When you wake up

This is the time of year when decisions for healthly behavior is at extremes.

At one end, I could be intentional about my health choices and reap the benefits. At the other end, I could ignore all sign pointing to healthy behavior and repeatedly hit snooze because it is cold and no one will notice.

As the seasons change, we are forced to change.

In the summer, there are longer days, better weather, and more choices. It is more difficult to eat healthy this time of year because there is less produce in season. The days are shorter which makes early morning workouts a drag because the sun never comes up. After work is just as difficult. It is a challenge to exercise outside because it is colder and darker. In Iowa, we are experiencing days of cold and rain followed by days of cold and rain. It feels like a formula for seasonal affective disorder.

Small habit goals can make a huge impact

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Save your (brain) cells

People want your attention.

Take a moment and look at your surroundings. If you are outside, there are billboards, vehicle graphics, political yard signs, and sale signs. If you are inside, there are magazine covers, flyers, and reminders. If you are online, there are digital ads, newsletters, mass e-mails, and pop-ups.

Someone wants you to do something or buy something.

There are college degrees, careers and companies whose job is to get one product or person to stand out in front of another.

How does this relate to saving brain cells?

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Hurt

When you read the word "hurt" you immediately think of a situation in your life.  In my practice, I watch people hurt.  In some situations, hurt is part of the process.  I relate "hurt" as a physical feeling to the emotion of grief.  I also relate "hurt" as an emotional feeling that can be a response to what someone else said, did, or didn't do.  

Hurt from the loss of a loved can be felt through your entire body; the physical feeling of hurt.  A hurtful statement or action can crush your spirit; the emotional feeling of hurt.

Three weeks ago, I lost one of my first labs to old age.  I hurt from the grief.  I still hurt.

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Just say ok

From the moment you wake up, you are making decisions.  Thousands of microdecisions are made everyday.  You are either taking action on a decision or processing whether or not to act.  There are likely several decisions ping-ponging around your brain at any given time.  It is exhausting.  

Every person has a process of sending a decision through several internal filters or a personal algorithm.  Those filters include your values, your desire for control and your intuition to protect yourself.

Our decision-making systems can be on overload because companies build their business to give you lots of choices.   To prove this, go into a Starbucks and listen to 10 people place an order.  Or walk down the cereal aisle at the grocery store. 

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When is probate necessary in Iowa?

Why we have to deal (and thanks to the Brits)

The word "probate" is confusing.  And, quite honestly, doesn't sound pretty being said or heard out loud.  If I could use a different word, I would.  I don't like things to be confusing or intimidating for a person.  But unfortunately it is the word we are stuck with.  It originated in England so thank your friends across the pond.

Probate court

In Iowa, there are several courts within the district court.  There is criminal court, family law court, juvenile court, civil court, small claims court, and many others.  Included is probate court.  Probate is confusing because it is used in different ways. It can be used as a noun and verb.  And sometimes it is misused altogether.  

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Stay in your lane

One of the main reasons I blog is to work through a problem or situation, reflect on an experience, and to have personal accountability when I make a recommendation (which is pretty much every blog post).

One of my personality traits is to make sure everyone is happy.  I am a peacemaker and problem solver no matter where I am.  I don't like people to feel uncomfortable or disregarded.  I don't like to leave a situation in unrest with no plan to fix it.  Trying to make sure everyone is happy comes with the disadvantage of trying to have the answer for everything and be everything to everyone.  

I learned, with practice, how to say "I don't know" and, even more specifically, to say "I don't know everything".  That doesn't stop me from wanting to know everything or following up with "I will find out".  

Here are a few ways I can support someone and stay in my lane.  

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When you feel overwhelmed

You make thousands of micodecisions every day.  The time you get out of bed.  The amount of cream in your coffee.  The length of your shower.  Along with microdecisions are macrodecisions. Do you get your child a tutor? Do you tell your boss you are behind on a deadline?  Do you hire an expert to do your taxes?

The combination of thousands of microdecisions and proably dozens of macrodecisions each day can build up to feelings of overwhelm.  As you age, it gets worse.  You have to pay more attention to your health and food (or feel the side effects).  You have more assets and debts to manage.  You have increased caretaking responsibilities.

Sometimes I feel overhwhelmed to the point of mental paralyzation.

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With experience comes pessimism

One battle I wage everyday is to suppress my desire to assume the worst.  As an attorney, I am trained to look for every possible scenario which includes worse case scenarios.   On a personal level, my thought pattern of choice is "catastrophizing".  I shared this with a friend and she asked "is that even a word?"  I explained what it was and she couldn't believe I thought that way most of the time.  I couldn't believe that everyone doesn't think this way most of the time.  I think pessimissm comes from experience.  Life experience.

The longer you rotate around the sun, the more you are lied to, taken advantage of, experience loss, suffer grief, lose your religion, and feel pain.  It accumulates over time.   And it wears you down.  Why should you expect the best when it might not happen?  I've realized that negative thinking has got a tight grip on me right now. 

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Dump the past

It is the new year!  A time for new beginnings, restarts and change.  I have written about new years resolutions in the past and yet each year brings new ideas.

Prior blog posts about new year's resolutions:
Goals need time
Resolution to do less
Its ok to be unhappy

Last November, I cleared out my basement and garage of five years of accumulated "stuff".  I went through the kitchen and purged things I don't use.  I donated clothes and shoes from my closet that I don't wear or won't wear.  It felt good to clear and give what was in good condition and trash what wasn't.  I recycled every page of notes from three years of law school and all 12 bar exam prep books.

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I don't know everything

I don’t know everything.  GASP!  And a hush settles over the crowd. 

Ok, it didn’t quite happen this way.  I did say “I don’t know everything” out loud this morning, but there was no crowd.  It was me, my husband and my 8-year old in our house.   It wasn’t a hush, rather there was no response to my statement, i.e. silence.

Today was the first time I said “I don’t know everything” out loud.  Lately, I’ve been seeking out ways to shortcut conversations with my son when he starts nitpicking at my behavior.  This morning his statement started with “mom, you said . . .”. 

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Leave a note for your next of kin

This is a line from the musical "Hamilton" in the song "Ten Duel Commandments".  The song states, in ten stages, a description of what should happen in a proper duel.  The line continues to say "tell 'em where you been, pray that hell or heaven lets ya in."  It doesn't go into details, but it says in few words that you should leave a letter for your family if you think you are going to die. 

The musical, in Act 2, shows Hamilton writing a letter "to his next of kin" for the very reasons that he was entering into a duel with Aaron Burr.  The song "Best of Wives and Best of Women" describes him writing a letter before he leaves for the duel; his wife Eliza having no idea he was about to stare down the barrel of a gun at dawn.

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Hope Wood
Say "me" more often

Last Friday I presented to colleagues on mental health and the profession.  As I prepared for the presentation, I looked at my own mental health and took a look around the people around me.  I believe that lack of self-care is becoming an epidemic.  

It is no longer about work/life balance.  For people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, life is work.  I assume by the "50s", a person has enough life experience and perspective to enjoy the fruits of their work and be a driver of their leisure time rather than a passenger.

The guiding message in the book "Overwhelmed: work, love and play when no one has the time" is that we have a lot of leisure time, or nonwork time, but it doesn't feel like leisure time.  As the author Brigid Schulte states on her website "how worrying about all there is to do and the pressure of feeling like we’re never have enough time to do it all, or do it well, is “contaminating” our experience of time".  

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Hope Wood
Happy mom voice

Scrapbooking is one of my hobbies.  I love looking at a still moment in time. Photographs are of happy occasions and happy people. 

Facebook has an app called “On This Day” (OTD).  It shows pictures and videos of that calendar day last year and every year on that day since I joined Facebook.  To me, it is like an automatic scrapbook of my life. 

I rarely post videos to Facebook so when they show up in OTD, I watch and re-watch them. Recently, I was watching a video of my son at two- years old (he is now 8).  He was singing the theme song from Thomas the Train.  As I write this, I can still picture him working hard to say “Edward”.  In acapella fashion, I sang the main part and he sung the names of the train at the appropriate time.

As the video played, I hardly recognized myself.  Who was this person with the happy, easy-going voice?  She sounds really happy.  I don’t sound like that anymore. 

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Hope Woodchildren, dogs, happiness
Clever way to stop thinking about work

Service professionals bill by the hour. Most attorneys bill by the 1/10 of the hour. It is the only way they get paid for their work.

When I am drafting, researching, and writing notes on a case, I bill for my time.  Typically I am in front of my computer when I am doing these tasks.

What about the time I am thinking about the case, but am not "working"?  For example: (1) the drive home from the office; (2) when I try to go to sleep; (3) when I exercise; or (4) when I take a shower.  Should I bill for that thinking time?

When I realize I am thinking about work during non-work time, my first instinct is to take my mental Whack-a-mole hammer and whack the thoughts so they leave me alone.  This isn’t very effective at making the thoughts go away. 

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I’m good enough. I’m smart enough.

People in their late 30s and in their 40s may remember a sketch on Saturday Night Live of a character named Stuart Smalley.  Smalley, played by Al Franken, read affirmations that always included “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” The content of the reoccurring sketch isn’t memorable but the underlying theme of affirmations comes to mind decades later.

I recently finished watching the 2015 miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson.”  I am in awe of how Marcia Clark managed to survive that trial.  It took place in 1992 and she was the lead prosecutor.  The news, her peers, and anyone looking for an easy target ruthlessly scrutinized everything she did, from her trial strategy to her haircut. 

As an attorney and a woman, it is second nature for me to compare myself to her situation.  In comparison, I didn’t think I could ever do what she did.  Why do I think that way? 

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Cracking the mindfulness code

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment nonjudgmentally.

15 years ago, I participated in a Mindfulness Stress-Based Management course.  The course was 8 weeks long and based on the book “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabia-Zinn. 

Mindfulness is available every waking second.  I also enjoy meditation but it requires stillness of the body for a period of time.  Truthfully, it would be wonderful if I could spend time doing either for any second of the day.    

I have always believed that mindfulness required the full attention of my entire self.  That may be true.  I decided, however, that I can only be mindful with my brain and one other part of my body.  When I realized this, I felt like I cracked the code for integrating mindfulness into my life.

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Say what you want

As I close in on the fourth decade of my life, I am tuned-in to generational differences.  My 7-year uses slang I don't understand.  Few of my GenY friends use SnapChat.  My millennial niece has to explain words like "ships".

As a parent, I am acutely aware that I am the greatest influence on how my child choses to behave.  I've heard that millennials have less capacity for resilience than generations before them.  Primarily because, as they grew up, their parents protected them from disappointment.  I can relate.  (1) I don't want to see my child sad and hurting; and (2) I don't like conflict.

I pick up my son from after school care.  It closes at 5:45 and he never wants to leave when I show up.  He sees me walk in the door and it is autopilot "grumpy face and whine".  He doesn't want to leave, regardless of the time.  

I have explained to him that it makes me sad when he reacts to me with those emotions.   His reaction also makes my stress level spike and my body goes to flight or fight mode.  I get anxious writing about it.

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What I learned from Moana

Last weekend, I bought the movie “Moana” – a Disney movie.  I watched it with my 7-year old son on a Saturday morning snuggled in our softest, warmest blankets.  The movie boasted an incredible diversity of characters.  The songs were amazing.  Moana, to me, was a superstar. 

Throughout the movie, Moana wasn’t running from something, she was running toward something.  She knew enough to start on her journey, yet encountered unknowns to keep her humble.  She asked for help and when that failed she persevered to stay the course.  More than any of this, I loved Moana because she had been called – “see the line where the sky meets the sea, it calls me” – and she answered the call

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More faces. More books.

On Saturday, I did a media cleanse.  A media cleanse is something I made up.  A “cleanse” is more commonly associated as a method of food elimination and intestinal, uh, stimulation.  Merriam-Webster defines the word cleanse as “a very restrictive short-term diet primarily intended to remove toxins from the body”.

My scope of the media cleanse was the elimination of news and social media for a calendar day.  I did it the weekend before the election to keep my sanity.  At that time, it was mostly elimination from Facebook and Twitter, i.e. social media.  Since then, I have become a subscriber to the New York Times and have easy access via my iPad.  I find myself binging on news and social media when I get home after work.  When it started to creep into my workday, I did a call for accountability partners to join me in a media free day.

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