5 Quotes from Authors to Celebrate National Day on Writing

Today you might have noticed the hashtag #WhyIWrite on your newsfeed. That’s because today is National Day on Writing! By using #WhyIWrite, writers across the country have shared why they are dedicated to their craft. Today, I shared why I write:

The National Day on Writing was founded by the National Council of Teachers of English to bring more immediacy to the power of writing and encourage others to get involved in celebrating it. I wanted to share with you 5 quotes from some of my favorite authors on why they love to create and inspire through writing:

  1. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot.” ― Stephen King
  2. “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.” ― Toni Morrison
  3. “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” ―Ernest Hemingway
  4. “I’ve no idea where ideas come from and I hope I never find out; it would spoil the excitement for me if it turned out I just have a funny little wrinkle on the surface of my brain which makes me think about invisible train platforms.” ― J.K. Rowling
  5. “If I waited for perfection… I would never write a word.” ― Margaret Atwood

 

How about you? Why do you love to write? What are you working on? Please share in the comments!

 

 

8 Ways to Experience Hygge this fall

I discovered the magic of “hygge” a year ago when I stumbled across the book, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living” by Meik Wiking. I remembered reading how the Dutch are the happiest people in the world, and I always wondered how. The answer: “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah), a Danish word acknowledging a feeling or moment that gives you complete happiness. One can experience hygge alone or with friends; the only condition to experiencing hygge is that you are able to enjoy and recognize living in the present.

Some buzzwords that surround hygge are “cozy,” “comfort,” and “charm.” These are three elements that I take pride in when choosing my hygge. Wiking writes: “Hygge is the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw, during a storm. It’s that feeling when you’re sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table. It is the warmth of morning light shining just right on a crisp blue-sky day.” To “do” hygge is to you create simple rituals without much effort; you make your personal life an art form.

Fall has arrived—the perfect season to try out some hygge practices. Hygge is not just restricted to the colder months, but for someone like me who loves bundling up in blankets with a cup of hot chocolate, this is when I experience the most hygge. Here are some fall activities for you to try to bring some hygge into your life:

Light some fall-scented candles
Candles are already so calming and peaceful, so why not light a Pumpkin Spiced Chai Latte candle and get the full fall effect?

Read a book
As an avid reader, sitting in my comfy chair with a steaming mug of tea or coffee and a great book is ultimate hygge. Since it’s Halloween season, try picking up a horror/spooky book to get you into the Halloween spirit!

Layer up!
Three of the best things about fall: sweaters, scarves, and boots. I love bundling up with scarves and jackets and dressing for the cool weather. Did I mention flannels?!

Buy some fall decorations—or make your own!
When the first leaf hits the ground in September, I make a mad dash to the nearest craft store and load up on fall decor. I love crafting; it’s such a fun way to unwind, relax, and spark some creativity! Here’s an example of one of my fall decor pieces this year. I went to my local craft store and bought these pumpkins and leaves, and created my own chalkboard sign:

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Road Trip!
Get in your car with a friend or two and take a drive to a cool town or place and explore. Go to a trendy coffee shop or a museum; or go to a park and take in the views! Everything is beautiful this time of year—get out there and enjoy it!

Have a movie night
Invite a friend over and have a movie night or watch a movie on your own. This time of year, I love to sit on my couch after a long day with a warm blanket and watch Halloween movies—especially classics like “Halloweentown” and “Hocus Pocus!”

Go on a walk/hike through the autumn leaves
Head outside and enjoy the sweet, crisp autumn air. Going for walks gives me the chance to slow down and enjoy the beautiful foliage—and I love hearing the *crunch* of fallen leaves under my feet!

Pick your own apples/pumpkins—and get to baking!
Make your way to a local pick-your-own farm and grab a hot apple cider, some warm fritters, and pick your own pumpkins or apples. Then…make a dessert when you get home! A fall dessert favorite in our home is warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream on top. Yum!

 

What do you like to do in the fall? How do you “hygge?”

 

 

 

Days Two and Three: Montréal

Wow! That’s all I can say about the last two days. A combined 40,000 steps have led us throughout this beautiful city.

DAY TWO: THURSDAY, AUGUST 17

Ian and I woke up early and made our way over to St-Viateur Bagel & Café to have some delicious wood-fired bagels. We brought our breakfast over to Mont Royal and ate in front of the Sir George Etienne Cartier monument excited to start our hike up the mountain.

Mont-Royal is a beautiful park, 200 hectares of green space and different paths to enjoy and explore. The park was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also
co-designed Central Park and the site for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1890. There were numerous trails to take up to the Belvédère Kondiaronk (the lookout) from intermediate and easy, to the “athletic trail” that Ian and I decided to take. It took about 35 minutes to get to the top, including climbing 339 exhausting steps. Once at the top, it was the view that ultimately took our breath away.

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It wasn’t until making my way to the top when we visited the Mont Royal Chalet that I learned Olmsted created other leisurely trails to encourage visitors to take their time and enjoy the scenery of the park. I also learned that the first European to scale the mountain was Jacques Cartier, an explorer who claimed what is now Canada for France. He also was the first European to describe and map the Saint Lawrence River. Cartier happens to be a family name, so this made me excited to hear! We decided to take a long way back down. It was so peaceful—the park is filled with sculptures, a beautiful pond, green space, and benches to relax and have lunch. It was an amazing experience.

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When we made it to the bottom, it was time for lunch. Ian and I walked over to St-Denis, a popular street filled with shops and places to eat. We stopped at Café Cherrier, a very cute French bistro where we had sandwiches and salads. After our lunch, we walked around the city and poked around at some shops. I felt my energy start to wane, so we stopped at another café called Brûlerie St.Denis where Ian got a delicious seven-layer bar and I drank the biggest café latte I’ve ever seen!

 

DAY THREE: FRIDAY, AUGUST 18

We woke up Friday morning to the sweet sounds of rain hitting the windows and the soft sounds of car tires driving through the wet streets. While this may have dampened our spirits, we thought this might be a good opportunity to walk in the rain through the beautiful cobblestone streets of Old Montréal. Comme c’est romantique! We got dressed and ventured a couple blocks over to find a spot for breakfast. We found this very hip, place called Arts Café. The interior is very cozy and called to me at once. Its walls were filled with books and art, and the food was amazing!

After breakfast, we made our way over to Old Montréal. We parked in a garage and made our way to our first stop: the Notre-Dame Basilica. No words can truly express the beauty and magnificence of this church. Having been to Paris and seeing the Notre-Dame there, I was able to see the similarities and differences between the two. Both, however, were breathtaking. Ian and I paid to see the inside and spent some time taking in the Basilica. I was awestruck and felt at peace.

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After we visited the Notre-Dame, we walked around the streets of Old Montréal. It brought me back to those days in Paris—the cobblestone streets, shops, cafés and bistros, amazing architecture, and of course, crêpes!

We made our way down to the St. Lawrence River and took in the beautiful sights. We walked along the river and made our way to Place Jacques-Cartier, a square filled with even more restaurants and shops. Ian and I visited the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. It is one of the oldest churches in Montreal, built in 1771 over the ruins of an earlier chapel. It is the resting place of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, who was the first teacher in the colony of Ville-Marie and the founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame. This was a special site for Ian, for St. Marguerite is the patron of his high school education.

Exploring Old Montréal reminded me so much of Europe; it was wonderful to spend some time away from the busy city and step back in time for a while. Ian commented how we don’t see streets like this back home. Maybe we haven’t explored enough of the United States, but there is a stunning beauty to the elaborate facades of each storefront. The old city lived up to its expectations and for any visitor to the area, it is an absolute must-see.

Thoughts From Our Balcony: Comfort Zones

The balcony of my Airbnb hovers over the busy streets of Mile-End in Outremont. As I sit on the landing that is covered with colorful wooden pots and flowers, I feel at peace and think about comfort zones and how often people push their boundaries—especially myself. I know this may sound silly, but to me, this trip and exact moment in time is out of my comfort zone.

While I write on our balcony, flurries of cars, motorbikes, and people pass underneath me playing music, laughing, and talking. Some are friendly and smile as they pass by. This morning, I woke up at 7 (that’s the time my body wakes up now…the joys of the internal clock!) after an interesting night of sleep. Oftentimes, I cannot sleep in new places, and this night was not any different. This feeling of the “unknown” along with being jazzed from the espresso I had at 10 p.m. the night before (oops) was flooding my system as I lied in bed thinking about all of the different ways we stepped out of our comfort zones that day.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this was Ian’s first time out of the country. I remember as we were driving towards the border, my husband’s attitude changed; he started acting apprehensive and quiet. I remember grabbing his hand, and instead of telling him it will be OK, I just talked about how exciting it was to travel to a new place! Honestly, I felt it too, but some reassurance and talking about our excitement helped. The apprehension faded until we arrived in Montréal and found the place where we’d be staying for the next few days. Don’t get me wrong—the place is darling. It’s exactly what the pictures looked like, and the host has been so helpful the entire process. It was just this: We’ve never done this before. Not only are all of the parking signs in French (good thing we know military time and the days of the week in French!), but we also do not know the area. We don’t know where the good restaurants are. We don’t know where are going. We felt very vulnerable. I kept telling myself that this was what made this trip exciting!

We unpacked and found our route using the map that our host left for us. Our apartment is nestled in a busy area filled with artists, musicians, and beautiful architecture. We enjoyed the walk to the hubbub of restaurants. It was here, however, where we began to pause. We were extremely nervous to approach the restaurants let alone eat there. After looking at many and deciding that we would keep on going to the next one, I decided that we stop at a quaint, Parisian looking restaurant. When we sat down at a table, we noticed that the entire menu was in French. We had no idea what to order (another post to come on this particular topic!) and were embarrassed that we didn’t know the language that well. Our waitress, who spoke English, helped us immensely, but we couldn’t help but feel even more out of our comfort zone. But, Ian and I both tried new food and found ourselves loving the experience, excited for more to come.

On this journey, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite literary quotes. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo recollects something that Bilbo used to tell him about adventures:

“He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”

Yesterday, I learned that it is OK to break out of your comfort zone. It’s OK to try new things and take safe risks. If we don’t take risks, then we simply aren’t living. When we first arrived and that feeling of overwhelming, “I don’t know where I am” panic arose, we could have just found a hotel and relocated somewhere a little closer to the main part of the city. But we didn’t; we chose to just “be.” Break out of your comfort zones. Explore. Don’t be afraid.

In our apartment, our host has created beautiful masterpieces and paintings that she hangs around her home. They are awe-inspiring and motivational. One of my favorites is something that she sketched. It hangs on a wall right as you walk in the door. I plan to look at it every day while I am here and remember it thereafter as a reminder to let go, just be, and take life as it comes.

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Bonjour from Montréal! Day One

Bonjour from Montréal! I am currently writing on a cozy couch in our Airbnb in
Mile-End! It’s our first time using Airbnb, and although we were a little nervous to step out of our comfort zone, it’s a very relaxing and homey place! Not to mention— it’s affordable! The woman who lives here is a traveling artist and rents out her place while she’s doing shows. Her apartment is filled with hanging plants, paintings, and all types of artistic flair. It’s very cozy!

Ian and I left Connecticut this morning at about 8:30 a.m. We were very excited to get started on our journey! We decided to make a little pit stop in Burlington, VT to have lunch, stretch our legs a bit, and have a quick visit with Ian’s cousin and his fiancée. They’re getting married in a few weeks, so it was great to see them before their big day!

We love Burlington. Ian and I visited for the first time two years ago. It was very cold, so it was nice for both of us to visit again with warmer weather! We immediately made our way over to Church Street where you can find a mix of historic architecture, shops, restaurants, and street entertainment. It’s so fun! We met at The Red Onion, a delicious sandwich shop, and cafe, and got the Red Onion Sandwich: a hot sandwich with turkey, bacon, apples, red onions, smoked gruyere cheese with sun-dried tomato mayo. It’s so delicious!

 

After lunch, we walked around Church Street and took a trip down to view Lake Champlain! It was a beautiful day; after a few hours, we felt refreshed and ready to continue our journey up to Canada.

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Montréal

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We arrived in Montréal very tired from our drive, but exhilarated to be in a new place! After we unpacked and got settled, we decided to find a place to eat. We found this delicious restaurant, Lustucru, where we sat down and had some drinks and ordered our dinner! It was tough to order because we do not know French very well, but our waitress was incredible and helped us! I ordered the veal ravioli, and Ian ordered the beef dish. Both were very good. I also ordered an espresso, which is currently giving me the energy to write this blog post!

 

Tomorrow we are headed to Mont Royal to do some more hiking and exploration. We can’t wait!

How to “Fall” into the Habit of Gratitude

If you know me even just a little (like following me on social media) you know that autumn is my favorite season. The foliage, warm sweaters, fuzzy blankets, hot chocolate, Halloween, my birthday, Thanksgiving, cooler weather —the list goes on and on! Fall is also the time last year where I really started to focus on gratitude, like how to cultivate it and how to share it with others.

When I was going through treatment, my therapist suggested that every night, instead of going to bed with negative, looming thoughts, I counteract them with positive ones. It was interesting to hear him suggest that, for I was simultaneously reading The Happiness Project and Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was also reading a number of blogs and articles on effective ways to boost my happiness and how to foster a sense of gratitude. After my session, I started a gratitude journal that I write in almost daily and track what makes me happy or what I am grateful for.  The entries range from a full account of spending a Sunday afternoon with my family to bulleted lists. Whatever brings me joy, I write it down.

With the holiday season fast approaching, I decided that November would be my month of “Thankful-LIST” (a play on words of “thankfulness). Yesterday, (November 1), I started generating a list of things I am thankful for and plan on continuing the list every day until November 30. This is going to be fun! It’s the perfect time to reflect on all of the positive, happy things going on in your life!

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Since starting my gratitude journal last year, I have discovered that keeping and cultivating gratitude is essential to my happiness. Being grateful helps block out the ugly, negative thoughts that may be clouding my vision including envy, resentment, and regret. Studies show that people who are grateful are more optimistic, connected to other people, and have stronger bonds with their friends, family, and loved ones.

The word “gratitude” comes from the Latin term, “gratia,” which also means grace, graciousness, and gratefulness. According to multiple studies, having gratitude promotes better sleep, increases energy, reduces troublesome thoughts, increases generosity and compassion, and reduces those feelings of loneliness and isolation. Studies also find that people who express gratitude regularly have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and are more forgiving and outgoing individuals.

It truly has worked. I find that when I counteract a few dark thoughts with positive ones, I become happier. With a little perspective, I am able to boost my mood and help boost the moods of others, too. Last December, I listed some ways to help cultivate gratitude, like writing thank you notes, mentally counting your blessings, and one that I found recently, is complimenting others. All of these steps truly help you cultivate gratitude and become a happier person.

So, try it out! You will be surprised with the results.

What’s on my Thankful-LIST so far?

  • My wedding photos came in!
  • Annie’s mac and cheese
  • My best friend is getting married next year
  • I beat my time running a mile at the gym!
  • My birthday is next week!
  • Fantastic Beasts on Nov. 18 with some great friends
  • Gilmore Girls revival on Nov. 25
  • Apple crisp…mmm…

How do you cultivate gratitude? Share in the comments below!

 

Happy International Day of Happiness!

Today marks International Day of Happiness, a global celebration when thousands of people around the world take action in their own lives and the lives of others to spread happiness. What an amazing celebration!

If you follow my blog, you know that I have a little obsession with happiness, and that I like to try out different tips and tricks to boost my happiness, whether it is getting outdoors, exercising, or even cleaning up clutter around the house. I love sharing these tips on my blog and hope that I inspire others to live a happier, healthier lifestyle, too! When I found out about International Day of Happiness, I was super excited!

I have been spending International Day of Happiness drinking mugs of tea while burrowing my nose in bridal books. Yes—wedding planning! Today has been chock-full of list making, budgeting, some small yet exciting purchasing, and of course, perusing Pinterest. What can be more of a happiness boost than planning a wedding?

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When it comes to happiness, I do small rituals every day to help make sure that I go to bed with a smile on my face, no matter what trials and obstacles I may face during the day. One ritual is to write in my gratitude journal, where I reflect on things that bring me gratitude. Even if it is one sentence or a couple of bullet points, I find that I am able to find perspective and focus on the positives rather than the negatives. Studies find that being grateful produces positive emotions and fine-tune the ability to relish good experiences, and keeping a journal can help cultivate gratitude and boost your happiness.

Another ritual I follow each night is to read a page out of “Be Happy: 170 Ways to Transform your Day” by Patrick Lindsay. The volume is filled with happiness-boosting blurbs and advice about ways to be happy. Each page has a blurb and is followed by a famous quote. This book is superb. When I am at my lowest, I pull out this book and always find that I am happier and inspired to create change!

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I wanted to take a moment out of my day to share one of my favorite excerpts with you —one that I read quite often to remind myself to follow one of my personal commandments: “Trust the process.”

Here is the passage:

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Everyone has a different journey, and everyone has a different path to follow. Everyone has different goals, ambitions, and talents. It’s not fair to compare yourself to others or try to put a time stamp on your life. Enjoy the ride; take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. The journey matters more than the destination —right? Learn from it. Grow from it.

Happy International Happiness Day! How are you celebrating?

It’s Time to Dig Deep

Has anyone ever told you that you need to “give yourself a break” or “cut yourself some slack”?

Every. Day. I hear it quite often. Lately, I find that I have been the one uttering these phrases to myself, whether it was in front of my bathroom mirror or while taking a few deep breaths throughout the day. Although this is troubling, I find peace in the fact that I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, feeling this way isn’t just a common trend in my age bracket, but for all human beings. We put too much pressure on ourselves to succeed. We beat ourselves up over the small things, and are constantly trying to perfect ourselves. We get so busy working towards a better version of ourselves that we lose sight of who we are.  I am very guilty of this, and I decided that it is time for this to change.

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As I continue to make goals and work to reach them and find happiness, I have realized something: I am doing this wrong.  I find that if I don’t meet a certain task that I marked for the day, I criticize myself and question my worth. I tell myself, “Yes, I may have gone to the gym today, but I didn’t write a blog post” or “So what if I wrote in my gratitude journal every day this month? I didn’t practice guitar!” I don’t give myself enough credit for what I actually do. I have this constant urge to perfect myself —to always achieve something. I am not embracing who I already am. It’s not right.

I find myself much happier, but I am so pressured to always feel and be happy, and if I am not “happy” at a specific moment, I put myself in a difficult state. I feel that all I worked for was a waste. If I do not do something that I consider a “happiness boost” I let that affect my overall happiness and mood. What I need to tell myself is that those actions make me happier, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t happy, to begin with.

As you have noticed, I have been on the Gretchen Rubin, Happiness Project,
work-towards-creating-a-better-you bandwagon. It has absolutely worked —I owe a lot of my happiness to Rubin and her tips and tricks. I have been reading her books and using what I have learned to better fit my lifestyle. I successfully adopted and completed my theme for 2015: Control, and worked towards battling my anxiety and depression. I have used her books to work towards this year’s theme: Health, and I am happy with the results. Rubin is an amazing writer, and truly a happiness expert. Because of her, I am inspired to write and share my journey to health and happiness with others. I have found, however, it’s the little things that get to me, and that’s what I need to work on.

It hit me one night when I was watching Little Women, one of my favorite movies (and books) of all time. During the scene when Jo first meets Professor Bhaer and they are sitting in his room drinking dark, bitter, coffee, they start to discuss literature and her goals as a writer. They dig deep into their aspirations, struggles, and goals. Jo states: “I am hopelessly flawed.” Professor Bhaer replies: “I think we are all hopelessly flawed.”

In her books, Rubin neglects to write about something I find very important: struggles. Her work lacks the struggles human beings face when achieving our happiness and goals. These struggles can be that one may feel that there isn’t enough time in the day to complete all of their goals, or in my case, there may be psychological barriers that get in the way.

In her books, Rubin touches on a few downfalls she experiences, but she doesn’t dive deep enough; there are only slight mentions. She makes achieving happiness —for her at least— seem so easy. In her case, that is incredible. I am sure it is not easy for her, but it is not as simple for others. How do you achieve all of these things with anxiety, depression,  or both? How do you react when you can’t meet a goal, or find that you didn’t put a nice check mark next to your daily resolutions? Upon asking myself these questions, I told myself: that’s something that I would want to read.

A light bulb then went off in my head and I thought: that’s something I want to write.

Speaking about this with my therapist was enlightening. I have been making strides in battling my inner struggles, but sometimes, I get caught up in my constant need to perfect and succeed. When mentioning the Little Women scene to him and my latest battle with meeting my goals, he said: “You need to be happy with who you are before you try to move forward. You need to work towards meeting yourself where you are now and then focus where you’d like to be.”

I have a constant urge to perfect. I feel that I always have to prove myself, that I have worth, and that I am successful. I continue to push myself to do more and be more, but sometimes it feels like it isn’t enough. It’s a challenge, but not feeling this way is something to strive for. I’ve been buckling under the pressure, and it’s going to take a lot of training to meet myself where I am now, but it’s worth it.

It’s time to dig deep. People aren’t interested in reading personal stories that they can’t relate to. They want to read about someone who embraces human error —someone who isn’t afraid to admit that they are worried about change, or that sometimes they too feel the pressure. What we need are real stories, and people who are brave enough to share them.

That’s where I will come in. I am not anywhere close to perfect, but that’s what I love about myself. That’s what I am excited to share with you.

2016: Feeling ‘Better Than Before’

What I’ve learned about resolutions and habits

I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is: I’ve neglected my website. The good news is: I haven’t neglected to work on my habits and theme for 2016. I purposely waited until this very day to share my theme for this year. Why? Today is the one-year anniversary of when I adopted and successfully started working towards my Theme of 2015: Control.

As I wrote in my previous post, making New Year’s Resolutions are tough. Sometimes, resolutions aren’t resolute enough and that’s why 90 percent of our resolutions fail. If you make the resolution to “eat healthily” you aren’t really going off of anything. Your resolutions, or goals, need to be more personalized and instinctual. Instead, your resolution can be to “eat more fruits and vegetables during lunch.” This can be an easier habit to track and offers more of a structured goal for you to follow.

My previous post put a big kibosh on resolutions. I don’t like them. I don’t like that kind of pressure —no one does! You don’t need to wait until January 1 to start improving your life. As I was saying, resolutions aren’t the answer: if you really want to see change, you need to form habits. Habits are automated responses that you learn through repetition. Your prefrontal cortex, a region of your brain, performs these reactions. For example, ever wonder why you can drive and think about a hundred things at once? Your prefrontal cortex puts your brain into “automated mode,” and you are able to think about what errands you need to run after work or let your mind wander while driving.

Forming habits takes a lot of hard work — and practice. The fact that it takes 21 days to form a habit is a common myth. True experts say that it takes up to 18 to 254 days to form a habit. Doing so all depends on your willpower, self-control, and patience! It’s different for every person. In my case, it took less than a year to form a habit. After seeing someone for almost a year, I am able to control my thinking and curb my anxiety without much effort. Seeing my psychologist has become a routine, and utilizing the tools I have learned have become a routine also.

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My theme for 2016: health

After some reflection, I have chosen my theme for 2016: Health. I have two overarching goals this year that encompass the overall theme of Health:

  • See my psychologist once every two weeks and continue to maintain control over my anxiety and depression
  • Go to the gym three times a week or 12 times a month and take a spinning class on Fridays to improve my physical fitness levels (and look good in my wedding dress)

I have chosen this theme for a few reasons. The first and the most obvious reason is that I will be planning a wedding for the next eight months. Planning a wedding, although thrilling and indescribable, is very stressful. It is key that I continue to see my psychologist so I am able to learn more tools and continue to work towards managing my anxiety during this fun yet intensified time.

My other reason is a little more deep-rooted. Throughout my life, I have struggled with self-esteem and body image issues —which makes sense, as both of those correlate with anxiety and depression. I have always “hated” how I looked and would take time to look at myself and point out flaws that I noticed from my chicken pox scars to my stomach. I am never fully satisfied. My goal this year is to work on that and learn to love my body and how I look. I made the goal to go to the gym three times a week, or 12 times a month, in order to work on my physical strength and improve my body.

With the combination of improving my mental health and loving myself on the inside as well as the outside, I hope to achieve my overarching goals and my overall theme of Health in 2016.

In her book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin says: “The key to habits is decision making, or the lack of decision making” and “habits eliminate the need for self-control.” When we change our habits, we change our lives. The first step to changing our habits is getting to know our tendencies, and then afterward we can monitor our habits and how well we do at reaching our goals.

One crucial thing I keep telling myself is that I need to cut myself some slack. It is totally OK to goof off once in a while and let yourself enjoy the little things in life. That’s why I am not making a personalized “healthy eating” goal. The truth is, I eat pretty healthy, but sometimes, I let myself cheat a little bit. I enjoy pasta and I enjoy carbs. I love food, and I love experimenting with food. I think that’s perfectly OK. I have amazing self-control when it comes to healthy eating.

Ian, however, doesn’t, and that makes it a challenge at home. It’s a good challenge! When Ian makes brownies or cookies, I will have one or two, and he will eat the rest. I decided that I don’t really need to fine-tune my healthy eating habits, but my exercising and mental habits still need some work.

I am excited to keep working towards my goals and work towards meeting my theme for 2016. Rubin’s Better than Before is insightful and I am learning new things about habits and the way our minds work on every page. I look forward to sharing some of those facts with you and encourage that you pick up a copy. It’s always good to work towards a goal or forming a new habit and find that you feel better than before.

2016: Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions, Form Habits

Why habits are more effective than resolutions

The approach of 2016 has me thinking about resolutions. If you’re a frequent reader, then you know that I am a big fan of Gretchen Rubin, an expert on happiness and lifestyle. In all three of her books and on her blog, she talks about how she keeps resolutions. One of her most recent tips is to choose a “one-word theme” to help clarify an overarching goal. In her blog post, Gretchen explains:

“I love resolutions, and as I wrote about in my book Happier at Home, for the last several years, I’ve identified one idea, summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year.”

I took Gretchen’s advice in 2015 and decided to make “Control” my theme for the year. It was time to take control of my anxiety and depression and work hard in fighting both. Since last January, I have been seeing someone who has helped me develop tools to curb my anxiety and fine-tune my ways of thinking. Now, when those depressing thoughts occur, I can control them. I am happy to say that I have grown tremendously and I am a much stronger and happier person than I was this time last year.

After some research, and looking into Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before, I realized that I met my theme or resolution, simply due to the fact that it wasn’t a resolution, to begin with. Instead, I developed a habit.

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Habits vs. Resolutions

When I first discovered this, I asked: Aren’t habits and resolutions the same thing?

No, they’re not. Habits succeed where resolutions cannot. Studies show that in order to stick with your New Year’s Resolutions you need willpower. Truth be told, some resolutions aren’t “resolute” enough. They’re too abstract and lack a concrete declaration and goal to work towards. Because of their ambiguity, your brain can’t tackle them.

According to research, in order to achieve your goals, you need to make your resolutions or goals “instinctual.” This aspect is what is missing from 90 percent of all New Year’s Resolutions,  and ultimately, why they most likely fail. For example, the resolution to “eat healthily” isn’t very personalized. You need to take that extrinsic goal and internalize it. So, instead of just saying you want to “eat healthier,” you can make the goal to start substituting fruit instead of chips at lunch. Or, if you want to focus on exercise, you can make the goal to go to the gym two-to-three times a week. You need to break down that broad resolution and see what habit, or habits, you can form to achieve your goals.

In 2015, my goal was to “go to therapy once every two weeks and learn how to take control of my life” with the overarching theme of Control. Having that concrete goal made it easy to tackle, and soon enough, it became a routine. I was accustomed to seeing someone once every two weeks, and I also formed a habit of curbing my anxious thoughts and using tools to combat my depression. I found that I would depend on those appointments, and sometimes, I would perform those tools and exercises I learned without even noticing I did them.

That’s the extraordinary thing I learned about forming habits: sometimes you don’t realize when you’ve formed them.  Habits are automated responses that are learned through repetition. These “moment by moment” actions are performed by a region in your brain called the “prefrontal cortex.” As soon as the behavior becomes automatic, the prefrontal cortex goes into sleep mode.

Forming habits and breaking habits take a lot of work. The idea can be daunting, but it is not impossible.

“Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life,” Rubin writes in her book, Better Than Before. “We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”

So this year take the challenge. Instead of making a New Year’s Resolution, try to form a habit instead. After we ring in the New Year, I will share my theme for 2016, and what habits I hope to make, and break, this year.