The Motherland

At 18 years old, my mother faced a life-changing choice.

It was 1975 – the year Vietnam fell to Communism in the war.  My grandfather had asked my mother if she wanted to stay behind in Vietnam or flee the war-ravaged country with him and her younger brothers and sisters.  Stay where she had her friends and other family members, the familiarity of where she grew up.  Or to escape the Communist rule on a rickety fishing boat into the ocean, unsure of whether they would survive the journey.  My grandfather despised the Communists and would rather risk a deadly escape than to live under their regime.  My uncles and aunts were just kids, but my mother was a young woman who could decide the life she wanted for herself.  Stay or go?

She chose to go.

On their final night out in the ocean, their boat sprang a leak.  A storm was predicted to hit the next day.  As my mother and her brothers took turns throughout the night emptying out the water with buckets, everyone thought they were going to die.  The following day, a miracle happened.  They were rescued by a Pilipino captain on a ship.  He brought my family to safety in the Philippines, where they resided in a refugee camp before coming to America.

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My grandparents in San Francisco. One of my favorite photos of all time.

When I was 18, I faced different choices than my mother.  Privileged choices.  Choices like where to go to college and what dress to wear for prom.  I never had to question whether I would live or die.  I’ve heard the stories from my mom, my aunts and uncles, and other family members.  Nearly every Vietnamese family I know has their own traumatic version of a refugee story.  They all had to face hard choices.

I didn’t truly appreciate or understand what these hardships meant for my family.  Until last March when I visited Vietnam, my mother’s country, the motherland.  Until I found out that I was pregnant.

A lot of people say that pregnancy is hard.  Being a parent is hard, the most difficult job in the world, the hardest thing a person will ever experience.  Before my trip, I would have agreed.  However, going to Vietnam made me critically look at hardships and difficulties in a different way.

This was not my usual vacation.  For one thing, it was not filled with rest and relaxation.  Physically and emotionally, it was an overwhelming and exhausting trip.  I was still in my first trimester, barely 8 weeks pregnant.  It was a huge adjustment for my changing body and energy levels, while navigating the humidity and culture shock of a developing country.  I panicked over the food and drinks that I could eat.

Was this fruit washed with the local water?  Can I drink anything with ice cubes in it?  Are there bean sprouts in this spring roll…in this salad…in this soup?  Is condensed milk in cafe sua da pasteurized?  How do I ask for pasteurized or decaf in Vietnamese —does that even exist here?!  Oh my god, I’m going to starve on this trip. 

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Bun Cha in Hanoi. I only ate the fried part.

For two weeks, I selectively ate fully cooked or fried items or whatever seemed clean, while surviving off of Kind bars, Whole Foods trail mix, and protein shakes with green supplements.  The foodie side of me was sad and deprived.  There was the exhaustion on my body – jet lag mixed with hours of sitting on a plane or bumpy van ride between cities and the countryside.  I didn’t know whether to scream at the thought of being stuck in the van AGAIN for 3 hours traveling or to be grateful that I was in an air conditioned vehicle.  There was incessant smoke and pollution from the motorcycles that clogged the streets.  Smoking was a natural part of most nightlife settings like lounges, clubs, and cafes.  Partying at night was clearly out of the question for me.

In contrast, my husband and his friends had a blast in Vietnam.  Granted, his friends had stayed in nice hotels, partied every night, and ate every delicious thing sold in the food stalls.  One friend claimed Vietnam as his favorite place in the world to travel.  Even Anthony Bourdain LOVES Vietnam.  He always raves about the cafe sua da and the street food.  I was the exact opposite of the adventurous, exciting Anthony Bourdain: prudish, pregnant, and paranoid.  As a result, this is not my typical travel post with a list of places or recommendations.  For that, you can refer to Bourdain, the Ravenous Couple, and Michelle Phan.

While this was not the travel experience I imagined when visiting the Motherland for the first time, I do (want to) believe that my pregnancy state affected my experience in Vietnam.  And even though I didn’t get to do or eat what I wanted, I am humbled for what I did gain in abundance:  perspective.  

I was seeing Vietnam as a daughter of refugees, as a mother-to-be.  Even though the country has changed dramatically since the war, I still saw glimpses of the country where my parents grew up.  School children in uniforms riding their bicycles home together on a dirt road.  Families spending their days sitting by the front door, often set up as a tiny shop or food stall.  Kids taking naps on the kitchen floor for relief from the sweltering heat.  People making a living by selling lottery tickets on the street or rowing a boat for tourists.  Families of 3 to 4 riding on one motorcycle, a baby secured by just his mother’s arms.  Chickens and fruit trees in the backyard as staples for food.  It was a humble lifestyle with just the essentials.  Only what was needed to survive.  Life was still hard for much of the country, unless they were wealthy and living in the metropolitan areas of Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi.  Yet in the people I encountered and the extended family members we met, the spirit and resiliency of the Vietnamese people shone through.  They found a way to find happiness in the simplicity and in their struggles.

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I observed my husband’s cousins, uncles, and aunts with their families and saw how their worries hardly reflected the common anxieties of modern parenting in America.  They didn’t have nurseries, so they didn’t worry about what crib or play yard to buy.  They didn’t worry about their babies eating organic food.  They didn’t worry about their careers or identities changing as a result of parenthood.  They didn’t even worry about the delivery.  One of his cousins said that she’d heard of women going into labor right in the streets!  She  had laughed heartily at my horrified expression.  In Vietnam, they just cared that their kids had food to eat and a place to sleep.

In contrast, what exactly was I so worried about?  So scared of?

It’s easy to fall into the common narrative of being anxious about being a new parent.  If I search for something to worry about, I’m guaranteed to find it.  And there’s an abundance of prospective worries awaiting me – the lack of sleep, the change in my marriage, the change in my friendships, the loss of my identity as a creative or career-driven person (see my previous post), the lack of alone time, the constant stress and anxiety about raising my baby right, the brand of strollers to buy, the sleep techniques I want to use, my birth plan, the design of the nursery, etc.  In the American view of modern parenting, there seems to be more to fear than to appreciate.  From conversations with friends and acquaintances, books, and blogs, there are two prevailing messages:  1) having a baby is the hardest thing ever, and 2) having a baby means life as you know it will be over.

I’m lucky that my first introduction to pregnancy were neither of those messages.  I hardly had time to worry about any of those things when I found out I was pregnant one month before my Vietnam trip.  The only thing that preoccupied my mind was: How can I keep myself and my baby safe while traveling?  Survival became the most important thing.

I’m now in my sixth month of pregnancy.  Even with the perspective fresh from my Vietnam trip, I occasionally feel overwhelmed.  Whether solicted or not, my husband and I have received our fair share of advice from family, friends, acquaintances, and books. Most of it comes in the form of “you should…”, “you can’t…”, and “you won’t…”  

You should enjoy your sleep now.  You won’t get any later.  
You should do all of your travelling now.  You can’t travel with a baby.
You should move into a bigger home.
You should have a natural birth.
You should get the epidural.
You shouldn’t rely on a birth plan.
You won’t have any time to work out when the baby is here.
You won’t have any time to yourself.

These cautionary warnings are well-intentioned and come from a place of love.  It’s intended to keep the parenthood experience real, not as an impossible ideal.  I do understand that.  And taken one by one, it’s not so bad.  However, once the shoulds, can’ts, and won’ts pile up, they morph into something terrifying.  These messages, oftentimes conflicting, are so ingrained in our culture that even people who ARE NOT parents unknowingly pass it onto others.  I was one of those people.

I have a co-worker friend, also the blogger and creator of Thin Line Collective, who is a new father.  Last year, he was preparing for paternity leave and was excited to stay home with his daughter.  He shared with me his plans of using the time off to learn Spanish, start an exercise program, and write more entries for his website.  I wasn’t pregnant yet, but I had plenty of close friends with babies and heard enough of their stories to believe I had insight to share.  I thought his aspirations were wonderful, but I didn’t want him to feel disappointed once he realized how much time and energy a new baby would take.

“You won’t have time to do all of that,” I told him.

He was amused.  “You really believe that in an ENTIRE day, I’m not going to find some time to do ANY of it?”

“I really do.  You’re going to be more tired than you think,” I replied in earnest.

“Well, my friends with kids have told me the same thing.  I’m sure I’ll find a way to make it work,” he said with a smile.

And to my surprise, he did it.  Everything he intended to do, he did it.  He was able to do a 30-minute workout every day, listen to Rosetta Stone tapes during in-between moments with his daughter, and write a bunch of articles for his website, such as his excellent series on sports, race, & fatherhood.  He even squeezed in frequent rounds of playing video games!  To the shock of his friends, he stayed in good shape.  He was delighted to prove them wrong, to prove me wrong.  I’m so happy that he did.  Happy that he didn’t listen to me and that my negative comments didn’t deter him from trying.

I’ve reflected on that conversation often and why I believed those things.  Recently, I approached him about it and apologized for my discouraging comments.  I was embarrassed that I imposed my limited view of parenthood onto my friend. In my attempt to be helpful, I was also projecting my assumptions onto his unique experience of being a father.

Being on the other side now, I can empathize with the feeling of going against the status quo.  To resist and overcome the won’ts and can’ts of being a parent.  Every now and then, I receive comfort in the positive messages people share.  Everyone’s pregnancy and parenting experience will be different and unique.  I’ll know what my baby needs when the time comes.  With effort and intention, I can build the life I want with my husband.  It will take some creative strategizing, but we can still do the activities that are most important to us.  Like traveling, staying active, pursuing creative projects, and going on date nights.  Hopefully, our baby will be folded into these parts of our lives.

Even with all of the unknowns that come with having a baby, I know that I have choices.  I can choose to do my best as a new mother.  I can choose to lead with love, not fear.  I can choose to believe that everything I give my baby will be enough.  I know this because over 40 years ago, everything my family fought to give me— my freedom, my survival, my opportunities—was enough.  It was more than enough.  It shaped the course of my entire life.  For this and for my future baby, I am deeply humbled and grateful.

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Waiting to Be Found

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“Will I face the fear of today or the regret of forever?”

Jon Acuff, the first keynote speaker at the World Domination Summit, was sharing his story of how he overcame his fear of becoming a writer and eventually became a bestselling author of five books. One of them was fittingly titled Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average. The audience, who were gathered in Portland’s beautiful Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, murmured and nodded their heads in agreement. I was soaking it all in, scribbling notes in my workbook. As a writer, everything Acuff said resonated with me. It’s like he was speaking directly to me and not to the thousands of other aspiring writers, bloggers, authors, and creatives in the room.

“Your voice is never lost; it’s always waiting to be found.”

The theater erupted in applause.  Acuff grinned as our host Chris Guillebeau came out to shake his hand. It was clear that this was not the first time he had delivered this talk. He had a boyish humor and sincere way of telling stories, whether joking about his children or throwing in some self-deprecating anecdotes about his struggle to find peace with his writing and insecurities. As inspiring as a TED talk, he had done his job with opening up the World Domination Summit that July 2015. He encouraged us all to dream bigger and believe that our creative selves just needed to surpass our fears before it could really soar. In that moment, surrounded by the positive energy of the cheering crowd, it all felt true.

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It was my husband who encouraged me to finally attend that summer’s World Domination Summit. Ever since I began blogging and writing years ago, I had heard of this annual gathering of creatives, writers, and lifestyle entrepreneurs. I aspired to be like them, but I never saw myself at the level where I could join their community. Late December of 2014, we both decided to go for it.

Another important thing happened to me before we flew to Portland and began our nearly one-month excursion to the Pacific Northwest. While working on a creative video project for work, I serendipitously discovered a graduate program – the online Masters in Instructional Science & Technology program at CSU Monterey Bay. I had been searching for the next step in my career, especially one that let me combine my creativity and educational skills. It seemed perfect. My full-time job would cover the tuition, my boss was supportive of the program, and it was fully online. That spring, I applied, and I was accepted into the program.

With both WDS and MIST on the horizon for me that summer, I felt like I was on the cusp of a creative and professional breakthrough. I was bursting with optimism for what would come next in my career and life.

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While I was in Portland, Oregon for WDS, a tiny seed was planted. It was so small that I didn’t notice it at first. I couldn’t yet know that it would blossom and spread like dandelions in the next several weeks and months to come. But it happened sometime during Day 3 of WDS with another full day of listening to a line up of talented, inspiring speakers. Everyone who spoke had an amazing story to tell of how they lived an unconventional life and career – able to turn the loss of loved ones and moments of trauma into a calling to create and to serve others. We laughed, cried, and cheered alongside the speakers.   Their stories resonated with vulnerability.  They were daring greatly in the arena of the stage and of their lives.  These people were our role models, our champions who proved it could be true. A true passion, a calling, a vocation existed for us if we were willing to take risks to discover it. We could do anything we wanted. We could leave the safety net of our 9 – 5 jobs and travel the world and find ourselves again. We could put everything on the line for the sake of pursuing our art. Our art could change the world. The energy in the room pulsated with this hope.

And then I noticed something odd. Beyond the hungry eyes of the attendees, the ones who could cite passages from Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week, the couple who was traveling the world for one year, the ones who were writing a memoir, the gentleman who proclaimed that he had attended WDS every year in search of his passion. Beyond the impassioned calls from the speakers – whether on stage, or in their books, their programs, or in their podcasts – for us to pursue our calling, whether it be in art, writing, or business. Beyond all of that passion lurked a layer of discontentment. One that could never be satiated, no matter how many countries they visited, how many books they wrote, how many businesses they ran, how many fans they impacted.  This approach seemed like the unconventional version of climbing the success ladder.  Instead of money as the fuel, it was the need for constant fulfillment and achievements.  The tiny seed came with a cautious message.  Is that life really what I wanted?

I tried to shake it away. I took more notes and let the words of the speakers seep in. I tried to be in the moment of WDS – this long awaited event I’d envisioned years ago. I was crazy to stop this momentum now. Not when I was in a conference surrounded by my tribe of creatives. Not when I was about to hit a breakthrough in my work and professional life. And yet, it stayed. My intuition knew – the ball of truth that rested in my gut knew – this path would not make me happy.

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For the next several weeks after my trip, I felt like I was waking up from a foggy, hypnotic dream. Except I was now part of a world I no longer recognized. A mirror was held up to me, and I felt betrayed by its reflection.

I had always been driven by the pursuit of a meaningful career. A calling. It was that drive that led me to write, go through graduate school, take up freelance writing, start a blog, dabble in a side business, teach a course at a community college, and be involved in conferences and volunteer organizations. I was always adding another layer to the never-ending resume of my life’s work. I read business and productivity books and blogs, I listened to creative and professional podcasts, and I was always brainstorming ideas for new businesses and projects to start. But that summer, when I came home, I stopped completely. I stopped reading, I stopped writing, I stopped creating, and I stopped pursuing. And while it was a long, complicated decision involving other personal factors, I also dropped out of my MIST graduate program. I no longer had the heart to pursue any of it.

That summer, I had indeed reached a breakthrough in my career and creative work, and it was one that changed the trajectory of my life that year.

Now a gaping hole lingered where these projects and pursuits once lived comfortably in my daily existence. I actually had free time to reclaim! And instead of seeking productive ways to use this time, I could now refocus on what was fun. Freeing. Fulfilling.

For the next several months, I used this energy to restore my body and my spirit. I went for hikes and joined a running group, attended group fitness classes on a regular basis, and attempted intimidating new activities like bouldering and pole-dancing. It felt good to be out of my head. To stop building my resume for some unknown future career.  To stop hustling.

I spent quality time with loved ones, who for too long, were seen as “affectionate distractions” to my writing and career endeavors. I spent more time with my husband and hanging out with our friends, whether it was spontaneous day trips to Santa Cruz beach grilling mussels or a weekend exploring San Francisco. I spent time with my younger sister as she prepared for her October wedding, visiting her in LA for a sisters’ weekend, getting our nails done together, and helping her prepare for an intense night of cake pop making. I helped my best friend shop for her daughter’s first-year birthday party and got to be the photographer on that special day. For my friend’s baby shower, I coordinated baby shower games and helped set-up the party with her sister. Clearly, a lot of life milestones happened that fall and winter for many of the people I loved. Milestones that, in the past, I would have been too busy to fully participate in. This break allowed me to be present for all of it. It gave me the space to appreciate my life just as it was.

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The break lasted for nearly half a year.  I like to think of that period as a forced creative sabbatical.  Sometime in April, I felt the urge to write again. The once-familiar sense to write and create slowly returned, like tired joints coming back to life after they had fallen asleep. It can be a little painful in the beginning. Time had granted me a safe distance from the emotional turbulence of last summer. When I was caught up in the the thick of my day-to-day life, it was hard to see the bigger picture. To find the lesson in the experience. But time and a bit of insight had given me something to say. It feels full-circle that my first piece is sharing this story of how I left and found writing again.

I’m welcoming my creativity back like an old friend. Happy to catch up and see how much has changed since the last time we were in each other’s lives.

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We ran in every city

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“Go out and walk.  That is the glory of life.” – Maria Kalman via Brainpickings

It was the first time on vacation that I packed my sneakers for the purpose of running.  It was summer in the Pacific Northwest, and I was excited to be outside. Alongside my list of restaurants and cafes, I also noted down places to enjoy the scenery of each city.  Traveling each of the cities by foot, whether walking, running, or taking public transportation, allowed J and I to get lost and immerse ourselves in the local scene.  We wanted to run in every city.


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Portland has several different bridges that cross the Willamette River.  Across the Burnside Bridge, we stayed in an Airbnb loft in Southeast Portland.  We discovered Laurelhurst Park, a lovely, woodsy green gem in our quiet neighborhood. The park had paved paths for running, walking, or biking, and tall trees that kept us cool during the city’s heatwave.  We ran there twice during our stay.

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We also took a peaceful riverboat cruise on the Portland Spirit.  The boat glided us along the Willamette River where we got to see rows of picturesque Portland homes along the water’s edge.  Can you imagine a river and paddle boat in your backyard?  So fun!  By 9pm, we watched the sun set over the city and water.


IMG_7042Our place in Seattle rested on a high hill in Queen Anne, and boasted a postcard view of the city and Space Needle. During one afternoon, J & I ran up and down the steep hills to Kerry Park, merely blocks from our stay.  Our legs burned from running the incline, but we were able to soak in the city view while we rested. IMG_7067

From the top of the hill, we ran to Lake Union Park and circled around the edge of Westlake. We were already out, so we just continued running into downtown.   Among the tech company commuters donned in their business wear and backpacks, we joined them on the bus to take us into Pike Place Market for dinner.


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Downtown Vancouver is surrounded by water.  From the Waterfront station, we took the sea bus out to Lonsdale Quay.  It was a fun way to admire the Vancouver skyline while riding among the commuters between the shores.  It’s incredible to see all of the different modes of transportation that this city provides – bikes, sea bus and ferries, local bus, train, and sea planes. IMG_7355

J and I were staying in Vancouver for 9 days, a lengthy amount of time to soak in the sun, water, and trees. I fell in love with Stanley Park.  We ran and biked along the seawall, a 6 mile perimeter around the park and water.  The park also has two designated pathways – one for walkers and joggers and a second one for bikers.   IMG_7326

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One of the top excursions of Vancouver is the Capilano Suspension Bridge, even though I have an incredible fear of heights.  At about 250 feet up in the air, the height of the Statue of Liberty’s shoulder, it’s pretty damn high.  The wooden bridge, originally built in the 1880s, is thankfully sturdy.  But it sways.  A lot.  I fought against every irrational fear and trekked across the bridge.  It was worth the scare because on the other side was a magical nestle of forest and treetop bridges.  We could reach out our hands and touch the top of rainforest trees – 250 year old Douglas-firs.   IMG_7291

We saved the Grouse Grind for the end of our stay.  By that point of our trip, our legs had worked up the muscles from all of the daily activities.  We mostly used the car to travel between the major cities, so we walked and took the bus for the duration of our 2 1/2 week trip.  We easily walked between 2 – 4 miles each day.  Our waitress at the sushi restaurant had recommended the Grouse Grind, a popular workout trail among the locals.  The hike is also affectionately called “Mother Nature’s Stair Master” so that tells you something.  When we read about the intense, steep, rocky climb – 1.8 miles and 2380 steps up the peak of Grouse Mountain – we decided to go for it. IMG_7423

The scenery was beautiful, but I was too fixated on finding my footing on the tree roots or rocks to linger on the view.  The path was fairly narrow, so you have to pull over to the side to let others pass.  Many of the athletic climbers regularly hiked the Grind and timed themselves.  After two hours of grinding up the mountain, my legs were about to collapse. I grabbed onto anything – the rope, a tree trunk, a big rock – to pull myself up. IMG_7427

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Once we reached the top, it was incredible to see how far up we had climbed.  The Gondola ride down was a beautiful pause, even though it was crammed with sweaty hikers and resort visitors. IMG_7384

Out in the Pacific Northwest trip, I discovered how far I could go, how brave I could be, and how freeing it is to turn off my mind and just move.  Now that we’re home, I want to continue feeding my spirit of adventure and pushing myself physically.  The Bay Area thrives with possibilities to be outside and to be active.  There are beautiful trails to hike and run, cities along the Peninsula and coast to explore, gym and studio classes to try.  Among the many experiences of my trip, I especially love my renewed appreciation for my body and my health.  Sometimes it takes traveling somewhere new to fully realize what I’ve always had.

 

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It started with a question

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Last July, my husband and I spent over 2 weeks traveling throughout the Pacific Northwest.  We hopped from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver and back to Seattle again.  One of my favorite spots was a cafe called Small Victory in Vancouver, Canada.

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It was just two blocks away from the Airbnb apartment in the Yaletown neighborhood.  I spent three mornings there – writing and people-watching.  The latte and London Fog latte were crafted well, the croissant and blueberry almond brioche pastries were delicious and delicately flaky, and the decor was minimally trendy with modern gold details and ash wood panels.  It was my kind of scene and the perfect space to marvel at how I found myself on this trip.  

It started with a question.  

Earlier in the year, J & I were waiting in line for dinner at the ever-popular Ramen Dojo restaurant.  I had asked What would it take for us to ever move out of the Bay Area?  It was meant to be a fun, blue-sky type of discussion.  The questions then led to Where else would we want to live?  New York?  Canada?  Japan?  What kind of jobs could we have over there?  

At one point in the conversation, I wondered if there was a way we could have the best of both worlds.  How could we experience living away without uprooting our lives at home?  The question lingered for the rest of the evening, and then tangible ideas began to form into a solid plan.  

We had a trip already booked for Portland in July to attend the World Domination Summit for a few days.  We then calculated whether time, expenses, and work-schedules could make it feasible to extend our trip.  It grew from a few days to 2.5 weeks, from a visit to Portland to a tour of the Pacific Northwest.  While there were definitely some obstacles to figure out, we found a way to make it work.

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We’re already looking forward to our next adventure, eventually working our way to a month off or even a summer dedicated to living abroad.  A year ago, this kind of trip did not exist for us and our lifestyles.  We couldn’t even conceive of it.  And now it feels entirely possible.

Sometimes it takes a good question to allow for possibilities to form.  To consider a new way of living.

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My Healthy Habit Backslide: Not a Good Move

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It’s been a struggle for me to find my way back to a healthy diet and gym routine.  S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E.

Here’s the problem with some habits. Once you STOP a habit, it’s HARDER to get back into it. In Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, she believes that we overestimate how easy it will be to start a habit again. When it comes to starting over with a former habit, she writes, “the novelty has worn off, I’ve remembered all the reasons I struggle with that habit, and it’s discouraging to feel myself backsliding.”

I read that paragraph and realized it was describing me. I had let my ego get the better of me. I believed that since I knew how to eat well, maintain a healthy weight, and challenge myself at the gym, it wouldn’t be a big deal to veer off the healthy path. Just for a little bit.  We all know how that goes.  It took a just this once mentality to fool myself and fall off the path completely.

I used to have only Saturdays reserved for my cheat days, when my husband and I would go to town on carbs and sweets a la Tim Ferriss’s Slow-Carb Diet.  It then morphed into Friday nights AND Saturday (because Friday night is part of the weekend, right?). Then indulging for Friday lunches and Thursday evenings crept into the mix.  Worse than the increase of my cheat days was that I also began emotionally eating. I would snack or crave carbs when I was stressed and depleted of willpower and discipline, but I would also eat unhealthily when I was happy and wanted to celebrate the weekend or a special occasion.

Tony Robbins calls this process Anchoring, which is tying a behavior or stimulus to an intense emotional state.  Anchoring is something you can train yourself to do, and it can be used for better or worse. A good example would be like assuming a powerful stance in order to associate it with the feeling of confidence. If you train yourself effectively, you can call up this emotion every time you act out the behavior (hands on your hips) or see a stimulus (the podium and microphone for your presentation). But Anchoring can also be tied to bad behaviors, such as the case of my unhealthy eating habits. In the few months I let myself veer off course, I had unintentionally ANCHORED myself to associate the behavior of eating junk food and the stimulus of NetFlix with two powerful emotional states: stress and joy.  Nice move, P.

The weight that I had lost last year and had proudly maintained for nearly 6 months crept back. The glimmer of toned muscle on my arms, legs, and abs disappeared.  My pants were getting snug, and I was deliberately choosing shirts with more room.  AND YET.  I couldn’t stop. My husband couldn’t stop either. We were both turning into a regularly snack and pizza-obsessed, Netflix-watching couple, and it was a slow-moving train wreck that neither of us had the willpower to stop.

After several weeks of unsuccessfully trying to stop myself from snacking, I gave up. Kind of.  It was time to switch approaches.  So, I decided to stop stopping. Instead of fighting against my primal, emotional side with my limited willpower, I had to find a way to work with it. To acknowledge its existence.  I needed to use emotions with emotions.

I’ve experienced how ineffective it is to deprive myself.  It doesn’t work for very long. Ever get the urge to do something EVEN MORE when you tell yourself you can’t do it?  Often times people who go on a restricted low-calorie diet usually binge afterwards and gain everything back.  I had to find other ways to reward myself when I was happy and to soothe myself when I was stressed.  After some trial and error, I discovered a few tricks that started to work for me.

When I’m happy and want to go out, I am usually satisfied with treating myself with frozen yogurt.  Or when I’m stressed, I bypass the urge to watch NetFlix by not staying home.  Instead, I immediately head to the gym for Zumba or do some window-shopping at the mall.  It’s a re-direction tactic, and it works because my stress melts away when I get to mindlessly dance it off or browse pretty stuff at the boutiques.  I have also begun to ANCHOR myself with a new healthy habit and routine.  After a good workout, I drive over to Whole Foods and reward myself with a refreshing drink at the juice bar and happily wander the aisles for tasty and healthy snacks.  It actually feels like an indulgence when I go to the juice bar.  Yes, it’s $7 for cold-pressed juice, but it’s damned GOOD.  It also feels like a treat when I buy a local, organic brand of almond butter because the label looks pretty or a container of Strauss yogurt because it’s delicious swirled with honey and berries.  My taste buds appreciate food that is good, even if it’s healthy.

Okay, it’s not the same thing as splurging on a shiny pair of shoes or ordering a cocktail at a restaurant.  But surprisingly, those small indulgences are enough to make me happy.  And maybe that’s enough for my body and spirit to get back on track.

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