Your to-do list just got so much better

A long time ago I heard a very funny comedian joking about her to-do list. She had somehow stumbled across an old one from several years prior and it was all the same stuff, laundry, bank, clean, cat manicure, etc. Her takeaway was that it's all just the same old shit, over and over again. Mine was that we’re all just a few thousand to-do list away from the one big cosmic thing we all have to do, which is one good thing about being dead. You can finally relax about that damn list.     

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good to-do list and I get that little grown-up rush of crossing each thing off as I complete the associated task, especially if it's something particularly odious or anxiety producing. When we cross things off over our lists we get a little hit of dopamine, which is like crack for responsible grown ups. Taking a responsible action is good. Keeping track of all that responsible action is good. And making satisfying little check marks is good. But the design of the typical to-do list could definitely be improved upon. It's so linear and rigid, rewarding linear, rigid thinking and doing. The average to-do list needs a makeover!

Of course nobody says it has to be that way, that’s just the way it's always been. We have been trained to create utilitarian to-do’s because it's best not to waste time. Also the good people of the world should hurry up and get it all done so we can get going on the list so we can hurry up and get going on the next one? And the next one? And the next one. Heavy sigh.

While traveling to a very relaxing place recently I was inspired to create a new kind of list. In this place people don’t seem in such a hurry (they are definitely not in a hurry to turn left at stop lights). I think some of them might not even have lists. They might just be winging it and doing stuff intuitively or just doing things in a more relaxed, less anal way. This situation I found initially interesting, then annoying, then inspiring.

I decided to make a to-do list that reflected the state of mind I wanted to cultivate, loose, creative and not rush, rush, rush. I’m not quite ready to go to-do-less, but I can definitely mix things up with a to-doodle.

Here is my “before” to-do list  in all its drab, utilitarian glory:

Here is my “after” to-do list (post-makeover):

What makes the new list fun:

  • Colors
  • Happy faces to calm me down when I realize I  have 4,321 things to do.
  • Different shapes and directions to help me think in different ways and bust ruts!
  • Silly little drawings to remind that life is supposed to be fun. 
  • The chance to think about my tasks visually.
  • The chance to doodle and dream a bit before I get down to the business of to-doing.
  • Which to-do list would you like to meet first thing in the morning before you’ve had your coffee?

Of course your to-doodle might not be quite so goofy. I am half clown. But I bet its gonna be unique, interesting and cool and if you find it in 5 years it will be a sweet reminder of what you were up to. You might think my past self was pretty groovy to have made something so off the wall, yet still on point for a world with clean underwear. And if you’re still on the fence about it just write it on the top of your current to-do list. Now its official bizziness and not just silly fun. Let’s to-doodle!

PS: If you're wondering about the bottom left of my to-doodle, wonder no more! 

Happiness is not a luxury

One latte with an extra shot of happiness please.  

One latte with an extra shot of happiness please.  

Compliments are so strange. We crave them, yet once they are delivered we push them away. It's like ordering a pizza and then throwing it out the window. Like many women I've struggled with graciously accepting and actually enjoying when nice things are said to me. The struggle continued the other day when someone told me that they liked how happy I was. This compliment stopped me in my tracks, because I've never heard anything like it. Smart, funny and devilishly good-looking yes, but happy? Not so much. Of course the kind words didn't sink in right away because I brushed them off like an invading tick. It's almost like we think compliments are fattening or dangerous in someway.

Later on I came back to the happiness compliment and allowed it to give me a proper dose of warm and fuzzies, but then doubt once again crept in (aren't you glad you don't live in my head?). Isn't it selfish to be happy? Doesn't it mean we are taking care of ourselves and not others? Isn't happiness one of the fluffier values that is nice to have but shouldn't be a primary goal? Dogs and kids are supposed to be happy, but grown ups not so much. Well to all that I say “fooie!” And I say it with a sock puppet on my hand just because I can.

Happy people don't start wars. They don't hit their partners (unless their partners specifically ask). They don't veng honk when someone cuts them off. They smile at strangers and let small injuries roll off their happy backs. I'd be willing to guess they litter less and recycle more. Happy people have the emotional space to listen and empathize with others. They have the time to stop and help. They have the capacity to appreciate beauty and the energy to share it with others. Happy people are just nice to be around. Their energy is lifting, calming and present. You almost wish you could get stuck in an elevator with happy people just so you can hang out and maybe learn their secrets.

Happiness isn't selfish and it's one of the best values you can cultivate to make your world and the bigger world a better place.

The happiness formula is different for everyone, but here are five things that helped me finally climb to the top of Grump Mountain and slide grinning into Happy Valley:

1. Making peace with the fact that it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to take care of myself and maintain my physical and emotional equilibrium. You can't make me feel guilty about taking naps and baths in the afternoon anymore, so don't even try. For me this meant cutting back on all expenses and working less and differently. It was also a mental shift.

2. Being hyper aware of how it feels to be around particular people and choosing to spend most of my time with other joy factories, while limiting my time with grump-o-saurus’s. Also making a point of connecting and reaching out to people especially when I don't feel like it. Turns out not feeling like it is often a defense mechanism that keeps me isolated and sad.

3. Committing considerable time and energy toward the creative things that I've always wanted to do. I think not doing your “soul work” leads to a low level of anxiety and grumpiness that you just learn to accept and live with. But it turns out these neglected dreams are like tiny, angry monkeys with sharp nails clinging to your back. They keep you agitated and on edge, even though you’re not exactly sure why. Once you get back to doing your important stuff the little guys relax, loosen their grips and go out for banana flavored ice cream. It feels so much better.

4. I stopped watching, listening to the news. Enough seeps in so that I still know what's going on, but no need to point a pipeline from the heart of darkness directly to my own heart every day. If I want to know about something I'll research it on my own terms and on the sites that I know aren't just trying to scare the bejesus out of me. I have a feeling being proactive like this makes me happier too.

5. Making peace my my moody pinata-ness. Some days are just gonna feeling like I'm trapped in a German impressionist painting and that's okay. It's okay to ride it out, maybe listen to some depressing folk music and write angsty poetry. Tomorrow will be better.

For even more research proven ways to get your happiness on check out this awesome post from Eric Barker. My favorite point from this point is that consistent little happy’s make us happier then a few giant happy’s. Helps to take the pressure off.

What makes you happy?

Guilt is not a food group

The media, well meaning mothers and our perfectionist culture have caused many of us to feel chronically guilty about our eating habits. Using guilt to inspire you to eat better may work for a little while, but it will also leave you feeling emotionally drained and fragile. Eventually you will make a less then optimal choice and guilt will be there to pinch you some place soft. These negative feelings are tiny holes in your happiness balloon. They are the Grinch stealing your everyday gifts and leaving you with sad, empty boxes. Feeling guilty about your food choices is a huge drain on your physical and emotional health and is no good for moody piñatas.

The only way to fight these dark forces is with fun and joy. It's been scientifically proven that you can't feel guilty when you're giggling (A rubber chicken in a lab coat wearing a clown nosed proved that). Here are five ways to eat healthier that focus on light and love instead of guilt and shame.

Smile and make significant eye contact with a farmer
There's a reason why Julia Robert’s character insisted on not kissing her clients in the classic rom-com “Pretty Woman.” Intimate contact like that makes it harder to forget people and keep things on a purely transactional level. Now I’m not suggesting you make out with everyone at the farmers market, but developing relationships with the people who nurture your grub is a powerful way to get connected to your food. If you’re not sure what to say to a particularly laconic farmer ask about his or her favorite recipe or try one of these wonderfully awful farm jokes. Lettuce have some fun!

A duck walks into a farmers market...

A duck walks into a farmers market...

Adopt some cute little orphans
Did you know that a ton of food is wasted because mean, judgmental grocery stores deem it not pretty enough for your plate? Think of all the crying onions, sad carrots and pouty pears who just want a loving home. Well now you can rescue these special little guys and give them the love and appreciation they deserve. If you've ever been rejected, left out or made to feel unimportant adopting rejected fruit is very cheap and nutritious therapy. Also you can make socks for the two legged carrots! Check out Imperfect Produce to learn more.

Photo courtesy of Imperfect Produce

Photo courtesy of Imperfect Produce

Draw a produce portrait
Did you know that there are two kinds of Vitamin C and you need both to be happy and healthy? The kind that comes inside of oranges is awesome and keeps you from getting scurvy. The kind that comes from drawing oranges is just as important. Vitamin Creativity makes life fun and reminds you that playing with your food isn't all bad. Actually drawing cute little pictures of your produce and posting them on your refrigerator is enjoyable and will help you remember to eat your models.

Write some banana-grams
Bananas are the Cracker Jacks of the fruit world and every one comes with a prize. A banana peel can be a game board, a love note, a daily affirmation, a blank canvas and so much more.Why not write a note of encouragement that your tired, 3 pm self can enjoy with their fruit snack? Or perhaps a sassy little love note for someone special? Or a riddle or joke for your goofy kiddo? A banana is potassium wrapped in unlimited potential. It's so a-peeling!

Play salad factory!
Making a few individual salads a head of time gives me a serious efficiency buzz that probably shouldn't be legal. Nothing feels better then coming from a long day, hungry and perhaps a bit cranky and finding a delicious, ready-to-go salad that my past self thoughtfully made for me. Knowing that I have a “love salad” sitting pretty in the fridge has kept me from countless burgers and burritos and probably added a few years onto my life.

What's your favorite way to make food fun?


Why vulnerability is the new awesome

Let’s see those puppy bellys!

Five Reasons You Should Embrace Vulnerability


In her best-selling book Daring Greatly (read an excerpt here) Brene Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. She also acknowledges what you might have already guessed: Our culture does not do a great job of teaching people how be vulnerable. Part of the reason for this is that vulnerability often brings up feelings that we don't like and may have no idea how to cope with.

Fortunately Brown’s research also shows that learning how to get more comfortable with being vulnerable is the best way to reach our full potential, the surest route to self worth and happiness, and that vulnerability is a springboard for developing courage, compassion, and true connection with ourselves and others.

So let's roll over onto our backs and get to know vulnerability a little better.

5 ways to better understand vulnerability

1. Vulnerability is a rejection of black and white thinking.

The converse is also true. A space without vulnerability is usually chock-full of extreme thinking lacking in nuance. Fox News and fundamentalist religions come to mind. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable acknowledges that there are so many points of view, ways of being, and options in the world…many of which you haven't considered yet. At first acknowledging all these options can feel overwhelming and anxiety producing, but if you settle in and wait it out you just might see a rainbow kaleidoscope of possibility (mine includes unicorns).

2. Vulnerability shows us what is important to us.

Fear is nature’s primordial way of reminding us what really matters. Noticing and acknowledging what scares the bejesus out of you is the first step to getting comfortable with vulnerability. Don't feel like you have to do anything right away about all these fears that have been sitting in your psychic waiting room. Just be like, “Hey Fear-of-Rejection, I see you there and I know you've been waiting a long time. I have a really busy week so do you mind waiting a little longer?” It's amazing how much just acknowledging your fears can calm them down. Nobody likes to be ignored!

3. Vulnerability teaches us compassion for other people.

When you allow yourself to experience the highs and lows of the roller coaster ride of human emotion you can't help but notice all the other people screaming and white knuckling right along with you. Your hearts are pounding together, your stomachs are dropping as one, you all feel a simultaneous sigh of relief when the ride is over. There are no true strangers, just people on different roller coasters with whom you haven't yet ridden.

4. Vulnerability changes our relationships with our to-do lists.

One of the best ways to avoid feeling vulnerable is to stay busy and do all the things we think should make us happy and successful. Climbing this mountain of “should’s” keeps us exhausted and too tired to look at what is really important. When we allow ourselves to slow down and begin to figure out what our true priorities are (hint: the ones that scare us the most) your to-do list will get shorter, more powerful, and more profound.  Here’s mine: Write and publish stuff that helps people laugh and live better.

5. Vulnerability allows us to reach our full potential including training and participating in the Emotional Olympics (aka life).

Events include love, creativity, joy, trust, and connection. In the Emotional Olympics  we all get to take turns being nervous competitors, supportive coaches, and foam-finger-wearing fans. You can’t help but be inspired by cheering for someone else working on their profound to-do list and competing in the arena of their greatest fears. It might get you wondering, “What am I training for?”