Don’t Take It Personally

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“It’s not all about you.”

“Nobody’s thinking about you that much.”

“You don’t have that much power.”

At first glance: rude statements, right? I admit, I’m a sensitive soul, but I think most would agree that these quotes seem to come with a little sting.

Well, sometimes when we are spiraling downward into a black hole of negative self-talk and harsh self-criticism, we have to be a little blunt with ourselves.

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deathtothestockphoto.com

If you live with symptoms of depression or anxiety, you might be (all too) familiar with ruminating thoughts. Rumination comes up for people after a stressful event, a negative interaction, or even just an awkward situation. You think about how whatever you just did or said was so (dumb, rude, wrong, bad). You think about how your co-worker looked at you some type of way so she must (hate you, think you are bad at your job, find you stupid, wish you would leave). You think about how you didn’t get into that school, so you (won’t ever get a job, must be unintelligent, have no hope, will never get anywhere in life).

You know, those kinds of pleasant thoughts.

That thinking gets us nowhere except in a bad mood and a sea of self-hatred. So these are the moments, then, when we might want to consider using those snappy quotes up there to fight our rumination. We know our intentions, so we know it’s coming from a place of love.

The thing to remember is this: Don’t take it personally.

In Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, “Don’t take anything personally” is the second agreement. On page 48, he writes:

“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”

It reminds me of a thought I had frequently when I spent the summer in Chicago with my best friend. We were in a gorgeous condo right in the heart of the city, and the long and lean buildings were all packed closely together. I’d sit on the ledge along our window and stare at the building next to us: the lights weaving on and off in different rooms, the shifting colors of TV blurs, the differently shaped shadows of bodies moving fast, moving slow.

And I’d think about how amazing it is that we are all living these unimaginably complex lives simultaneously, right next to one another, and we are somehow unaware of it. The stranger in the apartment across the street – she has dreams, she has goals, she has family problems, she has a an amazing best friend, she has childhood memories, she wants a tattoo, she just got a job promotion, she can’t get over her ex-boyfriend, she loves green tea, she hates Tuesdays. She is the star of her own movie, just like you’re the star of yours. She can’t ever fully understand your world, and you can’t ever fully understand hers.

When someone says or does something to us that is hurtful, whether it is real or perceived, we don’t have to take it personally. We can remember that the person we were hurt by has a life of his or her own – a life that includes bad moods, personal insecurities, and emotional distractions. They’ve got so much going on in their lives. You’re not the star of their movie. So take a step back. Don’t let yourself fall down into the self-hate black hole. After you’re hurt, notice the feeling you have and let it go. Everyone’s got their own stuff going on. It’s not all about you. Don’t take it personally.

And I say that with so much love.

Be my friend! Follow me on TwitterPinterest, and Instagram 🙂

Breaking Up Your Routine

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Yesterday I got a phone call from a great friend back home (please pause in a moment of appreciation for how warm and cozy the sound of old friends’ voices are) who is in a bit of a slump. “I’m just trying to do things to break up my routine,” she said.

ashleyelladesign.com
ashleyelladesign.com

I related to that completely. When we go about our days in that same old, same old way that we always do, things start to feel…boring. And maybe kinda depressing. Wake up, work, relax, sleep, repeat. Again. And again. Forever. Til we die.  

Nice, right?

 You and I want more than that. We want to live a life that we want to savor. The exciting moments – the milestone events, the travels, the career advances. But also the slow moments….the reading on the porch, a filler episode of one of your favorite TV show, that first sip of coffee on a Saturday morning. When our everyday lives become mundane, I think we’re tricked into thinking we need something big and exciting to happen to get us back on our feet. Things become so boring that we think we’re falling deeper and deeper into the “boring life” pit, and we can only be pulled out by the rope of some skydiving trip or marriage proposal. 

I don’t buy that. I’m a strong believer in the power of the little things – though I do think that the little things stop bringing us enjoyment when we stop looking for them, and when we get sucked into the same routine, it’s so much easier to do that.

So here’s my theory: if you’re bored with your life, you don’t need to move to a different country. You don’t need to quit your job. You don’t need to get pregnant. There’s no real dramatic shift you have to make in your life to spice things up.

 Instead, change the little things. Break up your routine. Find something small that’s easy to do and likely to get you excited. Here are some suggestions, based on some things I’m trying to incorporate into my life.

 Pick up a juicy summer beach read.

I’m currently reading The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams, and it’s a really perfect escape. I’m not even halfway through yet so I’m not sure how much I can truly recommend it, but you know the type of book I mean – easy to read, fast-paced, set in a glamorous era. I’m also reading The Golden Compass, which is a fun classic for those of you who are less into escaping with romance and more into escaping into a fantasy world. The point is, this isn’t the time in your life to pick up Madame Bovary. Read something light that gets your mind wandering. 

Start an easy after-work project.

This idea has been big for me, because I realized that so many of my slumps are related to how I spend my free time. I tend to go to the extremes: either working on writing, which is fun but also hard work, or laying around and watching pointless TV. With only a few after-work hours before bed, that time is really precious. Teaching myself some new hobby like sewing seems ambitious for me right now, but putting an effort toward engaging in something like journaling or drawing regularly seems too slow-paced. So, I’ve come up with printing and organizing my iPhone photos into a simple scrapbook. I’m actually super excited about this, because it’s a way that I can feel productive and creative without being exhausted. I’m planning to follow the Project Life format, which I’m hoping will make me feel cool and artsy even though I’m really definitely not. 

Start watching a fast-paced TV show.

I’m making the long journey through Gilmore Girls on Netflix, which has been fun, but it’s not exactly a rollercoaster. I started watching Mr. Robot and am excited to keep up with something that keeps me a little more on the edge of my seat. If that’s not quite your style, I’d recommend going through Breaking Bad, LOST, or The Jinx (if you haven’t already) for some can’t-sleep-gotta-keep-watching TV.

 Go on a weekend getaway (or just take a day trip).

Day trips are my secret rejuvenation tool (so I really should take them more often, huh?). I love that they are easy…you don’t have to take off work, you don’t have to stay overnight if you don’t want, and they are often inexpensive. You get to see somewhere new, which is always inspiring and exciting. You can go alone or with someone you love. There’s no real risk – if you don’t like wherever you go, you can just go back home! Small travels can still be significant in helping us feel more cultured and well-traveled.

And if none of that sounds good, how ‘bout something like this:

  • Make a “summer bucket list” and cross off one thing a week
  • Take an educational online class at coursera.com or a creative online course at skillshare.com
  • Go to creative workshops at stores around your area
  • Try a new recipe every week
  • Make and update a themed Instagram or Tumblr account (for example, if you love fashion, make an Instagram to record your OOTDs)
  • Work on a different craft every week
  • Find a penpal and get writing
  • Pick a random weekday and make it your weekly “treat yourself” day: get an ice cream, a manicure, one of those too-expensive juices. Go to a movie, see a play…whatever!

The main thing to consider when trying to break up your routine is finding something that can last you a while – not something that’s just going to be a good day amongst boring ones. Break up the routine by adding to it. Make fun, easy activities part of your weekly routine. Learn to love the little things again.

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Challenging Materialism

Last night I spent a half hour or so scrolling through Instagram. Looking at pictures of my friends? No. Looking at inspiring art? Hell no. I was straight up devouring photos of potential new skincare purchases.

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And the thoughts go like this:

I really want that serum. I see that so many people love it. But it’s so expensive! I’m sure it’s worth it. Oh shoot, and sunscreen! Definitely need to buy that before next weekend. My haircut this Sunday is already gonna be at least $65 but I obviously need that and also sunscreen. Dang, what am I even going to wear next weekend? All my shoes are horrible. I need new summer clothes. I could really use a new…

Blah blah blah literally could go on FOR LIFE if I don’t notice it and get a hold of myself. Sometimes I have to close my computer or shut off my phone and set it on the table next to me, vibrating with this energy of temptation, non-verbally begging me to pick it back up and keep shopping.

Here’s the thing: we want stuff. We want the things that products sell us – beauty, success, happiness, and a sense of interconnectedness with each other. We want what’s trendy so we can feel like part of the gang. If every cool girl on Tumblr is wearing strappy wedges, we wanna get strappy wedges too, because we want to be a part of it. We don’t want to feel left behind. And further, we want to spend our energy thinking about shoes because it’s a lot easier than thinking about the “real life” stress of our work, relationships, and intrinsic dissatisfaction. 

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We often search for a feeling of belonging and happiness in our possessions, but the truth is that we just don’t get it. Sure, we might feel a rush after making a purchase, but that isn’t sustainable. Research shows that materialism is associated with lower social and personal well-being, impulsive spending, increased debt, and even depression and social anxiety. 

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And in a way, having intense feelings of materialism is kind of like addiction, isn’t it? I’m in the midst of reading In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté, which is centered on Maté’s experience treating chronic drug users. One of the most interesting parts in the book so far though has been his dissection of his own impulsive spending (on classical music CDs! Which I thought was kind of cute) and how his constant yearning for more is relatable to an addiction.

“When you get right down to it,” he writes, “it’s the adrenaline I’m after, along with the precious reward chemicals that will flood my brain when I hold the new CD in hand, providing an all-too-temporary reprieve from the stress of my driven state. But I’ve barely left the store before the adrenaline starts pumping through my circulation again, my mind fixated on the next purchase.”

We have it in us to beat this cycle. It takes mindfulness and redirection. 

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1.     Note the reason behind the feeling.

You’ve been on Pinterest pinning the crap out of images of home décor photos lately, and you just can’t stop thinking about all the new pieces you want to buy to glam up your apartment. These thoughts can come on quickly and go a mile a minute. Stop to consider them. Why are you spending so much time thinking about your shopping list? It might be that there’s something else you’re avoiding. It might be that you’re seeking external validation. It might be that you’re just bored. Recognizing the reason behind longing for possessions is helpful because it reminds us that, a lot of times, it’s about more than just really wanting to buy a new TV.

2.     Shift your thoughts: what do you already have inside of you?

I love the quote from Gabor Maté because it reminds us that yearning for possessions is an endless cycle. Buddhist monk Sakyong Mipham said, “’Just one more’ is the binding factor in the circle of suffering.” Let’s try to stop needing more by honoring what we have inside of us. What can you create? Are you a writer? Shift your thoughts toward your next storyline. A photographer? Plan a weekend trip somewhere new to shoot. Take inventory of your talents and interests and make something. Get invested in it. Get so excited about it that you don’t want to think about anything else. It’s a way better adrenaline rush than buying a new video game.

Like everything else, fighting materialism relies on self-awareness. Know what’s going on with you. It’s not such a mystery if we take the time to think about it. 

Thumbnail photo by ashleyelladesign,com.

Healthy Choices in the Morning: How They can Change Your Whole Day

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Good morning, lovelies! I’ve got a post today that I’m hoping will especially inspire you if you’re reading in the AM, so grab your coffee, slide open your curtains, and let’s do this.

(And if it isn’t morning when you’re reading, that’s ok. Please keep reading. Dear God, please do not leave. I have readership goals to achieve, here.)

deathtothestockphoto.com
deathtothestockphoto.com

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This weekend, I had a particularly productive Saturday morning, including (but not limited to!) reading, stretching, yoga, running, working on my blog, and cleaning. All this for a girl that’s susceptible to hours of Internet stalking, donut eating, and ultimately feelings of super crankiness if she doesn’t watch out? That’s pretty good.

It got me thinking of a concept that is so simple and almost certainly leads to better habits and more satisfying days, and that concept is this:

All of our choices are interconnected.

They lead into one another. Healthy choices encourage other healthy choices, and unhealthy choices perpetuate more unhealthy choices.

And the good news: starting our day off with healthy choices makes it way, way easier to continue making healthy choices throughout the day.

Take my Saturday, for example. I had gone to bed early enough that I was well-rested on Saturday morning – this was Healthy Choice #1, and it set the foundation for the whole day. Because I was well-rested, I was able to really enjoy leisurely take some time practicing self-care by reading (HC #2). Indulging in self-care satisfied my need for relaxation, making me totally down to take some time exercising and engaging in physical activity, like stretching, yoga, and running (HC #3).

Working out at the beginning of the day encourages tons of healthy choices, making things that are normally a struggle for me something I want to do — like drinking tons of water, which makes us feel fuller, eat less, and stay energized (HC #4), and taking a cold shower, which boosts our immune system and is great for our skin and hair (HC #5).

Starting the day with a workout also sets up how we eat for the rest of the day. Sure, I may still give in to that Taco Bell craving for dinner, but in my experience, I’m much more likely to follow up my workout with a healthy snack or green smoothie (HC #6), because my mindset is stuck on continuing the healthy choices I’m making.

When we make daily life choices, we feel the results of them. We know how bad it feels to wake up at noon with a hangover, to spend 5 hours watching Netflix, to eat fast food 3 nights in a row and feel our credit card bills racking up. And alternatively, we know how great it feels after we tidy up our apartment, go for a walk, call our mom, practice yoga, or eat a healthy meal.

We feel great. We feel nourished. We feel confident. We start to believe that we are the kind of person who makes healthy choices, and that feels really good.

So my food for thought this week is this: let’s not make it hard on ourselves. Let’s make good, healthy, positive choices from the moment we open our eyes in the morning, so that it’s easy to keep making them. Keep it simple. Start your day off with some morning wellness – let’s see where it takes us.

(Hey, Morning Wellness! Now I get it 😉 

Visualizing Your Best Self

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As I continue to shape and define the kind of site I want Morning Wellness to be, I’ve noticed an instinctual gravitation toward writing on topics related to finding ourselves (through vision boarding, values clarification exercises, and asking ourselves weird-sounding but research-supported therapeutic questions, to name a few).

rekitanicole.com
rekitanicole.com

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Today I want to share an exercise that’s not only related to defining our goals and desires, but also believing that we are capable of achieving them.

When you think about the big things that you want to do in your life, can you picture them happening? Are your dreams clear enough that you can envision them, and is your confidence strong enough that you believe they could happen?

In doing my own self-reflection, I realized that having goals doesn’t necessarily guarantee confidence that you can achieve them. And that sucks. If I have a professional or personal goal and my mindset is just, “Yeah, I think that I could possibly do that in a couple years if all goes okay,” then how am I going to go about working toward my goals? It’s not an attitude that encourages going the extra mile, taking risks, or making ourselves vulnerable. It encourages leaving everything up to fate and just hoping it ends up okay.

I found this Best Possible Self visualization exercise on the Greater Good in Action website, and I think it’s perfect for anyone looking to define what they want in life and build confidence that they can achieve it.

Visualizing Your Best Possible Self

Picture living the best possible life you can imagine. Reflect on different areas of your life – your career, friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships, health, habits, creative pursuits – and imagine them reaching their greatest potential.

For 15 minutes over the course of two weeks, write continuously about this best possible future. Get detailed – where are you? Who’s there? What specifically are you doing? Putting aside your anxieties and barriers, simply write about your best possible future, as if it’s the most possible thing in the world.

Researchers have found that people who completed this practice over the course of two weeks got a positive mood boost.

Why not give it a try? I’m going to! I know that I could use some help in clarifying what exactly I want to make of my life and build my self-confidence around my creative capabilities.

For more details on this exercise, be sure to check it out here.

I wrote Monday about valuing ordinary moments, and this post isn’t meant to discredit that. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of small moments, and I don’t want to ignore them in favor of extraordinary ones. I think there’s a way to balance appreciation for the ordinary moments with working hard to create extraordinary ones.

So, this week’s Morning Wellness reader (and writer) goal: be grateful for the ordinary moments while believing you will certainly live extraordinary ones too. 

How to Cure a Really, Really Bad Mood

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I woke up on Wednesday last week with a feeling I hate so much: constant thoughts of today’s gonna suck, I have nothing to look forward to, I’m gonna be so bored, why am I not in bed, why am I not eating candy, why is this happening because I work so hard at happy living and self-care and THIS SHOULD JUST NOT BE HAPPENING.

But sometimes…it happens anyway. My brain was not a cool place to be that morning.

So I tweeted out to the world wide web, the millions of souls browsing the internet and waiting to answer the discussion-worthy, provocative question:

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…No one answered.

So, girlfriend was left to answer it for herself. I decided that I did not want to have a horrible day, so I was going to test my question out: When you’re in a bad mood, is it better to try to be positive and pretend you’re having a great day until you are having a great day, or is it better to just be mindful of where you are at, notice how you are feeling, and accept that it’s happening and that it too shall pass?

I decided I would spend the first half of my day following the advice of Instagram girls drinking green juice everywhere: be positive, fake it til I (hopefully) make it, and create the day I want to have. I knew I wouldn’t remember the details of this experiment, so I wrote down a kind of thought-log as it was happening:

7:13 AM: Wrote tweet, which prompted this whole idea. Seriously not in the mood to be any sort of positive, but I’m doing it for you, my sweet, sweet readers.

7:59 AM: I get off my uneventful bus ride and the “ugh” feelings are going strong. I remember a psychology experiment I learned in PSYC 101 that suggested that people who put a pencil in their mouth laterally get a mood boost, because it shapes their mouth as if it’s genuinely smiling. So, in my horrible mood, I force myself to smile for a minute.

8:03 AM: I think about the idea that affirmations, or repeating specific phrases to ourselves, helps shape our beliefs, so I repeat in my head, “I am in such a good mood today! I am in such a good mood today.”

8:04 AM: I feel like a serious freak.

9:12 AM: I’m bored, cranky, and starting to think this is an impossible task. I continue to say in my head, “I’m in a good mood today,” but I realized that specific positive thinking might be more effective.

9:57 AM: I have my most meaningful revelation – to stay positive, I can’t dwell on the negative. So simple but so important!! My bad mood would really amp up when I’d have thoughts like, “Did she just look at me weird? Am I annoying?” or “It’s seriously only 9:45 AM?” When I had these thoughts, I had to literally stop myself from taking them any further and just move on to thinking about something else. To stay focused on Operation: Good Mood, I couldn’t entertain those thoughts, even a little.

10:12 AM: A task came up at work that I was stressed out about. Bad mood creeped back in. I decided to just take care of it immediately instead of letting it linger and procrastinate…and voila! Good mood starts creepin back to where I want it to be. My brain. (I need more coffee.)

10:32 AM: I checked my phone and noticed my blog views went up. No, not to an insane kind of number, but still, it went up. I let myself get really excited about this. Probably disproportionately excited, to be honest. But I let myself really feel proud of this accomplishment, and my mood boosted.

11:13 AM: I went on Twitter and followed a professor I knew from Grad School. I feel really embarrassed writing this (and I truly hope she is not reading), but again, I’m sacrificing my pride here. I actually got like…a little buzz from following this professor, because it felt somehow exciting and risky. Twitter is a place for my personal thoughts, and it also heavily features posts from this blog (which is vulnerable for me to think of sharing with an actual grown-up mental health professional). I honestly got a little kick of adrenaline from it. The point of this isn’t how lame I am (though you can go ahead and glean that as well), it’s that doing something small that felt slightly risky gave me a mood boost too.

Noon rolled around, which was my cue to switch to the more mindful approach – feel your feelings, accept them, and exist with them – and I didn’t practice it…because I didn’t need to!

I am honestly surprised to tell you – the “fake it til you make it” method worked.

The tl;dr version of this post:

Things that didn’t work when I tried to change my bad mood into a good one:

  • Plastering an unauthentic smile across my face
  • Repeating vague affirmations, like “I am in a good mood today!”
  • Dwelling on any negative thought whatsoever

Things that did work when I tried to change my bad mood into a good one:

  • Completely avoiding any negative internal narrative that I wanted so badly to engage in
  • Eliminating stressful tasks as soon as possible
  • Getting (overly) excited about small positive things throughout the day
  • Taking a small, low-impact risk (i.e. emailing a professional role model, texting your crush, submitting a creative piece to a publication)

I hope you find this helpful next time you want to kick your bad mood to the curb! 

Thumbnail photo from Artem Kovalev.

Fighting For Our Dreams When It Just Ain’t Happening

This whole blogging experience has been super vulnerable for me, but today I am challenging myself to crank it up a notch and just be really honest about what’s been going on with me lately.

deathtothestockphoto.com
deathtothestockphoto.com

I moved to Los Angeles after finishing my Master’s Degree in Social Work in August.  I’ve really liked being here and am getting used to the California vibes, which are very real and very different from what I grew up with in Illinois. I’ve been held back from really feeling great here though, because of one huge problem: I cannot get a job.

And trust me, I’ve tried. My big barriers are that I don’t have a car yet (and lots of jobs require driving to clients’ houses) and that I am not bilingual, so sometimes it’s difficult to even find anything to apply to. Being in a new city, I also am limited by not really being familiar with the agencies in the area and not having any social work connections.

I have had small spots of hope: there was the agency that found my info and contacted me for an interview but was located way too far from me; the agency that called me to interview while I was home on holiday vacation and found a candidate before I got back to LA; and, most significantly, there was the agency I interviewed with last week that I was really excited about, until the very end of the interview when I was told the job required that the therapists own a vehicle. All of the small hopeful moments so far have ended with disappointment, which has been really hard on my heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing this post because I just want to be real with you guys. I want to remind you that, even though I write about mental health and positive living tips, I have serious struggles just like you do. Life can just feel unfair. I am so positive that I have the passion and skills needed to work at the places I’ve been applying, and I still haven’t gotten a job. These jobs require a car, but I can’t afford a car if I can’t find a job. It’s just this seriously frustrating, disheartening experience, and I’ve been living it over the past 6 months as I work a temporary job to make some money.

During this process, I’ve felt really, really hopeless at times. I’ve worried that I’d have to give up my dream of being a therapist. I’ve worried I’d be seen as a failure by my friends, my family, and yeah, even my blog readers. I’m still a little worried about that.

As hard as it was doing that interview last week and finding out at the last minute that the job required a car, I learned something. I learned from my responses in that interview that I am still, despite all of this struggle, so, so passionate about my future work. 

I had to cry a little (a lot) and heal a bit, but the next day, I was thinking about me, and about any of you that might have a dream that just isn’t happening right now. And I just think that when we are so motivated, and so passionate, and we can just envision ourselves in our dream role so vividly that it absolutely must happen…we’ll be okay. I have to intentionally remind myself:

My passion will lead me to where I want to be.

I am loved by my family and friends unconditionally.

I am more than giving up.

I’m writing this for the reader who can’t find a job, who is worried about the future, who wants something so bad she can taste it but it just isn’t happening.

We can’t stop trying. We’re in the middle of a valley right now, but there will be mountains. We’ll keep up our hustle, but we’ll relax when we need it. We’re in this together.

If anyone’s going through something similar and wants to talk about it, my email is morningwellnessblog@gmail.com. Sometimes companionship can be really healing. I wish the best for you, and thank you, readers, for letting me feel comfortable in my vulnerability.

Let’s stay strong & do this.