What to do when comes the inevitable return of dissatisfaction and you fall off the wagon

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When I was flying to the East of France to meet up with my boyfriend and his family during the break, I had a distinct moment of clarity (as it often hits me flying thousands of meters up in the air…). I was truly happy and content with my life and what I had created and accomplished. I thought to myself, if I died today and left the life I have, I would have no regrets and was sure I lived an extraordinary life. 

Now, here’s the next thought that popped in to my head after the amazing Aha moment : «Aw shit, things can only get worse from here…» 

It may seem absurd, like I was setting up my own downfall, but almost instantly, the moment I landed back home, the peace and rest of the vacation got sweapt away by a new feeling that wasn’t there before I left : the dissatisfaction brought about from all the stress of my daily life and routines. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the life I have now! I love all the students I have that leave me inspired, amazed and challenged. I love that I’m working on a wonderful (albeit challenging) musical project with two amazing musicians for school, I love that I have this blog and another creative challenge on the run, that I have a wonderful, supportive family and boyfriend, that I’m getting fit and healthy…

The good and the amazing outweighs any of my “problems” 10 to 1 in my life… And YET…

From all time high, to holiday blues, to dissenchantment and frustration

What happened? Why did the inspiring, motivating life, work and routine I had set up, suddenly start to feel like hard and exhausting work? It wasn’t because all hell had broken loose in my absence. Things were quite the same as before I had left in fact. Simply, I lost all the momentum I had built up and along with it most of my motivation. 

I realized after my initial high brought by the novelty of accomplishing personal challenges, getting new students, starting a new course or musical project, all of it became routine in the most tragic sense that it started to become an automated act and I was getting disconnected from the experience.

I got so caught up into the doing the challenges that I lost sight of how it was actually making me feel and the toll it was putting on me physically perhaps.

And that is when the slow descent back into the old rusty habits started again. I found myself hitting snooze before I could even say Yoga or meditation. I lost the consistancy and discipline I built up before and I felt horribly guilty and upset with myself which brought on even more fatigue and frustration and discouragement…

And the cycle goes on…

All about cycles

We get this idea of growth and personal development needs be linear and constant. We should continuously improve and life gets better and better all the time. But we forget that life is a series of ups and downs and that most days we simply plateau nearer to the top or bottom side of the scale. Whether it be a high or a low, This too shall pass…

We forget that life isn’t a race at all. It’s not a sprint, it’s not a marathon. It’s a journey and not only are we allowed to take time off once in a while but that we need to do so for our own mental and emotional well being and to be able to continue on the journey.

Often I noticed I was expecting constant discipline, growth and efficiency on my part in all my challenges because I just wanted to reap the fruits of success that came from these challenges. Yet I often forgot that failure is a great part of the cycle of success and that the two inevitably go hand in hand. My shortcomings can teach me more about self discipline and how to improve it than any blog or talk can if I let them…

The best I can do is learn from the experiences and mistakes, stop beating myself up, practice selfcare by honouring my cycles of rest, ups and downs, and get back to it, one small step at a time…

More posts and updates to come on this =)

Your environment is EVERYTHING!

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Baby steps add up to become great leaps

I have to admit that I’m amazed by a lot of great changes in my life that happened since the start of 2017 through a series of small personal challenges which I’ve blogged probably a little too much about (see links below…)! In a little over 3 months , I’ve kept and built over half of my resolutions so far:

  • I started waking up consistently at 7am every morning. As an added bonus, the first thing I do every morning is drink a glass of water when I wake up.
  • I’ve been meditating daily for the past 60 days now following my 30 day Meditate or Chocolate challenge I did with a friend of mine.
  • With that same friend, we began a fitness challenge, running together at least once a week (we’ve bumped up to twice a week now and hopefully by May, we can be ready for the Brussels 20km.)
  • Other than running, I’ve started a regular home yoga practice with free yoga videos I find on YouTube (check out the Yoga with Adriene videos which are really fun and light and motivating). I still haven’t gotten around to fitting a real yoga course into the mix but that will come shortly hopefully.
  • For the month of March, I’m doing a daily writing challenge with the same friend yet again who is for her part, doing a daily drawing challenge this month.
  • You’ve heard all about my 30 day Impro and creation challenge!
  • AAAAAND as an added bonus, in the spirit of Lent, I decided to go vegetarian for 40 days.

Stop… Breathe… Ok WOOOOW!!! Sorry, I don’t want to brag but I’m truly baffled really at how many habits I actually managed to implement and for the most part, I’ve been able to stick to them up to now (hopefully fast forward 9 months from now, I’ll be able to say the same thing). How do you ask was I able to perform this Herculean task (a true first for me in my short lived life)? I’m no wonder woman believe me, but clearly, there’s something I’ve done differently this start of year and here’s what!

3 small changes in your environment to jump start your other lifestyle changes!

Physically reorganizing and creating space

After planning out the changes I wanted and writing down my New Years resolution, I simply started physically creating space in my environment to help me commit to these changes.

At first, the changes in my physical environment were barely noticeable and I wasn’t really doing it consciously. For example, when I started waking up at 7am every morning, I noticed how much I loved that snooze button on my alarm so I decided to put my phone far away from my bed to force myself to get out of bed in the morning. When starting my yoga practice, I put out yoga clothes the night before and sometimes I even went to bed in my yoga pants to be sure I would have no excuse not to do yoga the next morning… These are just small examples that really helped me.

Being inspired by my mom who was also in a cleaning and reorganizing frenzy this year, I also began to clean and reorganize my room, desk, library and space around my piano. I even ended up moving mye electric keyboard into my room. I decluttered and rearranged continuously a little at a time my whole environment and every time, I created a place for me to work on my habits.

Now, every morning when I wake up, the keyboard is the first thing I see and it reminds me of my commitment to improvising and creating daily (and it means I have no excuse not to do it because my headphone let me play at any time day or night…) Every night before I go to bed, I see also my small diary sitting on my clear desk calling for me to write even just one small line.

When you transform your environment so that it empowers you to make the important changes in your life,  you find less resistance, you find less excuses, you also make it a bit harder to fall back into your old patterns.

My room

Transforming your social environment and creating a support and accountability system

As you noticed in the list above, I haven’t really gone at it alone when making most of these small changes in habits. Making small changes for yourself is great but it often gets really hard because if you only commit to yourself, when you do slip, you are the only one that knows it. The only person you disappoint is yourself and let’s face it, we are so used to not living up to all that we say we’ll do, we usually get over self disappointment pretty easily… Especially if we just arbitrarily decide to make the commitment to ourselves and we don’t share it with anyone or we do share it with others but just occasionally act on it. Eventually we forget what we say if we don’t commit or act.

For me, the first step was putting my commitments in writing. It was already an important one because it made the changes I wanted for myself all the more real and it also allowed me to see if they were actually realistic or not. And the next most important step was committing to others if needed. For every single one of these challenges, I created some form of support and accountability system whether it be with an App, or a friend, or a family member. That way, when I did slip (and I still do quite often…),  I’d have a system that allowed to catch me and bounce back.

I use a habit Tracker App , as well as another app called Fabulous Day to track my progress and set up a motivating morning routine. I already talked about Insight Timer for meditation which is really great of course you know all about my great friend with whom I do fun motivating goofy challenges and with whom I go running out in the grey rainy parks of Brussels (yes… It almost ALWAYS seems to be raining out when we go for a run…)

On a side note, I’ve started to see that since I’ve started my new degree in music writing, I’ve also completely changed my environment in a way and met a whole new set of people(including a few young composers) which has also inspired me to create and changed my view on composing and performing.

Changing your perception of your environment

Having my environment work for me instead of against me was already a great step forward so was getting  support and accountability from friends, but it wasn’t enough because I still had to fight the biggest Block to making any personal change : the mean green, lazy, procrastinating and self destructive voice in my head telling me “you’re just not good enough”, “you don’t have time to do this”, “one hour of sleep won’t do you any harm quite the contrary”, “you really don’t feel like getting out there in the cold miserable rain for a run do you?””You’ll just do it tomorrow”… Sound familiar to anyone?

Meditating has helped tremendously to listen and notice this continuous inner critique in my mind. I dare say it helped me silence it at times but let’s be honest, it will never be silenced, at least not for long enough. Mostly, meditation helped me listen beyond that little voice of mine and pursue what was important to me despite it. It allowed me to not let myself be stopped by those thoughts when they inevitably arose.

This step in fact is probably the first and most important step of all before transforming your physical and social environment but it also happens to be the hardest… But I will leave this idea for another day another post…

Hope you enjoyed and do leave a comment to let me know how you’ve changed your environment recently what changes that’s brought to your life!

 

 

 

Time is essence

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Today, I want to invite you to take the time to simply be. Often, we consider ourselves first to be human doings before human beings. In this day and age, we focus on getting things done, on being productive, on personal accomplishments before the experience of all these things in itself. 

We always race against time, sometimes we win, sometimes we lose letting procrastination get the best of us. We run around saying we never have time. In fact it’s true, time has us… We’re slaves to this grand clock called life and in fact, we may think we have control over our time but that is a complete illusion. We’re “granted” 24 hours everyday. No more no less. Same as everyone on this planet present and past : Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Victor Hugo, Thomas Edison. We don’t have control over how much time we get but only over our actions during the time we get… But somehow this idea doesn’t liberate us the way we’d expect it to because we end up putting more stress on ourselves to accomplish more more more. “Mozart at your age had already composed symphonies, operas and hundreds of other works! What have you been doing with your time?” Says the nasty voice inside of me. 

We associate time with doing. We never have enough time to get things done and we never do enough with the time we have. And the vicious cycle goes on until we reach the end of the rat race against time, exhausted by the struggle and sometimes feeling cheated by how fast time past us by. In the end, everyone loses the race against Time.

Instead of considering time as a gift you are given to use and consume productively, efficiently as much as you can, I want to invite you to consider Time as an experience. Be present to what it feels to be alive at any given time, be present to the emotions that arise when you’re with someone or when you are doing something. In the end, it’s the raw emotions more than the accomplishments that give our lives meaning.

Getting the creative juices running!

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Enough is enough

Arrrrgggghhhh… Creating is hard. Even writing a blog post sometimes just feels like climbing Mount Everest. Some days it just flows. On other days, it feels like words and ideas are floating in my mind yet when I try to structure them into a post, even into a sentence, all these ideas float away. How incredibly frustrating! But eventually some thoughts do catch up with my slow to type fingers and a little grit and inspiration gets the work out there like this one today (Yaaaay celebrate small victories in life).  Although, Sigh… Too bad for all my other snippets of wisdom and blog posts that just didn’t take form… *Yet*

I find myself in the same situation when writing music but it’s actually much worse. Often, once a small melody or idea starts to appear in my mind, before I even try to put it into music or writing… FEAR completely shuts it down. Even before the idea is planted has time to grow and mature into a work, it gets ripped out by the mean green “I’m not good enough” conversation going on in my mind. Not only is this frustrating but it’s absolutely crushing to know you feel you have something to express, share, create  deep inside and you just let it sit there and rot inside you.

Well my dear friends, this stops NOW! That is right, I’m done with wallowing in self pity, frustration, envy and Fear! I’ve decided I’m going to bring out all that Rotten Crappy Creative energy that’s been sitting inside of me for too long!

*Pause for dramatic effect*

Okay, now if we cut out the theatrical bullcrap : by “bring out the Rotten Crappy creative energy,” I mean acknowledge all those raw ideas (both musical and other), those unedited snippets of thought and inspiration I’ve always wanted to put out but never found “worthy” to be put down on paper… *yet*… I want to at least give them a chance and at least plant those seeds of inspiration. Even if nothing comes out of them, at least I would have given them a chance instead of letting them fall into complete oblivion.

“That’s nice… But how are you going to do that?”

Simple really… By setting up another great personal challenge 😀 (I’ve officially baptized 2017 to be the year of personal Challenges!)  : 15 minutes a day of free and recorded improv’s for 30 days. Whether good or bad, I just let the ideas flow and hopefully collect as much “creative data” as possible. Test out the seeds before selecting out the potential good ones… Who knows, a new masterpiece may come out of this challenge… (hem hem…) But most likely, nothing grand really but the most important thing that I hope to accomplish with this challenge is simply to finally start creating.

If you enjoyed this post and want to support me in this little experiment, like the post or leave a comment to let me know and who knows I may share one of my grand creations with you in a few days… 😉

 

 

 

A daily meditation challenge for chocolate lovers

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Today marks the end of a 30 day meditation challenge done with one of my best friends who also happened to be a chocolate addict! Our idea was simple. We would meditate at least 5 minutes everyday and if we missed a day, we would have to offer a chocolate or praline to the other friend. If we kept the challenge up for 30 days, our reward would be… you guessed it… CHOCOLATE!

To keep track, we used an App called Insight which tracks stats and offers thousands of free guided meditations. There is also a simple timer with optional bell ringing and background music. I love this App also for the fact that it also a “social media” part where we could message each other and see what the other has been up to. I even decided to join a group committed to meditating for 365 days!

Why this challenge worked so well for me

Friend’s support and accountability. I had tried to set this habit a few months back as a new year’s resolution last year but it had never really stuck. But challenging my friend worked wonderfully for me because I had someone to share my struggles and experiences with and we’d bother learn from each other. We had both discovered mindfulness and meditation in different contexts (I had followed a few seminars on using meditation to manage stress and anxiety on stage and be present during performances).

Diversity. Often the thought of sitting still and doing nothing but breathe for a few minutes a day is not the easiest or most exciting thing to try and do and often I’d feel bored and/or discouraged. However, the Insight App helped tremendously because it allowed me to discover countless different meditation techniques (guided mindfulness meditations, visualizations, breathing meditations, yoga meditations…) and to stay curious and excited about the process. I loved browsing through and experimenting with the different meditation sessions. If I started to feel overwhelmed by the vast array of choice, I would simply put the timer on and let the feelings pass although I found my mind would more easily wander if I simply relied on the timer. Another great plus about the App is it allowed me to keep track of how long I’ve been meditating and gave detailed daily, weekly and monthly stats of my different sessions (great for data lovers such as myself).

A good motivation to win the challenge. chocolate-meditation-challengeBelgium is the land of Chocolate, home to the best, richest, sweetest buttery and gooey delights on the planet (Sorry Switzerland… you and your purple cows simply can not compete)! This challenge was just meant to be another excuse to indulge in more goodie sweetness but in the end, I actually found I didn’t feel the constant want or need for this guilty pleasure anymore after I meditated. Instead of unconsciously swallowing my comfort food whole like I usually did, I found myself savouring a lot more the different flavours and enjoying every bite of chocolate when I did have some. So at the end of the challenge, instead of buying a big box of 30 pralines for each day I meditated (which might have left me feeling bloated and potentially nauseous…), I chose to reward myself with something different : 4 little pralines from a famous chocolate maker. I chose to celebrate this time quality over quantity, mindfulness over indulgence, one of the many lessons I learned from this small challenge.

What I learned from the experience

A lesson on perserverance. Some days I sucked at it, Some days I felt great about it. Some days, I felt I was racing against the clock trying to fit a meditation into my morning routine and other days, I’d have a feeling I was in sort of timeless place for a moment and I felt I needed to meditate. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to keep up with the challenge even if sometimes I did feel it became harder to be present to the moment the more I meditated. The hardest often was dealing with discomfort and practicing forgiveness when my mind did wander off.

A lesson on letting go. I found I would more easily let go of situations beyond my control after a few weeks of meditating. One truly amazing example to me was on a hectic day where I had important classes and appointments, every single one of the trains I took was late. I was running to every single one of my appointments trying to get there on time but when I was on the train experiencing lateness of the trains, instead of stressing and wallowing in anger about the situation, I simply got aware of the fact that regardless how I reacted or felt, I wouldn’t be able to make the trains move faster so I might as well enjoy my time in the train to read my book, send a few emails and be present to the situation. By some miracle that day, I actually made it to all my commitments just on time! Imagine, had I gotten pissed at the delayed trains like I always unconsciously do, I would’ve wasted a lot of my precious energy on anger and frustration towards a situation that in the end turned out just fine.

A lesson on self-care. I meditate because I feel good, because I feel bad, sometimes just because I feel too much…  I feel peaceful and free after I meditate. I found regardless if it went well or not, the simple fact of taking this time for myself everyday was a simple and wonderful act of self-love and self-care.

A message of wisdom

I finished these 30 days feeling inspired and grateful for the experience and I wanted to leave you with a beautiful poem I discovered on the Insight App often used as a quick simple and powerful meditation tool… Enjoy!

She Let Go

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.  She let go of the judgments.  She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.  She let go of the committee of indecision within her.  She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go.  She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go.  She let go of all of the memories that held her back.  She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.  She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

7 lessons from waking up at 7am everyday for 30 days

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A quick update on my resolutions so far

So, as I had shared in my first blog post of the year, I decided to start the year with a small number of fun resolutions, goals and new habits to try out each month. I’ve found putting them out in writing and actually sharing them with you guys (even if it is just with an intimate group of 10 people) really got me to take my resolutions more seriously and this month, I actually spent a long time planning them all out trying to find the best way to stick to all those challenges.

Initially, I just wanted to work on one habit a month but of course, as impatient as I am, I couldn’t help but start working on more than one of them at a time. But essentially, I only focused all my energy and discipline in the one hardest challenge I intended for January : waking up consistently at 7am. I considered the rest to be just a bonus and didn’t work on them as religiously. However, this month, I still managed to start a meditation challenge with one of my best friends (which I will write about in a future post once that challenge is complete) and the challenge of doing yoga on a regular basis at home (5 times a week) which has worked out quite well surprisingly since waking up early gave me a free time to start these habits.

How I set up the habit

I actually started the challenge 10 days after the start of the year when I came back from my vacation. It was really nothing fancy : I set up an alarm clock for 7am on my phone and decided to wake up at that time regardless of it was a week day or weekend. I also downloaded a habit tracker App on the Phone to keep myself accountable for. I just finished the habit waking up at or sometimes before 7am 26 times out of 30.

The struggles

The habit started out fine the first week then quickly became a long and difficult experience for different reasons :

  • Waking up early in the middle of winter is just bitch. Really. I hate waking up before sunrise and… it’s cold. So sooo cold. Who in their right mind would want to get out of their cosy flannel bedsheet and meditate or hop into yoga clothes or running gear?
  • Waking up early when you are at home is one thing but waking up early when you’re staying at a friends place or out on vacation is another. I realised, I couldn’t keep the same habits when I’m away somewhere which was fine but the real challenge for me was actually getting back into the routine after I came home.
  • Setting up a fixed alarm clock at 7am is great… Until you go out dancing all night until 6am one day! I really tried to be consistent this first month and attempted to wake up EVERYDAY but after a late night or two, it became harder and harder to keep at the habit because I couldn’t “catch up” on my sleep anymore like before. I started falling back asleep more frequently after the alarm clock rang from then on.
  • Distractions, distractions, distractions! On most mornings, I would get up with my phone at my side and I would either automatically hit the snooze button or just browse on my phone watching YouTube videos until almost 11 (thus really defeating the purpose of why I wanted to wake up early in the first place…)

Improving the tweaks

The challenge became more and more difficult as more and more fatigue started accumulating. 2/3 of the way into the challenge, I realized I would never stick to it if I continuously felt tired and shitty like this. So I decided to also set up an alarm clock at night and gave myself another challenge of going to bed every night by midnight. I must say, it’s been working fairly well. I noticed whenever I managed get to bed on time, waking up the next day was just a stroll in the park. It hasn’t actually been that challenging to sleep earlier because my body does feel tired at the end of the day.

I also started to put my phone to charge away from my bed which would force myself to get out of bed to turn the alarm off and it would stop me from watching endless YouTube videos before I slept and after I woke up…

For the winter issue, days are getting longer so it’s getting easier but I’m considering creating a winter Wake up time at say 8am and a summer wake up time at say 6 or 7 (we really do need more energy during the winter days…)

But WHY?!?!

When it comes to sleeping habits, I know it’s a very personal matter and to be honest there is no real science behind any of it or more of, everyone has their own “scientific” theory on the matter. Before I started, I read countless blogs and articles from people who had completely different and sometimes contradicting ideas.

In the end, it was mostly my own personal motivations that convinced than anything else I had read online. I wanted to try waking up at a specific time because :

  • I’m a morning person. I’ve always felt I do my best “work” in the morning (with one small exception of writing blog posts which seems to be a nocturnal thing for me… or could it just be me procrastinating?) When I wake up at 11, I feel I’ve wasted my whole day. I get stressed and annoyed that I can’t get things done.
  • I wanted a fail safe way to keep all my other New Years resolutions. And to do so, I figured I had to fit all that in some sort of routine and schedule and what better time to fit these habits in then when I still have all my energy and motivation to spend?
  • I hate fiddling with alarm clocks and calculating what time I should wake up at, how many hours of sleep I would be getting.

7 lessons I got out of this challenge

  1. I love the peacefulness in the house when I get up before everyone.
  2. An increased feeling of productiveness. No matter what I do the rest of the day, I know I’ll have at least accomplished something.
  3. Days feel so much longer. I feel I have so much more time during the day to do anything I want. Which lead to another great benefit : I feel less guilty about starting a slow lazy morning on certain days. It’s amazing how creating time for yourself removes your guilt of having “wasted” time.
  4. Grace and ease first thing in the morning. I never feel rushed to get ready anymore. Although I still find myself often running to catch my train in the morning but I know I choose to do so consciously (I don’t want to stand in the cold…) and not because I had to drag myself out of bed.
  5. I feel more and more excited about the day ahead.
  6. Once I’m up in the morning, all the other habits like yoga and meditation fall into place.
  7. Restricting my bed time and wake up time has actually simplified my mornings considerably. I feel I wake up more relaxed because I have one less important decision to make at night. After watching the Ted talk on the Paradox of Choice (see my future post on this 🙂 ), I really realized how much we waste our precious energy on making decisions on small meaningless aspects of daily life.

This has been a fun learning experience for me which is why I wanted to share it with you all. But know that in no way was this article meant to encourage or convince you to wake up early. I believe every person is unique and their body each functions in a unique way. The world is made of early risers and night owls.

My only advice to you is this same old wisdom that has been shared for millenia’s : γνωθι σεαυτον/ Know yourself !

I believe Self Knowledge leads to wisdom, freedom and essentially a more fulfilling life. Find whatever works best for you.  Listen to your own body before anyone else’s. It often knows better than you what’s best for you.