Category Archives: Self Improvement
Posted on October 26, 2016 in Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski
Keep your body fast, fit and flexible to stay happy and healthy as you age.
Exercise just may be the magical key that unlocks happiness. Science tells us that exercise improves mood, fights depression, enhances quality of sleep, reduces stress and prevents disease. And according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise,regular exercise can actually slow the aging process. If you are north of 40, keep your body strong and your energy up with our best exercise advice.
1. Choose something you love
If you see exercise as a chore, you are less likely to experience its benefits because you probably won’t stick with it in the long-term. Find an exercise you love and you don’t have to go in search of your motivation. No one has to drag you out of bed to do something you love. Experiment until you find a type of exercise that makes you happy.
The feel-good emotions can also help you stick with exercise long-term. In his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, writes, “When we begin exercising, we almost immediately begin releasing dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Those are all neurotransmitters that deal with feelings of reward, alertness, contentment and feelings of wellbeing.”
What to do: What exercise did you love as a child? Use your answer as inspiration to find an exercise you love as an adult. Ride a bike. Go for a hike. Swim laps or try water aerobics. Take up Pilates or the newest class at your gym.
READ THE REST OF MY ARTICLE on LIVE HAPPY!
We spend so much of our lives at work. When you dread your job and you find yourself clock-watching, that unhappiness can easily spill over to life outside of work. Whether you are in need of a career shift or a complete makeover, here are seven amazing books to change your work life. Turn your passion into your profession. These top titles will make you rethink your work goals and start on a clear new path.
By Charles Duhigg
Journalist Charles Duhigg explores how you can get more done without having to sacrifice what you care about most. Strengthen your internal locus of control (self-accountability). Researchers have found that this sense of personal responsibility is correlated with academic success, higher self-motivation, lower incidences of stress and depression and a longer life span. Practice this learned skill by taking actions that put you in control and express your values.
When we think about something that has the power to change our lives, we usually think big: a new job, a move across country, a relationship beginning or ending. Sometimes something small but meaningful can change the trajectory of our lives, such as a powerful book, a movie or even a gift.
It may be surprising, but even a question—complex, pointed, and mulled over with care—can change the direction of your life. Take a look at the 10 questions below and see if one or two of them resonate with you.
1. Am I really happy right now?
We have a tendency to put our happiness on hold by telling ourselves, “When I get married I will be happy,” or, “When I graduate, I will be happy,” when we could permit ourselves to be happy now and enjoy each day, says Dr. Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness At Work and head of The Rao Institute. As a second part to this question, he suggests asking yourself:What is keeping me from being happy at this instant?
Read the rest of this article on Live Happy:
Change happens. Be prepared with a resilient mindset.
Our lives are a series of transitions. The weekend eventually ends and Monday comes. We get married. Summer becomes fall. Vacation ends and we have to go back to work. We happily anticipate milestones such as graduating from college, getting a job or buying a new house. But once an experience ends, our mood can take a dip.
Is it possible to navigate change with a sense of resilience while remaining happy? The experts weigh in:
1. Realize transitions are a matter of perspective
“There is no such thing as positive or negative transition; it fully depends on the way you think,” says Michael Mantell, Ph.D., a San-Diego based psychologist and the author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: P.S. It’s All Small Stuff.
“If it weren’t for transitions, we wouldn’t move, change, be agile or face new opportunities … So I never, ever regret having to return to work. Instead, I always think, ‘Wow, what a great vacation this work gave me the opportunity to take, and how grateful I am for the vacation and the job.’ ” If you dread coming back to work, you are setting yourself up for depression and anxiety, he says.
Susan Fletcher, Ph.D., a Dallas-based psychologist, says accepting life’s inevitable ups and downs can make transitions easier. “Peaks and valleys are to be expected,” the Working in the Smart Zone author says. “That doesn’t mean the good times are always vacation and the bad times are everything else. Even on vacation, we can have the same kind of stress we have in our ordinary life.”
The key, Susan says, is knowing what works for you. “I need one full day to power down to go on vacation, so I don’t ever take a 6 a.m. flight to get the most out of vacation because then I am worthless when I get there.” Instead, she schedules midday flights and makes the journey part of the experience, stopping for lunch with her kids, playing cards on the plane and preparing to have fun when they arrive.
The same is true at the end of the trip: If you need to, take a day to decompress and do laundry, buy groceries and open mail instead of returning the night before you go back to work.
Posted on February 25, 2015 in Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski
Today I am 45 and fit, but I spent a good chunk of my life overweight. My weight was like a roller coaster because I never took control of it. I’ve always loved exercise, but I also love food—and I used food to comfort myself way too many times. (Picture it: Alone in my apartment, Golden Girls reruns, a pint-size of ice cream, me and a spoon.) And that was probably after a heaping plate of spaghetti with lots of Parmesan cheese covering the sauce. What finally clicked for me? I saw a picture of myself on the beach on Cape Cod.
This one: (the dreaded before picture)
That picture was my wake-up call. It’s amazing what you don’t see looking in the mirror every day.
(the after picture)
I’ve learned so much on my journey to get fit … I wrote about it on Get Healthy U, the website for national fitness trainer Chris Freytag. Read the entire story here:
What I’d Say to My Overweight Self.
Yes, you might just find me in the morning picking up Cheerios off the floor and smashed banana pieces off my clothes. I turn my back for two seconds and my 17-month girls have found a way to dump water out of their sippy cups or make each other giggle by throwing food on the floor. Life is fun chaos … for sure.
With twins, my hubby, working from home, exercise, sleep (what’s that?) and all the usual life-maintenance stuff, I finally squeezed in a moment to share a bit of news with you! I recently started writing for MindBodyGreen. If you haven’t heard of MBG (say what?) it’s an awesome personal growth and wellness site! Check out my three latest articles below!
And thanks in advance for reading/commenting/sharing!
Gotta go now, I think I hear a baby waking up from an afternoon nap.
The 4 Best Lessons I Learned From Seeing A Therapist in My 20s
When I saw a psychologist for depression in my 20s, he told me I could win the hurt Olympics. My butt landed in that recliner chair across from him every Wednesday for an hour so I could stop the cycle of hurt. READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE: The 4 Best Lessons I Learned From Seeing A Therapist In My 20s
5 Signs You Are With the Wrong Person
Before I met my prince of a husband, I dated this guy I can’t even think about for two seconds without cringing. READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE: 5 Signs You’re With The Wrong Person
9 Tips to Save Your Marriage From Being Totally Boring
I heard once that people spend more time planning their wedding than their marriage. It stuck with me because it defies logic. Why spend more time planning a single day than the decades of marriage to follow? READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE: 9 Tips To Save Your Marriage From Being Totally Boring
Thanks for reading! Talk to you on the next send! – Sandra
Our twin girls just turned one. I am not sure if we should jump for joy or collapse on the couch. We’ve become masters of “your turn” middle of the night baby handoffs. Tired is no longer a temporary condition, but something you live with like your right arm. I am not a whiner, but I wish I counted how many times I’ve picked up and redirected two babies speed crawling opposite directions toward outlets, cat food, and the fireplace. My lower back knows. And, BTW, two new tiny people live in our house. OMG. No pressure! We are only responsible for how they turn out.
Anywho, it was a magical year of twin baby firsts, emotional firsts for me, and some pretty hilarious moments. Here’s a look back …
My water broke at 6 a.m. January 11, 2013 and I said, “Uh, Reed, we have a problem.” He jumped out of bed thinking something happened to our old cat.
My baby shower was the next day. Oops.
I felt compelled to shower and put make up on after my water broke.
As we dashed around grabbing things for the hospital, I told Reed to grab the car seats. At 33 weeks to the day, he knew we wouldn’t need the car seats anytime soon. He also knew he didn’t want to have that conversation with his wife in labor.
Pre-epidural felt like some kind of hell. Post-epidural felt like a day at a very cold spa.
January 11, 2013, late Friday afternoon, we welcomed Sydney at 4:43 p.m. and Riley at 5:07 p.m. Each weighed four pounds.
Two days later, discharge day from the hospital for me, I returned home no longer pregnant and with empty arms. It felt like the worst kind of emptiness.
A NICU nurse said, “Think of it like this … you have a team of the most expensive babysitters.”
Sara, my sister, made the transition home easier by using her key to fill our house with baby shower gifts, cards, balloons, homemade veggie soup and bread, and champagne on ice.
Knowing the benefits of breast milk I started pumping because the girls were too premature to breastfeed. The breast pump is a ridiculous-looking contraption (like something Lady Gaga would wear) that’s been attached to me six to seven times a day, around the clock, for a year. As one mom put it, “Now I know what it feels like to be a human food truck.”
My mom planned to live with us for three months to help out with the girls. The pre-scheduled day of her flight? The day the girls were born! Thank you universe.
The first three weeks I learned terms and things I didn’t want to know … baby bilirubin levels, apnea episodes, feeding tubes, wires, beeping monitors, caffeine in IV and isolettes.
Every morning and evening, weaving our way through a large NICU, we saw couples huddled around teensy babies. Some were praying and hoping their babies make it. Doctors told us it was just about “feeding and growing” for Sydney and Riley. We never forgot to be grateful.
My appetite was so ravenous from being a human milk factory that I was disappointed when we no longer lived at the hospital with the daily access to a buffet of food–from pizza to sushi.
As preemies, the girls had to pass a car seat test in order to be discharged home. It was scary to see how tiny they were in their car seats.
On February 2, 2013 the girls came home, both on apnea monitors.
We all took turns doing middle of the night feedings, Reed, my mom, me. We all were so sleep deprived my mom put on her glasses in the middle of the night only to discover they were her sunglasses.
Another time, Reed told my mom to wake him up in ten minutes when the bottles were warm so he could help. Reed woke up three hours later and asked my mom if the bottles were ready.
We are forever grateful to my mom for those first not-so-easy months. Who volunteers to wake up at all hours of the night to help with crying babies on a three-month leave of absence from work? My mom!
With my hormones pinging off the walls post-birth, and with little sleep, I had a few moments wondering if I ruined our fun lives.
Smiley Riley dances on her own, has radar for where her daddy is in the house and loves snuggles and cuddles. She is the messiest eater, putting baby food in her hair.
Sydney is so chill, except when she is shrieking because Riley took one of her toys. She loves to figure toys out and is so ticklish. She is so gentle petting the cat.
Everyone always told me you don’t know what it feels like to love like a mom until you are a mom. I finally get it. As they sleep, I stare into their cribs and feel immeasurable love. Author Elizabeth Stone said it best: Deciding to have a baby is “to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
I love Reed’s face as the he holds or plays with the girls.
I love it when the girls make each other giggle.
Waking up in the morning to two girls who smile ear-to-ear and dance side-to-side in their cribs has to be one of the best ways to start the day ever.
Having the most kind and loving friend/nanny/neighbor to watch the girls at our home while we work is something we are thankful for daily.
Having the girls taught me so much:
Wake up every day happy.
It’s not about me.
Get ready for unsolicited input.
Read baby books before you give birth. You won’t have time after.
Take time to play.
Hugs are the best.
Love is limitless.
A nap can solve a lot.
Never again will you take silence for granted.
Strangers are friendlier when babies are present.
Trust your instincts.
I love sleep.
Never will you be more motivated to be your best self and live your best life so you can be the best example for your children.
Nothing matters as much as family.
And lastly, it isn’t double the trouble, it’s double the blessings.
There is a saying that people change for one of two reasons … they either learn enough that they want to, or they hurt enough so they have to. Many times I’ve made the decision to deliberately change—for both reasons. When life sucks, it’s a teacher and a motivator.
At the time, the guy I was dating was a dud. He had all the warning signs. He bragged about his bachelor status, he thought the ladies loved him, and he owned like two pieces of furniture. Oh, and my friends disliked him immensely.
Then there was my job. I was a health care editor with cool perks (like lots of travel—Vegas Baby!), but the company I worked for in Dallas was bought out by a company in California. Coworkers/friends walked by my office with their careers in a box. My job was safe (so they said), but I also was spending too much money. Job insecurity and over-spending? Not a brilliant combo for my future.
I was overweight. Self-medicating with Ben & Jerry’s and Lifetime movies in my solo apartment wasn’t doing a lot for my waistline. Eating to ease the 30-something, life-isn’t-going-as-I-thought-it-would blues, made me more blue.
In short, my life was kind of messy. So, I did what I always do in times of mini-crisis. I grabbed my journal. I jotted down the current state of things. I wasn’t wimpy about it. I gave my life a review like a movie critic. I didn’t gloss over the unattractive parts. I knew yours truly was responsible.
Then I sketched out my ideal life on a piece of paper. What would my life look like if I loved it? I was determined to shove my life from My Life Sucks to My Life Rocks … and fast. Soon I learned a lesson that stuck: We all have incredible influence over our lives with the decisions we make, and don’t make, each day.
Today, life is much different. I am married to the man of my dreams. We have beautiful twin daughters. I love being an entrepreneur with my own biz, and the freedom of working from home with a flexible schedule is divine. Oh, and we live in a town where people take vacations—so it’s no accident that sometimes our life feels like one.
Life changes when we change. There is power in knowing you can rewrite your life script. For me, I had to stop living for fun in the moment and map out my next steps. I had to wake myself up from the denial that happens when you choose the comfort of familiarity over what you really want. I got clear and brutally honest with myself on the life I desired. (I turned what I wanted into a list I read each morning over coffee.) It worked. Here are some more tips that worked …
Be willing to take a hard look. Be willing to step outside of your life and give it your best critique. Change won’t happen if you deny or ignore those little whispers that tell you something isn’t right. “Your willingness to look at your darkness is what empowers you to change,” as Iyanla Vanzant says. The uncomfortable part of change is short-lived—and the benefits are long-lasting.
Know everything can change. Don’t get so used to the way things currently are that you forget things can be completely different. Life doesn’t have to be about getting by, getting through or plodding along. It can be about thriving. Sketch out your ideal life. Is your current life close to your ideal vision? If not, what decisions do you have to make to get there? Formulate your action plan. Don’t choose familiarity over risk at the expense of your own happiness.
Forget the wait for the weekend mentality. If you are waiting for the weekend, something in your life needs to change. Why dread five days of the week and only look forward to two? Design your life so you don’t dread a day of the week. Life shouldn’t be spent waiting for the two days that begin with the letter S.
Get a job you don’t dread. Sure, you may have to drag your butt to a job you dread to pay the bills, but if that’s how you feel, devote some time to changing your job. I don’t care if the job market is tough, reinvention is possible. Don’t get stuck doing what you’ve always done if it wipes the smile off your face five days a week. Find something you are more passionate about. Consider entrepreneurship and positioning your strengths to work for yourself. Own your own time. No more depressing Monday Facebook posts for you!
Set your life up like a vacation. Oh, I’m big on this one. I love Seth Godin’s quote: “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” Okay, I may not be sitting around under a palm tree, sipping Pina Coladas, and flipping through a favorite magazine, but I do LOVE my life. I love our ordinary days. I deliberately do things to make life more like a vacation.
Purposefully choose where you live. I grew up in the snowbelt outside Syracuse and that’s why I moved South. Warm temps and sunshine make me happy. I like climates where people can dine outside almost year round.
Be in the right relationship. Finding the right person may not be easy, but knowing you have the right person is easy. Just ask yourself one question: Does your significant other make your life better?
Improve your ratio of excitement to dread. How can you get more exciting moments on your day and how can you reduce the dread? Make a dread list if you have to and make it your mission to make the list shorter. A great way to get more excitement is to fill your calendar with events and plans that make you excited with anticipation—a big contributor to happiness.
Connect to what you love doing. Don’t get so busy living life that you forget to do the things you love most. When is the last time you checked to see if the things you love doing the most are showing up on your monthly, weekly and daily calendar? Notice what resonates with you. On the days you are the happiest, what are you doing?
Don’t defer your happiness by waiting for vacation, waiting for the weekend or waiting for your life to change. You can change your life dramatically when you change the one thing you control—YOU.
Have you ever noticed people try and age you? When I was a kid and acting in a way my mom didn’t like, she’d say: “You are almost (fill in any age here)!” Meaning I was too old to be behaving the way I was behaving. It didn’t matter that my Birthday was just a few months back and I wasn’t almost “X.”
Then there’s my dad. He almost suffered the big one with my single status in my thirties. I didn’t follow his tidy view of how life is supposed to unfold: college, marriage in your twenties, career, and babies. Mine was more like: college, waitressing, handful of guys my dad didn’t like, career, marriage and babies. Sure, my dad brags to people about my national writing gigs, but at a recent wine tasting, he asked a table of strangers: “Can you believe my daughter didn’t get married until she was 41?” as he shook his head from side to side.
Today I’m blissfully married with twin baby girls and now people want me to enter menopause. I am open about my age and how marriage and babies didn’t happen for me until I hit my forties. (Gasp!) So now, even the slightest mention of a fluctuation in my body temperature or whining about an irregular cycle and suddenly people whisper: Is it menopause … do you think?
No, I don’t think. It’s not menopause. I am only 43.
And if I dare say those words, soon I am listening to a story about someone who knows someone who hit menopause early. Thank you for that uplifting story. I am sure night sweats, hot flashes and mood swings are waiting for me, but what’s with the rush?
Some people ask me if I dye my hair and when did I notice my first gray hair. Really? Is this the riveting conversation people in their thirties can look forward to? If my grandparents are any indication, I could live another 40 plus years. This isn’t what I want to talk about. Oh, and newsflash, I don’t have any grey hairs yet thank you very much.
Others ask: Is your hair thinning out as you get older? That’s cheerful. Uh, no. I don’t currently clip in fake hair, but as soon as I do I will be sure to do a public Facebook post.
Then I get the warnings from some well-meaning peeps about running. Forget that it’s one of my favorite things to do, how it keeps me in shape and how I placed top in my age group in a couple of 5Ks. Nope, I don’t get people cheering my passion. Instead, I get free public service announcements about how hard running can be on your body and how it might lead to runner’s knee or stress fractures.
Okay people, you are totally depressing me now. I get it. None of us make it out alive. If I listened to other people, my vision of my life would be a menopausal woman with thinning gray hair, hot flashes and a running injury.
If you must know, I think about getting a little Botox in between my eyebrows. I call it my crease of confusion—wrinkles from my puzzled face—wondering why people aren’t kinder to one other. I’ll be old soon enough damn it. Meanwhile, let me live. And quit trying to age me.
The best gift you can give to your children is not your time. It is not books. It is not college funds. It is not the best private school. It is not the biggest Pinterest-themed Birthday parties. It is not your amazing cooking. It is not your immaculate house. It is not your crazy-good multitasking skills. It is not putting your kids first. The best gift you can give to your kids is your own happiness. I know because I grew up with a mom who was sad.
My mom couldn’t have kids so she adopted my sister and me, but that didn’t heal her sadness. She never fixed herself from her own devastatingly crappy childhood so she repeated the pattern with us. Most of my memories of my mom involve her sitting at the kitchen table, smoking, complaining, drinking, and yelling at us. She didn’t act like she liked us. The most devastating part for me—now that she’s gone—is to think of what could have been. This is a woman who looked beautiful when she dressed up. She had a bubbly, quirky personality that would sometimes emerge from the sadness. When she was kind, she was really kind. But that side of her didn’t show up often enough.
She never got over not being able to get pregnant and have babies. She never got over not finishing college like my dad did. She never talked about, processed or fixed her childhood that involved violence and secrets. Secrets she said she’d tell my sister and me about one day. That day never arrived. She had a father and a brother I never met. I finally saw some glimmers of true happiness in her late 60s and 70s. My sister’s boys—her grandsons—brought her happiness. My dad, retired, brought her happiness. Then she got cancer. She didn’t want to die. Death took her anyway.
Sometimes now I wish I knew—as a child—how to change things for her, even if it wasn’t my job. Back then I was only consumed with navigating my own survival in the crazy chaos that went on inside our postcard-looking home. It’s hard to console yourself with your mom’s death when you can’t tell yourself that your mom had a great life.
I watched my mom cry more times than I can count. I watched her take naps during the day. I listened to her rants. I heard her crying upstairs in her bedroom. I watched her quit numerous jobs. I watched her argue with my dad. I told myself early that it was bullshit and the cycle would stop with me.
I knew as a kid that there was no way I’d come out of that childhood intact so I sought counseling in my early twenties. I was in talk therapy weekly to dig myself out of depression’s grip and to end the pattern of craziness and sadness. I told myself I’d do it without medicating. I watched my mom medicate with alcohol and I wanted to fix myself without any type of pill or substance. Plus, I learned the difference between feeling better and getting better, and I wanted to get better. I did it with talk therapy, writing and processing. And it worked.
Now that I am a mom, I think my number one job to create a happy home and lead by example. I think it’s my job to be a happy person so I can be a healthy mom. I think it’s my job to have a happy relationship with my husband so we can be healthy parents. I think it’s my job to be happy, create happy moments, smile, laugh and exude positivity that fills up our house. It’s my job to live authentically happy—no matter what it takes.
I think it’s my job because I know my girls will be watching.
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