Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week 6 Challenge: Party sober!

This week I intentionally went without drinking.  It wasn’t a battle of self-control, I don’t have a problem so let’s just clarify that, but this week was about being mindful- it was about being aware. 

So when I went to dinner and couldn’t order wine I was aware of how that made me feel.  When I went to the bar and got hit on by drunk strangers, asking me if they could buy me a drink, I paid attention to their reaction when I said “no, I’m not drinking”.  When I didn’t drink Friday night at one of the biggest parties of the year, I took note of how people treated me.

It was an interesting little experiment and it started off with genuine curiosity.  I was interested in asking why: why people enjoy drinking, why people feel more comfortable with a drink in their hand, why people abuse alcohol and why the drinking culture is the way it is.  But somewhere in the middle of the week I crossed a very thin line and I found myself judging other people, which was the opposite of what I wanted to accomplish this week. 

It’s much easier to evaluate others than to take the time to evaluate yourself.  It’s almost like a defense mechanism: to deflect the attention away from you and your own actions and put that attention on someone else.  It’s also a low level to stoop to in order to make you feel better.  I could have wasted a whole week analyzing the actions and behaviors of others when the more constructive thing to do would be to analyze my own actions and behaviors. 

Which reminded me of this friend I have, she is often the life of the party.  She is loud and cute and fun and she can out-drink most of her guy friends.  In the past few years that I’ve known her, I’ve noticed every once in a while she’ll go a few weeks without drinking at parties and I never got around to asking her why.  When we were talking about my challenge this week she mentioned her occasional patterns of sobriety.  She said that when things start to get out of control, she’ll take a break from drinking for awhile to prove to herself that she can do it, to prove to herself that she doesn’t need to drink to have fun.

I admire my friend because she’s intentional about keeping herself in check. This week was about being intentional about asking the tough questions and evaluating my own actions.

So here’s what I learned:  I learned that I can close a party down without drinking.  I learned that I assume the worst will occur when I go into a situation I’m uncomfortable with and I also learned that it’s never as bad as I image it will be.  I learned that it is, in fact, possible to have a great conversation at the bar as well as have a great time on the dance floor sober.  I learned that my expectations determine my attitude and behaviors more than anything else. I learned that people, specifically the people at the Halloween party Friday night, are better people than I gave them credit for, not once did I feel pressure from others to drink (so thank you).   But most importantly, I learned that while it’s important to be aware, it’s so much more important to be self-aware.

I encourage you to ask the hard questions, to evaluate your behaviors and to be intentional about reflecting on your own actions. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Week 5 Challenge: Go for a run every day

If you know me, even if you know me just a little, you probably know that I don’t run.  In fact I hardly exercise and there are two reasons for this: laziness and terrible coordination.  When I run (away from people or to speed things up) I’ve been referenced as looking like a horse galloping.  Okay, so my long limbs and I are still getting to know each other and while I strive to be composed and graceful, when I run things just don’t seem to work out, so I just don’t run.

Have I mentioned I have great friends? Because I do, and ever since day one with this blog, my friends have been telling me I should challenge myself to work out for a week straight, or run for a week or pick up a sport.  I said sure, sure but really I was thinking heck no, I’ll avoid that challenge as long as possible.

But there was no avoiding it last weekend when I spent my fall break in Denver, Colorado where my friends and I ate out every day, visited a few breweries, took a car ride up a mountain and did a lot of sitting around and catching up with old friends. 

We were all feeling sufficiently unhealthy when Sunday came around and that’s when Kat suggested it would be a good idea to go for a run once a day as my challenge for the upcoming week, and she offered to join me.  At first, I refused.  I had two more days in Colorado and it was difficult enough climbing stairs with the elevation there, and besides I wanted to spend my time enjoying life, not gasping for air and making a fool of myself.  Kat’s persuasive, if you didn’t know, and talked me into doing it.

The next morning as we left our friend’s apartment I thought to myself, when was the last time I even ran?  I racked my brain, sifting through memories and as Kat and I began to jog, I remembered. Summer of 2008.  Over two years ago was the last time I went for run… and then I thought what am I doing? 

I won’t lie, it was extremely difficult to run in Denver, especially for someone so out of shape.  Kat and I made it 10 minutes the first day and an arguable 15 the next.  My lungs hurt for the remainder of the week.  But when Wednesday rolled around and I was back in Michigan, something happened that genuinely surprised me: I found myself actually looking forward to run.  I think the fact that I survived Denver and proved to myself that I could actually do it made me see the whole situation in a different light.  I finished my challenge without a problem and even ran two days on my own.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what the root of my problem was with running: fear.  I was afraid I won’t be able to, afraid I would look like an idiot while trying, afraid that I would confirm the fact that I’m out of shape, afraid that I would fail.

So as a defense mechanism, I limited myself.  I told everyone that I don’t run, which eliminated the possibility of even trying.  Because ultimately, deep down I had this fear that I was incapable.

Fear has this huge presence in our lives that brew underneath the surface of the majority of our issues.  Identifying that fear is the first step and understanding it’s irrationality is the next.

Which reminded me of Coach Carter, at the end of his long speech about fear he says this: “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others" (*originally a Nelson Mandela quote).  

Liberation.  To be free from fear.  It can be a powerful feeling.

So what’s on your list of things you don’t do?  
Why are they there?  
How do you limit yourself and how will you attempt to liberate yourself?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week 4: Be 10 minutes early to everything (time manage)

This week I challenged myself to be 10 minutes early to everything.

I must have subconsciously known this was going to be a hard challenge for me, because while my conscious self would argue I chose this challenge without thinking, my subconscious self would argue that I somehow strategized, because not only was my intercultural and gender communication class cancelled all week but on Thursday afternoon I left for Denver for fall break, meaning that I had less time commitments this week than on average.

And even with that said, I have to admit… I failed.  Miserably.

On Tuesday I had gone a whole two days trying to be on time, honestly trying, with good intentions and all, but for the majority of the classes and meetings I had, I was either late or just barely on time.

I was discouraged, anxious, and a little bit hopeless.  For a brief second I thought to myself: I’ve always been bad at time management, so maybe that’s just the way it is. 

But then I thought back to something my art professor said earlier that day.  After one of my classmates asked me what my challenge was this week, we all got into a conversation about students being late to class.  Somewhere in the conversation my professor joined in and shared some insight.  She said, “you know a lot of instructors have a hard time with students coming in late to their classes, it’s kind of like a sign of disrespect.”  I knew she wasn’t being passive aggressive and the comment wasn’t directed towards me, but it sure hit home. 

I don’t mean to be disrespectful when I show up a few minutes late, but I realized that it doesn’t matter what my intentions are, it only matters how my actions are perceived. 

So this subtle epiphany dawned on me and on Tuesday night I decided I needed to do something, because for one I didn’t want to write a blog about failing, I didn’t want to be labeled as disrespectful, and I also wanted to prove to myself that I’m not a hopeless case.  

With the remaining one and a half days I had left for this challenge, I’m proud to say I successfully made it 10 minutes early to one appointment, three classes and two meetings. 

A very small step in the very long process of breaking a bad habit. 

I think it’s scary to admit you’re in the wrong and it’s also scary to try and change a habit.  This week for me was about those two things, and now that it’s all out on the table, I know a little bit more about myself and I know what I need to work on. 

So, do you have bad habit… or maybe it’s just a habit to you, but do others perceive it as bad?  Be honest with yourself and bring to the surface some issues you’ve been pushing back down into your gut for some time now.  

What is it that you need to work on?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Week 3 Challenge: Go vegan

I went vegan this past week - well, actually five days. Monday through Friday. Eating a vegan diet required me to subtract all animal products out of my diet, which meant no dairy, no eggs, no cheese and no meat.

More specifically to me that meant no butter, no waffles (mmh egos), no milk in my coffee, no yogurt, no pizza, no sandwiches, no dessert or pastry (of any kind) and NO TACO BELL.

Needless to say this challenge involved a lot of self-control.

Self-control has never been something I’ve been good at or even been close to mastering.  Well, I should give myself some credit, I can control some things. Actually, I like to control most things, but when it comes to food and when it comes to being hungry, I’ll eat anything in front of me.  Just the other week I was so hungry my stomach ached, so I ate handfuls of Cheerios until I felt full.  And for anyone that knows me well, they know I need breakfast before all other things in the morning because being hungry makes me angry.  I realize I’m coming off as ungrateful for the food I eat… which brings me to lesson number one this week: I’m ungrateful for the food I eat.

In chapel on Monday, Kate talked about food.  She reminded us that food is a gift from God and somewhere along the way we’ve turned it into a product that we consume.  She encouraged us to reframe the way we see food, as a gift that we receive rather than a product we consume.

Combine that with the phrase: “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone” and trust me, lesson learned.

Restricting my diet made me more aware of how much I took for granted; animal products are in so many of my basic meals.  After spending Monday through Friday eating vegan, Saturday and Sunday felt like Christmas morning.

However, I didn’t shovel food into my mouth (like I envisioned myself doing earlier that the week) in fact, I was thoughtful and conscious of what I ate.  When I ate egos Saturday morning, I thought: dairy and eggs.  When I ordered a non-soy cappuccino I thought: dairy.  When I ordered the deelite plate at Dee-Lite I thought two eggs, four pieces of bacon and butter… yuuum.  

And even now, as I plan out what I’m going to eat for lunch, I feel lucky and excited and thankful that I get to eat meat and cheese and milk and eggs.  I am grateful. 

Now, I realize this is basically the complete opposite mind frame vegans have, so let me make it clear I only adapted the vegan diet, not the vegan attitude or mindset.  Because let’s face it, eating vegan was hard enough.

And I suppose while I’m being honest I should mention I cheated… twice on accident (one chocolate m&m and an oatmeal cookie a friend made for me) and two times with full awareness I was cheating (spinach and artichoke dip- with cheese- and the breadsticks at olive garden- drenched in butter).

And there were many times I wanted to cheat, but didn’t, and for that I’m thankful I have good friends.  One Thursday morning I caused a scene in the Kletz when I wanted butter on my bagel and the 20 girls I was sitting with yelled back at me “don’t do it, don’t do it.”  So I resorted to jam.  And I wanted sushi on Friday with everything in me, I was even sitting at Wild Chef ready to order a California role, but my girlfriends told me NO.  So I went with the veggie low mien. 

Which brings me to the second lesson I learned this week: friends and family that are supportive are the best kind of people to have in your life.  They held me accountable when I was unwilling to meet the expectations I had set for myself earlier that week.  Because friends and family have this way of seeing things a lot clearer than you can in times of desperation (I really wanted that butter), and those voices of clarity are important listen to.

So, I owe a thanks to the sibs that were at Kletz lunch this past Thursday, my thoughtful mother for making me a vegan dinner on Saturday night (when all I wanted was meat), to Kat for her guidance and patience in Meijer when I was still optimistic about going vegan, to Lauren who genuinely thought there was no cheese in the spinach artichoke dip at City Vu, to Emily for being my voice of reason and Rowe for not allowing me to snatch the sushi off your plate Friday night.  And of course, I owe a thanks to the animals I take from, thank you for your delicious contributions to my meals (and I apologize if that came off as insensitive).

Monday, October 4, 2010

Week 2 Challenge: Finish something you've started

This past week, I finished a painting I started back in July.

It took me until Thursday to do it. 

As each day went by and the week progressed, I had this nagging feeling mixed with anxiety to finish the painting that I didn’t want to finish.  But thankfully this blog was holding me accountable to finish the dang painting, because several times I wanted to cop out (kind of like last week, hmm I wonder what that says about my character).  So finally I forced myself to sit in my room, put some Kid Cudi on and whip out the paints and brushes. 

I sat there, on my floor staring down at my unfinished work and remembered all the reasons why I hadn’t completed the painting in the first place.  I thought, this doesn’t look as good as I want it to be, the lines aren’t clean, the huge tree in the middle is awkward, etc.  But quickly I stopped myself, took a deep breath and started mixing colors and put the brush on the canvas. 

And the whole process, with all my doubts, anxiety, paint mixing and even downloading a few songs as I painted… finishing the piece of art took me about an hour and a half.  An hour and a half.

 So, if you want to do the math on that one, I spent 3 months putting off a task that took me 90 minutes to complete. 

That speaks volumes to a very simple fact: that the fear of doing something is always worse than actually doing it.

So this got me thinking and I remembered a passage from my most favorite book, Cold Tangerines: Shauna writes:  “It matters, art does, so deeply.  It’s one of the noblest things, because it comes from such a deep place inside us.  There’s nothing scarier than that moment when you sing the song for the first time, for your roommate or your wife or when you let someone see the painting, and there are a few very long silent moments when they haven’t yet said what they think of it, and in those few moments, time stops and you quit painting, you quit singing forever, in your head, because it’s so fearful and vulnerable, and then someone says, essentially, thank you and keep going, and you breath releases, and you take back everything you said in your head about never painting again...

So, to all the secret writers, late-night painters, would-be singers, lapsed and scared artists of every stripe, dig out your paintbrush, or your flute, or your dancing shoes. Pull out your camera or your computer or your pottery wheel. Today, tonight, after the kids are in bed or when your homework is done, or instead of one more video game or magazine, create something, anything.

Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it. I need it.

Thank you, and keep going."

So what is it that you’ve been putting off? 
What fear of yours is limiting you, right at this very moment? 
What have you started and neglected to finish?
Is it a project, a piece of art work, a conversation with a family member or broken relationship? 
Is it that phone call or email or letter you’ve been meaning to get around to? 

Take initiative today, I promise only good can come from it.