Category: Ways to Stay Centered

choose 3 things to get done

When hitting a stretch of being overwhelmed by too much to do, I turn to the idea of “Choosing 3 Things” to get done in a day to help get me through the chaos and find some footing. Identifying 3 things to accomplish in a day serves several purposes:

1) It forces prioritizing. The act of choosing requires me to evaluate and think about what’s important given the restrictions of time and resources. On any day it could mean making a family dinner happen, attending one of my kids’ sports game, exercising, powering through something at work, helping a friend, or making time to spend alone. Also, what should I make happen today that won’t be a possibility tomorrow?

2) It helps focus energy. The number of things that any of us could possibly do in a day is infinite, often overwhelming, and can distract from the focus necessary to see any one task to completion. There are details and times to remember at home and at work, countless articles and news stories to suggest what each of us could be doing for better health or the greater good. Not all of it’s important–to say nothing of “doable”–and calling up 3 manageable tasks or reachable goals can help focus the energy that will be spent.

3) It allows for a greater sense of accomplishment. The background hum of endless possibility often prevents me from appreciating progress or things that I actually do manage to accomplish, especially since I have a tendency to see the shortfall instead of the distance I’ve come. Choosing 3 can help create a sense of accomplishment and grounding.

Some days just feel like I’m on the other side of the net from one of those tennis ball machines, and all I can do is bat away those fluorescent blurs that keep coming at me, with no time or perspective to place any single shot in a thoughtful or strategic place. Purposefully identifying anchors can help me let some of those balls just fly by, gives me time to get my form and balance right, approach a ball with focus and intention, and take my best swing. –t

make it doable

make exercise doableOften the biggest challenge to committing to something over time is the size and scope of our expectation. For me, regular exercise has always posed such a challenge. If I felt that I didn’t have enough time for a yoga class or run followed by a shower, I’d bail. But it was assuming that I needed a big chunk of time to make it worthwhile that kept me from exercising on a regular basis.

The shift that has worked for me is to shoot for a shorter amount of time, i.e. to make exercise “doable,” such that consistency and commitment is manageable. Most days I can find 30 minutes. With that time frame in mind, I’ve discovered a few ideas that have created a more reliable (read: more likely to happen) workout. They include:

  1. Mapping out running/walking/biking routes that are 30 minutes out and back from my door
  2. Getting timed workout apps, such as the 7 minute workout app. (Click here for a list of others.)
  3. Using yoga or pilates videos with 20-30 minute sessions, such as Rodney Yee AM/PM Yoga for Beginners

Hooray for “doable!” –n


the joy of doing one thing

Watching my older children do their homework is fascinating. And a little frightening to me, too. They will routinely have music or something playing through headphones, email or chat windows open, some kind of snack in one hand all while writing a paper. They are, what I guess I’d call, “multitasking.” Funny, though, I feel like I don’t hear that word as much anymore. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s just become the norm.

I don’t believe that that kind of distracted studying is as good as more focused, uninterrupted engagement. I just don’t. And I’m sure that there are plenty of studies to show that I am right, just as there are probably plenty of studies that show that they, too, are developing and practicing useful skills that will serve them well in the future landscape of technology and work. Who knows?

Enter: focus and mindfulness. While I don’t want to be the grumpy older generation suspicious of All Things Progress, I know–I KNOW–that the swirl and busyness that the velocity of our days has created for adults and kids alike is not a good place to be all of the time. Such frenetic activity requires balance. Periods of constant distraction and quick shifts of topic need to be balanced with quiet and stillness. Quiet and stillness, which is not the same as sleep.

For anyone who gets caught up in the buzz of the multitask, here I’d like to make the case for, once in a while, just doing one thing. Just do one thing. For kind of like, a long time. Read a book. Fold some laundry. Go for a walk. Write a paper. Cook something without needing it to be on the table in 25 minutes. It’s amazing how short attention spans can get when we become accustomed to email intrusion at work, Snapchat during study hours, or even the shorter chunks of time new parents get used to with the demands of a new baby. Restore and fight back every so often by just doing one thing. Try to do it without worrying what is coming next or what you’re not doing instead. It’s harder than it seems, and more satisfying than it looks. –t

mindfulness amid the noise

It was February and school vacation, a cold, snowy, gray day in the northeast. I was at the grocery store and overheard a mother, sullen children in tow, sigh to someone at the other end of her phone: “and I didn’t even get to yoga this morning because of the kids. It’s going to be a long week!”

I, too, like my yoga. I like the dedicated time to consciously center myself physically and mentally, and in so doing allow some of the static that builds up to drift away. I am a better version of myself when I take the time to be actively focused and mindful. I am a better decision maker, I am more patient, more creative, more present, and I’d hazard to say, more likable.

But a secret (that’s really not such a secret) is that so much of the benefit of mindfulness practice that comes from active meditation or yoga is (woo-hoo!) available everywhere and in everything we do. Every moment is an opportunity to do whatever-you’re-doing mindfully. Folding laundry. Grocery shopping. Cooking. Walking. Playing with your kids.

Probably people know that. It can just be hard to get there sometimes, what with all of the thoughts and feelings and things-to-remember constantly bubbling up. So I want to share a strategy that helps me shift into that place of conscious awareness, something simple that I’ve been doing for truly as long as I can remember, that you can just break out for a few minutes anytime, anywhere.

And that is to do something–whatever it is–as quietly as possible. I did it as a child walking in the woods and descending the stairs in the morning. I do it now putting away dishes and laundry, or preparing a meal. There are sounds inherent in any activity, of course, but the effort required to control my contribution to the noise has a magical way of bringing focus and mindfulness to the task at hand. Just the frame of “quietly” forces me to slow down, to hold and place things with care, to be cognizant of the sound of a plate under a stream of water, a sponge on a plate, a plate in a dish drainer. I notice the weight of my footfalls, the scrape and click of a doorknob. It changes the quality of time as it’s passing, and even in just a few moments, shhhhh…a hit of mindfulness and renewed focus.

I’ll take it. –t

accept help

help wantedOver the past week I’ve been in the situation where I’ve had to talk people into accepting help. Namely, my 75 year old father and my 11 year old son. I mean really talk them into it, which meant walking them through why it’s okay to accept someone’s help, whether with outsourcing certain aspects of international travel logistics or finding the area of an irregularly shaped garden in chapter 12, question 3a.

It got me thinking again about why it’s just so dang hard for us to accept the help sometimes. In our book we talk about the shift to parenthood being a time to sift through feelings of vulnerability and insecurity, a time to thoughtfully recalibrate the needs and demands of a new and complicated role. It can be hard to let go of our sense of control, to feel our competence questioned.

There is no shortage of cultural messages that portray independence as a sign of strength. And, don’t we raise our kids to move toward greater autonomy and self-reliance, applauding as they feed and dress themselves when they’re little, hoping that someday they will be able to “stand on their own two feet?” But as kids move toward greater independence in all the places that are developmentally appropriate, it is also important to help them balance this increasing independence with maintaining interdependence –  connection to others. And being in connected relationships includes accepting help. (No surprise, it also includes helping.)

Relying on others—and being reliable and relied upon—is an important part of being a family, of being a friend, of being a citizen in the Great-Big-World. People help each other. And it feels good to help—which requires a recipient— and we all need to take our turns. Someone who understands the ways in which he can be helped is a good thing. It is self-knowledge. Hooray for the person able to recognize their own limits, to self-advocate, and to know how to connect with the experience, talents, or insight of others. What better way to learn and grow? -t


consider intention

Screen shot 2014-01-07 at 2.26.17 PMThe other day I was having dinner with friends, all parents of our son’s crew at school. (In order to protect the innocent, who might just want to have a cocktail on a school night, yet still share this story which is straightforward but confusing when everyone is called “friend,” I will call one Jane and one Emily.)

…So Jane was recalling a day when she had offered to cover school pick up for Emily, only to discover a conflict late in the day that left her unable to help out as planned. Being the generous and thoughtful person she is, Jane was recounting how badly she felt about her mistake, about letting Emily down. She then proceeded to tell us what happened next.

When she reached out to tell Emily that she could no longer help, Emily replied in a way that brought a healing and helpful frame.  Her response was relevant to that day, and so useful in many of our daily interactions with others. She drew focus to intention. The intention was to help, not to inconvenience.

It seems so simple, but considering someone’s intention—particularly in the case where something hasn’t quite gone as planned—helps us to understand a context, be more empathetic, and see the good.

Rather than the one who messed up or lost track of a schedule, Emily saw Jane’s intention, which was one of kindness and generosity. Focusing on the positive elements was, and almost always is, a good thing for everyone.

As parents, when our kids miss the mark, or further, maybe don’t think before they do something that ends badly, it’s also helpful to think about intention. Instead of quickly finding fault, in considering a child’s intentions, we can often find patience and understanding, which is so important in supporting our children as they learn and grow. –t

be that way

be that wayNot long ago, we heard Jon Kabat-Zinn speak about mindfulness in education.

One of the things he pointed out is the language teachers often use in speaking to students that can undermine their intent. These are directives that begin with “I want you to —.”  Dr. Kabat-Zinn suggests a simple shift to “Let’s—.”

For example, for a child who is upset, instead of saying “I want you to calm down,” try “let’s calm down.” Rather than “I want you to take some time away,” “let’s take a break from this for a moment.” When “we” are in something together, not only does it serve as a reminder for me (the teacher or parent) to avoid escalating, it short-circuits the power dynamic that often compounds stress with an expectation of compliance or respect.

The goal is to help the child calm down so that she can move on. Full stop.

While our choice of language is important, even more so our disposition and state of mind. As parents, there are times in which we’ve asked children to calm down or stop yelling while, ironically, we ourselves are yelling.

Rather than raise a voice to tell a child to stop yelling, be that calm presence and quiet voice. Slow it down, pull the energy in. In any overwhelming situation, a harbor in the storm is what is needed. The way to provide that for our kids is to be calm and centered ourselves.  When we can successfully provide that harbor, something in both our kids and ourselves – as well as the relationship between us – grows in a positive way. -n&t

a small kindness

letting a car inIt’s almost Columbus Day, the point in each new school year when I take stock, stand still, and really think about how it’s all going, because a long time ago I decided that it takes at least this long for the dust to settle, the honeymoons to end, and our family to hit a rhythm.

This year, Columbus Day looms large and is coming at me like a freight train.  I don’t know about you, but our household still feels chaotic. Work feels chaotic. Classrooms still feel new. There is no clearly discernable pattern in our days and weeks, and I feel a little wash of panic coming on. Granted, this fall, for us, holds more unstable factors than most. But reasonable or not, feeling overwhelmed, powerless, and panicked is a tough place to be.

In our book we have a list titled “Gifts for Yourself,” which is a collection of small ideas that remind parents of ways to care for themselves when so often their focus is on others. A little idea that has helped me these days, a small “gift to myself,” is to press the idea of the small kindness. Letting someone into traffic. Holding a door for the person who was a few steps further away. Smiling. Forcing the kind, generous, patient thing when I honestly just don’t feel like it.

I’ve got great hopes for things settling down in the next few days. I’ll be waiting for that pattern to emerge, priorities to surface, the static to fade. In the meantime I’ll be the one ready to let you into traffic.  -t

worry less

Don't WorryA new school year!!! An avalanche of paperwork and calendar items and need to pay extra attention to all the details because these early weeks create the foundation for all that follows!!! Agh! There can be so much to worry about and fret over that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and struggle with where to spend limited time and energy.

One of my dear friends—herself someone so centered, calm, and wise—once shared this great flowchart with me that illustrates how we can help lessen the worry that goes along with so much of family life these days. Such a good reminder to parse out the things we can effect and those we can’t and lessen the worry all around.

I love the way that this simple image helps diffuse anxiety, forces self reflection, and empowers with a call to action. Is there a problem? Can you do something about it?

Great. –t


bon voyage

Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 5.48.16 PMI was talking with a group of friends about summer plans, one of whom is taking an overseas trip to visit family for the first time with their 3 year old. Their trip begins with an overnight flight, which everyone is hoping will mean “sleep.” But then there’s the too-soon-morning arrival, the train, the new place, the different bed, the time change, the funny food. Another person in the group rolled her eyes, nodded knowingly, and, with a sympathetic hand to the arm, admitted to once bringing an entire separate suitcase for her young child’s many toys, favorite foods, and bedding.

So often parents worry that their children’s—or perhaps their own—ability to cope in an unfamiliar situation relies on the degree to which the family can replicate the familiar and maintain a routine while away from home. Sure, it is important to have some supporting structure to the day (no one wants a meltdown in the Musee d’Orsay) and some kids need structure more than others. But as we head out on travel adventures, whether they be to different time zones or to a relative’s house stone’s throw from home, it is often simply the change in routine–the very differentness of it–that is so delicious. As adults, we kind of know this, but somehow manage to underestimate children’s ability to embrace it in their own way.

So what to do to optimize for success? First, get in the right mindset: accept that travelling with children is not inherently relaxing. You can bring a book, but don’t be disappointed if you can’t do a lot of reading. Second, be the right kind of guide: if your child tends to be unsure in new situations, know that a big part of them feeling secure and having a positive experience is based on the cues they get from their adult travelling companions. If you are panicked about details, they’ll sense your unease. If you’re enjoying the ride, the better chance that they will be, too. Is the train trip from the airport just another travel leg, slow and inconvenient, or is it actually pretty cool to be riding on a train?  (Remember you waited in line and paid for a train ride at the last amusement park!) Third, put on your laid-back hat: before you leave home, decide that, as much as possible, you’re just going to roll with whatever comes. If your kids need a break, consider bagging the cathedral tour. If you really want to see it anyway? Bribe them. Another ice cream?! So what? You’re on vacation! It’s dinnertime and, uh-oh, no one is hungry! …Who cares? Eat later!

Every parent knows what might really be critical for their child (e.g. the blankie), or what really works for their family (e.g. starting a long drive at night time). But aside from those few clutch things, we say bring on the adventure, and be ready to embrace what summer travels might bring. Bon voyage! –t

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