We are bombarded with distraction every day: busyness, stress, social media, and an abundance of information. Our minds are a torrent of thoughts. A meditation practice can help us train our minds to move beyond the superficial noise and practice inner contemplation. I have often felt that one reason I don’t hear the still small voice of God is that I am not quiet long enough to listen.
The Bible mentions meditation more than 50 times. The Hebrew words for meditation meant listening to God’s words, reflecting on His work, reviewing what He has done. Meditation is a practice of hearing God’s voice so that we can obey His words. We live in a physical world and many times we forget that we live in a spiritual world as well. Meditation is taking time to connect with the Divine and enjoy communion with Him. Jesus frequently drew away from the crowds to spend time in prayer and meditation.
The key is to commit to the practice. We get good at it by doing it. Simply stated, we learn meditation by meditating. Put it on your calendar daily. Over time it will be a habit that you don’t have to think about it. You will just do it. Download my free weekly habit tracker printable at the bottom of this post.
Start small and be consistent. Keep it simple.
Establish a regular time to do it. Tie it to another routine to remind you to do it in the beginning. I am building a habit of doing it as part of my morning routine. After my alarm goes off I get up and take care of pets and get a big glass of water. I spend time studying my Bible and then I go into my workout room for my meditation and prayer time.
The purpose of meditation is not to get good at meditation. The purpose is to impact the rest of your day. It can help you to feel more grounded, centered, and conscientious. It can reduce anxiety and improve your memory. That sets you up for a day of feeling and being awesome!
Ideally you will set up a place to meditate that is somewhat quiet and free of distractions. It doesn’t have to be completely silent but away from television and other noisy distractors. Another great place to meditate is outside, in nature.
In reality you can meditate anywhere, any time. Susanna Wesley was the mother of well-known hymn writer Charles Wesley and John the founder of the Methodist church. She had 19 children (10 survived into adulthood) and there was no place or time for quiet solitude. So she developed a practice of pulling her apron over her head to spend time in prayer and meditation. Her children knew that when she was in this posture she was not to be disturbed.
Sit in a position of comfort but not slouched. Sit straight – on the floor or in a chair but sit up straight and tall. Your posture affects your mental state.
You can also practice meditation on your knees. Some days I get out my yoga mat and assume the position of Child’s Pose. It is comfortable to maintain and conveys a sense of surrender.
Take deep rhythmic breaths (example: inhale for 6, hold for 2, exhale for 7). This helps to clear the mind and quiet the noise. Pay attention only to your breathing. Do this for a cycle of 5 repetitions.
When the mind drifts, bring it back. Your mind will wander. This is not about turning off your brain; it’s just about bringing it back when it does. In the normal course of our days we are bombarded with thoughts. It’s natural that it will return to this pattern. Observe that you drifted and bring your mind back to the task at hand. This practice is like doing repetitions in an exercise program. You get better and better at it as you practice.
As you meditate you will notice multiple irritations. Train your mind not to respond to every irritation or urge. This is fantastic training for your mind. Itchy nose? Buzzing fly? Urge to open your eyes? Work on increasing the amount of time that you can notice the irritation and not respond to it.
There are many ways to meditate but here are some common versions:
Ponder it in your heart. Imagine yourself in the “scene.” Use your senses. Imagine how it would have felt listening to Jesus’ words as He taught the Beatitudes. What does it sound like, what would it feel like to sit on a grassy hill with thousands of others who had come to hear this teacher? Are there any particular smells? What hope do you feel as you sit there listening and realizing that this man could truly be the Messiah? Let the verses take root in your heart.
This is a type of meditation that gives you space to be still and center your mind. Allow God to commune with you. Give Him your concerns and surrender to whatever He has for you. Release the things that are burdening you. He knows our needs but He still wants to hear about them from you. Philippians 4: 8 says, “…let your requests be known to God.”
If you are meditating outside or have a view of the outside, really look at nature. Be in wonder of what God has created. Ask God what He is saying through His creation.
One definition of willpower is doing what you need to do, when you need to do it, whether you feel like it or not. The bad news is willpower can be exhausted like an over-used muscle. The good news is that you can cultivate willpower and strengthen it.
Because your willpower can be depleted, it’s best to use it wisely and not squander it. An example of wasting your willpower is using it on emergencies such as temptation. Another example is trying to tackle 100 things at once and fatiguing your brain. The best way to use your willpower is in building habits that will make your life easier. Once these habits are ingrained in your life they will happen on autopilot. Here is one example of how this works in my life: I prepare food on Sundays that I can use for my lunches. That way when I’m in a rush in the morning I’m not grabbing just any old thing to pack in my lunch. And I don’t end up at work with no food and fall into the trap of fast food or junk food for lunch. Food prep has become a habit for me and I don’t have to think about it anymore, it’s just part of my routine.
Put systems in place to help move you towards success. Pre-commit to difficult decisions ahead of time. Here are some of my examples:
Businesses know these principles when they market to us. Just go to a Starbucks on a busy day. You may start out with the best intentions to only buy a small skinny latte. But you have to walk past all the shelves with many different, delicious snacks on them. Once you’re in line there are more choices to resist in the food case. At the register there are even more yummy snacks. Chocolate-covered coffee beans, anyone? By the time you get to the register your brain wants to reward you for being so good and resisting all those temptations and you give in and get “just one small treat.” Your willpower wore out.
Breathe – In moments where you need a boost of willpower, take the time to take some deliberate, deep breaths. This action can create some space between your thoughts and emotions and give you time to plan a course of action that is in line with your goals. Just one minute of deep breathing provides a disconnect between an impulse and your reaction to give you time to make a better decision.
Nutrition – Good nutrition is vital. Your brain doesn’t function as effectively on junk fuel. Sugar and flour are very ineffective brain fuel.
Get Moving – Exercise is known to increase willpower and is good for your overall health.
Sleep – Adequate sleep improves your ability to make good decisions.
Meditation – Taking the time to quiet your mind has been shown to increase blood flow to the pre-frontal cortex. This is the thinking/processing/willpower part of the brain. I have started taking 10 minutes in the morning to practice mediation.
Stress Relief – Increased stress decreases willpower. We tend to turn to ineffective stress relief methods. These are things like scrolling through Facebook, surfing the internet, binging on TV shows, drinking, eating, video games, etc. We think these things are helpful because we get a boost of dopamine that feels good in the moment. But it doesn’t actually allow you to recover your willpower. More effective strategies include things like meditation and exercise, petting your dog or cat, time with loved ones or taking a walk.
Do you set New Year’s resolutions or goals for the coming year? I’m working on setting goals this year in a different way than I ever have before. I’m pushing towards making this a year that I get closer to being the absolute best version of myself. I want to stretch my sense of possibility and think much bigger than what I think that I can achieve. The thing about goals is it’s not really about achieving the goal in the end. It’s more about who you become in the process of pursuing it. So it benefits you to choose a goal that stretches you. In this post I will share the tactics I’m following for this year’s goals. I have been listening to Brian Johnson of Optimize.me and Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School for guidance on goal setting.
I’m starting by evaluating what I want in 3 major areas of my life:
Where do I get my energy to be a high performer? My energy comes from my spiritual practice, nutrition that fuels me, and exercise.
How do I cultivate my relationships with my family to be an exemplary wife, daughter, mom and Gammy? I have to be intentional about deepening relationships with those I love.
How am I using my gifts and talents in service to others? How do I show up in the world? Can I create value for others?
The next step is to brainstorm all my possible goals in these 3 areas. I wrote these down on paper and just let my brain flow. I do this over the span of a few days because the more I activate my mind the more ideas I come up with. Then I chose the ONE goal that helps me to achieve all the other goals. This will be my focus for the coming year.
Next I am going to think bigger and move the target on that one goal to a level that I feel is impossible to achieve. I want to push myself out of my comfort zone and risk failure. That’s where the change happens. My plan is to fail early and fail often for the lessons that failure will provide for me.
We fear failure but in reality it is only in failing that we grow. If a baby was too afraid to fall he would never learn to walk. Each time he falls he fails in his attempt. But in getting up again his muscles become stronger and he becomes more practiced at walking. The falling and getting up again is actually what makes him stronger. Soon he is a master at walking and learns to run. As I’m writing this one of my favorite worship songs is running through my head.
So I am planning to set a big goal and then actively think about all the ways I will fail in trying to reach it. I’m not talking about failure where I just don’t do anything and say, “See, I failed.” I am talking about planning targets towards my goal that stretch me. I may fall down in reaching for them. But each time I pick myself up I will have learned something valuable and grown a bit stronger.
The rest of the song goes something like this:
Philippians 4:6-7 is often quoted and memorized.
"6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
I grew up knowing these verses but never really understanding how to apply them in my life. How do you just, "be anxious for nothing?" I prayed. But most times the worry was just still there. Sometimes quietly running in the background of my mind. Sometimes loudly screaming incessantly in my ear. I would feel guilty for being anxious when I knew I should be giving the worry over to God. So then I was not only worrying about the original worry, but also worrying about my faith. I didn't feel the peace of God that was promised so I felt like I was always missing something.
What I didn't realize was that the key for me was found in the next verses. God had given me actionable steps to take to manage my thinking.
"8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."
The bottom line is that I need a daily practice of thinking about the right things. I am responsible to invest my thought life on things that I know to be true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy, etc.
When I spend my time thinking about my anxieties and worries they are things that are potential future events. I am thinking about things that may or may not be true. God tells me to think about what I know to be true. Not on what my imagination has dreamed up as future possibilities.
I also need to look at what I am filling my mind with. IfI start my day watching or listening to the news my mind is filled with negativity. I now have a practice of starting my day with the Word of God. The Bible contains the tools and the wisdom I need to get through life. If I don't have the right tools in the tool box I can't access what I need when my mind is running amok.
What we spend time thinking about matters.
The keto flu is a phenomenon that stops many people from fully experiencing the benefits of a ketogenic diet. They start the diet and when they start feeling poorly they use it as proof that the diet doesn’t work for them. Unfortunately this means they quit right before the magic happens.
The first time I ate a ketogenic diet I experienced keto flu symptoms. I was fatigued, achy and felt like I had “brain fog.” It resolved over a couple of days and I took those days to take it easy on myself. I wish I would have known that there were some simple things I could have done to feel better.
The process known as keto flu happens when your body is transitioning from a primarily carbohydrate burning metabolism to a fat burning metabolism. You may feel irritable, have a headache and feel fatigued. Some people even feel some heart palpitations. The body is trying to achieve a level of homeostasis. Many of the symptoms are related to dehydration and electrolyte loss. This usually hits around day 2 to day 4 of the keto diet. Unfortunately this is also about the time that your carbohydrate cravings will be raging.
As you eat less carbs your insulin levels go down and your body gets rid of more water and with that water goes some of your electrolytes.
Once you get past the keto flu you will begin to experience the benefits of a ketogenic diet. You will have more mental clarity, energy and you will be a fat-burning machine.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell was a thought-provoking book for me. It was my 11th personal development book this year. I picked it up because I have wanted to read something by Malcolm Gladwell for a while and the title of this one grabbed by attention. I know many of you have felt like an underdog or a misfit at one time or another. I certainly have. And we have all faced our own giants.
Most of us have heard about the story of David and Goliath. Many times the story is told as if David was the underdog and Goliath had all the advantages. Gladwell turns this story on its head when he describes the battle from a historical perspective. Slingers were a regular part of ancient armies. The slinger could launch a stone with accuracy at 30 meters per second. It was the equivalent of a .45 caliber handgun. The slingshot was superior technology to Goliath who was stationary and relied on close combat to defeat his enemies. The question Gladwell raises is if we have been looking at this story wrong, what else might we need to take another look at?
There are four main concepts of the book. Each concept has multiple stories to illustrate Gladwell's point. I will highlight some of them here but I recommend you get the book to get all the great information yourself.
In the book Gladwell tells the story of Vivek Randive and his 12 year old daughter's basketball team. The team was made up of girls with little to no basketball experience or skills. Matched against teams who had far more experience, the team was doomed to fail. Except that Vivek was from Mumbai and looked at the game with an outside view. He saw how traditionally the game was played in the U.S. One team would score and then run to the other side of the court to defend their basket. He saw that if his girls would practice what is known as a full court press they could use it to their advantage. Instead of running to their own side when the ball was thrown in by the other team they pressed hard to not let them advance down the court. Frequently there was so much pressure on the opposing player to pass the ball in the allotted time that they would either throw it away or run out of time and the ball would go back to Vivek's team. If they did make the pass they faced additional pressure to advance the ball across mid-court in time before a turnover. In this manner Vivek Randive took this team to the national championships.
Moral of the story: When you don't have an advantage it can lead to innovation of a new way of doing things. You either give up or you work harder than the other guy. You may not always win but you increase your chances.
The inverted U describes a curve in the shape of an upside-down U. On the left side is the concept that too little of a good thing does not bring the results you want. The middle of the upside-down U is the sweet spot. Just enough of the good thing brings maximum results. The right side of the curve shows that too much of the good thing once again decreases the likelihood of good results.
I know that's a bit confusing but stick with me here. One of Gladwell's examples was classroom size. Smaller classroom size does not produce better learning for students. There is a sweet spot where optimal learning occurs and students interact with each other and learn from each other. Too many students once again decrease learning.
Another example he gave was choosing colleges. The top rated schools are not your best choice if you want to increase your chances of a successful career. It would take me too long to explain it here but he covers it well in this Google interview video:
Moral of the story: There is a sweet spot when you are trying to increase your chances of success.
One of the stories that goes along with this theme is the story of the London bombings by the Germans in World War II. It was predicted that before the bombings that there would be widespread destruction and panic that would completely break the morale of the British. People lived in great fear of the coming attacks. When it finally began with 57 straight days of bombings an interesting thing happened. There were, of course, those who were killed and those who survived near misses and subsequently traumatized. But there were many people who survived what was known as a remote miss. This group of people, after days of NOT being killed, actually became more resilient and more resolved that they would survive. The predicted panic didn't happen and the people actually became stronger for having lived through it.
Moral of the story: A disadvantage can be an advantage when we stop being afraid of being afraid.
A large part of the book discusses how some difficulties in life can be desirable if you look at the outcomes that arise from managing them. One example is about a man with dyslexia who compensated by learning other skills that made him highly successful. Another story discusses a man who grew up in a rough home and faced many difficulties as a child. He had to learn many different skills in order to survive and navigate his challenges. These skills resulted in some significant advantages as an adult.
Moral of the story: We don't wish for difficulties but when they arise we can use them to our advantage.
"Reframe some of your biggest challenges as difficulties that gave you the resources and the perspective to actually do what you're capable of doing." Brian Johnson of Optimize.me
Getting started with intermittent fasting is one way to lose weight with some small, simple changes in the timing of your meals. Intermittent fasting is a great way to burn fat, lose weight and get healthier. And since there is no special equipment, no supplements, no books and no particular foods to buy, it’s also one of the easiest and least expensive ways to lose weight and get healthier. I combine intermittent fasting with a ketogenic lifestyle. The two eating styles pair well together and fasting becomes simple when you are fat adapted with keto. Read more about my experience with keto and intermittent fasting here.
All you need to get started with intermittent fasting is a clock and a tiny little bit of willpower. I promise it won’t be hard and it is something you can easily do. The beauty of intermittent fasting is that it is very flexible. You can do it anywhere, anytime for as long as you’d like.
And you’ll start to see benefits from fasting when you don’t eat for at least 12 hours. That may seem like a long time, but it really isn’t. Let’s say you eat a late dinner around 7 p.m. All you have to do is not snack after dinner. Then go to bed, sleep for seven to eight hours and get up at 6:30 a.m. By the time you had your black coffee and gotten a shower your 12 hours are up and you can eat breakfast.
When you’re ready to take it to the next step, try postponing breakfast by an hour or two. Or skip it altogether and head out for an early lunch around 11 instead. Do you see how easy and flexible this is? You can work in your fasting anywhere, anytime. Just don’t eat for a few hours before and after you go to sleep. I fast for 18 hours which means that I skip breakfast. Then I do all my eating in a 6-hour window. This is known as an 18:6 fast. There are other variations such as 20:4 and 23:1. You can tailor it to whatever works for you.
No matter how you fast, it is important to stay hydrated. This will help your body burn fat and keep your energy levels up. Water is always a good choice, as is mineral water which will also help replenish the salt and minerals your body is losing when you’re fasting. Herbal teas are nice when you want something warm to drink as is black coffee.
Give intermittent fasting a try and see if you can’t make it work for you. It’s one of the best things you can do for your overall health and well-being. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised how energized you’ll feel on fasting days once your body gets used to this.
Traditional diets didn’t work for me. They worked short term but I couldn’t sustain them long term. I had success with many different diet plans. But I had never done the thought work required for changing my relationship with food.
My most successful traditional diet was Jenny Craig. This is a program where you get a personal consultant to work with you and they provide the food. Each week you go in and get weighed and talk with your consultant about how the week went. You set personal goals for the next week and select your next week’s food. You leave with boxes, bags and cans of food and a menu plan for how to use them. From this program I learned about portion control and accountability. I stopped the program because I was having jaw surgery. After recovery I felt that I was close enough to my goal weight that I didn’t need to go back.
Unfortunately I had not learned the skills to transition to a good eating plan. I hadn’t changed my thinking about food. I hadn’t learned to deal with urges and cravings. I hadn’t learned about the many ways I was using food for so many more reasons than just fuel for my body. I had basically learned how to eat processed food and practice calorie restriction (which doesn’t work long term). I didn’t know enough about nutrition. What I was learning was the government’s dietary guidelines which virtually guaranteed my eventual failure.
Slowly my old habits crept back in and I gained weight.
Fast forward many years and many pounds…
Earlier this year I had far surpassed my heaviest weight ever. I had working on personal development for the last couple of years but had never quite been able to do the mental work it took to conquer my thinking about my weight. Little did I know that my thinking was the root of the whole problem.
Coming soon I have a 4-week program to share with you what I have been learning. My goal is to help you think differently about food and to equip you to come up with your own nutrition plan. If that sounds like something that is interesting to you sign up for the newsletter by filling out the subscription form at the bottom of the blog so you will be one of the first to know.
Keto coffee (also known as butter coffee, fatty coffee or Bulletproof coffee) is a delicious frothy coffee drink that can help decrease hunger, increase energy and improve mental clarity.You may wonder how one drink can do all that. A breakdown of the ingredients can help clarify things. I make mine with organic coffee (12 oz.), 1 T grass-fed butter, and 1 T of MCT oil. If you’re new to using MCT oil start with a smaller amount and increase over time.
Coffee is not only delicious but it also has some health benefits. Coffee provides antioxidants which help your body fight off cell damage. Studies have shown that coffee may provide protection against Type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia.Using organic coffee is preferred to conventionally grown coffee. Conventionally grown coffee is chemically treated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Choosing organic helps to ensure that your coffee does not contain these extra chemicals.
Butter makes this cup of coffee creamy, rich and delicious. But more importantly grass-fed butter is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, beta carotene and Vitamins A, D, E, and K. It also contains higher levels of CLA which is a fatty acid that helps your body store muscle instead of fat.
Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) which boost your metabolic rate and provide easy energy for your body and especially your brain. Using coconut oil is an inexpensive way to get MCTs but purchasing MCT oil is a much more powerful way to boost ketones. I use NOW brand MCT oil from my local health food store or sometimes Bulletproof Brain Octane. The Bulletproof brand is more expensive but also contains a more concentrated form of the good stuff. In addition to boosting your ketones for more fat burning and brain energy, MCT decreases the action of ghrelin which is the hormone that makes you feel hungry.
If you don’t like coffee or can’t drink it you don’t have to drink keto coffee as part of your ketogenic diet. You can get healthy fats from a variety of sources. You can even get the benefits of the grass-fed butter and MCT oil by using them in other ways. For example, you can cook with butter and use the coconut oil or MCT oil as part of your salad dressing.
Using decaf coffee is fine. I’ve even had people say that they enjoy the recipe with tea or chai tea instead of coffee.