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Respite Between the Lines: Journaling as a Tool for Reflection, Rest, and Reconnection

Inspired by this week’s Moms Making Six Figures Podcast featuring Heidi Bartolotta and Jennifer Becker, who believe in the power of journaling and its practice as a foundation for personal happiness and professional success.   Your journal is like the big sister to your childhood diary—more meditation and less mindless meandering, more gratitude and less angst, more reflection than rebellion.


Many of us willingly turned to the pages of a diary or a journal throughout our childhood or teen years, confiding our triumphs and failures and scrawling the minutia of our daily lives between the lines. But somewhere along the way, we lost touch with our now dust covered collection, our faithful friend now a mere acquaintance.  When our lives became busy and our schedules filled, we confided in our significant other and with friends over happy hour; we turned to social media to vent our frustrations and share our celebrations.  And in the midst of the world’s tumult, and an ever growing sense of disconnect, it may be time to pick up our pens and our journaling practice again.


Reflection | Journaling rewires the brain.

Incorporating gratitude into your journaling practice is proven to improve your mood and rewire your brain to look for, and be more mindful of, the positive.  In fact, Consciously practicing gratitude daily actually strengthens our neural pathways for our “feel good emotions” based on the neurotransmission of dopamine and serotonin according to Emily Fletcher, the founder of Ziva, a well-known meditation training site.

Rest | Journaling heals emotional and physical wounds.

The act of writing allows us to organize and process the events and traumas we are subject to, ultimately allowing us to, “organize an event in our mind, and make sense of trauma.  When we do that, our working memory improves, since our brains are freed from the enormously taxing job of processing that experience, and we sleep better”.  And this, according to Dr. Pennebaker, a social psychologist, boosts both our immune systems and our moods.  When we heal our emotional wounds through actively pursuing progress, our physical health follows suit.

Fewer emotional stressors and mental burdens tumbling over throughout our brain on repeat, frees up our energy and capacity for living. In 2013, researchers found that the effects of journaling actually have the ability to heal physical wounds when the practice is both consistent and genuine, occurring for at least 20 minutes a day, three days a week.

Reconnection | Journaling connects us to our past and opens the door to progress

When we empty our brain on the page, topics and insights will begin to emerge; after we process what Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, refers to as “all that angry, petty, whiny stuff”, our interaction with our current world reveals itself.  This track record then becomes a visual reminder of our growth when we reflect back on the previous day, week, month, year, or years.  And, if you’re participating in the practice of journaling regularly and consistently, you’ll begin to take action toward improving your circumstances as well, “It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action”.


So where do you begin, in picking up a friendship that has been all too neglected? Is there a right way to re-introduce yourself, to pick up where you left off? The good news is, the experts all agree –authenticity and consistency are the only two keys.  Whether you journal about gratitude, record your child’s latest sayings for posterity, or jot down an inspirational quote from a podcast, the practice itself allows you to rest, reconnect, and reflect while finding respite between the lines.

We suggest starting with a listen to this week’s episode on the various ways Heidi and Jennifer have used journaling both personally and professionally, trying out the ‘Morning Pages’ practice described in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, or starting with recording three daily gratitude’s. Here are some great ‘conversation starters’ to rekindle that friendship between pen and page.

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Improve Your Focus and Outperform the Hardest Worker in the Room: You

Inspired by this week’s Moms Making Six Figures Podcast episode with Laurel Hamblin, an incredibly successful realtor in the Treasure Valley at the young age of twenty-three, who credits her success to her pursuit of personal growth and the time she invested in herself and her career by taking the steps necessary to establish focus, even when it required (and continues to require) sacrifice.


In addition to the stress, the worry, and the very real consequences the last two years have brought many of us, now we’re facing another fallout: the inability to focus.  According to Harvard Medical School, ‘brain fog’ can be caused a variety of factors that accumulate in “wear and tear that affects processing”; these factors can range from physiological stressors to the very real plague of information overload.  “We are bombarded with information from TVs, computers, and messages such as texts or emails.  ‘When there’s too much material, it burdens our filtering system and it’s easy to get distracted.’” So how do we get back to our ability to focus? How do we become so passionate about the task at hand that we lose all track of time, notifications, and the buzzing of our devices?


Start Here

Our brain is a muscle, and does a lot of heavy lifting.  Neuropsychologist Kim Willment suggests rehabilitating our brain’s capacity for focus by participating in a single-task exercise like reading.  “Read something for 30 minutes, setting a timer to go off every five minutes.  When it goes off, ask yourself if your mind as wandered.  If so, just refocus on what you’re reading. By training your brain to monitor if your mind is wandering, you strengthen the monitoring process and the ability to maintain focus on a single task.”

 

No Direction

Performance Psychologist, Helen D’Silva, attributes our struggle to focus to a lack of clarity about what we need to do next.  Without clear steps in the beginning phase of any task, we will succumb to our emotions and become derailed.  It’s worth noting, that the plan itself doesn’t need to be fool proof.  Instead, our plan simply needs to trick our own inner critic to feel confident enough to move forward in taking the next step.

 

Warren Buffet’s “2 List” Strategy

Part of our inability to focus is largely due to our inability to prioritize; we believe that everything deserves our time and attention and we struggle to say no to tasks and other people’s priorities that pull us away from our own.  Buffet asked his personal pilot to go through this exercise to help him to better focus on what mattered most to him.  First, he had him create a list of 25 career goals, then he had him circle his top 5 goals; at this point he had 2 lists, List A, and 20 un-circled items on List B.  Buffet’s pilot, Flint, said we would begin working on List A right away, to which Buffet asked what he would do with List B.

Flint replied, “Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”

To which Buffett replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

 

Be Still

When you’re trying to focus and make headway on a project or a goal, nothing can be more frustrating than tasks that pull you out of “the zone”.  Unfortunately, that zone rarely requires intentionality or your full presence.  In order to get focused rather than busy, we must first get still.  “Mindfulness is about focusing attention on the present moment and practicing mindfulness has been shown to rewire the brain so that attention is stronger in everyday life,” says Kim Willment.

 

Unplug

Distraction has become our new normal, and our devices are normalizing that distraction.  According to AARP, older Americans have superior attention spans due in large part to their limited interaction with technology during vital years. “When participants in a study at Hokkaido University in Japan performed a task on a computer, those with a phone nearby performed more slowly than those who had a memo pad. Similarly, a single notification on your phone weakens your ability to focus on a task, researchers at Florida State University found. Those notifications may be short, but ‘they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering,’ the researchers wrote.”

Even worse? Our inability to unplug is creating anxiety and increased stress levels.  When our bodies are in a physiological state of “fight or flight” we cannot expect to focus on any higher-level thinking or performance for that matter.


While there are simple ways to improve our focus like keeping the room at an optimal temperature (77 degrees according to Cornell University) and chewing gum, the truth is that in order to reap the rewards of our increased ability to focus, we have to first put in the hard work to recalibrate our brains by cutting through the noise of the outside world.  When you establish your focus again, protect and maintain it.  You can only outwork the hardest worker, if you can focus your hard work on the most important goals on List A.

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Your Emotional Intelligence Quotient is Key to Your Success Equation

Inspired by this week’s episode of the Moms Making Six Figures Podcast with Brenda Lee, Emotional Intelligence Expert, who believes in the power of identifying our perspective and pushing through our conditional gaps to tap into our mind’s subconscious.


Part of the human experience is suffering.  And sadly many of us have experienced that suffering at the hands of another person in our lives, whether it’s the negative comments made by our father-in-law brushed off as ‘just his personality’, a boss who always asks us to stay late making our work-life balance that much harder to attain, or a poorly timed “friendly reminder” from the HOA about the state of our lawn, all of this suffering is imposed by and met with an Emotional Intelligence Quotient (or in the case of suffering’s worst offenders, the lack thereof).  And while we all know the old adage rings uncomfortably true, that we can’t control others, only ourselves, by improving our own EI (Emotional Intelligence) we will change our own perceptions of, and approaches to suffering, and model, for the less emotionally intelligent, the common denominator in the happiness and success equation.


The theory of EI was brought to the forefront of American psychology by Daniel Goleman in the 1990s.  While the concept was widely accepted in the field of psychology, employers were reluctant to embrace EI in the workplace.  Now, however, research has found that emotional intelligence is not only foundational to achieving personal happiness and success, but that it is also the strongest predictor of workplace effectiveness.

Here are the five key components of Emotional Intelligence, how to improve your skill set in each, and how each component, when put into practice, can benefit your personal and professional life.

Self-awareness

Individuals who are self-aware can identify their emotions and the impact of those emotions on their thoughts and behavior; they know their strengths and weaknesses and have self-confidence.

  • Keep a journal— Journals help to improve your self-awareness. Spending just a few minutes each day recording your thoughts can begin to move you toward greater self-awareness.
  • + The pay-off: Your mental health. Uncontrolled and unaddressed emotions and stress can take a toll on your mental health.  Learning to understand, identify and get comfortable with your emotions in order to manage them will help you to improve both your relationship with yourself and others, thereby leaving you feeling less lonely and isolated.

Self-regulation

Individuals who are able to self-regulate can manage their emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments and adapt to changing circumstances; they can control impulsive feelings and behaviors.

  • Hold yourself accountable— Easier said than done, but if you have a tendency to blame shift, it’s time to take some ownership. Make a commitment to, and a habit of, admitting your mistakes, and accepting the consequences.  You will have more respect for yourself, and quickly earn the respect of those around you.
  • + The pay-off: When you understand your emotions and you are capable of controlling them, you’re better able to express how you feel and to understand how others are feeling. This improves your communication and will allow you to establish stronger relationships both at work and at home.

Motivation

Individuals who are self-motivated work consistently toward their goals and have extremely high standards for the quality of their work.

Empathy

Individuals who have a strong capacity for empathy understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of others; they pick up on emotional cues.

  • Pay attention to your body language— An often underrated, but hugely important facet of how others perceive us, perceiving them, is our body language. Learn to control your own body language to prove you are someone who is truly empathetic and open, and learn to read others’ body language to get an accurate read of how someone truly feels.
  • + The pay-off: By investing time and effort to really pay attention to others, you’ll actually gain insight into your own emotional state as well as your values and beliefs. When we pay attention to others, their needs, and their overall well-being, we foster safety and establish trust in our relationship.

Social Skills

Individuals who possess strong social skills can maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team and manage conflict; they recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.

  • Learn conflict resolution— No one likes conflict, but it is inevitable. Knowing how to manage conflict and to successfully resolve it is essential to honing your social skills and finding success in both your personal and professional endeavors.
  • + The pay-off: When you are in tune with your emotions you are better able to connect to other people and the world around you. Your emotional intelligence directly correlates to your social intelligence; the greater your social intelligence the more your stress will be reduced and the more balanced your nervous system will be through social communication leaving you feeling loved and happy.

While suffering is a part of the human experience, it doesn’t have to define it.  When we take the time to invest in our own emotional intelligence, we benefit not only our own happiness and success, but we also become a multiplier in the lives of those around us.  By taking ownership over our own progress at home and in the workplace, we can reduce our own suffering and the suffering experienced and imposed by others.  The work is worth putting in for the reward, as psychologist Travis Bradberry notes, when M.B.A. students received emotional intelligence training (not a usual part of the M.B.A. program), “even after graduating from the program [they] had raised their [emotional intelligence] scores 40 percent.  They had trained their brains.  Practice doesn’t make perfect, but practice make things habitual.”

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Manage Your Mind

Inspired by this week’s episode of the Moms Making Six Figures Podcast with Brooke Paulin who believes in the practice of managing your mind and the small daily habits that lead to great success over time.


 In a world where we are inundated with more information and more access to it than ever before, we are faced with new challenges like ‘consumer fatigue’, information overwhelm and digital burnout.  The media and social media industries are designed to be addictive in nature, releasing dopamine or cortisol dependent on the nature of the content, that keeps us coming back for more and ultimately conditions our behavior.  Information, and the way in which we access it is not the enemy, instead it is our passive consumption of that content that can wreak havoc, particularly when we are bombarded with negativity, click-bait headlines, and divisive rhetoric.  Just as we fuel our bodies and health with nutrition and exercise, we must manage our mind and the information we choose to fill it with.

With nearly 69% of adults and 81% of teens in the US using social media, it is time for us to become active participants in managing our minds, our mental states, and our mental health.  Here are a few small changes you can make to be better prepared and intentional with the information and inputs you choose.


Reality Check

We would never let our children sit for hours on end, absent-mindedly in front of screens and we shouldn’t allow it for ourselves either.  While it may not seem like you’re spending that much time on devices outside of necessity, your Weekly Activity Report likely shows something different.

Start by taking an inventory of the current time you spend consuming content intentionally vs. out of habit or boredom.  Once you have begun to inventory your passive or active consumption tendencies, track for a day (or longer) every piece of information you digest with a “+” if it is beneficial to your personal life, work life, or overall well being, a ”–“ if it negatively impacted or took away from your personal life, work life, or overall well being, and an “=” for no impact other than time lost.

Seeing our habits in black and white allows us to see where our own struggles actually exist.  It takes five positive interactions to offset each negative interaction; is it any wonder we are more anxious, depressed, and lonely than ever before?

Schedule (and plan) Your Screen time

Self-monitoring and scheduling your consumption habits can change not only your perception of the information you digest, but also, your behaviors.  In 2018 the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study that observed the behaviors of 143 undergraduates.  One group was asked to limit all social media activity to only 10 minutes per platform, per day, while the second was allowed to use their social media as usual for three weeks.   The group that limited their scrolling “showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression during those three weeks over the group that continued using social media.”

As Brooke pointed out in this week’s podcast, “I don’t think that some of the top CEO’s, and, you know, multi-million dollar female business owners … I don’t think that they’re scrolling through social media that’s not feeding their mind. There’s no room for that.”  What would you be able to accomplish in a week of limiting your scrolling habits?

Empty the Junk Folder

Once you’ve taken inventory of the information and input you’re allowing in, and you’ve refined your mindless scrolling by replacing it with intentionally scheduled time for content consumption, get rid of anything that isn’t serving you, your mental health, your professional life, or your personal life.

Once you’ve emptied the Junk Folder, take note from some of the most successful people and follow suit by replacing what wasn’t serving you with content that does.  According to research, what makes highly successful people less stressed, happier, and more productive is scheduling their personal priorities before tending to other people’s priorities.  That goes for what you’re consuming too.  Instead of starting your day by checking email, dedicate an hour of your morning hour to be your Power Hour where you replenish your motivation with podcasts, books and curated content that supports your goals, challenges you, and leaves you feeling ready to tackle the day.  Ask your mentors what they listen to, what they read, and who they follow on social media to begin refining your palate.


In order to be successful in managing our mind, our mental state and our mental health, we must be intentional about what we consume and prepare our daily activity and schedules with discernment.  Just as nutrition is fundamental to achieving our health and wellness goals, so is the information we consume.  We avoid pitfalls of hunger by meal planning and preparation, and we can avoid the pitfalls of media and social media by planning and being thoughtful consumers.

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” –Alexander Graham Bell

Productivity sleep

How to Sleep Your To-Do List Away: Part II

4 Steps for Sleeping More and Being More Productive

Now that it’s clear why sleep is so important, here’s how to get more sleep to be more productive.

For moms with babies and toddlers who still don’t sleep through the night (especially during those endless teething months!), I advise that you just do your best to sleep when you can. Squeeze in power naps when the kids are napping and keep your daily routine simple so you’re not too hard on yourself!

For those of us who are past those pre-K years, the culprit isn’t usually our kids’ sleep schedule, but #allofthethings that need to get done for them, for you, and for the household in general!

Try these 4 steps to get a handle on your sleep and boost your productivity.

1. Set a Realistic Nighttime Routine

I’m really emphasizing realistic here because in today’s crazy busy world, especially as working moms, it’s difficult to have a consistent routine. Instead of telling yourself to be in bed at 9 PM every night, give yourself a flexible time range that you can stick to—for example, try to get to bed sometime between 9 and 10 PM every night.

Creating a nighttime routine for yourself is more than just sticking to a bedtime, though. Establishing certain habits before heading to bed can help train your body that it’s time to sleep. It’s also a great opportunity to cross a few more items off your to-do list and maybe create a fresh to-do list for the next day.

Before heading to bed, make your morning simpler by getting some tasks out of the way now. Pack the kids’ lunches the night before and lay out your outfit for the next day. Through it all, start to wind down mentally so that you can fall asleep easier.

The more prepared you are for the next day, the more productive you’ll be with your time!

2. Pay Attention to What You Consume Before Bed

After a long, hard day of work and mommy responsibilities, you may be tempted to have a glass—or 3—of wine once the kids are asleep. I know I am!

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol can actually cause sleep disturbances. While one glass likely won’t do much damage, drinking more than a couple glasses of liquor before heading to bed can cause disruptions to your sleep later in the night, leaving you feeling sleepy the next day.

Smokers should also avoid nicotine before bed as they can go through withdrawals while asleep, resulting in interrupted sleep.

3. Avoid Screens

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t watch your favorite TV series before bed, just don’t start watching it too late! Give yourself a few minutes of time after you’ve turned the TV off to unwind before heading to bed—this will make it easier to fall asleep.
And, as tempting as it is, don’t break out your smartphone to catch up on social media once you’re in bed. The backlight can suppress the chemical in your body—melatonin—that tells you it’s time to sleep.
Plus, if you like to read before bed, try to read an actual paper book or magazine instead of your phone or tablet (for the same reason).

4. Exercise—But Not Right Before Bed

Exercise improves your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep longer. It also helps increase your REM sleep cycle, the deepest, most rejuvenating part of sleep. Without it, you wouldn’t wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day’s tasks.

But, since exercise gets your blood pumping, it also raises your internal temperature and increases adrenaline—all of which can make it hard to fall asleep. So try to get your exercise in long before it’s time for bed.

Most Importantly, Make Sleep a Priority!

Sleep and productivity are directly linked. There’s so much more we can all do to improve our sleep, but the key is that you should make sleep a priority—just like eating, drinking, and staying active. Sleeping more will prepare you for tackling your busy day and clearing off your to-do list efficiently.

If you get enough sleep to function at your best, you’ll be well on your way to being a productive, successful, happy mom.

Productivity sleep

How to Sleep Your To-Do List Away: Part I

For us moms, it’s always a balancing act to get enough sleep to function throughout the day and still accomplish enough on our to-do lists.

Many of us think that in order to be successful, we need to wake up early and burn the midnight oil. But we’ve also been told that getting sufficient sleep is essential to our overall health. So, what if we want both, productivity and improved health?

Well, we can have both—because more sleep leads to increased productivity! Science has shown that we need a healthy amount of sleep every night to be productive during the day.

In the next two articles, we’ll tackle the tough topic (for moms!) of sleep—why it’s so important, and how to get more done while still getting more sleep!

First things first: Here’s why sleep matters so much.

Why More Sleep Helps You Get More Done

Sleep Supports Optimum Brain Function

If you’ve had a newborn, then you’re familiar with the negative impact that lack of sleep has on your energy level and productivity! We all have days when we drag ourselves through the endless hours with lots of caffeine and still struggle to focus.

According to a study by The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), sleep deprivation impairs our alertness and attention, negatively affecting certain brain structures and functions. All of these adverse neurological impacts also have an effect on our productivity. If we’re constantly drowsy and our attention is fleeting, no wonder we’re accomplishing so little during the day!

We’re also more likely to make mistakes when we’re tired, meaning that we spend more time correcting our errors. Getting enough sleep in the first place keeps us from having to backtrack to fix something and waste precious time!

Sleep Reduces Procrastination

If you’re like me, when you’re tired, the last thing you want to do is make decisions and deal with a never-ending list of daily responsibilities like work, chores, and helping the kids with homework. It’s exhausting just thinking about it!

When we wake up tired, we’re much more likely to push off difficult tasks for another day, which just means more work is piling up and adding to our ongoing overwhelm.

When we’re well-rested, on the other hand, we’re more likely to tackle the day’s tasks instead of procrastinating. We’ll also be much more willing to attempt the more difficult, important tasks on our to-do list when we’ve had enough sleep—like taking the car in for service, filing that health insurance claim we’ve been putting off, or helping our child with their science project.

But HOW Do I Get More Sleep?!

I get it, there are only 24 hours in a day and something has to give, right? Well, not if you’re strategic about managing your waking, and sleeping, hours. In my next post, I’ll share some helpful tips for getting more sleep and getting more done while you’re at it. Yes, it is possible, I promise!