized, or did you teach yourself how to be organized?

Moving from escapism to being present

I rely greatly on escapism. I believe that the pursuit of ways to change myself (the blog itself) is a form of escapism. I have never really learned how to be alone with myself. I listen to the radio in the car, watch TV at home, read books, magazines, websites, blogs, and surf social media sites in order to escape being alone with myself.
Hagiwara Japanese Tea Garden in San FranciscoOne of the reasons I started this blog was to force myself to look a little deeper at this need to escape “me”. To discover the reasons behind the driving need to change, improve, press forward, but never looking inward. What is it that I dislike so much about myself that I don’t ever want to be completely alone with my thoughts? It’s still early in my journey of discovery, but I’m already practicing being more present with myself.

I was happy to have the opportunity to conduct the savoring experiment. It was exciting because I thought the exercise could teach me how to ignore the desire to escape the moment, and to be fully present for a variety of activities. And it did! For a month now, I have been actively looking for ways to focus on me, on an experience, a moment, a feeling…  And it has become much easier to get into that mode, as I have practiced savoring daily. The full summary of the experiment (coming on Saturday, March 2) will have more details about what I discovered, and how I might incorporate these findings into my daily life moving forward.

I’m no closer to figuring out why I have tried so hard to avoid being “me”, but I believe I’m much closer to being comfortable being alone with myself, as I am today. If you haven’t yet tried savoring, I highly recommend it. It’s habit-forming in a really good way!

Craving more of the benefits I’ve experienced through the savoring experiment, I went looking for more information on being present. In no time at all, I found a post on Zen Habits from 2008 that was just the thing. Check it out – it’s a great article.

Have you tried savoring yet? What about being present? Do you find yourself seeking out escapism?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Preparing for a beast of a race

Photo credit: phoenixblue0

I signed up last fall for the Spartan Sprint in NY in June. At the time, it seemed so far away (I had approximately 6 months to train for it). Since then, the weather turned cold, I got the flu, and my incredible cross training routine fell to shit.

Now, the race is in three months, I am less fit than I was when I signed up, and the prospect of RUNNING UP A SKI HILL suddenly has me crapping my pants with fear.

And that doesn’t even touch the obstacles – jumping over fire?! Climbing shit? Army crawling through mud? BURPEES????

I honestly don’t know what the hell I was thinking. But, I’m committed – not only have I purchased my spot in the race, and joined a team, but I bought tickets and pre-paid for a hotel room. So I’m GOING to the race. I’m going to BE IN the race.

The only question is: Will I survive it?

Yes.

I have to train for it. I have to run up and down stairs, and then big, big hills. I have to buy trail shoes, and break them in on actual trails. I have to lift weights, and do burpees, and run some more.

I have to do all of this very, very soon. I need to start as soon as possible, or I will not only be letting myself down, but my teammates, too.

Hey, if you’re up for it, let me know if you want to help me train! I’m in desperate need of some local accountability and training partners.

Recipe: Krys’ epic mac-n-cheese

This recipe is based upon a legendary batch of gourmet mac and cheese made by the head chef at the Washington State Convention Center back in 2009. It was so good, we begged for the recipe. The wily chef left out his secret ingredient, so I’ve customized the recipe a bit, and think I’ve hit upon just the right combination of flavors.

The quality of the cheese makes all the difference, so use the highest quality you can afford. I buy Tillamook vintage extra, extra sharp white cheddar from Costco, and use a nice parmesan/romano blend, though I’ve used plain ol’ Kraft parmesan before with good results.

This recipe can serve as the base for some cool variations, too. Lobster mac, buffalo chicken mac (topped with blue cheese!), spinach mac… The possibilities are endless!

Ingredients

Gourmet Mac N Cheese

  • 1 pound of elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Topping:

  • 1/4 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Boil macaroni according to directions on packaging. Drain and pour into a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter, then mix in flour, whisking until smooth. Add heavy whipping cream, and whisk until smooth. Add 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and 2/3 pound of cheddar cheese, stirring until cheese is fully melted. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  4. Remove the sauce from heat, and pour over macaroni. Stir the macaroni and the cheese sauce until all noodles are well covered.
  5. Pour mixture into a greased baking dish (I use a 2-quart round glass pyrex baking dish), and top with cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, and then panko bread crumbs.
  6. Bake uncovered until the top browns, approximately 15-20 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional Information

  • calories: 873
  • total fat: 55
  • carbohydrates: 66
  • protein: 28

Finding Zen Experiment: Savoring

Update: Week 3

I observed myself living more in the moment on a day to day basis, wondering less about what else I should be doing at any given minute, and instead focusing more on what I was actually doing. This was good for me, but not as good for the experiment, as I didn’t feel as much of a need to savor a specific thing each day – I was truly savoring everything more than I ever have before.

Saturday, February 16

My little girl missed her mama this week while I was in San Diego, and she did not want to let go of my hand as she slept for her nap. She was in her own bed, and didn’t fuss about napping, but she refused to let go of my hand. Even after she passed out completely, she had a firm grip on me. Initially, I tried to extract myself, but then I realized that this was a prime example of something I should simply accept, and enjoy. My daughter needed me, and I needed to slow down. I sat on the floor next to her little bed, and held her hand, stroked her hair, and thanked God for the sweet, perfect little girl I have been blessed with.

Sunday, February 17

On Sunday, I took my daughter on our big monthly grocery shopping trip, and we hit up four stores which took us three and a half hours. I wouldn’t say that I savored this trip, precisely, so much as I marveled at how incredibly well behaved Emma was the whole time we were out. She entertained herself, she obeyed my instructions, and she was simply amazing all day long. It was one of the most delightful shopping excursions we’ve ever been on, and I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that I was fully present in the moment throughout the trip, responding to her questions, talking with her about what we were doing, engaging her as we walked around each store. I’ve done these kinds of things on other trips, but my mind has typically been on other things as we shopped. This time, I didn’t worry about anything else – I just took my daughter shopping for groceries, and it was actually fun!

Monday, February 18

A couple friends of mine and I were off work on Monday, and we decided to take our kids to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago for the day. One of the moms and I carpooled, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to talk, while our daughters chatted away in the back seat. We talked about all kinds of stuff, from ourselves, to our husbands, to our homes, and cars… We talked a little bit about the kids, but not as much as one would expect. I focused on my friend, and really truly enjoyed getting to know her better.

Tuesday, February 19

My husband and I were both feeling under the weather, so I made chicken tortilla soup for dinner. It takes a long time to make, so I let Emma watch a movie while I cooked. The methodical rhythm of cutting up all the vegetables and chicken that go into the soup was therapeutic, and a few minutes into it, I realized that I was savoring the experience without consciously deciding to do so. Time seemed to slow down as I moved from one step to the next, stirring, measuring, tasting, seasoning… The soup was delicious, and I took great pleasure in making it.

Wednesday, February 20

Godiva makes some incredible chocolate, and I hadn’t savored any since the beginning of this experiment, so that’s precisely what I did! Bite by delicious bite, I closed my eyes, held the chocolate on my tongue, and just let the flavors and texture transport me to a place I like to call Bliss.

Thursday, February 21

I’d been fighting a cold all week, and my productivity at work has suffered. On Thursday, I dove into work in order to get a few really urgent things accomplished, and it was interesting how easy it was to do them, once I chose to make them my “savoring” for the day. Savoring work is different than savoring chocolate, in that it’s not inherently pleasurable. However, the “savoring” manifests itself in the blocking out of the rest of the world; the exclusive focus on the task at hand. It wasn’t precisely “fun”, but I did actually end up enjoying myself, without meaning to do so.

Friday, February 22

Oh, spicy, creamy, sweet creation known as the Chipotle Steak Burrito, why has it been so long since I last ate you? I savored the hell outta that burrito!

What did you savor this week?