While I try to focus this blog more on lifestyle—food, travel, décor, DIY stuff, interesting people—this summer has not really been a lifestyle summer. Which is okay; as it commences, I am totally at peace with what it was: a figuring-out-operational-processes summer. Not super glamorous or exciting or earth shattering, but useful nonetheless as the family heads into the next season.
Tomorrow, the kids go back to school and we all fall back into a nine-month regiment of hot-cereal breakfasts; early, chilly mornings at the bus stop; after-school sports; a forest’s worth of school papers haphazardly stuck to the fridge; a predictable schedule (for Mom) and hopefully a lot more writing and work accomplished. I like this sort of schedule, even as I appreciate the occasional randomness that ensures we haven’t all morphed into robots. As I think about this, I think about how much is crammed into my life and the lives of most my female friends and counterparts.
Modern women are BUSY. Some are born with the ability to balance it all without missing a beat (we’ve all met at least one of those mutant-types), but most of us have to learn, through trial and error, how to manage the crazy madness of it all. Mother, wife, employee, executive, entrepreneur, nurse, caretaker, friend, daughter, sister, volunteer, artist, financial planner….the list goes on, compounding for single mothers. All things we have the ability to be good at and probably enjoy to some extent—but doing it all sometimes feels (to me) like climbing Mount Everest in heels.
And so, at the risk of sounding annoying and trite because most people have already figured this stuff out, here’s what I came up with for myself and anyone who happens to call me up on a day I’m feeling wise, oh so wise:
1) Get up early (!!!)
My body prefers to stay up all night reading, writing or editing pictures in Photoshop—and to catch its beauty sleep as long into the next morning as possible. While motherhood and employment have not been sympathetic to this natural rhythm, I still end up staying up too late and struggling to get out of bed at a time that allows me to “seize the day!”
Getting up early really does give people an advantage on their day—how could it not? You have more time, which is such a scarce commodity, and isn’t that alone worth the sand-filled eyes—the flip-floppy tummy when jerked into consciousness by some horrible honking sound emanating from the cell phone alarm clock?
This advantage is even for people who aren’t naturally morning people—like me—but I am assuming only if you are a coffee drinker. If two cups of dark roast weren’t waiting after disentangling from my beloved down comforter and pillow, I personally wouldn’t care how much advantage was amassed for the taking.
But early rising does appear to be a strong factor in my ability to rise to, rather than react to, the day.
2) Begin the day with quiet meditation
This doesn’t have to be a religious thing.
It is simply an exercise in creating opportunity for spiritual and mental regeneration.
I thought, at first, that I should read a self-help book or Scripture or journal my thoughts during this time. Something that would give me a directive, an action item, for becoming.
But what is really lacking in my life is a time of the day during which I do nothing; the whole “be still and know” idea.
All day long, there is constant momentum, constant stimulation, constant striving, constant thinking and strategizing and problem solving.
And so, I resist the temptation to fill that quiet time with more “doing” and, instead, with my coffee, sit and listen to the birds sing, listen to the silence, whisper prayers of thankfulness for my family, the jobs that provide for us, the friendships that nourish us, our health, etc. Release the fears and worries. Allow the quiet conversations of heart and mind to connect, without adding anything from the outside.
I can read and journal at other times. The day, with its demands, hassles and ultimatums—it holds back, deferring to the wise presence of Early Morning. In this court, solitude is strength. Silence, the voice of a God (or maybe something different, depending on the individual). Stillness, a cleansing bath for the soul.
The temptation to make mental lists and prioritize action items will creep in—resist! The time for that sort of thing is later.
This time of reflection must be unto its own.
3) Make proper nutrition and exercise a daily priority
Those who know me well have heard me bemoan my all or nothing tendencies, especially when it comes to diet and exercise. My skinny jeans were once a great motivator for choosing salad over a burger; much to my dismay, my vanity has taken a back seat to work, children, business, life. Which SOUNDS noble, but really it just means my health has taken a back seat, as well.
I do know a healthy diet is essential for living the best quality of life possible and remind myself of that when I am tempted to go through the drive-thru or skip my workout. Nutritional food gives me endurance and clarity of mind which helps me get through that dreaded meeting at work, to run a million errands with the kids, to feel calm when dealing with a rebellious child, to embrace every opportunity for creativity and development.
And exercise. Stretching, cardio, lifting weights, walking, because it all helps me sleep at night, it gives me energy, it balances the stress hormones, it gives me confidence when facing new situations. And because we all know that exercise remains an essential part of aging well and healthy living.
So, do it because it’s part of the overall plan for a successful, empowered life. Don’t do it for two weeks because you are going on vacation and will be debuting the dreaded two-piece in front of a critical universe.
That kind of motivation probably isn’t sustainable for a 30, 40, 50 something year old woman—especially if she, like me, has made peace with the fact that a nightly glass (or two) of wine really does feel sexier than sporting a perfectly flat tum-tum.
For me, working out has to happen right after quiet time, or it doesn’t happen. I find working out so early to be an unpleasant, jarring experience for the ole’ system–and I do not understand people who LOVE exercise. Even at my most slender and fit hiccup of my life, have I viewed exercise as a necessary evil. Quite possibly, this indicates laziness. Nonetheless, getting that dosage of heart-pumping torture out of the way really is the only way.
And—voila! Three habits I need in order to “seize the day” checked off before 7 a.m, setting the foundation for healthy lifestyle choices and the grind of the day’s responsibilities.
And Then The Day Starts
I may or may not accomplish everything else on my list. But if I’ve taken care of myself spiritually and physically, then I know I won’t burn out in the long haul as I have done in the past.
Remembering, of course, that these habits don’t resolve all life’s problems.
Chemical imbalances, relationships issues, lack of direction and clarity, insecurities, sicknesses, mental illness. There are so many huge, real struggles people face every day. But I think for many women in the stages of career development, raising a family, marriage and figuring other huge things out, we forget to take care of ourselves. We forget what that even looks like.
I know I do.
Some days are “do as I say, not as I do.” We can’t control all things at all times. We oversleep, we were up all night with sick kids and skipped our meditative time or maybe we simply don’t feel like showing up for a day or two.
But perfection was never the goal in the first place—and we always have tomorrow morning to start again.