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The Secret to Making Working Mom Life Work

The Secret to Making Working Mom Life Work

After a particularly long and stressful day a few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. It suddenly hit me that I am a working mom. Not a very timely epiphany as my first child is 9 and I worked before and after her birth. But an epiphany, nonetheless.

There are times when navigating a full-time career and managing a household feels incredibly overwhelming. In these dark moments, the questions in my mind arise.

“How can I possibly do everything that needs to be done in a day?”

“Is it selfish to take time for myself?”

“Am I taking anything away from my kids by also having a career?”

“Could I be a better mother if I devoted more time to it?”

“Why am I so hopelessly disorganized?”

These are the moments when I question everything. Maybe these questions have also arisen in your mind?

And although I do consider myself to have perfectionist tendencies, I am a terrible planner. I put very little thought or effort into thinking ahead about certain things. Life has a way of happening and I’ve always emphasized the big decisions while letting the smaller ones go.

But working mom life is tough! So tough that I wonder whether it is possible to excel in one’s career and at home. All while staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, excercising, socializing, and staying sane. Basically doing all the things.

How do you do all the things as a working mom? Are there other moms out there who feel the same way?

It begs the question of how I even got on this crazy path.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Past and Present

Whether or not I should work has never been the question. Even after having kids, I’ve always felt a strong pull to contribute to my family financially. Having been raised on a dairy farm, I learned very early on that work is simply a part of life.

The act of working in and of itself brings me a great deal of satisfaction. But my career path has taken twists and turns that I never expected.

If there’s anything I’ve learned thus far, it’s that life is unexpected and forces you to pivot.

After graduating with a fine arts degree in music, I found myself living in a tiny Wisconsin town. If you know anything about tiny Wisconsin towns, you know that they are basically comprised of bars and churches. Bleak job prospects for a newly graduated music major. And although I did take a position playing Sunday services for a couple of area churches, I didn’t make nearly enough to support myself.

You may also enjoy reading Stop Caring What “They” Think.

I needed a new plan.

Luckily, I had completed a certified nursing assistant (CNA) course in college and decided to apply for a position at a local nursing home. This one decision launched an entirely different type of career path than I had ever considered before.

A path which would eventually lead from CNA in a nursing home to nurse practitioner for people residing in a nursing home. Throw a marriage, a daughter, divorce, a second marriage, and two sons into the mix and here we are today.

But until recently, I had never sat down to think about HOW one goes about managing a career and family. What does this actually look like and can the two be meshed together in some type of cohesive way?

Career and Family

All great questions. My working mom epiphany was starting to lead me down a path of discovery. And so I did what I usually do whenever I have a curious thought which won’t go away. I looked for a book which could help me better understand this concept of working while raising a family.

The book I found was a collection of individual stories of women who work and also have children. Stories of women who climbed the corporate ladder and those who ultimately chose to adjust their careers around their home life. Women juggling PTO, sick days, vacation, and wardrobe malfunctions all in the name of excelling at work and at home.

An entire book all about the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a working mom.

And to be honest, the book was initially a letdown.

I didn’t need some book to tell me that mom guilt about being at work versus at my daughter’s school event is real. Or that a morning routine (or lack thereof) can make or break your day. I truly wasn’t looking for a story about another woman’s husband chipping in at home so she could work.

It was answers I was after. Answers about how to manage the overwhelming chaos of working mom life. Easy-to-follow checklists for taming the daily disarray. Hints about fitting self-care into a tumultuous schedule. Encouragement that yes, things will in fact get better.

Stories are nice but they aren’t answers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m super happy that Susan’s husband vacuums and scrubs the toilets. But how did she get him to take on these tasks?

And congratulations to Lindsay on cutting back to part-time hours! But what about the options if your family’s economic stability depends upon your full-time hours?

It’s amazing that Cheryl was able to negotiate her employer into allowing her some time to work-from-home. But how is this story beneficial when your career is not amenable to working from home?

I was beginning to think that there simply were no answers to the questions I was asking.

More Questions Than Answers

Despite my initial disappointment in the book’s inability to answer my questions, I kept reading it. Mostly because I was 50 pages in at that point and already invested.

After all, it was possible that the answers I was looking for were in the very last chapter. Or in some type of bonus chapter. It was also entirely possible that the secret to managing my working mom life was in an exclusive online book resource.

I had to keep reading to make sure I wasn’t missing out on anything that all the other working moms somehow knew. Working mom life would be much easier if there was a secret to making it all balance. If not a secret, then maybe a magical fairy or elf.

Picture this. It’s been a long day at work, you’re tired, and your toddler screams all the way home from day care. And then continues screaming because you won’t let him lick the soap dispenser at home. His older brother, slighted because you asked how his day went, quickly joins in the screaming. Just to top it all off, their older sister starts yelling because she is annoyed at the screaming of the other two.

You’ve been there before too, right?

In this moment, wouldn’t it be great if you could tap into some deep well of knowledge? In fact, wouldn’t it be great if you could suddenly feel calm, cool, and collected about all areas of your working and home life? If you could simply let the stress of the work day melt away amidst the screaming tantrums of your kids.

Admit how great it would feel if you could drop the constant feelings of competition between work and home. The feeling that because you work, you’re somehow dropping the ball at home. Or the feeling that because you take time off to care for a sick child, you’re slacking off at work. And on and on and on.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was looking for reassurance. Reassurance that I wasn’t the only one feeling the constant conflict between work and home life. I needed to hear that I wasn’t the only one with more questions than answers.

The Working Mom Secret

It wasn’t until I was almost through with the book that it suddenly hit me.

I wasn’t the only one questioning how to make it all work! There was no magical “one size fits all” answer for achieving balance in your working mom life.

And do you know what else I learned?

There are forces beyond my control influencing my thoughts, feelings, and responses to “balancing” working mom life. Forces contributing to my feelings of overwhelm and constant questioning.

These forces run deep. Some are rooted in society’s expectations about male and female roles both inside and outside the home. Others stem from the influences of social media and comparison. Still others are deeply personal and come from your own expectations of who you ARE versus who you SHOULD be.

And let’s not forget the expectations of your spouse, friends, family, and coworkers. The unsolicited advice about how to learn more, be more, and do more. Advice on how to make all the bits and pieces of your life come together into a pretty picture.

In short, working moms are struggling against a plethora of outside forces. This struggle only sets us up for more and more questions.

Unless we stop and consider what is truly driving our feelings, emotions, and actions, we will never come to a better understanding of the issue.

And how does one come to a better understanding of an issue?

By asking questions, seeking out information, and sifting through one’s deepest underlying thoughts and beliefs.

The secret to a better understanding of working mom life is to ask more questions.

I know this may not be the answer you were hoping for. Believe me, I completely understand your frustration in now having more questions than answers.

But at the end of the day, working moms all have completely different hopes, dreams, and goals.

We are all individuals. Each of us has a unique perspective to contribute.

What’s Your Perspective?

By this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “Ok, great. But now what? How can I apply this in my own life?”

You can start by ditching the concept of “balancing” home and work lives. The word “balance” means equilibrium. Equality between two separate entities.

In working mom life, there is NO. SUCH. THING. as balance.

Life is unexpected. You will constantly need to make tough choices. Choices which result in favoring one thing over another.

This is just the nature of life. Accept that there will be times when you need to choose family over work. And vice versa. It’s ok.

Know that all working moms wrestle with these questions. If not these same exact questions, then eerily similar ones.

None of us really knows what we’re doing. We’re all just doing the very best we can with what we have. Approach each new day with the faith that you are making progress. Forgive yourself.

Talk with other working moms who may be going through the same struggles as you. Working moms are a community of incredibly strong, resourceful, and resilient women. We absolutely need to avoid tearing each other down but rather stick together!

And stay curious. If you’re struggling, look for resources. In today’s world, there is an abundance of information out there. Don’t keep yourself in the darkness of overwhelm when all you need to do is simply reach out and turn on the light switch.

Keep asking questions until you find the answers you’re looking for! Or at least until you get to the questions which get you to the root of your hang-up.

If you’re looking for a starting point, check out the book which inspired today’s post here. This book triggered so much emotionally for me and inspired my belief that the answer to this issue is complex and actually lies in the questions.

If a podcast is more your style, check out one of my personal favs below!

  • Do It Scared with Ruth Soukup
  • The Confidence Podcast with Trish Blackwell
  • Rise Podcast with Rachel Hollis

And always remember that you’re not on this journey alone. Life with kids requires a complete transformation. You cannot live the same way you did before having kids. And my guess is that you wouldn’t want to. Kids add an element of fulfillment unmatched by anything else!

And now it’s your turn. What are your current challenges, questions, and stresses? Where do you find yourself constantly getting hung up? What are the forces beyond your control which are currently impacting you in a big way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this and more below!

Rekindle the Romance in Your Marriage

Rekindle the Romance in Your Marriage

Christmas is done, the new year is upon us, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. My husband and I have been married for over 6 years now and take a very laid back approach to the day. Marriage comes with its own set of trials and tribulations and we’ve certainly had our fair share since we said “I do.” A mortgage payment, several job changes, graduate school, and three children all in 6 years is enough to exhaust anyone. The truth is that a healthy marriage requires effort and at a certain point, figuring out how to rekindle the romance becomes crucial.

Daily life is stressful and has a tendency to blur out memories of the person you initially fell in love with. I remember a time when I couldn’t wait to get a text or call from my husband. Flash forward to last week when feelings of intense annoyance bubbled to the surface after he called and asked me to stop at the gas station after work. The nerve! He might as well have asked for my left kidney. I would have rather given him an organ than stop anywhere after a long day at work.

And yet, there was a time when I had butterflies at the mere thought of him. A time before the accumulating daily stress of work and managing a household. That brief moment in time when we could do no wrong in the eyes of the other.

After 6 years of marriage, is it possible to get back to that place?

My belief is that love grows and evolves over time. You’re not the same person you were when you first met and fell in love. Your relationship has been strained and tested in 1,000 different ways and yet, your love remains. You’ve seen your spouse both at their best and at their worst. Through it all, you continue going to sleep and waking up next to them each day. Although it’s easy to lose sight of the beginning, those early days laid the foundation for where you are now.

Take advantage of the birthdays, anniversaries (even the cheesy Hallmark holidays!) to remember where you came from and where you are now. Strengthen the bond with your spouse and deepen the love you share for each other. It is in this spirit I give you ways to rekindle the romance with your spouse.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Conversation is Key

In my house, there are a bazillion barriers to having an actual adult conversation. Kids, sports, and a general sense of chaos unfortunately tend to distract from meaningful communication. Conversation where each person is totally invested in what the other person is saying. The type of conversation where you are looking each other in the eye.

Exactly the opposite of the conversation where you are simultaneously watching television and breaking up fights between kids.

In thinking back to the early days of our relationship, it is the 100% focused attention during conversation that I miss most.

I’m going to put this out there and you can decide whether or not you agree. Electronics and a constant sense of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) are at least partially to blame for the pathetic state of our conversational skills. Thanks to technology, we’re constantly plugged in to what’s happening online.

Gone are the days when it took 10+ minutes to boot up the ol’ Mac and wait for the internet dial-in to check Facebook or respond to email. I believe that if we still had to sit and listen to the modem dialing in each time we wouldn’t care as much about the online world. But alas, technology has sophisticated EVERYTHING and we’re now only a fingerprint and swipe away from the latest sports stat or profile update. We are at the beck and call of that tiny device we can’t imagine living our lives without.

So … what can we do to get back to 100% focused conversation?

Commit to setting aside time either on a daily or a weekly basis to spend in conversation with your spouse. Turn your phone off and keep the laptop shut. Spend some time truly focusing on what your spouse is saying. Get into their world. Channel yourself back to that time when your spouse was the most fascinating person in your world.

And if you find yourself struggling to focus, check out this book which changed my entire outlook on distraction. It’s a game-changer!

Focus on the Positive

After the excitement of the wedding and honeymoon wears off, real life can begin to take its toll. Regardless of whether you lived together before marriage, chances are good that your spouse will have aggravating habits. Maybe they constantly leave every light in the house on when they walk out the door in the morning. Or perhaps they leave their clothes on the floor, inches from the laundry basket. Maybe you’ve even found yourself hitched to the ultimate sports fan, watcher of every sport EVER.

Whatever it is … your spouse will get on your nerves at some point.

It’s so easy to give in to the negativity and fixate on their most irritating quirks. But focusing on the negative does nothing beyond driving a mental wedge between you. Negative thoughts when left unchecked can quickly spiral out of control. What starts out as a minor irritation can morph into darker and more destructive thoughts. Similar to a cloudy day, negative clouds begin to obscure the sunny aspects of your marriage.

Instead of dwelling on your spouse’s annoying habits, look for the positive in the situation. Any challenge can inspire personal growth when handled with a positive mindset. Use your energy to instead actively seek out the positive. In many cases, the flip side of the irritating trait may have been what attracted you to the person in the first place. Maybe their complete lack of awareness regarding home energy usage comes from a laid back personality. And maybe this personality perfectly complements your incredibly intense type A personality.

If you’re really challenged to find the positive, it’s time to step away from all the daily stress. Planning a weekend get-away or even a date night 100% without responsibility can do wonders to rekindle the romance! With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, you have a perfect excuse to plan a romantic getaway!

Give of Yourself

Marriage is full of ruts. Our brains love routine and settling down into daily life with someone else is full of them! Despite sharing a life with someone, there can be a tendency to get absorbed into your own world. This is especially true if there hasn’t been intention toward creating deeper intimacy through conversation, time together, and other activities (you fill in the blanks here!).

It’s easy to forget about the needs and desires of your spouse amidst the daily demands placed upon your time and energy.

Everyone feels love in slightly different ways. We may think that we are showing our spouse love by cooking their favorite meal or showering them with gifts. In actuality, they may simply need to hear those three little words.

What can you do to rekindle the romance through giving of yourself?

Read this book. Have a conversation with your spouse. Figure out how each of you feels the expression of love and be intentional with acting it out. It doesn’t need to be anything extravagant because even something small done with love can be powerful.

Another way this can be acted out is by simply asking your spouse how you can help them today. After hearing their response, go do that thing. Their answer may or may not surprise you but either way, you are filling their cup.

And if you need help getting out of your routine, check out this post for tips on ideas easily adapted for couples.

Fill Your Own Cup

Up until a few years ago, I was terrible at filling my own cup. I went through all the motions of home life and work but always felt something was missing. Anxiety and depression were constant companions. It was tough to give much of anything to anyone because of my constant internal struggle.

And then one day, I got mono. Getting mono in and of itself was not especially noteworthy. Mono is fairly common and most people get it at some point in their lives. The eye-opening part for me is that although mono is typically accompanied by bone-crushing fatigue, this symptom didn’t prompt my urgent care visit.

I was living in a such a state of constant fatigue that getting mono wasn’t even a blip on my radar. Did I really want this to be the state of my life?

The short answer is no.

And so I began to take a tough look at my daily habits. I had no sleep pattern, my diet was all over the place, and I was exercising excessively. My schedule was too full to pursue anything I was passionate about and my job was sucking any remaining life out of me.

It’s no wonder I was constantly fatigued, anxious, and depressed!

It’s true in marriage as it is in life itself that you must fill your cup first. You absolutely have to apply the oxygen mask before you help anyone else with theirs. If you don’t, there will be nothing to give. This is especially true if you also have children because there are even more demands placed upon your time and energy.

Although it may seem somewhat counterintuitive, you can’t rekindle the romance until you pay attention to your own self-care.

Curious about how I turned my sleep situation around? Check out How to Get Better Sleep Tonight.

Get Into Their World

Is there anything better than sharing an activity you love with someone? Whether it’s running, a concert, or cooking, the joy is always greater when the memory is shared. This is especially true when the person you’re sharing with is your spouse. And doubly so if you involve yourself in something they’re crazy about.

I have to confess that this is an area I’m not great at.

My husband is a sports fanatic. He knows every obscure sports stat there is to know about basketball, football, golf, and baseball. Whether it’s spring, summer, fall, or winter, he has some type of sport that he obsessively follows.

One of our running jokes is that despite his passion for all things sports, he couldn’t have married someone less interested in sports. The minute a game comes on, my brain checks out. I never played sports growing up and have zero interest in now watching others do so. I’ve actually walked out of multiple live sporting events having no clue who won.

But my husband has made it clear that he would love nothing more than for me to express some enthusiasm for his favorite teams. For him, the way to rekindle the romance is for me to cheer on the Timberwolves. It makes him incredibly happy when I sit down and watch with him. Even more so because he knows that I’m doing it for him.

There is an element of self-sacrifice when involving oneself in a spouse’s interest. It makes the act infinitely more meaningful and speaks volumes about your love.

Find the Humor

Life is no fun when taken too seriously. Marriage, work, kids, and running a household are stressful! Even in the best of circumstances, you will have days when you just want to sit down and cry. There can be a tendency to take the negative out on those around you instead of finding other ways to defuse.

Assuming your self-care is where it needs to be, laughter is a great way to boost your mood. As with most things, laughter is always better together!

So whether it’s a funny movie, recounting the humorous event which unfolded today at work, or a meme which had you laughing for days, share a laugh! You’ll never regret time spent laughing, joking, and having fun with your spouse. Look for ways to incorporate laughing and joy into your marriage to rekindle the romance.

It’s Your Turn to Rekindle the Romance

I hope this post has inspired you to look for ways to rekindle the romance with your spouse! Marriage is a marathon filled with hills and valleys. Always remember that your spouse is your partner; they’re on your team. Sometimes all it takes to rekindle the romance is shaking things up and getting out of your comfort zone. At other times, laughter is simply the best medicine. Whatever your marriage needs, take advantage of this upcoming Valentine’s Day to rekindle the romance!

Don’t forget to drop a comment below about how you plan to rekindle the romance with your spouse!

Piano Practice Tips to Improve Your Playing

Piano Practice Tips to Improve Your Playing

As I write this, we are about to turn the calendar over to a brand new year. This time of year always inspires me to think back on the great times and the lessons learned. It’s also time to look ahead to the new year and identify simple, specific goals to make even greater strides. One area which is always prominent in my goal setting is that of improving my pianistic skills. It is in this spirit that I give you my best piano practice tips to improve your own playing!

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Break Up Your Piano Practice

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks then starting on the first one.”

Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s timeless wisdom captures the very common block which often prevents us from moving forward in our pursuits. I am definitely guilty of building tasks up to an impossibly complex level in my head. After awhile, the task begins to seem completely unattainable and not even worth the effort.

But if you break the task up into smaller pieces, it suddenly becomes much more attainable.

This is true whether you are attempting to learn a new piece, improve your technique, or memorize a Beethoven Sonata. Unless you break these goals up, you will remain stuck.

Luckily, music is quite amenable to being broken into smaller, more manageable sections. This first piano practice tip may seem somewhat simplistic but it has propelled my playing further than any other. Taking one measure (or even one note) at a time allows you to block out everything else. It enables you to forget about the fast run in measure 43. Or the trills in 106. You can instead simply focus on tackling measure one.

Taking a piece mindfully measure by measure cements fingerings, dynamics, and rhythms into your brain. It does so much more permanently than 500 mindless repetitions ever will. Give yourself permission to really learn the music by honing in one measure at a time.

Play What You Love

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to remain silent.”

Victor Hugo

I love listening to the film score channel on Pandora when I write. There’s nothing that inspires me to add a touch of dramatic flare to my writing more than the Indiana Jones theme song or the ever heroic Pirates of the Carribbean soundtrack.

A couple of years ago while writing and listening, I became mesmorized by a hauntingly beautiful piece for solo piano that I had never heard before. I was immediately surprised to learn it was a solo arrangement of a piece from the movie “Anastasia.” Although I have always preferred to learn pieces within the standard piano repertoire, this particular piece spoke to me. Despite its exclusion from the criteria I typically place on the pieces I work so hard to learn, I absolutely had to get this piece under my fingers!

Which brings me to my next piano practice tip. What’s the point of exerting hours of effort into learning a piece if you don’t absolutely love it?

Look for pieces which are fun, speak to you on a deeper level, or inspire you to practice. Selecting pieces based solely on technical difficulty or because you think it’s “what you should be playing” is a road to burnout. Instead, find those pieces you can’t wait to get back and work on. At its very core, music is the expression of emotion. If you keep this idea central, you will undoubtedly succeed.

Improve Through Listening

“When you play, never mind who listens to you.”

Robert Schumann

Have you ever had one of those moments when something you say to another person is completely misunderstood? Perhaps you meant to express a different thought. Or maybe you conveyed exactly what you meant however the other person took it the wrong way. Either way, there was a disconnect.

Similar to a conversational disconnect is that which can occur when you play without truly listening to the music you’re creating. And yet, simultaneous playing and objective listening is nearly impossible. Artful expression of emotion through the piano demands your complete attention and not the type of mental chatter which occurs with objective analysis. And yet, there can be no improvement if you are unable to objectively assess your playing.

My next piano practice tip to advance your playing is to record yourself.

Incorporate Recording Into Your Piano Practice

Consistently recording yourself has so many benefits beyond simply obtaining the ability to objectively listen to yourself. One of the biggest is that you can track your progress over time. I find it incredibly inspiring to be able to listen to something recorded a year ago and hear improvement in my playing.

Recording yourself also gives solid evidence of your playing. I have often found that I tend to get in my own head about my playing and am too critical. When I play back the recording, I can immediately find positive and redeeming qualities in the music. For example, the note I missed in measure 17 is insignificant in comparison to the emotion expressed in the passage. Recording is useful if for no other reason than to provide objective feedback. It combats the criticisms our minds are sometimes too quick to throw back at us!

I have experimented with a few different recording modalities but this one is by far my favorite! This microphone plugs right into your computer and requires no complicated set-up. Simply plug it in and start playing! The sound quality is absolutely amazing and the price is very reasonable. Maximize recording quality by plugging headphones into the microphone itself. After figuring out this tip I couldn’t be happier with the quality!

You can listen to one of my recordings using this microphone here.

Piano Practice Resources

“You may encounter many defeats but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

Maya Angelou

For a long time, I felt stuck in my playing. I was not practicing on a regular basis. I also did not feel I was making progress on the pieces I was practicing. My attitude toward piano took a negative turn. I began to believe I wasn’t making progress because I simply wasn’t talented enough. And to top it off, anxiety overwhelmed me each and every time I played in public. All in all, the joy that I had previously found in playing piano was gone.

And then one day I realized that staying stuck was my choice. I could choose to remain in this headspace of negativity. Or I could find resources to help me move past where I felt stuck.

I chose the latter.

And do you know what? There are some amazing resources out there! Resources to help with anything from motivation in the advancement of your playing to improvement of piano technique. There are resources to help you practice more effectively and resources to help with creating your own music-based business. The number of resources waiting for you is absolutely astounding!

From podcasts to blogs to membership sites, there are so many resources out there! Here are the two which I have found most helpful:

The Inner Game of Music gives a different approach to tackling performance anxiety. Adapted from a book originally written for athletes, its timeless wisdom is simple yet highly effective. This book has given me an entirely different perspective on how to approach any performance situation. If you’re struggling with anxiety in your piano playing, I highly recommend this incredibly helpful resource!

Break Through Anxiety

And speaking of anxiety … this next piano practice resource is not music-related per se but nonetheless highly relevant. Headspace is an app which guides you through the practice of meditation. After realizing that anxiety was somewhat prevalent in my life and unfortunately not strictly limited to my piano playing, I began searching for solutions. Meditation was a modality which kept popping up throughout my research.

Although meditation has been practiced around the world for centuries to improve the mind-body connection, it is only recently that research has started to support its efficacy. Multiple studies have supported its ability to ease anxiety, depression, and even symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Meditation is also generally considered safe for most people and unlike medications, doesn’t come with pages and pages of side effects.

I have been using the Headspace app for a couple of months now and saw an immediate decrease in anxiety levels. For the first time in ages, I felt like I was able to push anxious thoughts aside and find a place of calm in my mind. It has helped me have a more positive outlook and enabled me to think beyond the anxiety of the moment. I wholeheartedly recommend this app whether you are looking to tame stage fright nerves or the stubbornly anxious thoughts of everyday life.

As much as I love and have seen a difference from this app, please do not hesitate to see your primary care provider if you are struggling with anxiety and depression. There is help out there!

Motivation and Piano Practice

“Your talent determines what you can do. It is your motivation that determines how much you are willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.

Lou Holtz

For the longest time, I felt that a lack of motivation was holding me back in the practice room. I never felt like practicing and therefore equated this with a lack of motivation.

I once believed that motivation was required to start or make progress toward a particular goal. In my mind, motivation was a strong feeling which translated into action. Similar to the key which starts a car engine, I believed that motivation was required to pursue a goal.

In actuality, motivation is more an action than a feeling. Motivation comes from doing and if you wait until you feel like doing something, it will almost never happen. It’s very much a snowball effect in that the more you do, the more you feel like doing. But you need to take a step forward first.

My Secret for Improved Consistency

The modacity app has been pivotal in motivating me to take steps toward consistent piano practice. Designed by a musician, the app has incredible features which promote excellent practice habits. The app allows you to create practice playlists and input all the pieces you’re currently working on. When it’s time to practice, simply select the piece. A timer then automatically starts for you, adding up your total practice time. You can also put the amount of time you want to work on a particular piece in and it will alert you when your time is up. This is a great feature if you tend to lose track of time while practicing.

Modacity also has a built-in tuner and metronome. The metronome has the capability to capture subdivisions of the beat as well, a great feature when working on tricky rhythms. My all-time favorite feature however is that it keeps track of how many days in a row you’ve practiced. It also tells you how many hours of practice you’ve put in. I absolutely love seeing the hours and days add up! I also find huge motivation in being able to check off another piano practice session!

It’s Your Turn

The higher pursuit of any art requires incredible attention to detail and piano is no exception. Mastering the piano requires creativity and problem-solving. The daily challenge of figuring out something entirely new in the journey toward becoming a better pianist is what truly appeals to me.

Although there is always something to improve upon, it’s also important to stop and celebrate your successes along the way! Sometimes we get so focused on improving that we forget to look for the small wins. Wins such as mastering a tricky passage or learning to play with a greater sense of relaxation. Logging another day of practice is a win in and of itself as it means you’re saying “yes” to your goals.

Now get out there and try out a few of these piano practice tips for yourself! Don’t forget to leave a comment below about what you’re working on and which tip has been most helpful!

New Year's Resolutions For Any Time of Year

New Year's Resolutions For Any Time of Year

Can you believe that we are about to turn the calendar over to 2020 and are already talking about new year’s resolutions? I’m not sure about you but 2019 flew right by me! My 2019 was a year of both endings and new beginnings. It was the year that I finished the graduate nursing education journey I had started 3 years prior. But it was also the year that I said goodbye to a position with a company which felt like home.

Graduation meant taking a leap into an entirely new position within a completely different organization. An opportunity to embrace the change and grow in new and completely different ways than had ever been possible before. I am a firm believer that life is about the journey and not the destination.

But the belief in the beauty of the journey rather than the destination has taken me years to embrace. I never fully understood the value of implementing the wisdom in living my life this way until recently.

The reality is that while facing the daily challenges of balancing family, work, and school, my mindset shifted. I began focusing on graduation and moving beyond the daily stress of class and meeting homework deadlines. The phrase, “when I’m done with school” constantly crossed my mind and lips. My mind began to focus on the utopian future which would suddenly descend upon me once I held the diploma in my hand.

I stopped looking for the joy in my daily life.

Past New Year’s Resolutions

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You’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with your 2020 new year’s resolutions. Let me explain.

Looking back over the past 5 years, how many new year’s resolutions have you kept? Following through with resolutions is incredibly difficult if your focus is on the destination instead of the journey.

It works like this. As the new year approaches, you begin thinking about how great life would be if you were 15 pounds lighter. You’d actually feel like exercising, it would be easier to make healthier food choices, and you’d look amazing in your clothes. You would be unstoppable!

January 1 rolls around and you hit the gym, make yourself a salad for lunch, and turn down dessert after supper. You and your new year’s resolutions are off to a great start! All you can think about is how great life is going to be in 15 pounds.

Two weeks later, you hit a wall. You’ve been battling a cold, mornings come way too early, and you are just worn out. You’re running late for work and decide to just hit the drive through instead of packing a lunch. Slowly but surely you slip into your old habits again.

Fueled by the frustration of drifting farther and farther from your health goals, the guilt and shame of failure sets in. You feel further than ever from that elusive 15 pounds and at this point, it might as well be 50 pounds. Focusing on the destination has delivered you to the place where you once again put your goals on the shelf until the calendar flips over a new year. And repeat.

A focus on the destination will fail every time because our goals are often too big to sustain us through the daily grind. Achieving any new goal requires change in mindset and routine. Changing these areas of your daily life to achieve the goal can often be the toughest part. It’s incredibly easy to slip back into your old ways when the work required to change feels harder than the pay-off of the end goal.

Focus on the Journey

But what happens when you flip the mindset and instead focus on the journey? What does focusing on the journey actually look like?

In terms of new year’s resolutions, focusing on the journey means breaking the larger resolution down into daily action steps. It then means adapting each action step into your life in a way which is both motivating and satisfying. And most importantly, it means giving yourself permission to fail occasionally but the grace to move beyond the temporary setback.

Yes … you read that correctly. Set yourself up for success by actively planning for and moving past moments of setback.

Let’s take a look at my previous example of losing 15 pounds. Focusing on the journey means breaking down the steps you will need to take to accomplish this goal. Maybe you decide to hit the gym 4 days a week, pack healthy lunches for work instead of eating out, and cut back on dessert 3 days a week. These are the daily action steps needed to get to your goal.

Now to find ways of making these daily action steps both satisfying and motivating.

Maybe you are challenged with having 5 books on your “must read” list and no time in which to read them. This is a perfect opportunity to reward yourself with gym time by downloading an audio book app and only listening while working out.

Or maybe you are highly motivated by statistics so you find an app which tracks your workouts. You can then derive satisfaction from seeing all the miles you’ve racked up since you started.

There are any number of ways to satisfy and motivate yourself to continue the small, daily tasks required to accomplish larger goals. It’s often a matter of figuring out what motivates you individually.

The last piece of making your new year’s resolution a permanent part of your life is planning for setbacks. Setbacks are inevitable. No matter how satisfying and motivating you make your daily action steps, life happens and there will be times you need to take a step back. Keeping a new year’s resolution is not about whether you screw up but rather what your next step is when you fall off the wagon.

Do you miss a day at the gym, immediately feel incredibly guilty, and then decide to double down by having cheat meals for the next 10 months? Or do you give yourself some grace for being human and get back on track the next day?

To accomplish huge goals, including new year’s resolutions, you must take a series of small, daily steps which inch you ever closer to where you want to be. There will be days when you are not able to take those steps. But make up for it by choosing to take steps at the very next opportunity.

Focusing on the journey means actively seeking out the joy in your daily life. Choose to live in the now instead of chasing after the imaginary paradise of the destination.

Enjoying the journey rather than continually chasing the destination gives you the opportunity to figure out where you’re headed and whether this is the journey you actually want to be on. It gives you the power to evaluate and adjust your course regardless of where you’re at in your journey. You can make positive changes regardless of whether it’s January 1st or October 10th. The power is in your hands.

And if you’re looking for ideas on where to begin, I’ve got you covered! Check out the list below for simple new year’s resolutions divided out by category.

Physical Health

Work out 3 days a week. If you’re looking for an activity tracking app, check out this one which motivated me to log almost 400 miles this year!

Replace your usual lunch with a salad 3 days a week. Make packing easier with this bowl designed for lunch on-the-go.

Drink more water. This water bottle takes the guess work out of incorporating drinking more into your already busy lifestyle.

Sign up for a fitness class with a friend to increase your accountability and to make the class more fun.

Reduce your daily sodium intake to decrease your blood pressure and your overall cardiovascular risk.

Cook at home instead of eating out so you can control what goes into your meals. Find a new crockpot recipe and tame the supper chaos!

Increase your daily step count by taking the stairs instead of the elevator and by replacing a work break with an outside walk. Doing so will not only provide instant health benefits but will make you more refreshed and efficient when you return to your desk.

Drink less soda. The caffeine in many types of soda can interrupt your sleep while the sugar adds empty calories that are often unnecessary.

Add fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet on a daily basis. Check out this cookbook for fresh recipe ideas.

Cut back on alcohol. Excessive intake can negatively impact the heart, brain, liver, and immune system.

Emotional Health

Schedule time every day to pursue a hobby or activity which you find meaningful.

Incorporate a simple meditation exercise into your daily routine. Check out this app which has helped me better understand my thinking patterns and reduced my anxiety and overwhelm.

Learn strategies of relaxation to improve your mood, sleep, and to reduce certain cardiovascular risks.

Release yourself from something which has been weighing you down. We often put too much pressure on ourselves in certain areas of life and this leads to anxiety, overwhelm, and a general state of unhappiness. If you are having difficulty letting go, seek out a counselor.

Laugh. Every single day.

Limit the time you spend on social media. Although it has its perks, too much social media can suck up your time and depress your mood.

Say no more often. If whatever you’re being asked to do doesn’t light you up with joy, do yourself a favor and politely decline.

Relationships

Prioritize date night with your significant other. Spending time alone together gives you the opportunity to connect in ways that our often busy lives do not provide.

Drop the mom guilt. Do the absolute best you can and don’t worry about the rest!

Spend the last 30 minutes before bed talking with your significant other instead of losing yourself on your phone or computer.

Family game night. Need I say more?

Commit to device-free dinner, even if it’s only one night a week.

Plan a lunch date. Connecting with your partner at an unexpected time of day can create connection and leave you feeling energized for the rest of the day.

Say “I love you” more often. It’s a simple act but is something which can easily be lost in the craziness of daily life.

Set aside regular time to spend with each of your children to plan an afternoon date or participate in a fun, creative activity.

Spend some time figuring out whether you and your partner are speaking the same language. Check out this book for help.

Consider the language you use to convey messages to your partner, especially during disagreements. Use of the words “always” and “never” generally cause defensive feelings, never a positive when trying to resolve a complex situation. Seek the help of a counselor if you feel issues are continually unresolved.

Faith

Read the Bible daily. Make reading even easier with this great app which also includes all types of reading plans.

Prioritize prayer. Try setting a daily phone timer to prompt you to include this vital activity into your life.

Incorporate gratitude by writing down something you are grateful for each day.

Attend weekly church services.

Join or start a Bible study. Fellowship with others strengthens your faith and is a source of support during both good and bad times.

Volunteer your time or talents to a cause you find meaningful.

Increase your charitable donations.

Finances

Pack your lunch instead of eating out. Meal prep like a pro with these awesome containers!

Clearly identify your financial goals. Do you have debt to pay off? Looking to increase your income this year? Student loan debt piling up? The act of writing down your goals solidifies and clarifies them, making it easier to hit your target.

Track your expenses for a month to determine whether your spending aligns with your priorities.

Pick up a side gig to create another income stream.

Set up or get serious about contributing to your retirement account.

Switch to brewing your favorite drink at home instead of hitting up the drive thru line.

Cut down on both your bill and mindless screen time by cancelling your cable services. Imagine the financial possibilities with an extra $150+ a month in your account!

Career

Eliminate distractions from your work day to improve productivity. Check out this life-changing book for more on how you can take action today.

Focus on improving your self-confidence.

Read a personal development book. Or you could even aim for one per month.

Further your education. Whether you attend a formalized program or individual classes, education is a valuable asset applicable in many areas of both life and work.

Attend local networking events to expand your professional circle.

Spend some time updating your LinkedIn profile.

Find a career mentor. My greatest mentor is someone who consistently motivates and inspires me to be a better nurse today than I was yesterday.

It’s Your Turn!

And there you have it … simple habits you can incorporate into your daily life to move the needle further toward living your best life. New year’s resolutions don’t need to be complicated and in fact, the simpler, the better. Whether it’s January 1st or November 17th, you can make small changes which will add up to a more fulfilled and purposeful life.

Please drop a comment below about your own positive changes as I’d love to cheer you on!

Get Better Sleep Tonight with These 17 Tips

Get Better Sleep Tonight with These 17 Tips

When was the last time you woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the day? If you’re a mom, I’m willing to bet it was probably sometime before your first pregnancy. My own struggles with sleep started during my first pregnancy 9 years ago. The constant daytime sleepiness actually progressed to a point a couple of years ago when I was convinced I had a sleep disorder. It was at this point when I started getting serious about how to get better sleep at night.

A sleep disorder seemed the only logical explanation for why I dozed off minutes after sitting or even a few times while standing. The sleepiness I experienced on a daily basis was excruciating. All I wanted to do in any given moment was lie down and take a nap.

Testing for the particular sleep disorder I was absolutely certain was to blame for my daytime sleepiness involves an overnight in a sleep lab. The test continues with a series of timed naps the following day. And then the waiting for test interpretation by neurology. It seemed to take forever to finally get the answer I was waiting for.

The call came in the middle of one of my graduate nursing classes one day. I quietly stepped out and listened as the nurse told me that I in fact did not have a sleep disorder. Everything was perfectly normal. Great news, right?

Wrong. I was devastated by the news. Although it sounds terrible, I desperately wanted something to blame for how awful I felt on a daily basis. I was looking for an easy, cut and dried solution to my sleep deprived existence and this was definitely not it!

The nurse asked whether I had any questions and fueled by the injustice and hopelessness of it all, I immediately demanded an appointment with the neurologist. Surely, there had been some type of mistake. An honest, human error perhaps. Or maybe my results were actually borderline. Either way, I would get to the bottom of this.

Finally the day of my appointment arrived. At that point in time, I was still honestly expecting some type of explanation or retraction of normal results from the neurologist. I desperately wanted to feel like a normal person again. Instead, I felt like some type of demented zombie, aimlessly wandering the earth looking for its next meal. In fact, “painfully tired” was the word I would use to describe my daily existence.

After what seemed like an eternity, the neurogist entered the room. He brought up my test interpretation and described the perfectly normal results. A fact that was tough to dispute in the face of graphs and pie charts. There was clearly nothing borderline here. Still desperate for some relief, I asked for his best advice on how to combat my constant fatigue.

We spent the next 15 minutes discussing a variety of contributors to my constant sleepiness. Below are a series of questions based upon this conversation. Take a few minutes to answer these questions for yourself and you will discover areas where you can improve to get better sleep at night.

Using Routine to Get Better Sleep

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

1) Do you stick to a regular sleep schedule even on the weekends? Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets up a strong routine. It sends a message to your body that this is either a time to sleep or a time to be awake. No more in between times of dozing off during the day or nighttime sleeplessness.

Setting up a regular sleep routine is also incredibly beneficial for your kids! Instilling these skills in them while they are young ensures better sleep habits as they grow older.

If you have an infant, establishing a sleep routine at this point in your parenting journey may not be a feasible option. If this is you, I can completely relate! None of my 3 children actually slept through an entire night until they were at least a year. I felt as if this stage would last forever! Try to be patient … your little one will be sleeping through the night before you know it!

2) Do you nap during the day? Napping disrupts your body’s natural rhythm and can actually make it tougher to sleep at night. It may seem counterintuitive but try to avoid daytime napping if possible.

Although it’s best to avoid napping altogether, there are two major rules to follow if you absolutely must take a nap. The first involves the amount of time you should spend napping. Limit the nap to between 15 and 20 minutes. It may not seem like enough time but it’s actually the perfect amount of time for a mid-day recharge.

The second rule is to get the short nap in before 2 in the afternoon. Any later than 2 and you risk not being sleepy enough when bedtime rolls around. If you are used to taking long weekend naps, it may take a bit to incorporate these rules. But I promise that if you follow through, it will allow you to get better sleep at night!

3) Are you getting regular aerobic exercise? Exercise triggers the release of adrenaline among other hormones which in turn promotes wakefulness. This means that although you should aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days, aim for earlier in the day. When performed too close to bed, the hormones produced by exercise can interfere with your body’s ability to wind down and fall asleep.

Getting regular exercise has been a game-changer for me! I have found that I sleep much deeper on days when I get my run in. Although it can be tough to get up early enough to hit the gym, knowing that I’ll sleep better that night is often the only motivation required.

You may also enjoy reading How to Find More Time in Your Day.

4) Do you have a regular bedtime relaxation routine? Consider activities such as journaling with a gratitude practice, a warm bath, reading (an actual book, not a tablet), yoga, or gentle stretching. Meditation can also help to clear your mind of distraction.

Developing a regular bedtime routine with activities designed for relaxation sends a message to your brain that it’s time to wind down. Set a daily alarm on your phone to signal you that it’s time to shut down and get into bedtime mode. This tip is also extremely beneficial for kids. My weeknights go incredibly fast and I have found that if I don’t set an alarm, the night gets away from me. Before I know it, the clock hits 9:30 p.m. and the kids are still awake. Yikes … the perfect recipe for a cranky morning!

5) Are you getting outside during the day? Exposure to sunlight early in the day alerts your body that it’s time to wake up. If possible, go for a run or walk outside early in the day to easily incorporate both tips into your daily routine. Gradually decreasing your exposure to bright light, including artificial lighting, as the day progresses encourages your body’s natural sleep rhythms to activate. Incorporate this tip into your bedtime routine by dimming the lights in your house in the hour or so prior to bed.

Environmental Changes

6) Do you keep your bedroom temperature cool? Ideally, this temperature should be between 68-70 degrees to promote more restful sleep. Studies have shown that keeping a cooler temperature at night minimizes unnecessary awakenings due to being excessively warm.

7) Do you spend time on your phone or watching television right before bed? Screens from cell phones, televisions, and other electronics emit a blue light which interferes with your body’s natural sleep hormone production. The light interferes by sending a message to your body to wake up instead of to wind down.

Consider incorporating this tip into your bedtime routine to get better sleep at night. If possible, sleep in a completely different room than your phone to avoid being mindlessly pulled in to using it. Social media is designed to suck you right in and significantly contributes to anxiety, depression, and feelings of overwhelm. Even aside from the biological impact of the blue light on sleep hormones, the stress caused by social media in itself is enough to interfere with sleep. If you are interested in learning more about how to stop the mindless scrolling, check out this book.

You may also enjoy reading Mom Guilt.

8) Is your bedroom a dark, quiet and peaceful atmosphere which invites you to fall gently asleep at night? Excessive light can cause you to wake frequently at night. Pets and kids should optimally be out of your bed to promote your best sleep. Although I am currently struggling with the kid situation, I do aspire to have all 3 children in their own room at some point.

Unfortunately after years of being a mom I sleep very lightly and easily awaken to even the quietest of noises. Psychologically I always feel the need to be alert to attend to the needs of my kids even though they are well past the stage where they can’t tell me what they need. I have found that periodically giving the responsibility of listening for the kids at night to my husband is helpful in releasing the psychological burden and getting better sleep at night. Sleeping in a completely different room is also helpful in achieving better sleep at night.

Food and Drink Modifications to Get Better Sleep

9) Are you consuming caffeine within a few hours of bedtime? If so, consider reducing or stopping intake altogether at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine hides in a variety of foods and drinks but can seriously impair sleep quality. If you are struggling with either falling or staying asleep, carefully examine your afternoon and evening intakes for caffeine.

10) Do you generally eat supper right before bedtime? The work involved in digesting fatty or spicy foods is enough to keep you wide awake at night. Not to mention the risk you run of acid reflux if you lie down too soon after eating. I have found that eating heavy meals right before bed also results in crazy dreams!

If possible, try to have your evening meal in the late afternoon. If you find that you need a snack before bed, focus on lighter foods. Eating foods with dairy and protein can help promote a restful night of sleep. Examples include yogurt, cheese or half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread. Avoid foods with lots of sugar because when your body’s blood sugar level drops later on in the night, your sleep will be interrupted.

11) Is your sleep interrupted by getting up to use the bathroom at night? You may consider stopping fluid intake a couple of hours prior to bed to reduce the need to interrupt your sleep at night. Although alcohol can initially make you sleepy, it interferes with your ability to stay asleep all night long. When you want to get better sleep at night, avoid alcohol altogether before bedtime.

Positioning Matters

12) Do you generally wake up with back and/or neck pain? After my third pregnancy, I began noticing that I was consistently waking up with lower back pain. It was also at that time when I began attending physical therapy to get my abdominal muscles back. My therapist recommended that I sleep with a pillow between my legs to provide better low back support. I have slept with a pillow between my legs since that time and have not once woken up with lower back pain. It’s an incredibly easy fix which gets your day off to a much better start!

13) When was the last time you replaced your pillow or even your mattress? If you are consistently waking up with headaches or generalized discomfort, your pillows and/or mattress may be to blame. These items are not designed to last forever and do wear out with time. Although a new matress is a financial investment, the return will be improved alertness and productivity during the day.

Still Can’t Sleep? Try This.

14) What is your next move when you don’t fall asleep within 5-10 minutes of lying down? Do you continue to lie in bed, thinking about how late it is and how tired you will be the next day? Or do you turn to your phone or late night television? Hopefully you don’t do either of the last two options after reading #7 above! Your best bet is to actually get up and do a quiet activity until you feel sleepy once again. You may consider keeping a notebook and pen next to your bed for those times when your mind is racing. The act of transforming your thoughts to black and white on the page can be extremely liberating.

Another option is to read a book. Lastly, consider meditation or an app designed to help you fall asleep. Although I have not personally tried the app option, I have had several people tell me that listening to a monotonous voice reading a dull description of landscape is quite soothing. I will have to keep you posted on this option the next time I am looking for assistance on getting to sleep!

15) Do you take any type of medication to help you sleep at night? Even certain types of over-the-counter medications can have a rebound effect and actually make it more difficult to sleep after a period of time. Sleep medications can also be extremely habit-forming and may create issues for you down the road. Consult your primary care provider for advice on using medication for sleep as they are able to provide a treatment plan individualized for you.

Time to See a Professional

16) Have you considered counseling for management of underlying anxiety and/or depression? The stress of being a mom is real regardless of your individual situation. If stress continues to run rampant in your life, your sleep will be negatively impacted. In many cases, anxiety or depression left unmanaged significantly contributes to poor sleep, zaps your energy, and leaves you feeling fatigued during the day. Either one can make falling or staying asleep challenging. Counselors can help you sort out your feelings by providing non-biased perspective on your individual situation. If you find your racing thoughts and negative feelings are keeping you awake, please seek assistance in this area!

17) Have you tried all of the above and are still waking up exhausted? Then it’s time to see your primary care provider. This is especially true if you’ve been told that you snore or have trouble staying awake during the day despite adequate sleep at night. You may have a sleep disorder and left untreated, sleep disorders can contribute to high blood pressure, depression, and other significant health concerns. But with treatment, sleep disorders can be managed and you can start to feel more rested and productive during the day.

I sincerely hope you have found helpful advice within this post! Discovering how to get better sleep at night is an invaluable part of your overall health and wellbeing. Each of the above tips has contributed to my own journey toward feeling more rested during the day. Although there are areas that I continue to work on, my sleep quality has dramatically improved.

Now it’s your turn! Please let me know which of the above tips were most helpful for you in the comment section below. Are there areas which are particularly challenging for you? Also, does anyone know how to get a 3-year-old to sleep in their own room??? Any helpful advice on this topic would be greatly appreciated!

Mom Guilt: What It Is & How You Can Beat It!

Mom Guilt: What It Is & How You Can Beat It!

Mom guilt has haunted me since I first became a mom 9 years ago.  My daughter made her appearance mid-semester of an intense nursing program.  I had been nervous about the impending birth since the positive pregnancy test.  It wasn’t necessarily the birth itself I feared, it was not graduating from the program.  Nursing programs have strict attendance policies (for good reason!) and I was terrified that I would miss time and be forced to drop out.  To make matters worse, I lived an hour away from the school I was attending.  This meant two hours tacked onto each class or clinical day.  Two hours of essentially non-productive time spent away from my daughter.

Mom guilt, fueled by a lack of sleep, school stress, and the pressures of adjusting to being a mom, elevated daily.  I had been driven to build this career long before her birth but it now seemed a selfish use of my time.  Wouldn’t she be better off with me constantly tending to her every need?  How many moments with her would I miss while learning to care for complete strangers?  What was the point of putting myself through the torture of the commute, school, and clinicals?  Would it really pay off in the end?

Mom guilt is real and crippling.  It is an insidious negativity which clouds your thinking and steals your joy.  For many moms, guilt is at the root of anxiety, feelings of overwhelm, and depression.  Even worse, feelings of guilt can drive behaviors such as addiction and perfectionism in an attempt to relieve the discomfort they cause.  But what causes mom guilt?  And more importantly, what can you do about it?  This post explores both topics and gives you actionable steps to take in healing from mom guilt.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Cause #1: Role Juggling

Wife, mom, employee, chief cook, home organizer, family coordinator and the list goes on.  And on and on and on … indefinitely.  Moms today juggle SO MANY ROLES.  Each role comes with its own set of responsibilities and challenges.  There’s simply no way to give your all within each individual role without impacting the others.  Conflict between the roles is inevitable. 

And then there are the expectations.  Everyone has an opinion about expectations related to the various roles you hold.  Your employer expects you to produce quality work.  Maybe your husband expects you to cook supper every night.  And your children expect help with their homework every night. 

You might also enjoy reading How to Find More Time in Your Day.

You also have expectations of yourself.  Expectations which hold your performance in all these roles to a certain standard.  The expectations you have for yourself can be heavily impacted by the expectations of others.  And in many cases, all these expectations are not rooted in reality and are completely unattainable.  The gap between expectation and reality is only worsened by the next cause, social media.

Cause #2: Social Media

Take a minute to look through your favorite social media feed.  Chances are, you will see flawless selfies, free of blemishes or wardrobe malfunctions.  Smiling kids and laughing babies.  Married couples smiling as they enjoy yet another date night free from conflict and petty arguments.  In short, you will see perfection.

But social media is not reality.  Behind those photos are filters, fighting kids, and the same expectation conflict you face on a daily basis.  We are all waging the same war between who we are and who we think we should be.  It’s just that this side of ourselves is often conflicted and not as pretty as any of our other sides.  This side never gets posted.

The constant exposure to everyone else’s “perfection” adds to the already unrealistic expectations you hold for yourself.  If left unresolved, all this pressure eventually leads to guilt.  It seems as if everywhere you look, moms are crushing it.  They’re packing organic lunches, volunteering for field trips, and taking strong positions against screen time for their kids.  Their home-based businesses are thriving and they’re vacationing multiple times a year.  Meanwhile, you’re left trying to remember whether you washed your hair this morning and arriving late to work.  AGAIN.  Social media leads directly into the next cause, comparison.

Cause #3: Comparison

Seeing perfection wherever you turn naturally leads you to stop and examine your own life. And let’s face it … being a mom is hard! It’s not as if we are magically handed parenting instructions at the birth of our babies. I had never even changed a diaper prior to the birth of my daughter. There were so many aspects of being a new mom that I felt completely unprepared to face. Not to mention the fact that all of those personal struggles you feel which are totally separate from being a mom are still there. You’ve now just added more uncertainty to the existing pile.

You might also enjoy reading 4 Steps to Ditching the Comparison Mindset.

Uncertainty piles on top of uncertainty and you soon find it difficult to be sure of anything anymore. Influenced by the expectations, opinions, and false perfection of all the other moms out there, you begin to question EVERYTHING. Your choice to continue working, how your kids spend their free time, your relationship with your spouse, and even your ability to take time for yourself.

Given the influences of social media and the comparison factor, it’s no wonder mom guilt is such a pervasive issue today. But what can you do about it?

Mom Guilt Solution #1: Self-Care

The first step in kicking mom guilt to the curb is self-care. You NEED to make time for yourself. I know what you’re thinking. Your schedule is packed as it is. If you’re anything like me, your plate is already brimming with tasks from the break of dawn through well after dark. How can you possibly add something else to the mix?

I get it. Your gigantic “to-do” list seems way more pressing than taking an hour out of your day to workout. Work was crazy busy today and you’re exhausted. The kids need help with homework and dinner is in an hour. Taking time for you feels selfish in the face of all that needs to be done. Will taking time out for you really make a difference?

Absolutely! Taking time out for yourself on a daily basis will change your outlook. It will boost your mood, give you confidence, and improve your ability to deal with stress. Taking the time you need reminds you of the person you are deep down inside. It revives the woman you were before anyone called you “mom.”

Although the concepts are the same, self-care looks a little bit different for everyone. We all benefit from a relatively balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep at night. But the piece that really sparks life and meaning for me is following my passions. Remembering to include time for activities which are meaningful to me makes me a better mom. When I have time to pursue these pastimes, I am calmer, more self-assured, and can face the stress of the day. In fact, identifying meaning in what you do is so important that it’s the next solution for combatting mom guilt.

Mom Guilt Solution #2: Find the Meaning

Our tendency to juggle so much as moms leads us to hone in on only those aspects of a situation which need to be fixed. If we focused on every single detail of every situation, our minds would explode. Although our brains like the automation, focusing on the negative naturally tends to block out the positive. After awhile, this can impact your entire mindset.

But there are simple ways to flip the guilt into useful energy. The first is by becoming aware of your thoughts. Often mom guilt manifests itself as intensely vague feelings disguised as anxiety, fatigue, feelings of overwhelm, and depressed mood. It’s only when you take the time to clearly identify and work through these feelings that you can begin to heal.

Journaling can be incredibly helpful in getting the vague thoughts and negative feelings out of your head. The act of writing them on paper and seeing them in black and white adds a dose of reality that attempting to process in your head simply can’t. Incorporating a daily practice of journaling either right away in the morning or before bed allows your brain to release the negativity.

Journaling can also help you to begin identifying negative thought patterns, themes, and triggers. After seeing your thoughts on the page, look for the influences of comparison and unrealistic expectations. At this point, ask yourself whether there is any truth behind the source of guilt. Once you’ve identified the answer, flip it to the positive. Here’s an example illustrating the technique.

After my daughter was born, I struggled with the decision to continue the pursuit of nursing. It felt selfish and caused intensely negative feelings which clouded all my thoughts and significantly impacted my joy. I fixated on the amount of time I was away from my daughter as a negative and refused to acknowledge any possible benefits.

The truth of the situation is that although I was required to spend time away from her, I was also pursing a meaningful career. It’s simply not realistic to think that you can spend every waking moment from now through eternity with your child. Role modeling the importance of pursuing goals, making a contribution to society, and the value of an income are incredibly important. In this situation, focusing on the meaning of what I was doing eventually helped me overcome the vague mom guilt which tried to creep in.

You might also enjoy reading Find Your Why.

I love journaling because it’s an individualized activity. It’s time for you to work through the core of whatever is triggering mom guilt for you. Keep in mind that mom guilt triggers are incredibly variable from mom to mom. An incredibly strong trigger for one mom might not even phase another. This is because moms and families in general are unique. This brings us to the next solution.

Mom Guilt Solution #3: Do You

No one else in this world has had the experiences you’ve had. There isn’t a mom on this earth who has the child(ren) you do. Is it then realistic to think that what works for one mom is reasonable or acceptable for you?

There are obviously many common themes to parenting and the ability to check in with other moms who have had similar experiences. But at the end of the day, you have the ability to take in the information and make the best possible decision given what’s in front of you. What works for one mom may not work for you.

Let go of comparison. Stop the social media scrolling. Remember all those unique things which make you and your family special. Revel in those. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Make the best possible decisions you can make and don’t worry about the rest. Always look for ways to be better but give yourself grace in the process. Know that you are doing your best and simply let go of the rest!

Goodbye Mom Guilt!

As long as there have been moms, mom guilt has been a very real thing. We have been given a huge gift in our children but this comes with responsibility. It’s not something to be taken lightly. But we must also remember to enjoy the gift. Laugh, love, and find the joy. Stop fixating on the negatives. Although all moms experience some degree of mom guilt, it is possible to not only overcome it, but turn it into something useful. Besides journaling and becoming mindful of your thoughts, here are a few more actionable tips in transforming your thinking.

  • Find other moms you can relate to. It’s really important to have support in your journey. Parenting is so hard! Chances are, there are moms out there who are just like you who can provide encouragement, laughter, and boost your mood.
  • Find a counselor you feel comfortable talking with. Counseling is incredibly helpful because it provides an outside perspective on your inner world. Sometimes we get too tied up in our own thinking and are unable to see the other side. Family and friends often have their own perspectives and expectations of you. They generally mean well but are therefore unable to provide unbiased opinions on your inner world. A counselor can help you sort through your mom guilt in ways other people can’t. If you are struggling with anxiety and depression rooted in mom guilt, please reach out to someone. You don’t have to struggle alone!
  • Journal about your feelings on a regular basis. It’s important to get your negative feelings out but it’s equally helpful to look for what’s going well. Where are the areas you are excelling? What are you proud of? Where are you growing? Keep these positive thoughts at the forefront so you have a bank to draw from when your thoughts trend toward the negative.
  • Take time to pursue activities which are meaningful for you. If you’re not sure what that is, try something new. Sign up for a class. Read a book. Get into a Facebook group about a topic which interests you. Life is about getting out there and trying new things. Becoming a mom doesn’t take away your right to continue growing as a woman!
  • Stop the mindless social media scrolling! Social media can add value to your life but only if you’re mindful about how you’re using it and the impact it has on your outlook.

If you’re looking for even more advice on how to overcome negativities in your mindset and outlook, check out this book. It’s full of motivation and inspiration encouraging you to overcome whatever is holding you back! There simply aren’t enough words to describe the impact this book had on my own life and my ability to re-frame mom guilt. It’s a life changer!

I hope you’ve found this post helpful on your journey toward leaving mom guilt in the past. The truth is that all moms struggle with guilt at certain points but what matters is what you do with the struggle. You can let it overwhelm you or you can reach out and get help. There are ways to turn it around but you have to make the choice.

I’d love to hear about your experience with mom guilt! Do you have helpful tips and tricks on reversing the negativity? Comment below with your thoughts on this post. Now go out there and be the awesome woman and mom I know you are!

Break Out of Your Routine with These 70 Ideas

Break Out of Your Routine with These 70 Ideas

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” This timeless quote by Eleanor Roosevelt dares you to embrace adventure! Adventure is great if you’re Captain Jack Sparrow but what if you’re a mom just trying to make it through the day? Is there any benefit in embracing this mantra? And if so, how do you break out of your routine enough to enact it in your everyday life?

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Mom Life is a Circus

If my roles as a wife and busy mom who works full-time have taught me anything, it’s that life is crazy! On most days, keeping up feels completely impossible. It’s almost as if I’m juggling 7 balls while trying to hula-hoop and jump rope simultaneously.

Needless to say, the circus act which is my life often transforms itself into anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. When these feelings take over, my natural tendency is to attempt balancing the anxiety of the chaos with routine. Routine feels safe. It adds an element of predictability which is otherwise difficult to find amidst the chaos of life.

Routine is my antidote to anxiety.

You may also enjoy reading Mom Guilt: What It Is & How You Can Beat It!

I often find myself equating something new or different with bad and scary simply because the outcome is unknown. Routine on the other hand tends to involve the same elements. Mixing the same elements time after time equals the same (or similar) outcomes. Routine = predictability.

Or at least that’s how it theoretically works in my mind. Logically, I know that life is unpredictable. We can never plan for all the possible unexpectedness we’re hit with on any given day. Nonetheless, routine continues to be my response to the constant change inevitable to life.

Consistency, Routines, & Success

Although there are drawbacks to being a routine-oriented person, there are also definite benefits. The biggest actually involves success. The truth is that success always requires effort. True success doesn’t happen overnight and has nothing to do with luck or chance. Consistent effort performed over time transforms itself into routine. Success is then built on the routines constructed from consistent effort. See how that works?

Consistency in small actions snowballs into bigger routines and eventually, huge successes.

Here’s an example of the consistency, routine, success cascade in action. Let’s say you want to get back into shape again after a long gym hiatus. You set a start date for your new goal. You’re committed to break out of your routine of skipping the gym. Obviously new running shoes and workout clothes are a necessity! As is the renewal of your long expired gym membership. Your schedule is crazy busy already but you decide that your gym time will be at 5 a.m.

You may also enjoy reading How to Find More Time in Your Day.

Your start date finally arrives and you roll out of bed at 5, tired but excited about your fitness goals. You get dressed and head out the door. The drive to the gym is a short one and after parking, you select the latest episode of your favorite podcast and walk inside.

As it’s been awhile since you last worked out, you’re hesitant at first. You soon hit your stride and motivated by your podcast, have a great workout. You’re feeling slightly more energized than before and feel proud that you were able to break out of your routine.

Although day one went well, you know that the journey doesn’t end here. Unfortunately, it will take more than one day to return to being able to easily run 3 miles or lift without feeling completely spent the next day.

When you initially begin chasing this goal, you will need to make the conscious choice to wake up and sweat. After a period of time however your conscious choice simply becomes something you do. Hitting the gym in the morning will start to feel automatic. It builds into a routine which eventually transforms your health.

If you are that person who thrives on routine, it can be much easier to transform an activity into another piece of your routine. But if you happen to be that person who tires easily of doing the same things day after day, you need to be much more creative in figuring out how to consistently incorporate something new.

Same Old, Same Old

Routines are such a theme for me that my day even begins with eating the same exact breakfast. To be honest, part of the reason why I eat the same thing is because then I don’t have to try to come up with something different. I go through periods where I struggle with meal planning for my family and my kids have eaten way more happy meals than I care to admit. As my kids generally prefer to eat breakfast at school, I definitely do not want to put the time and energy into planning something new for myself. After all, I have gradually adapted my breakfast over the years into the ultimate ratio of protein and carbs to keep me full until lunch. Why mess with something that works?

But could there actually be a benefit in figuring out how to break out of your routine?

Research suggests that our brains are wired to form routines because forming pathways of familiar behavior frees up space for processing other types of information. 

When considering it from this angle, it probably is a good thing that I eat the same exact breakfast because I have plenty of extraneous questions and information to process thrown at me by my kids prior to 7 a.m. every morning. 

“Mom!  Where are my library books?  More milk!  I don’t want to wear that!  Is it going to be warm enough to wear shorts?  But I don’t want to wear pants!  Did you sign my folder?  Can I have candy for breakfast?  My tablet isn’t working!  More milk! Fix my tablet!  I can’t find my library books!  But I don’t want to wear underwear!  More milk!”  All this in the span of about 15 seconds from all 3 of them simultaneously. 

My brain has clearly decided that in order to survive and get myself as well as 3 children out the door every morning, a certain amount of automation is necessary.

Break out of Your Routine to Avoid Feeling Stuck

Stubbornly clinging to routine is not always protective though, especially when it blocks us from growing and changing into new and better versions of ourselves. Routine can keep us stuck where we are and prevent us from growing and changing into new and better versions of ourselves. It can keep us stuck where we are and prevent us from meeting new people, exploring different interests, and leading awesomely fulfilling lives.

Routine feels safe and gives a false sense of control over our lives. I once read a statistic that most car accidents don’t occur on unfamiliar roadways but rather those that are only within a few mile radius of one’s house most likely because we let our guard down due to this false sense of security in the familiar.

Breaking out of routines helps prepare us for the unexpected in a way that the “same old same old” never will. Another bonus of leaving the familiar behind is that trying new things becomes easier and easier. I can tell you that since I’ve started actively looking for new experiences, especially those that scare me, it has become less and less scary to say yes.

Stepping outside routines also improves creativity because it challenges us to think in new and different ways. So how does one go about breaking away from their deeply ingrained routines and comfort zone? Surprisingly, it can start with only a few very small changes. You never know how the incredible ripple effect of trying something different may impact your outlook and life until you give it a try.

So go ahead and give something a try! There are 70 ideas below to spark your creativity. Some are big while others are small. A few can easily be incorporated into your daily routine while others are perfect for weekends. Most can also easily be accommodated adapted for kids. There are also plenty of ideas if you’re looking for fulfilling self care practices. Check it out now!

70 Ideas to Break Out of Your Routine

  1. Drive to work by a different route.
  2. Ask a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile to meet up for coffee or dinner.
  3. Take an art class.
  4. Read a book. If you’re looking for recommendations, here is a suspenseful read from one of my favorite authors. Here’s another one which has a completely unexpected twist at the end. And if you’re looking for a series, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. I had a seriously hard time putting it down!
  5. Start a blog.
  6. Try a restaurant you’ve never tried before.
  7. Spend an afternoon in the park.
  8. Go for a run in an area of town you’ve never been before.
  9. Get a group of friends together and sign up to play a sport you enjoy.
  10. Strike up a conversation with a neighbor you haven’t met before.
  11. Learn to play an instrument.
  12. Actually get your kids together for a play date with someone you’ve always talked about doing it with.
  13. Get involved in a small group at your church.
  14. Volunteer somewhere.
  15. Go for a bike ride.
  16. Make a quilt.
  17. Start a scrapbook.
  18. Bake cookies for your neighbors.
  19. Cook something completely different for dinner.
  20. Go to a concert.
  21. Try out for a play.
  22. Involve your kids in an activity you enjoyed as a kid.
  23. Make a smoothie.
  24. Take a yoga class.
  25. Plant a garden.
  26. Take your kids to a movie.
  27. Take a week-long break from Facebook and connect with your friends in person instead.
  28. Spend a day in a city you’ve never been to before.
  29. Start looking into your family history.
  30. Take a family trip to a county fair.
  31. Listen to a personal development podcast.
  32. Go for a train ride.
  33. Commit to shutting off all electronics and spending quality time with your family each day.
  34. Start a home-based business.
  35. Find a coach.
  36. Tell your family how much you love them.
  37. Pay for a stranger’s coffee.
  38. Support a friend’s home-based business.
  39. Plan, shop for, and cook a dinner with your family.
  40. Go for a jog with a friend.
  41. Hire a babysitter and have a date night with your spouse.
  42. Plan a vacation.
  43. Get a massage.
  44. Have a family game night.
  45. Call a family member you haven’t talked to in awhile.
  46. Take your family bowling.
  47. Go for a trail ride.
  48. Re-create your favorite coffee drink or restaurant meal at home.
  49. Take a nap.
  50. Find a personal trainer.
  51. Visit a museum.
  52. Go to a play.
  53. Start keeping a journal.
  54. Start your day by listing 3 things you’re thankful for.
  55. See a movie in theaters.
  56. Take a class about a topic or hobby that interests you.
  57. Try meditation.
  58. Find a new workout routine.
  59. Join a club.
  60. Make a craft with your kids.
  61. Do a puzzle.
  62. Drive around and look at Christmas lights.
  63. Come up with a family (or personal) mission statement.
  64. Paint that room in your house which has been begging for an up-do.
  65. Transform your hair with a completely new cut and/or color.
  66. Have your make-up professionally done for date night.
  67. Go through your closets and donate anything you haven’t worn in the past year.
  68. Plan out and cook a 3-course meal for your family.
  69. Look for opportunities to use your talents in a meaningful way.  Check out Top 3 Reasons Why You Need a Creative Side Gig.
  70. Sit down and color with your kids.

It’s Your Turn!

I hope this list has inspired you to try something new and break out of your routine!  Even small changes can have huge impacts on your outlook!  I am an introvert by nature and reaching out for new experiences has also encouraged me to open up and get to know others in ways that I have never done before.  As humans, we need the support and encouragement of others but cannot just sit around and wait for this to magically happen.  We need to take action toward building our own supportive tribe and growing as individuals otherwise we will forever remain where we currently are in life.  Now go out there, break out of your routine, and let me know how this article has impacted your life in the comments section below!

Identify Your Strengths to Improve Your Impact

Identify Your Strengths to Improve Your Impact

Wisconsin roads in the winter are a nightmare. Snow-covered ice means finding yourself spinning your wheels without going anywhere. Life can be exactly the same way. There are so many directions to take but which will make the greatest impact? Clarifying your direction starts with the ability to identify your strengths.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

“If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.” – Tom Rath, author of Strengths Finder 2.0

Gain Clarity to Identify Your Strengths

The act of gaining clarity on ourselves is tough. This can be especially true when trying to identify your strengths. Maybe you feel constant conflict within yourself. You have a vague sense of your natural strengths but also feel misaligned. It’s almost as if lacking clear definition causes unspoken imbalances elsewhere in your life. You wonder why you feel like a square peg in a round hole.

It may seem counterintuitive but you simply can’t solely rely upon yourself to provide feedback. You need outside input to provide a more clear picture of yourself.

Ideally, this feedback comes from a trusted source; someone who has your best interests at heart. Someone who is insightful and motivating. The type of person who has a thorough understanding of the various types of strengths and their applications. Although you may be lucky enough to have such a person in your life, many people do not.

If you are one of the lucky ones, cherish this relationship. Chances are, you have both seen benefits from insight provided by the other. Use the StrengthsFinder 2.0 as a tool to help each other identify your strengths. Motivate each other to actually apply the information in your lives.

Building Upon Strength vs. Overcoming Weakness

Growing up in America, I have always been conditioned to believe that anyone is capable of accomplishing anything. All you need to do is put in the work and you will see the reward. There are countless movies and books highlighting the heroine whose only desire is to accomplish that one huge goal.

The heroine is the underdog who no one expects to win and must overcome almost insurmountable odds to accomplish her goal. In many cases, the heroine spends her time overcoming some type of weakness. The significant disadvantage interferes with her ability to earn the degree, win the match, or land that leading role.

But what if all this effort toward overcoming a weakness is a waste of energy? Wouldn’t it make more sense to start with an area of strength rather than attempting to overcome weakness?

Let’s Look at a Case Study

Take Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde. Throughout the movie, Elle’s passion for all things fashion and lifestyle is evident and she initially enrolls in a fashion merchandising program.

Unfortunately, her boyfriend dumps her and heads off to study law at Harvard.

Determined to win him back, she puts in an incredible amount of time, effort, and energy to earn a spot in the same Harvard program.

She flips her life upside down to pursue the ultimate goal of winning her boyfriend back. Elle does this while pursuing a degree polar opposite to the one she had initially enrolled in.

Elle successfully graduates from the program and realizes that her ex-boyfriend was actually a selfish jerk the whole time. Despite the ending, I have always been left wondering whether she truly was happy in her decision to become a lawyer.

I know what you’re thinking. The movie is typically known as a light-hearted comedy. Is there really a bigger message to take away from it? But hang with me for just a minute.

Although a degree in law is a distinguished and often lucrative career, is there a tiny part inside of her which wonders whether she made the best choice? Would she have been happier pursuing a degree more in line with her strengths and interests? Or whether she could have attained even greater heights?

Fashion was the crossroads of talent and passion for Elle. She put forth incredible effort to overcome her weaknesses in the pursuit of law. Just imagine how a career in fashion, an area of strength, could have blossomed! Imagine the impact you could have if you clearly identify your strengths!

Put a Name to the Strength

Prior to discovering the Strengths Finder 2.0, I had never taken the time to name my own strengths. I chased after various pursuits with only a vague sense of my strengths.

Chasing after anything and everything means you say “yes.” All the time. Lacking clear direction significantly contributes to anxiety and fear of missing out. After all, what if I say “no” to that one thing which could be the game changer? The result is feeling pulled in a million different directions without significant impact.

Have you ever stopped to think about what it takes to be truly great at something? Not just mediocre or moderately acceptable but absolutely outstanding in one particular area? Think Olympic athlete. Your favorite author. Rob Thomas (we can agree to disagree if he’s not your fav …).

The most talented people in the world are generally only known for one thing. It’s not typical for someone to be known as both an enthralling musician AND a captivating author.

Greatness requires hours upon hours of intense focus and a desire for growth. Depending upon the goal, tough decisions, sacrifices, and saying “no” to anything not in line with the ultimate goal are also required. As is correct identification of one’s initial talents and skills.

Using StrengthsFinder 2.0 to Identify Your Strengths

The need to correctly identify your strengths to improve your impact is clear. You may, however, be wondering how the StrengthsFinder 2.0 can help. This book contains a link for an online quiz which reveals your individualized strengths. Following the quiz, refer back to the book for insight on how to incorporate your strengths to increase your impact.

My personal experience with StrengthsFinder 2.0 began with a podcast. I was immediately intrigued and knew this had the potential to improve my impact and provide clarity to my direction.

After taking the assessment, I was shocked! The results put words to what I had always vaguely known about myself. I would compare the feeling to the satisfaction of finding a missing piece of a puzzle. You know it’s there. It’s distinctive shape fools you into thinking it will be an easy one to find. Hiding amidst the jungle of other pieces it just continues eluding you. You have almost convinced yourself that it’s missing; gone forever. Suddenly, you spot the piece and with satisfaction, tap it into place.

Take this opportunity to put another piece of your own puzzle into place.

If you’re not yet convinced about the need to identify your strengths, consider this. Think back to when you first learned to write. Most of us are naturally drawn to write with either the left or right hand. If you spent your time in line with your natural tendency, your attention could then shift to learning how to write letters. Eventually you can focus on the improvement of your handwriting. If, however, you spent your time fighting your natural instinct to be left-handed and attempted to switch to the right, all your time and energy would be spent forcing your hand to accept the role thrust upon it. It would take much more time and effort to get to the point of improving your handwriting.

It’s Time to Take Action

Unless you have taken time to shed light upon your strengths and weaknesses, you will have a vague sense of where you are naturally drawn. But in my experience, vague is completely useless. Vague gets us nowhere.

Be the heroine of your own life. Start with your strengths. Stop trying to overcome weakness. Think about how much farther ahead you will be simply by starting with areas in which you already excel. Stop being the square peg in the round hole.

Take this opportunity to learn more about who you are and what makes you amazing! Check out this post for inspiration on making decisions and this post for my best advice on how to stop caring what everyone else thinks. I truly hope that you find the StrengthsFinder 2.0 as life-changing as I did and would love to hear all about it in the comments below!

How To Find More Time in Your Day

How To Find More Time in Your Day

Do you ever wish there was an extra hour in the day? Think about all the amazing stuff you could accomplish in that extra time! What if I told you that the extra hour is real and that it’s actually possible to find even more time in your day?

I know what you’re thinking. Your gigantic daily “to-do” list is running through your head, reminding you that school pictures are today, your kindergartener is on the hook for snacks, and you have a dentist appointment at 4. I get it and I’m right there with you. Life is hectic! But if we don’t take the time to be intentional and do the things which bring the spark into our lives, what’s even the point?

Finding more time is a topic I have obsessed over basically since I first became a mom eight years ago but this preoccupation has intensified over the past three years, courtesy of the graduate nursing program I recently completed. Graduate school coursework on top of maintaining my role as a wife, being a mom to three littles, working, and trying to keep some shred of self-care was no small feat.

Despite the insanity, I learned to make each and every second of my day count. Sometimes finding more time is simply a matter of carefully evaluating whether time is effectively being used. A great place to begin is with time spent in the car. We do a fair amount of driving on the weekends and since my husband generally drives anyway, I began bringing my reading assignments with wherever we went. I was amazed at how much material I was able to cover this way.

And for those times when I was the driver? Podcasts and audible books nicely maximized my study time during those solo drives. I tried listening with my kids in the car but they loudly objected to hearing about the cardiac system and effective managment of heart failure. I can’t say that I really blame them.

Taking a closer look at my daily schedule also revealed chunks of time which were not being used effectively. I was shocked to realize just how much time was spent surfing social media once I began paying attention to how my time was being used. Opening the rabbit hole of Facebook or Pinterest only resulted in possibly hours of truly unproductive time which was no help when it came to finishing papers or preparing for exams so my time was better served staying off social media altogether.

I also began finding ways to make necessary household tasks both faster and easier. At times, a mindset shift was all that was needed. If I approached the task with an expectation that it would only take 2 minutes to do, it was much easier to actually accomplish it within that time frame than if I told myself it would take forever. There are so many times when I talk myself out of doing something because I tell myself that it will take FOREVER but if I approach it from the angle that it will ONLY take 5 minutes, it’s much easier to dive right in.

Shifting your mindset is incredibly helpful when you know there’s a task which needs to get done but you are procrastinating doing said task. I use this trick of telling myself that I only need to work for 15 minutes on the task but will put forth all my focus and energy into it for a brief period of time. Once 15 minutes goes by, I am always surprised at how much progress I have actually made. This trick sometimes works in sucking me into the task and on many occasions, I have finished the task in that one session. Shorter tasks can obviously be accomplished in less than 15 minutes but sometimes bigger projects are also completed sooner than expected with this technique.

And speaking of saving time … I recently tried the WalMart grocery pick-up app and it truly is a life saver! That store is such a time and energy suck for me so I truly appreciate the ability to simply choose my groceries on the app and they are ready to be picked up when it’s convenient for me. My only regret is that I didn’t try it sooner. It is an incredibly exhilerating feeling to know that I never have to step foot inside the store again!

An obvious place to find more time in one’s day is by getting up earlier. This one was a struggle for me when I started graduate school because I also had a 3 month old preemie who only slept about 3 hours at a stretch. He had a three week NICU stay and we never perfected breastfeeding so I was frantically trying to keep up an intense pumping schedule on top of everything else. Sleep was incredibly precious and elusive in those days!

Needless to say, getting up earlier than I absolutely had to was not an option at that time in my life. I definitely would not recommend trying to find more time by impacting your sleep cycle if you have an infant. You need sleep to survive. It’s one of those basic necessities. Get all the sleep you can and find other ways to prioritize your time if you are at that stage in your life.

Once my youngest started sleeping and I stopped pumping, I realized that I had a treasure trove of time in the hour before my kids awoke in the morning. I generally used this time to hit the gym because it actually gave me more energy for the day and I found that I slept better at night. Listening to motivational and inspirational podcasts during this time changed my mindset from negativity to one of positivity and personal accomplishment. I suddenly felt as if I had even more time to accomplish my personal goals and self-care tasks.

Regardless of the stage of motherhood you are in, I hope you found these suggestions helpful. Even despite these tactics and mindset shifts, I still have days where the hours tick by so quickly that it’s unbelievable and at the end of the day, I’m not even sure what I accomplished. Life is messy, chaotic, and hectic and on those days all you can do is be thankful for the time you’re given and do the best that you can do with what you have. I’m always looking for ways to be more mindful of my time and would love to hear your thoughts on how you manage the insanity that is life so please feel free to leave a comment below!

Music Memorization For Pianists

Music Memorization For Pianists

Can we talk shocking revelations for a minute? Despite studying piano from the age of 7, I had never memorized a single piece of music until college. Not “Hot Cross Buns” or “Jolly Old St. Nick.” Not even Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique which I played at state solo and ensemble when I was in high school. No music memorization whatsoever for this gal.

In no way do I blame my beginning piano teacher for missing anything in my early musical education. I have always been very headstrong and I’m sure that I met attempts at encouraging music memorization with resistance. And I honestly did not take lessons seriously when I was younger. I loved to play and learn new music on the instrument! I never gave much thought to truly developing my skills or the incredible benefits that memorization brings to overall pianism. In fact, I had never considered a career in music until I entered college.

Check out this post to learn more about my musical journey.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Sight Reading and Music Memorization

I am also a strong sight reader which often translates to less reliance on memorization. I could simply play the notes written on the page so there was no need to memorize. At the time, I saw no reason to go further in-depth into music memorization than that.

Flash forward to college and suddenly I was expected to memorize my pieces for periodic performances and evaluations every semester. When first confronted with this information, I had absolutely no idea where to even begin this seemingly monumental task. At one point, I vividly remember my professor handing me a sheet of paper with tips for memorization. Although some of the tips made sense, I still found the information disjointed and unclear.

Even after reviewing any information I could find on music memorization, I still had a ton of questions. “But how do I go about transferring the written notes on the page to technically accurate and emotionally compelling performances?” It all seemed so vague. I honestly felt that I would never excel at memorization because in all my 18 years, I had never before done it. Surely it was too late to learn now.

Challenges with Music Memorization

Somehow I pulled myself through my degree, painfully memorizing as required. Despite fulfilling the requirements of the degree, I never fully grasped the bigger picture of memorization. Memorization enables learning a piece to the point where it truly becomes a part of you. In those days, I relied heavily on muscle memory. As discussed below, this is a technique which often fails when in the midst of a high pressure performance situation. At the time, I had no understanding of the different types of memorization. I also had no understanding of how different types of memorization work together to truly solidify memory and strengthen performance. Even though I eventually succeeded at memorization, it remained a task which I despised and I never felt as if I truly mastered it.

After my college graduation, I continued to freelance as a church organist. I also accompanied for everything from high school choirs to singers and instrumentalists competing in solo & ensemble. Accompanying doesn’t require music memorization and as my life became busier, I put it on the back burner.

Benefits of Music Memorization

About a year ago, I decided to once again expand my solo pianistic skills. I absolutely love pieces from the Romantic period, especially composers such as Frederic Chopin and Sergei Rachmaninoff! I therefore focused on these pieces. After all, what’s the point of learning a piece if you’re not absolutely in love with it? Check out this post for a piece which steals my heart every time! As beautiful as I find these pieces, they are incredibly difficult. In most cases, memorization is required to deliver a performance worthy of their distinction.

Once again faced with the prospect of music memorization, I began searching for any information I could find on memorization. My ultimate goal was to facilitate more solid music memorization and therefore better performance.

First things first … let’s talk about different types of memory.

Muscle Memory

Repetition leads to muscle memory. Creating muscle memory requires a great deal of time and many repetitions. Our brains are constantly looking for ways to automate activities in order to use as little energy as possible. Muscle memory is a great example of automation in action and was the type I solely relied upon in college. Unfortunately, this also resulted in my very tenuous grasp on performance.

Automation does allow for increased attention to the other aspects of creating music however there are also drawbacks. This is especially true if this is your sole form of memorization. The biggest is that if anything impedes your muscle memory during a performance, you’re stuck. If you have no other forms of memory, picking up again with only muscle memory is incredibly difficult. It can be nearly impossible to resume where the slip occurred and continue on as if nothing happened. Unfortunately this is also the least secure type of memorization. It is the first type of memorization to vanish under pressure.

Visual Memory

Looking at information creates visual memories. It is this type which allows you to hear a word and form a picture in your mind.

Visual memory is similar to muscle memory in that it is subject to high rates of recall error. This type of memory is also especially prone to errors in the face of contradiction. Imagine you’re playing through a section of a memorized piece. Suddenly, you question whether the melody travels up to the C or C#. Doubt begins to creep in. You then make a note error two entire measures prior to the note in question. Unless you have a photographic memory, it is nearly impossible to use strictly this type of memorization. Despite the drawbacks, visual memory can be a useful type of music memorization in combination with the other types.

Auditory Memory

Auditory memory is similar to the other three types in that it relates to one of our senses. In this case, it is the sense of hearing rather than those of touch or vision.

This type of memory allows you to recall the piece even when you are not actually playing it. Auditory memory also enables you to anticipate your sound prior to even playing a note. Developing this type of memory is an incredibly useful skill beyond its function in memorization. It does, however, require time and a great deal of practice. Having a solid auditory memory of a piece in conjunction with the kinesthetic and visual aspects solidifies your memory. It is also extremely helpful when engaging the next type of memory, analysis.

Analysis

Although music theory is not always the most engaging subject, it provides an excellent foundation for creating memory through analysis. Knowledge of key signatures, harmonic structures, and cadences can all be helpful beyond passing a music theory test. It can help with memory of a piece through enabling you to improvise a section if your memory does falter.

The ability to find your way through a memory slip contributes in a huge way to confidence on stage. Take just a minute to think about the different types of memory we have discussed. Consider approaching a performance guided only by your finger memory of thousands of repetitions. But suddenly, a baby in the audience starts crying. How would you know where to start up again once distraction strikes? The same can be said of memorizing music strictly through vision. With analysis to back you up, you have the confidence of knowing you could improvise through any potential slip-ups!

Let’s Get Started!

Combining various aspects of each of the four types of memorization creates solid memories of the piece. It also facilitates better performances. Below, I outline the process I use to create solid memorization of a piece. If you’re new to music memorization, start with an easy piece below your current playing level. Memorization can be challenging! Take this opportunity to become proficient in memorization by downgrading the difficulty of the piece.

Your first task is to analyze the piece starting with form. Chunk the piece into sections and determine whether any of the sections are repeats. Do key signatures or time signatures vary through the sections? What about tempo? Does the piece remain in the same tempo throughout or does it have contrasting tempos? How should dynamics you shape dynamics? Spend some time analyzing the harmonic structure as this will make memorization easier.

Engage your auditory memory by listening to the piece several times and write down the emotions it evokes. Dig into the history of the piece to determine the deeper meaning behind its composition. Was it composed for someone in particular? Or perhaps to commemorate an occasion? Are there political undercurrents? What was happening in the composer’s life at the time? Consider the historical context in which the piece was composed. All these details can work together to enhance your understanding of the piece. This information later transforms your performance from mediocre to memorable.

Break it Down to Small Sections

Once you’ve analyzed the various aspects of the piece, it’s time to choose where to focus your memorization efforts first. I typically pick out the most challenging part of the piece to focus on first. You may decide to start at the beginning or even the end. The key to memorization is only attempting memorization of small pieces of information at a time. When first starting out and depending upon the difficulty of the piece, this may only be a note or two. Break the entire piece into smaller chunks of between 2-8 measures and work to memorize each individually. Memorization solidifies over a period of time. Attempting to shove too much in your brain in a short time period only results in a jumbled mess.

I simply cannot over-emphasize the importance of attempting to memorize only small sections per day. The other alternative is to work in short time increments repeatedly throughout the day. The most important concept is to allow your brain to rest in between sessions. If you don’t, your hard work will be for nothing. Your brain will simply jam the information into a jumbled mess instead of creating usable memory.

The Temptation to Read vs. Memorize

If you are the pianist who sight reads well, this is where the challenge really begins. I struggle so much with memorization because my tendency is always to read the notes written on the page. Producing the notes on the piano without written notes in front of you requires different thinking. You therefore have to employ different tactics to bring forth a completely new type of thought process.

When I first began memorizing again, I had to put the music I was memorizing away from the piano. It’s otherwise too tempting for me not to look at! This tactic forced me to visually remember the note pattern to play it. It otherwise forces me to get up and look at it. And let’s face it … we all have a slightly lazy side which prefers to continue sitting whenever possible! While looking at the notes you are memorizing, try to hear in your mind how this will sound. When you go back to the instrument, focus in on how the part sounds. Continue to visualize the notes while you play so you can further solidify your memorization.

Life Hacks Useful for Music Memorization

Track your memorization progress by putting check marks behind each measure as your memorize. When you have tough practice sessions, look back at all the progress you have made. This will motivate you to continue making progress!

Never under-estimate the importance of sleep on your brain’s ability to assimilate this information into your working memory. Memorization is an incredibly active process which requires your full attention. It will therefore be infinitely more difficult if you are not well rested.

In line with this is choosing a time of day when you are most alert. As a working mom of three, I can’t always practice during my ideal times. If you also find yourself in this boat, be patient. Lower your expectations about how long this process will take you. You’re juggling so much right now! Does it really matter whether it takes one month or five to memorize that piece you love so much? The only thing that really matters is that you keep making progess in your goals.

And speaking of making progress … I’m always looking for other great resources on the topic of musicianship to propel me forward. I stumbled across this book a few years ago and have taken an incredible amount of knowledge away from it! From practice tips to performance anxiety to musician wellness, there’s a wealth of information to be gained in it!

Memorization is a skill much like learning to play an instrument. The more you do it, the better you become at it. When you do it correctly, the reward is elevation to a level of musicianship not otherwise attainable. It also comes with a sense of pride in that you are accomplishing something which is meaningful and fulfilling.

Now get out there and start memorizing something! Drop a comment below on what you’re working on and whether you have also struggled with memorization. I’d also love to hear whether you have your own tips and tricks on memorizing!