Today Is a Tool – Mindset Monday

I am growing.  Whatever is in my path today is a tool.

Working through depression has taught me that mindset is everything, and I can choose my mindset.  It’s not always an easy choice, and I don’t always make the best choice, but it is indeed a choice.

Real life doesn’t run perfectly according to plan.  In fact, the more I plan my days, the more God seems to enjoy showing me my plans are nothing compared to his.  I can view the kinks in my schedule as obstacles, or I can see them as tools.

Traffic is an opportunity to practice patience (and mercy…); an unexpected phone call presents a chance to develop a relationship; emergent issues at work sharpen my professional skills.

If I look at whatever comes my way as a tool to sharpen my skills or develop my resiliency, then I control how my brain accepts the obstacle.  It’s an opportunity instead of an obstacle.  It’s a good or neutral thing instead of a harbinger of doom.  I control the narrative instead of depression brain.  Depression brain works more like Eeyore, which is fine some days, but it’s no place to live every day.

Choosing the narrative also keeps me from being the victim of circumstances.  I can’t control my circumstances, but I can control how I react to them.

I don’t have to eat a metric ton of chocolate because I had a bad day at work.  I can choose to eat a half-ton instead, or none at all, and find a way to learn from the bad so I don’t keep repeating it.  I know it sounds hopelessly optimistic, and extremely Miltonian to my fellow lit junkies, but I can make myself miserable or happy based on how I think about something. Taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ is definitely a Biblical perspective on positive thinking (2 Corinthians 10:5).

No one else can say enough good things about me for me to believe it if I don’t already believe for myself: that I’m a beautiful person and a talented writer and anything else that’s true about me.  No one else can fill you up if you aren’t seeking your identity from your Creator and believing what he says about you: you are a beloved, chosen child of God.

It has taken me years of repeating that to myself and building on it to get out of depression brain mode all the time.  Mindset and how I talk to myself have been the biggest game changers in my coping toolbox.  I choose to listen to and repeat the positive until I believe it.  I choose to give less volume and air time to the negative.  I choose to evaluate and learn from negatives as a tool instead of letting them be an obstacle.

It’s simple work.  But it’s not easy work.  It gets easier as I go, but it was hard work changing my thought patterns.  It’s also ongoing work that I can never slack up on – depression brain is just waiting for me to fall asleep at the wheel and run me right back into the mess I’ve worked through.  As long as I keep growing, I won’t be crashing out of the race.

How do you see obstacles in your plans?  What thought patterns do you need to change to grow from them instead of letting them hold you back?

You Survived!

Yesterday was hard, but you survived.  Today is a new day.

Stock photo from Adobe

There are variations of this thought in my journal all the time.  The Navy SEALs famously say, “The only easy day was yesterday.”  While experience bears this out – every day presents new challenges and new skills to develop that would definitely have made yesterday somewhat easier in retrospect – sometimes yesterday just sucked and there’s no getting around it.

But… Yesterday is done; it’s officially history now.  Even better, you survived and made it to today, so good job, you.

Now that yesterday’s ordeal is over, how can you improve today by applying something you learned yesterday?

If you deal with depression, surviving today could be as simple as deciding to keep living and to get out of bed.  If that’s where you are, that’s solid work.  Improving might be seeking out a counselor or going for a walk in the sun.

Stock photo from Adobe

When your days are super hard, everything feels impossible, so just focus on doing 1% better today than you did yesterday.  1% isn’t that much.  If you survived yesterday, chances are great that 1% more today will not kill you, either – and you’ll be a little better off.  Just focus on one single thing you can improve on today and let yesterday go.

“…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Philippians 3:13-14

Paul reminded the Philippians that we have to let go of the past in order to move forward.  Moving forward is far more important than looking back.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t deal with your past and make peace with it; it just means that whatever your past holds, your present and your future depend on the actions you take today.  Yesterday may still be delivering consequences today, but your actions today aren’t dependent on what you did yesterday.

Stock photo from Adobe

Every action or inaction is a choice you’re making, no matter how intentional you are about those decisions.  When you face today as a new set of decisions – each one an opportunity to be 1% better – it’s easier to not just survive but also grow.

We can’t improve yesterday, but your life tomorrow can be better if you improve on today.

How can you be 1% better today?

Take the Mulligan – Three Things Thursday

Because I am not a golfer (despite my putt-putt grandstanding) I looked up the word “mulligan” to be sure I was spelling it correctly and not misusing the term.  I discovered on Dictionary.com (Mulligan Definition) that mulligan refers to a stew made up of whatever happens to be lying around as well as the more common – at least in my orbit – do-over term from the world of golf.  The mulligan has a fun backstory if you love etymology like I do, and possibly refers to two different golfers named Mulligan who for different reasons requested to take another shot at the first hole (Mulligan Origin Story).

Apparently, there are some occasions in the PGA official rules that require a mulligan, and one player this year has been penalized for not taking his mulligan shot (Pro Golfer Penalized for NOT Taking a Mulligan).  If you have read my blog for a while and are suddenly worried that I’m turning to sports writing, never fear: the mulligan references are just the perfect illustration for how I’ve been feeling about my writing and my life in general lately.

Photo from Pexels.com

#1 – As both Misters Mulligan could attest, there’s no harm or shame in asking for another shot.

I’ve started and stopped this blog so many times that it will be a minor miracle if anyone comes back to read since I’ve been rambling for such a long time.  I feel like I haven’t had a good grip on what I should be writing, and I haven’t made time to do any real writing for several months.  I feel no lack of guilt and shame about that since the one consistent gift God has given me and put me in a place to use is my writing.

Here’s what I need to remember about that shame: it’s not from God.  It’s a wretched emotion that blocks me from writing and sharing again here on Mabbat, and it does nothing productive in my life.  What is from God?  The guilt of conviction that asks me to start again, to pick up where I left off and turn away from whatever was holding me back from his purposes – that’s from God.  He gives each of us new mercies every morning to start the day fresh with him (Lamentations 3:23).

Every day is a mulligan.  We get new mercies every day.  Whatever you are facing that seems insurmountable, tell it the truth that God is starting every day new with you, and all that old baggage need not ride along for your mulligan today.

Photo from Pexels.com

#2 – As Jesper Parnevik discovered, sometimes you HAVE to take a mulligan.  It’s in the rules.

Do you ever feel like you’re fighting the same battles over and over again?  I do.  I am always making the same to-do list for days on end because I don’t accurately plan for the time each task will take in the real world.  (I am much more efficient in Anne-land without any interruptions or people or…)  I feel like I will always be cycling in and out of depression, and every loop back into it knocks me off track and requires another run at rebuilding good habits (because maybe this time I will be so well established in my routines that depression brain can’t knock me on my duff – it’s a brave thought, at least).  I have been on and off again so many times with diet and exercise that there’s not a diet plan out there I haven’t read about and at least briefly considered.

All that guilt and shame I described about neglecting writing?  It’s equally applicable to my habits, my depression brain, my healthy weight management, and any other aspect of my life that feels like it runs on repeat mode.  And the shame is equally destructive to all those things, too.  But guess what?  New mercies apply here, too.

Not only that, but there are very real obstacles we run into that require us to take a mulligan.  Like depression.  And loss.  Or life changes like job transfers, budget shortfalls, aging, and a million other things we’ll encounter as long as we’re alive on this earth.

We can try to play through, but ignoring the need to take another shot will end up penalizing us somewhere down the road.  Lining up a new shot with fresh perspective doesn’t make you a failure, but failing to restart and floundering where you are could.

Take the mulligan, get a read on the new shot, and get moving.  You only fail if you give up.

Photo from Pexels.com

#3 – We are all a mulligan stew of our lived experiences and the lessons we’ve learned from them.

I could list a lot of things I regret saying or doing.  I imagine we all can.  But I don’t think we should spend much time on the regret.  Everything I’ve lived through has made me who I am today, and if I could go back and change the things I regret, I wouldn’t, because they’re all a part of me now.  Who would I be if I hadn’t learned the lessons those regrets taught me?  Who would I be now without walking through all those years of loss?  It’s taken a long time to get here, to feel this free and this strong.  I’m not going back.

It’s not the regrets that built who I am today, though; it’s what I learned from living through them.  Remembering that I was cruel to someone who didn’t deserve it in middle school still pushes me to encourage and build up others instead of gossiping.  Living through the worst of my depression brain taught me to ask for help when I’m struggling and to offer a lifeline to anyone I can.  I have never been nor will ever be perfect.

I’m a hodgepodge stew of lessons learned, hopes, dreams, failed good intentions, faith in the God of new mercies, and so much coffee.  What makes my particular stew tasty rather than bitter is the salt and light of faith that has given me fresh starts and God’s big-picture perspectives when I’ve needed them.

Here are three things for you to ponder this Thursday:

What kind of mulligan stew are you?

Where do you need to take a mulligan today?

How does the knowledge that God provides new mercies for everyone every day change your opinion of taking a mulligan?

Progress Is Progress – Mindset Monday

Progress is progress. Keep moving and never give up.

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel and never really getting anywhere with any of the things you want to accomplish in your life?  Me, neither.  Ha!

I think we all feel like this at some point whether we admit to it publicly or not.  Today’s Mindset Monday comes from my planner on a day when nothing had gone right for at least a week.  At least that’s what I thought until I sat down and reviewed my daily evaluations in my planner.

I felt like I had done nothing to speak of because I had nothing to mark off my goal checklist.  What I saw when I spent some time reviewing what I had accomplished that wasn’t written on my goal work list was not as insignificant as it felt when I was feeling mopey about it.  I had taken care of my household, worked, done some writing, and mostly stuck to my food and exercise plan.  That was plenty!

It may have felt like nothing was happening when I looked at what I had done on my book writing, but I was still making progress there, too.  It just wasn’t the lightening pace I had set for myself when I planned out my goals.

The Little Engine That Could book cover print
This print was a gift from a college professor who always pushed us to try new things because you’ll never grow if you don’t. It’s hung in my home by my desk ever since.

I’ve been taking a new approach to goal setting and achievement for this season of my life.  I’m not setting deadline dates as often.  If there’s no outside reason for a deadline, I’m leaving it open ended rather than pacing it out on a calendar.

Think of goals as a roadmap rather than a timeline.

I’m still going to get to the end destination, but my pace won’t always be the same or predictable.  Some days I can speed down the highway at 90 miles an hour, while others I’m on a leisurely stroll.  Both are getting me closer to the goal result, and I need to be happy that I’m moving towards it, even when it feels like a snail could outrun me.

With parenting and work and volunteering at church, I’m just not in a space in my life right now to narrowly focus on much else.  Whether I like it or not, that means writing more than my daily journal pages will be the thing that slides down the list of important things to do.  That’s okay, because it won’t always be like that.

In fact, here’s a story of a woman who published her first novel at the age of 95.

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/ohio/articles/2019-03-16/after-years-of-writing-woman-publishes-1st-novel-at-95

She never quit.  It took her 63 years to write her novel, and she did it.  She is my hero and a brilliant example that you’re too old or too late until you’re dead.  Whatever it is you’ve been avoiding because you think you don’t have time or will never be able to finish it, just start.  Start with something small and then just chip away at it little at a time until you’ve achieved your goal.

You can’t accomplish anything if you never start.  It may be slow and feel all kinds of ugly, but slow and ugly progress is still progress.  You only fail if you give up.

A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief

A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief by Anne Weil

I’ve been procrastinating this step for months. I’d like to say something like, “I’ve been so busy with other things that I just couldn’t get this together until now,” but the truth is, I’ve been avoiding this part of the book publishing process. Like a good INFJ, I know that if I never put my book out into the world, I won’t be disappointed or hurt if it “fails.”

My definition of failure is all wrong, though. If I only want commercial success, I may indeed fail. If I want to fulfill my mission and share my story, then the only failure is to never publish. So…..

I am ready to write book proposals, and I would love some beta readers. If you’re interested in being a test subject, I need to hear from you. First, sign up for the e-mail list. You can do that here:

https://mabbat.blog/join-the-mabbat-mailing-list/

I’ll draw 5 subscriber names at random to send the beta copy to. Then, I need to hear from you again after you read the book. I’ll send a few questions to gather feedback, and you can add any additional comments that you think will strengthen the book.

When you subscribe to the mailing list, you’ll receive a free copy of a Colossians creative Bible study workbook. If you’ve already signed up, you’re already in the drawing. (You may also be wondering why you bothered to sign up since you haven’t been getting anything from me. I promise I have material scheduled to go out the rest of the month, so thanks for your patience!) You’ll also recieve two e-mails a week from me – one with creative Bible study material, and one with prompts to practice your art skills. Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time.

I’d really love your feedback and support. Thanks for walking with me through this journey so far!

Every Day Is New

This Mindset Monday is a great reminder that every day is a new day.  Whatever happened yesterday is gone, and you can only work through today.  It sounds like fortune cookie advice, but it doesn’t make it any less true.  We can only live right now – not in the past or the future.  We can certainly remember the past, and we can plan for the future, but we live one day at a time in the present moment.

As an introvert who deals with depression, I can ruminate on the past like it’s my job.  I can lay awake at night replaying conversations and kicking myself for being an idiot or saying the wrong thing (because at two in the morning, I know exactly what I should have said twelve hours earlier).  I can still recall the horror and shame I felt about making fun of someone publicly in middle school (that was a looong time ago, friends) if I let myself dwell on my past.  Bottom line: that mode of thinking sucks.

It’s destructive in so many ways, not least of them being it cripples the way I see myself now and in the future.  It discounts the grace of God to remove my sin from me, as far as the east is from the west.

Living in the past isn’t living; it’s dwelling on something I can’t change in a way that hinders me from moving forward.  I may suffer consequences from choices I made in the past, but that doesn’t define who I am in this moment.  That doesn’t change the fact that I can only work from here, now and keep improving.

As much as the past is no place to live, I am equally good at getting my head caught in the clouds of future planning.  So much so, that I can plan every pound I should lose and how down to the daily menu and workout level, but in doing so end up planning and planning and planning and never stepping into action.  Or I plan too aggressively and can’t accomplish all those plans in the timeframe I allotted and end up feeling like a failure when I don’t measure up to a crazy standard I set for myself.

It’s easy to get excited about planning a goal, but living in the future is just as torturous as living in the past: I can see the thing I want to accomplish, but I’m planning all the time and never doing the grunt work to get there.

So, how do we focus on the here and now without forsaking goals and planning or never honoring the past?  We remember that every day is new.

Every day is a new opportunity to wake up and start again.  Maybe that restart is just to keep going because you’re on track.  Maybe your restart is more like a reboot with a new objective.  The goal with this mindset is just to focus clearly on today, and work through it without getting lost in the weeds of past and future.  It’s grace to let yesterday go and try again.  It’s freeing to let tomorrow go and just do the work of today.

I love these verses from Isaiah because it’s God saying, “Look, that other stuff we just talked about – that was yesterday.  You just wait and see what I’ll do next.  In fact, I’m already working on it, so buckle up, buttercup, and see what happens.” (Obviously, I’m paraphrasing and taking a little creative license.  Although, I’m pretty sure, “Buckle up, buttercup,” is frighteningly accurate in my own life.)

If God never stops moving forward with his work and his plan, why should we?  While God is never limited by time or space, we are, and we should use those limitations as tools to focus on the thing right in front of us first and best.  The things we do in this moment lay the groundwork for what comes next, and if we never get to work in this day, tomorrow’s work will be a mess.

Live today, then let it go.  Every day is new.  Today is a new day, and I must start it new and fresh without the lenses of yesterday and tomorrow filtering out the purpose in today.

I Am, So I Will

I AM

In my planner every day, I fill in the answer to, “If I were a life coach, I would tell myself…”  Sometimes these sage bits of advice to myself are as simple as, “Don’t suck,” and sometimes they are slightly more nuanced.  As I was thinking about what I should be sharing on the blog and in the Mabbat FB group, I decided maybe some of my “life coach” advice could be helpful to someone else.  So, I decided to run with a theme for the start of the week: Mindset Monday.

This week’s mindset is a statement I wrote as my own life coach, and I have used it every day since as motivation.  I’ve actually written it as encouragement to answer the “If I get stuck, I will keep going by…” question every single day for several months.

I am a writer, so I will write.

I don’t have to publish a book to call myself a writer.  I write a lot, and I love to write, so I am a writer.  Writers write.  It’s what they do.  I am a writer, so I will write.  When I get stuck, when in doubt, when nothing feels like it’s working… write.  It can be that simple.

So you’re not a writer, and you think at this moment I’ve lost my mind, and this has nothing to do with mindset.  But consider that all of the things we want to do are just about that simple.  You want to run a 5k race?  You will have to train, but the simplest form of that is to think, “I am a runner, so I will run.”  Of course, you may want to work through a training plan, but at the most basic level, to be the thing, you have to do the thing.  If you run, you are by definition a runner.

Hello I am Getting Things Done

I am a painter.  I am a writer.  I am a poet.  I am a teacher.  I am an athlete.

I do none of those things as my day job, but those are all things that I claim to be because of what I do.  All except that last one.  I have been an athlete, but I am currently out of shape.  I need to lose weight and exercise to be healthier and to be the best version of me I can be for my family.  I have created some training goals and plans, so I am training myself to say, “I am an athlete, so I will workout and feed my body well.”  I can’t really claim to be an athlete as an out of shape blob, so once I say it, I need to follow my motivational statement with action.  As soon as I start working through my training plan, I will be an athlete.  I will be someone who is working out to complete a goal race.

My “I am” statements are simple visualization exercises.  It’s a great way to motivate yourself and see yourself and think of yourself as the thing you want to be.  I am an athlete the second I put on my running shoes and hit the street in the morning.  I won’t be an elite athlete, nor will I look graceful or fit as I begin the journey.  But I’ll be some version of an athlete.

This year I will be an athlete.

How many dreams do we hold back on working for because we think we won’t be good enough to lay claim to the title?  At what point can you claim a title?

I hesitated for years to call myself a writer and feel comfortable saying it out loud to other people.  I felt like maybe I should whisper it, or maybe they would ask how many books I’d published and then I’d be banished and ridiculed for pretending to be a writer.  I wish I could tell myself then what I know now.  I am a writer.  I have always been a writer.  I don’t have to justify that to anyone except God who gave me the gift of stringing words together into sentences.

You don’t have to justify yourself either.  There are things in life we can claim because we have the formal training or certification cards to prove it.  For example, I am a scuba diver.  I have multiple certifications to prove it.  Soon, I’ll be a certified Hazardous Materials Technician, and I’ll have a piece of paper to prove it.  (It’s related to my day job, and it’s been so much fun to learn.)  Here’s the thing about the HazMat Tech certification: I may have a paper that says it, but I’m extremely unlikely to be out in a suit and SCBA working.  I will not be claiming HazMat Tech on my resume, even at work.

I’m not a writer because there is some licensing agency that official certifies writers; I’m a writer because that’s how God wired my brain.  I’m an athlete because I’m naturally competitive, and I’m training to run a race.  I’m a painter because I paint.  None of those things are invalidated by my skill level.  I’m a good writer; I’m an average painter; I’m a lousy athlete.

I’ll never improve if I don’t practice.  I’ll never practice if I think the things I want to be are unattainable.  If my dreams are never to be reached, what’s the point in trying?  That’s how my brain works without, “I am _____, so I will _____.”

I challenge you to think through the goals and dreams you’ve let slide.  Is there one you want to pick up and run with?  What will it take for you to make it happen?  What’s the main thing you’ll need to do or to practice?  What’s your “I am” statement?  I’d love to encourage you on your journey if you want to share it.  You can comment here, and you can join the Mabbat FB group for a more private setting and regular encouragement.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/

I am a dogicorn, so I will be magical.

To Live Is…

20190429 To Live Is Christ

A cycle I repeat in my life is to be disciplined for a time, to make progress, and then to implode spectacularly and digress.  Self-sabotage isn’t unavoidable, but I sure act like it is when it happens, as though it were an inevitable, long-awaited invader that I am helpless to repel.  I see it now as a cycle of depression and fear, so I’ve been working to uncover the roots of it whenever I see myself running headlong into a tub of ice cream or completely avoiding writing.

I wish it were a simple fix, but I find that my self-sabotage roots are different for each problem.  When I skip writing for long periods of time, it’s generally because I’m afraid to fail.  No one will read what I work on, and that will prove I’m not a good writer, so if I just don’t do it, no one will need to know how bad I am.  (I don’t really believe this to be truth, but it is a very real fear that threatens my focus every day if I let it.)

I’m working on improving my health and losing weight, and that is consistently the worst area of self-sabotage for me in the last ten years.  My tendency is to eat my feelings.  My current weight is proof of that bad mental habit.  I’ve worked really hard to stop the stress eating, and I’ve mostly curbed it with better coping tools.  Once in a while I’ll turn to chocolate for comfort, but it’s a rare thing now.  What’s less rare is just randomly eating a metric ton of crap or eating nothing but sweets for days at a time.  I have no reason or desire to eat the junk, but I struggle to stop it.

The more I dig up the roots of this particular self-sabotage issue, the more I uncover grief pain that still lurks under the surface.

All those years of dealing with miscarriage after miscarriage without the healthiest coping tools led me to put on a lot of extra weight.  That mental weight is very physically visible in my body weight.  Every time I’ve worked to lose weight, I end up putting it right back on, even when I’m mentally healthy.

It finally hit me that I’ve carried the weight like a badge of honor and a memorial of all that loss instead finding a better way to memorialize the pain.  The truth is, it hurts to deal with the enormity of my grief, still, years later and so many miles down the road from the intensity of surviving the immediate experience of it.  Honestly, it hurts even more to admit it here because it’s embarrassing to say out loud.  I haven’t been able to maintain weight loss because I might forget by angel babies.  It sounds a little ridiculous, but it’s the biggest root I keep stumbling over when I look at the problem closely.

I love that the way I hear from God most often is to hear echoes of what I’m hearing in my personal Bible study and prayer everywhere.  It seems like whatever message I’m picking up is suddenly the sermon topic, the theme of every book I read or podcast I listen to, the eventual topic of conversations with family and friends…  I just know now that when I hear the same thought from multiple directions, that’s what God needs me to hear.

As I dug and dug to figure out why I kept eating junk despite my best plans to eat well and exercise, God kept putting Philippians 1:21 in front of me.  When I finally saw what my stumbling block was, I realized that I am completely willing to die for Christ.  No questions, no doubts, only joy at the thought of seeing my angel babies and having all my tears wiped away.  But Philippians 1:21 says, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

If living is Christ, then I can have at least some of my tears wiped away here on earth.  If living is Christ, then I can live in that joy now without waiting for heaven.  If living is Christ, then I must be a better example of the discipline he demands of me to be my best and offer my best to serve him well.

In short, I have to focus on life because death is not my calling.

We are called to abundant life, and I haven’t been living every area of my life as though to live is Christ.  I have to change my thinking every day and fill in the blank, “to live is ___.”  My previous answer obviously hasn’t been Christ when it comes to diet and exercise because I’ve been living in the past instead of in the grace and life of Christ.

It’s not going to be an easy emotional hurdle to clear, but at least now I’m working on the right problem.  I can lose weight and not feel guilt or shame about my pregnancy losses.  I can eat like a regular person rather than hiding the pain with bad food choices.  I can live in Christ in this space, too, and I can continue to heal without fear of forgetting my grief.  I just need to focus on new and healthy ways to acknowledge it.

Morning Pages and Mental Health Routines

I’ve been out of regular therapy sessions for a while, but only because I’ve been maintaining a pretty disciplined practice of mental health exercises.  (Now if I can just get motivated to get back to physical exercise, I’ll be extremely awesome…)  For the last few weeks, I haven’t been doing my morning routine, and I can feel it in my brain the way I feel it in my body that I haven’t been exercising.  When I work out, I feel stronger and healthier, and the same thing applies to my mental wellbeing.  I try to maintain morning, afternoon, and bedtime rituals to keep me on track.  Don’t get hung up by the word “ritual.”  I am not performing animal sacrifices, I am just trying to perform the same behaviors in the same order every day, with enough frequency that they become habit and with enough thoughtfulness that they retain their meaning… like rituals.

My morning routine consists of three key parts – morning pages, prayer, and planning.  While everything else may slide or be shortened, those three need to be done well for me to feel like my head is on straight the rest of the day.  The other things on my morning list are drink water (at least one full glass before coffee), get inspired (some form of positive thinking exercise, whether it’s a guided meditation from the app I use or it’s a positive statement I can repeat all day), deep work (a timed work session I usually use for writing, but it’s a great tool for any type of work – just set a timer and ignore every other distraction for that block of time), and celebrate (it sounds silly, but I do a little happy dance and give myself a mental high-five when I finish my whole routine).

20190424 Photo ballpen-blank-desk-606541
Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

Morning pages is one of the best mental health tools I’ve ever discovered.  The practice comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.  The only rules are that you should write by hand first thing in the morning for three full pages.  There is no wrong way to write your pages.  You can write about anything that pops in your head.  Cameron’s intent with morning pages is that you clear the junk rambling around in your mind, which frees you to think creatively.  Also, it’s pretty impossible to write three pages of complete mess without hitting on something important or a good idea to run with.  My morning pages are generally a brain dump of all the things on my to-do list followed by some actual reflection on my actions and the emotions running under them.

I always see something more clearly for having examined it longhand in my journal.

I usually see something new or from a different perspective.  I have, on occasion, written the lyrics to the “Spongebob Squarepants” theme song before I could make any coherent words come out of my pen.  I’m not a strict rule adherent in my morning pages journal.  I rarely make it to three pages because I have to get the tiny human to school and myself to work, so I just write for a set amount of time instead.  I can’t always write first thing in the morning, so sometimes I write third or tenth thing; sometimes I write evening pages.  I think for my mental health, the important thing is just for me to write and reflect.

When I examine why I am doing what I am doing, I can see the behavioral patterns I need to work on, whether that’s to keep doing something that works or to quit doing something harmful.

Prayer is the next step in my morning routine.  Maybe it should be first as a symbol of its priority, but I’ve learned I pray with much better focus if I do morning pages first.  Once my head is clear, I process everything better, especially scripture that I pray through before I pray for other people.  It may seem silly since I keep a handwritten journal for morning pages, but I actually use an app on my phone for my daily prayer time.  “Prayer Prompter” is a free app that’s very simple, but extremely helpful.  It has two sections: one is “Meditation and Prayer” that includes Bible verses and writings about spiritual discipline to pray through, and the other is “Petition/Intercession” that has some pre-filled prompts for suggestions.  You can add prayer requests in the “Petition/Intercession” section, so whenever I tell someone, “I’m praying for you,” I’m adding it there.  I really love this app and have used it more consistently than any prayer journal I’ve tried to keep.

I’ve tried doing my prayer routine at different times of the day, but I always come back to morning.  It helps me remember to pray throughout the day, and it helps me feel connected in my relationship to Jesus before I get lost in the day’s business.

Planning is the last thing I do before celebrating and getting on with the day.  I shared my planner a few weeks ago, so you can still see that on the blog home page if you’re curious.  I work through the morning mindset questions and prioritize my tasks for the day, and then I write them on the schedule.

I have never, ever had a day go exactly the way I wrote it on the schedule, but the act of putting tasks in a time space forces me to think through how long the task will take and when I will best be able to accomplish it.

I tend to put too many things on my task list and my schedule, so this helps me be a little more realistic.  I keep seeing articles about scientific studies that people who are always running late are really just optimists who think they can do more in an allotted time than they can; that seems to be accurate in my case.  The planner definitely helps narrow my focus for a given day and time span.

It’s crazy that those three things would make such a difference in my stress level and mental health, but they definitely do.  They’re probably the three most important tools in my coping toolbox.  How about you?  What’s the most important thing you do to keep mentally fit?

April Planner

April PlannerEvery new year, or new school year, I end up on the hunt for the perfect planner.  Much of my search is a misguided attempt to create the perfect schedule that will allow me to complete every task and goal (so long as everything runs perfectly, and I can run on coffee instead of sleep).  While that endeavor is doomed to fail, I have learned a few things over the last few years about what helps me be the most successful and productive in my realistic plans.

I need to be pretty constantly reminded what my biggest goals are so that I can work on them a little bit – even if it’s only five minutes – every day.  I need to encourage myself with positive thinking, and I need to remind myself that every day will present a challenge.  I also need to hold myself accountable for some basic daily ritual tasks, and I need to evaluate how I’m living each day.

I’ve learned that consistent journaling and evaluation helps me spot depression symptoms and potential relapse issues before they get too big to deal with.

So, I spent about a month each in several planners and decided to just make my own that had the things I wanted to track and the questions I needed to journal through each day.  I stripped out my personal details to make a blank I could pass on to my neighbor, so I thought I’d share it here if there are any other writer-artist-depressed-dieting types out there.  It’s a fairly niche market, but you can also take what’s there and change the categories to suit yourself.

The file is a pdf, so you can print it if you want to use it, and it’s here for you to click on and open – no strings attached.  I’m only doing a month at a time, so if you use it and like it or have suggestions, please pass those on.  You can comment here or drop me an e-mail at mabbatblog@gmail.com.  Also, I’m working on setting up a mailing list this weekend, so if you like the free planner and Bible studies, please sign up.  I’ll share more details on that post.

April 2019 Planner – BLANK