The Five Minute Journal by UJ Ramdas: Update on My Progress

Podcasts and books: Let's break it down.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about some of my favorite podcast episodes. I've been seeing some changes in my mindset since I've started using UJ Ramdas' Five Minute Journal so I thought I'd spend a few minutes riffing on my progress.

When I started The Five Minute Journal (about two months ago), I was in a really strange place. My health is pretty good; there's enough money in the bank; I'm happily married; I love our new life in Colorado and my mother's suffering is finally over. There are daily challenges, of course, but in the big picture? Everything's basically fine.

The problem? I don't know how to do "fine." I was born into "complicated" and so it is "complicated" that I have always been comfortably uncomfortable with. "Complicated" snaps at you all day, every day but hands you a nice to-do list each and every morning. "Complicated" keeps you plenty busy.

"Fine" gives you peace, quiet, and the freedom to choose. "Fine" wakes you up in the morning and asks you what you'd like to do with your time, your money, and your skills. For a person who has spent their entire life being "complicated?" It's "fine" that f***s you up.

In this clean, quiet space there has suddenly been time to listen to the things I tell myself. " Without "complicated" to hand it to me the list I noticed I had begun to seek out all the reasons I could not possibly be o.k. Each morning, my failures fanned out in front of me on life's table like a deck of cards just begging me to choose one and jump back in the game.I revisited old mistakes and wondered if I was making new ones. I focused on what I didn't get done instead of the good work behind me each day.

I was in this place when I started keeping The Five Minute Journal. The theory behind the structure of The Five Minute Journal is that this kind of writing taps into the brain's RAS or reticular activation syndrome, changing how you look at the world. Ramdas says in the introduction,

"When you write 'What would make today great?' you're taking a step to influence your RAS to point out and engage in activities that would make your day better. You're building new pathways in your brain that allow you to 'see' what you can do to improve your well being every day...your mind [naturally] learns to improve your happiness. Doing this consistently gives you consistently better days."

I wouldn't say I had much invested in that theory when I started The Five Minute Journal. I was really just thinking it was easier than keeping a regular journal (and it is.) But two months on, I've noticed something. That constant inner chorus of disapproval has faded pretty significantly. I'm not saying that I think I'm "healed" or anything. It's there; I know it's there; the inner chorus of disapproval knows that I know it's there. But I just get on with it and it's fine.

Kind of like an age spot on your skin. You see it, you don't like the way it looks, but you have to just get on with life. You can't get rid of it. try, but your dermatologist says cutting it out will leave a scar. You could laser it but you'd have to keep coming back to deal with it, because it will never really go away. So if the choice is between keeping the age spot or having a scar that you have to cover with makeup or spending thousands of potential retirement dollars on IPL lasers over the course of a long life? Sometimes you just decide ignore the age spot and get on with it. Depending on the age spot. Lots of dermatological problems can be used as analogies for life's problems.

While I was out on a run a few weeks ago I experimented with this new knowledge. That old ways of thinking will never be completely suffocated, but I can acknowledge them when they pop up, then tamp them down and just get on with the business of being "fine." Somehow just recognizing that they're still there -- but not useful anymore --  just helped me. The Five Minute Journal played some role in this acceptance process that I can't entirely explain to you, but it did. And it continues to help me move toward being just "fine."

I recommend the book.



Small Steps Can Lead to Lasting Change

This radio piece is a helpful discussion of using small steps to create lasting change in your life. I wanted to share it here because I think that our moods have strong ties to the so-called "little things."

Sid Garza-Hillman is talking about healthy eating but the idea of "small step change" is applicable to almost everything in your life. The theory is that if you want to improve how you feel it may be as simple as changing a few very small things that are part of your every day.

It might be about what you eat but as far as I'm concerned this link is helpful from all kinds of perspectives. It's just as likely to be about how you spend your time or the clutter in your environment. I'm dealing with that - I live in a small house; I have too much stuff and we're remodeling. That's just such a bad combination.

I found consolation in knowing that Garza-Hillman has clients who can only take on an assignment to drink a glass of water every morning. He says that's a fine place to start.

I'm ready to start selling off some of my art work that is cluttering my house and trading in some books I need to admit that I will never, ever read. My small start is to put the books in a pile and to list the art on my etsy site. What do you need to start on?




Aromatherapy For The Winter Blues: $10 OFF Apathy™!

Apathy anti bad mood spray has aromatherapy essential oils helpful for season depression.
This week only! Apathy Anti-Bad-Mood Spray is just $15.99. This clean, bright scent will sharpen your mental focus and recharge your energy levels. Perfect, natural support for winter depression/Seasonal Affective Disorder/SAD.Relief in seconds - no aromatherapy burner required. Offer expires 1/31/2014.
Here are some ideas about how to use our products!


Help and Tips for Seasonal Winter Depression or SAD

I grew up in Minnesota. I'm an expert on winter depression. Looking back, I can see that my seasonal depression affected many, many areas of my life. Sorting through old papers, I found a stack of school report cards. The pattern was obvious even then. Each school year I started strong, bottomed out in the middle winter, and then concluded with a last, desperate rally in the spring.  Back in my day, we didn't really have a name for all of that. The natural and chemical cures for seasonal depression were pretty limited back then - and, in my family, the need for any kind of that kind of support went unrecognized. If we called it anything, we said that Heidi wasn't "trying hard enough."

It wasn't until I moved to Scotland that I became very conscious of SAD, and very deliberate about the ways in which I dealt with it. Minnesota was cold and dark, but Scotland brought the experience of cold and dark to an entirely new level. In the depths of winter Edinburgh doesn't see the sun rise until 9 a.m. and it begins to set at 3 p.m. On a blustery, rainy day it could feel as if the sun never came out at all. But I still had to go about my business. I had a husband. Graduate school. A job. It was during this time that I tried everything I could possibly think of to help me cope with the winter blues, and during this time that I found several things that seem to help me a great deal. I still use these methods today:


1) Light Therapy.

Light therapy boxes help winter depression or SAD.


Light therapy makes an incredible difference. At first you think, I don't need to spend $150 on this thing and then you get so desperate that you do and there's no looking back. If you don't have one - get one. I sit in front of the light box each morning while I'm drinking coffee and I spend about 15 minutes in front of it before I get on with the day. The box in the picture is the one I own but I'm not going to link to it because I think the legs are rickety and, therefore, I don't feel like I want to recommend it. There are lots of them out there but if you're going to get one, get the biggest one you can afford. I cannot vouch for the small desktop versions - maybe someone else can? And don't get confused. The light box is not a tanning booth, and a tanning booth will not give you the anti-depression benefits you are hoping for. It will just give you brown spots and cancer.


2) Exercise.


Exercise will help SAD or Winter Depression.


Just look how happy that chick in the picture is! But seriously, folks. Go to the gym. Drag yourself there with the promise that you'll sit in the steam room afterward. Whatever it takes. But regular exercise will help your winter depression (and other kinds of depression). Walk the dog in the middle of the day. Find a way to get outside the office at lunch (run errands?)


3) Massage.


 Massage will help winter depression.


I know, I know. You can't afford a massage AND a light box. Maybe you can't afford either one. But can you afford to let your life slide into the toilet because you're depressed? No. When you're exhausted, achy, and depressed - a good massage can work wonders.


4) Aromatherapy.


Apathy anti bad mood spray has aromatherapy essential oils helpful for season depression.


Aromatherapy is a form of natural support for winter depression. I first learned to use (and blend) essential oils when I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. I made a version of what I now call Apathy™ Anti-Bad-Mood Spray and used it constantly. My colleagues joked that all the papers coming out of my office were scented with herbs. The product I sell here is a light version - helpful for you but not as intense as my old recipe - and easy to use. No aromatherapy burner required. At $25, the anti-apathy spray is the price of two martinis on South Beach and will last you six months if you use it every day. I spray it into the mist of the shower each morning to sharpen my mind before the work day begins. It's also helpful after lunch or even in the car.


5) Anti-Depressant Medications.


anti-depressant can help seasonal depression or SAD.

If you are unable to improve your mood with exercise and alternative treatments, don't be afraid to talk to your doctor. If you don't feel comfortable talking to your doctor about depression, find another doctor. It's very, very common and lots of folks are struggling just as you are. You might find a low dose of an anti-depressant very helpful. As the years go by, I think it is harder and harder for many people to rebound from seasonal depression. In the spring you are left with the detrius of SAD - unfinished work, weight gain, whatever - and dealing with that stuff can prolong your suffering and carry over into the spring and summer. Ask yourself if it is worth it, big picture, to cycle through this every year and talk to your doctor about what might be done about it. Untreated depression affects your life on so many levels and has been proven to damage areas of the brain critical for health and well being. A healthy mind is critically important for maintaining lifelong physical health - you don't have to suffer.


6) Do stuff.


Force yourself to do things you enjoy even in bad weather.


Force yourself. I learned this the hard way in Scotland. The Scottish winter will break your heart. You'll be half way to work and it will start to rain (sideways) so hard that your pockets fill with water and your trousers are soaked to the knees. I have hung my socks on the office radiator ALL DAY and still found them damp at 4 p.m. But, on the same token, if you wait for nice weather in Scotland, you'll be waiting forever. Food must be purchased. You have to catch the bus to work. So you get yourself the tools you need (wax jacket, super-powered umbrella, waterproof shoes) and just GO. The same holds true for winter everywhere else. Get what you need to be warm and dry and then get out there. Go to a museum. A movie. Meet friends for dinner. Do something fun in the snow. At least once a week.

I could go on and on. But these are my main strategies for coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. I use my Apathy Anti-Bad-Mood aromatherapy spray every day. And I exercise. And sit in front of my light box. As recently as this morning. What do you do to cope with seasonal depression? I'd love to hear your tips and tricks!




Coffee is a Miracle Drink: Health Benefits of Coffee.

Coffee has health benefits and may even prevent suicide!


Research coming from Harvard University's School of Public Health links coffee to a decreased risk of suicide. I mean...duh.

But I'm devoted to my cups. And I know it makes me a better person. Or at least a better version of the person I am without it. I've worked out that I don't even have to actually drink it to be in a better mood. Simple smelling coffee makes me happy. Holding the hot cup in my hands improves my mood.

Many, many friends have tried to get me to quit over the years and all of them have volunteered their support (many of them deciding to get up early to make me a pot) after seeing me go without caffeine. I don't actually drink ALOT of coffee. I usually just have a super-strong cup first thing in the morning and I'm good for the day.

Others don't ask me to quit, but subtly suggest that coffee has health risks. They talk in front of me at dinner parties about how much better they feel since they stopped drinking it. For those people, I politely disagree then aggressively post findings on Facebook from major research institutions who report that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart failure, liver disease, and better outcomes when negotiating depression. It's good for migraines, has been linked to improved athletic performance, and...and...

Coffee is a miracle drink. It's just *good* for you. You can say you read that here.




30 Ways to Improve Your Life


I read when I'm looking for life inspiration. I found this article, 30 Life-Enhancing Things You Can Do in 30 Minutes or Less and thought I'd share it with anti-bad-mood spray customers. The idea is that completing some or all of these activities will have a positive emotional impact on your life - and we all need that, right?

By coincidence, I completed a couple of similar items this year and I've been really surprised by how much happiness those activities have brought to my life. I signed up for a class on Behavioral Economics, taught by Dan Ariely. I loved every minute of it. I watched the video lectures while I packaged anti-bad-mood sprays and did the readings in the evening. I absorbed an incredible amount of information and months later I am still thinking about what I learned and looking for ways to apply it in my arts consulting business.

I also started a new DIY project - staining a new fence and hand-building a retaining wall in the back yard. The retaining wall was such a small project that I had a hard time getting a landscaper interested. Finally, a friend encouraged me to strike out and try doing it on my own. I felt like such a grownup when I went to purchase a pallet of rock by myself! (I'm still 19 in my head.) My husband has helped alot with this project and it's been hard work but also great fun. Our house was built in 1866 and we became amateur archaelogists as we dug down through the layers of dirt. We found dozens of hand-forged nails; lots of broken pieces of glass and china; a 1911 nickel; a 1945 wheat penny; glass marbles and a heart-shaped padlock with an eagle crest similar to this one. The yard is looking really good and we have really enjoyed our time together poking around in the dirt. A good relationship isn't all about going out to dinner. Sometimes it involves a metal detector and a giant can of bug spray.

Those two activities have greatly improved my year - and I wouldn't have expected how much enjoyment I got out of both. Particularly since I more-or-less stumbled into them. What brings you happiness? What have you tried and found, almost by surprise, that you love to do?


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