Author Archives: alertauthenticmindful

About alertauthenticmindful

Alert Authentic Mindful is a conscious parenting blog with a focus on self-care. We need to practice good time management, make sure moments count, and give ourselves the care and compassion. I believe that parenting is not just joyful and rewarding, but fun and energizing. Join me in the quest to make our lives more peaceful and more fulfilling.

Alone Time

Of all of the proposals I make about how to use your time as a mother, this one is going to sound the most insane and pie-in-the-sky: Get some time alone.

We are going to bend the definition of alone to make it a bit more reasonable.

Being Alone Together

Zander and I went to the park the other day. Quiet and breezy, he crawled around the plaza and explored the world. Grabbing onto the side of the fountain, he tries to pull himself up. He is learning to stand.

For my part, I stretch out on the ground and check on him every few minutes. He’s always in my peripheral vision.

But instead of scrolling through my feed, reading a book, or listening to a podcast, I am just there. Laying. Being alone, with my thoughts. No intrusion of other’s ideas.

We are there for a bit over an hour and then I head home. I feel so at peace when I walk in. I pick up my copy of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport. I say thank you for finally making clear to me what’s been missing in my life.

The Importance of Solitude

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Albert Camus, my favorite philosopher, said: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Different figures throughout history have boasted the benefits of solitude, from Aristotle to Audrey Hepburn. They may say the practice boosts their creativity or mediates their sanity. East and West both agree that solitude is necessary for a well-lived life.

Modern science is, unsurprisingly, finding that this is the case.

When you spend time alone—not taking in the thoughts of other’s or meeting the expectations of your social group, you get a jumpstart to the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the rest-and-digest part of your nervous system. Lower blood pressure, slower heart rate, and more relaxed muscles are all signs that your parasympathetic nervous system has been activated.

You also have time to reflect and flex your insight muscle. Taking yourself out of the social context allows you to see how you are being affected and how you are affecting in a way that you wouldn’t be able to when you’re in the thick of it. When your brain is in input processing mode, whether the input is books, podcasts, or friends, it can’t do the hard work of figuring out who you are and what you’re here for.

Shocking!

In a study done by the University of Virginia, researchers found that a quarter of women and two-thirds of men who were involved in the experiment would rather be subjected to an electric shock than be alone with their thoughts.

We are losing our ability to be alone. We haven’t analyzed its value—or maybe, like the participants in the mentioned study, we’re afraid to spend time with our thoughts.

And if we are, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves scattered, stressed, and burnt out.

Fancy Tech

Not being with my phone, I’d heard that. I knew you weren’t supposed to have it on you all of the time. But I forgot that books are another new-fangled technology that intrude sometimes on my solitude. And while I love phones, podcasts, and books, they aren’t as essential to the well-being of a human as blocks of quiet reflection sprinkled throughout the day and week.

Set an example for your children. Spend some time alone. Be bored. Teach them how to sit with boredom by not providing constant entertainment and noise.

While the perfect arrangement may not exist when you’ve got one kid strapped to you or four running around, make true solitude a priority. Go to the park without the phone. Ask the partner for a half an hour walk by yourself on Sunday. Find a way to make radical decompression part of your daily, weekly, or monthly ritual.

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Making the Hardest Parts Easier: Transitions from Big to Small

Daylight savings has become more confusing since giving birth. For as long as I can remember, I’ve run on industrial time. 6 o’clock is 6 o’clock, even if they have moved it an hour.

With a baby, though, I run on horticultural time. We follow the sun and the stars. I’m not sure when 7 o’clock is, but I know when the sun comes up. Everything in my schedule has been suddenly moved forward an hour. I was an early riser at 6:15 a.m. but now I’m a normal riser at 7.

My partner’s work schedule has changed to accommodate this weird quirk of certain industrialized nations. As have all of our activities.

This transition is frustrating like they all are.

Generating Energy

We transition several times a day from sleep to wake, from calm to calamity, from place to place. These can be very draining on our child and on us.

In High-Performance Habits, author Brendon Burchard details five things that effective people do better than the rest of us. He cites a ton of research on why these habits are so useful and gives you practical advice on how to implement them in your own life.

Of note today is habit number two. Burchard finds that extraordinary people generate energy.

Instead of letting their energy be leeched throughout the day, top performers find a way to create and retain as much as energy as possible.

In a revelation that will surprise no one, this means transitioning smoothly because people feel the most drained by adjusting. Things like:

  • Waking up in the morning
  • Leaving for work and school
  • Coming home
  • Bedtime

sometimes ask more of us than we feel we can give.

Giving Your Brain Space

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What extremely effective people have learned is how to transition gracefully. Regardless of how smart, fast, and competent you are, your brain needs time to switch tasks. You need time to organize your thoughts, to release your feelings, to re-center.

Try to find spaces and ways during your day to help your brain and body understand that one part of your day has ended and another one starting.

Do this for yourself and your child. While it might look different for the two of you, it is something you both need.

If you can recharge yourself before your child, you’ll be able to parent from the place that you want to.

Here are a few ways to give yourself a break and generate energy before trying to get kiddo up to speed:

  • Resetting the Room: Before leaving the room to move onto the next portion of your day, make sure everything is in the place you’d like it to be. This helps keep your house tidy, lets your brain know you are finished with that activity, can be used to prime the space for the next time you enter it.

As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “Whenever you organize a space for its intended purpose, you are priming it to make the next action easy…Want to draw more? Put your pencils, pens, notebooks, and drawing tools on top of your desk, within easy reach. Want to exercise? Set out your workout clothes, shoes, gym bag, and water bottle ahead of time.”

By resetting the room to what you’ll need it for next, you are making you’re a transition easier for your future self, too.

  • Meditate: You do not need to set an alarm or open up 10% Happier. You don’t need to clear your mind or sit on a meditation pillow. All you need to do is give yourself a quick break. You can pick how many breaths you are going to take or pick a cue in your environment to decide how long to meditate for.

You might take ten deep breaths (inhale through the nose for two seconds, hold for two seconds, exhale through the mouth for four seconds.) Or you might think, “I am going to sit here and meditate until I hear a whimper of frustration from my toddler.”

  • Visualization: Take a moment to close your eyes. Picture a big To-Do list that you have written (or if you have one, walk over to it!) Check off what you’ve just accomplished.

Now, visualize yourself transitioning smoothly. You help your children wrap up       this portion of the day. You are successfully accomplishing the next thing on your list. You and baby are both contended, smiling, doing what needs to get done.

  • Movement: A big part of what you are doing when trying to transition is to release the built-up tension brought on by focus and labor. Movement will help get rid of some of this. You can do some simple stretching or ten burpees. Whatever suits your desires and abilities.

Staying in the Green

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Once you feel rejuvenated and ready to roll, then you can help transition your child.

When children don’t transition well, they often end up in the red zone (having a tantrum) or the blue zone (shutting down). If we can keep them in the green zone, the go-zone, the ready to grow, contribute, and explore zone, then their days will get easier. This is a habit they can bring with them into adulthood.

There are a few things you can do before transitions to help make them smoother, and some you can do when the change actually occurs.

Before a Transition:

  • Routine: We’re a big fan of routines here at Alert Authentic Mindful. Giving yourself and your children a routine makes life easier. For transitions, a routine means they have a loose idea about the structure of their day in their heads. This makes change and uncertainty easier to bear.

 

  • Nightly prep: Tell your child what is going to happen before the day comes. You know what is going to happen with your day. Why not clue them in on it?

 

You don’t have to detail each five-minute increment. X will happen, followed by Y. Think where the transition points are. That’s what they need to be aware of, not which toys they’re going to play with.

During a Transition:

  • Warnings: Give your child some time to prepare for changes. Keep in mind their developmental level. You can set an alarm, show them a clock, or tell them the series of events. “Soon, mom will stand up and get her purse, then…” You can also give your child some choice: “Pick one more thing to do before we leave this house/room/playground.”

 

  • Movement: Just like you, your child has been building up tension in their body while they participated in an activity. This could be from socializing, focusing, or using self-control to act appropriately in a setting. Movement can help to release some of that tension and prepare them for the next thing. You can ask them to join you for your stretches or burpees. Consider doing a special parent-child yoga pose help them feel connected to you during this rough time.

 

  • Connection: The name of the game when talking about discipline for children is connection. If you want them to follow your lead, they must feel like you are on their team. In order to do this, use or come up with a connection ritual. This can be something very simple like a 10-second hug which helps to soothe fears and releases serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin—chemicals that make us feel connected and happy. You can have a special kiss, a special dance, or a special song to feel in line with each other.

Mastering transitions will make your days significantly easier. Tweak any of these ideas to meet the specific needs of your family. Zander doesn’t need nightly prep—at 9 months old, he relies much more heavily on our routine. Some children actually do worse with a warning, seeing them as an opportunity to stop enjoying themselves right away and start complaining—in which case, maybe a quick sweep off the feet would do better.

Be aware of where sensitivities lie and hone your transition routine. With enough practice and forethought, going from one activity to the other over time will only become a problem when no one has had enough sleep.

 

 

 

One Reason We Fail to Parent From Where We Want To

We have a bad habit in our society of saying that societies standards are the problem. In fact, society is what keeps all of our most base desires in check. While the many certainly influence us, the small cultures that we’re a part of have the biggest pull.

We absorb our larger culture and our more particular culture. Whether we say pop or soda. Whether we take our shoes off at the door. Whether 80s music is classic or trash. Whether screaming at your kid is normal or looked down upon.

Immediate Return Environment

As humans, we respond largely to the incentives right in from of us. Like lions on the savannah, our ancestors had an urgent need to figure out what was going to bring them pain or gratification now, not in a month and certainly not in 20 years. We lived, for most of our evolutionary past, in an “immediate return environment.” This means a lot of our brain’s coding pressures us to favor the present over the future.

This is why people smoke when they know it will kill them, don’t save when they know it puts them in a bad position, and scream at their kids even when they know it is damaging.

Game Theory

Somehow, though, our ancestors did manage to save. Large scale civilization isn’t possible without some savings. But if our hardware told us not to think about tomorrow, how did we?

One of the few things that we understand clearly in the past, present, and future is our relationships. The prisoner’s dilemma shows the importance of the tit-for-tat function that we use when interacting with other people. Working with others produces the best outcomes for humans. This is why we like other people and need to be liked by them.

If we do defect—if we do bad things that people don’t like in social situations, we will no longer have a social situation. Social rejection, ostracism, and exclusion are tools used by our primate relatives. They mean stress and, if taken to their extreme, death.

So, we developed social emotions to help us override our desire for instant gratification. If you let me have of your food this time and I don’t give you mine next time, that might be the end of our exchanges.

If, instead of just keeping my food for myself, I can see that giving you food will benefit me in the future then I’ll want to share with you.

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Social Emotions

To give long-term choices the boost of instant gratification, we developed a host of pleasant emotions that we get when we’re pro-social. Dr. David DeStefeno goes over the three big emotions in his book, Emotional Success.

Gratitude: This emotion makes you feel pleasant when someone does a nice thing for you. Emotionally salient things are easier to remember, so you’ll be able to keep their favor in mind in the future.

Pride: This is the feeling you get from contributing in a meaningful way. We feel good when others acknowledge our work.

Compassion: This helps you feel connected to others, motivating you to make their lives better.

We also developed an emotion to feel bad when we do something that hurts others: guilt. It stops us from repeating behavior that is likely to get us punished from the group in the future.

Putting it Together

Looked at from an evolutionary psychology point of view, we never do things in the future for ourselves. If there aren’t others around, we are dead. There is no reason to plan for the future.

That’s why you can’t stick to your habits. That’s why you don’t yell when friends are around but do when you’re alone.

That’s why finding a tribe of people who believe in the same parenting ideas as you is so important. When you don’t have anyone around to value the future for, you live in an accountability vacuum. That is something that we just weren’t designed for.

You need people around to get you to accomplish your long-term goals. While you may be able to persevere in the short run, you’ll never get to where you’re going alone.

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Taking Action

Ideally, you would have a large group of people who all held each other equally accountable for following specific, desirable norms. You can start trying to build that, but in the meanwhile, make do with what you have.

I have one partner to hold me accountable for my writing.

I have one partner to hold me accountable for my exercising.

I will add more partners as I need more help developing different skills.

Eventually, some things will become part of your identity and you need less help. Eating healthy is part of who I am and I don’t need help being me.

Other things can be automated—that’s how I save. Still, other means of accountability can be outsourced through technology like the app Stickk.

Whatever it is, recognize that not accomplishing your long-term goals isn’t a failure of character. It’s a failure that happens to anyone who doesn’t have a community who share their values—and that is something you can take control of.

Try to spend more time around the people who act like you wish you did. Who parents the way you wish you did? Give them a call today and ask to set up a lunch together.

You Have the Sleep Problem

Sleep is the foundation of your wellness. Without the appropriate amount of solid sleep, you are not healthy. Appropriate meaning at least 7.5 hours. Any less, you’re kidding yourself.

“Sleep is for the weak”

When I was younger, I used to say and to some extent believe that “Sleep is for p***ies.” I prided myself on being able to function pretty well on 3-5 hours of sleep a night. I still went to work and school. I had a physical labor job as a farm worker and a mental labor job as a proofreader for a newspaper. I was getting As at college. Who needed sleep?

I was also, of course, a raging alcoholic who drank 10 cups of coffee a day and suffered from severe anxiety and moderate depression, sometimes unable to leave the house and always unable to stomach myself.

But what I was doing was working. And if there was a problem, sleep wasn’t it.

I always thought one day I would read something about psychology in one of my books and something in my head would click and I would be better.

Now I recognize that mental health has much more to do with physical health than I was ever willing to admit.

The Wrong Question

Parents of young children, and particularly infants, are always focused on the question: How do I get my kid to sleep? There’s an entire industry around getting babies to sleep at the right times or more often or in the right place.

From the No Cry Sleep Solution to the Extinction Method, parents are certain that if they can get their babies to sleep on a certain schedule, then their health will return. Their instincts are pointing them in the right direction but not at the right person.

Don’t worry about how to get your children to sleep. Worry about how to get enough sleep yourself, and the rest will follow.

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Schedule It

Eight hours in bed does not mean eight hours of sleep and you know it.

When you want to make sure you accomplish something, you need to make time in your schedule. For sleep, you need to be realistic about how much you actually get in an hour. This waxes and wanes with different developmental stages, but you have a rough idea what that means.

If you have a child under 18 months old, you should be blocking off at least 10 hours to get 8 hours of sleep. This number can go up to 12 if there is a sleep regression, teething, night terrors, or if you’re dealing with two or three children.

The cost of not sleeping cannot be overstated. You’re more likely to get cancer. You’re more likely to get Alzheimer’s. To scream at your children, to lose your sex drive, to suffer from depression. You’re more likely to get into a car accident and to forget what you went into the fridge for. You’ll look older, you’ll gain weight.

You might think you’re losing time by dedicating 12 hours a day to sleeping, but you’re wrong. You’re gaining time. Each hour is much more effective.

Especially important is to get into bed early. Because of circadian rhythms, each hour you spend in bed before midnight is worth two after midnight.

If you aren’t sleeping, it is because you don’t prioritize it. You are capable of figuring out how much time you need to feel well-rested and be at your best. If you decide to prioritize other things over your sleep–watching TV, late night conversations–that is your choice, not your child’s fault.

Side Effects

If you are sleeping, so will your kid. While babies will still wake up, they’ll be put to sleep quickly. They won’t be woken up by you stumbling around the house.

Older children won’t be so intrigued by what is going on in the living room that they pretend to sleep but sneak up to the door to see what’s happening.

As the lights will be off since everyone is sleeping, the whole house will have improvements in their circadian rhythms.

Your sleep is your children’s sleep. You are giving them information about what to do at night and you are teaching them how to value sleep.

Making it Easier

Whether room sharing or bed sharing, co-sleeping is the biological norm for humans. Our babies expect to be with and near us at all time. Though it may be convenient, we are not only parents during the daytime. We are parents at night, too.

Baby and mama net more hours of solid rest when they co-sleep. While this sleep is lighter, cosleeping families report enjoying better sleep for the whole family.

The Takeaway

I highly suggest safe co-sleeping, but whatever you choose to do, realize that your baby or child doesn’t have a sleep problem. You do.

 

This Too

In The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathon Haidt, the author talks about three untruths that we have been teaching our children. These lessons were taught to millennials and even more strongly hoisted upon Gen-Z.

  1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  2. Always trust your feelings.
  3. Life is a battle of good people vs. bad people.

In the article, Having a Second Baby: What to Expect (You thought your first child was life changing! Wait until you have your second), the author sings the tune of what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

For the past 35 years, we have been teaching everyone that their participation is enough and that they deserve a thousand accolades for even showing up. We don’t focus on how they show up.

For the past 35 years, children have been showered with compliments. Now, we’re adults who believe we deserve a compliment for functioning as humans.

For the past 35 years, those compliments have turned people fixed-minded, believing that we don’t have to put effort into what we do. We deserve the world. Every single one of us is elite. Each thing we do should be done effortlessly or not at all.

Small Selves

Some things are getting harder. We’re more alone than ever. Sleep is increasingly harder to come by between blue light and 24-hour-job-cycles—and of course, bad sleep means bad eating, bad movement, and bad thinking.

Life is hard. But that’s beside the point.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and more grateful.

We always focus on the fact that whatever situation we’re in is the hardest situation—us, right now, in the present moment, with no regards for the past. We don’t try to think about the best way to handle a situation. We want help, answers, and pity. We want ease rather than effort.

And then, when we find ourselves in a bad situation, we feed our small selves by announcing our sacrifice. “Look how good I am,” mothers say, “I don’t take care of myself at all.”

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Having a second baby will be a lot. But it won’t be more life-changing than your first.

And with your second child, you don’t need to fit in “snuggling with your newborn while your big kid isn’t looking.”

Your first born child is allowed to be jealous. They’re allowed to be upset and cry for attention.

Allow them to have whatever feeling they’re having. Acknowledge them and coach them through them. Then let them know that the world doesn’t change to fit their feelings.

When we block our children from experiencing their negative emotions, we rob them of the opportunity to cope and grow. We also teach them over time that their most immature emotions like apathy, depression, jealousy, and rage need to be revered and tiptoed around rather than faced head-on and then let go of.

This too

You don’t have to “enjoy every moment,” with your children.

But you should try to. Try to see this time for what it is—a very short season in your life. Probably the best one. Surely one that you’ll miss dearly.

As the article suggests, remember:

This, too, shall pass—even if you don’t want it to.

 

 

Too Much on Your Plate

My boyfriend wanted a finger foods dinner so baby could enjoy everything with us. We had sundried tomato/rosemary ham and cheese roll ups with avocado, cucumber tomato salad, stuffed mushrooms and zucchini, and apple slices with peanut butter. Plus lobster tail because it was on sale. Tasty.

We gave Zander (9 months old today) a bit of everything. He was having a wonderful time, then he started losing it all of the sudden. What was going on?

I took everything off his table and wiped it down. He calmed down. From there, I placed one thing on his table at a time and he enjoyed everything.

This was another ringing endorsement of simplicity for little ones. Of course, one could argue he is used to simplicity so he responds better to it, but I think he is a calm, content baby at least in part because there is never anything crazy going on around him.

There is a good deal of research indicating that clutter and busyness lead to stress. If research found otherwise, we would all be suspect of it. Intuitively, we get that too much outside feels like too much inside.

Simplicity for our children is not where the trend should end, though. All of us need to simplify, and not just for our children’s sake. Simpler environments, simpler schedules, and simpler relationships help our core remain steady.

For children, this means limiting their options, not taking choice away. We have four books for Zander. I give him two to choose from each day. I want to give him choices and responsibility where ever I can. To truly do that, I have to respect where he is developmentally.

How To Stop Yelling

angry-argue-argument-343.jpgVisualizing Behavior

Do you want to keep your cool when life isn’t going your way? Do you wish you didn’t bark at the kids when they’ve done something you dislike?

Visualization can help.

Visualization helps us improve our performance. Long-touted as an essential tool by athletes and professional musicians, we now know that positive thinking is not the reason that people feel they perform better with these techniques. Visualization is effective because thinking about practicing a skill changes the brain as if you had actually practiced the skill.

This is fantastic news if you struggle with any skill in your life–not just physical ones. Using visualizations can help you overcome social anxiety, make healthy choices, and best of all, keep calm during stressful times.

Instead of picturing yourself kicking the perfect touchdown into the goal (sports isn’t my thing), you can picture yourself responding with composure to life’s hiccups.

“Negative” Visualization

I tend on the negative side of things. I tend to worry more about very bad things happening than hoping very good things will. I tend to want to diminish my worst behavior and ignore whether my best behavior gets better. This is a default, not a recommendation–but there is something to be said for paying close attention to your liabilities.

While I visualize smiling each day while I do my exercise, I spend more time visualizing reacting better in my worst situations. Better still, I try to focus on being the kind of person who responds rather than reacts.

Try to think of a single, concrete situation that you respond poorly to. Do you yell whenever a glass of milk is spilled? Do you shut down whenever your child says unkind words to you? Do you hide if the house gets too loud? Just start with one thing.

And then picture yourself responding to that situation in the ideal way.

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Imagining Imagining

For some of us, that is impossible. Calmly reacting in a threatening situation isn’t “who we are”. We can’t even come up with a fantasy world where that would happen.

So–and I know this sounds silly, but trust me–imagine that you can imagine yourself responding perfectly. This worked for me.

I could not imagine being the kind of person who could give an uninflected “Yes” or “No” to questions that start with, “Did you remember to…?”

But I could imagine a theoretical world where I could imagine that possibility.

And now, at least some of the time, I am that kind of person. I’ve spent a minute or two for months picturing Amelia effortlessly saying, “No, I didn’t remember. I’ll do that tomorrow,” or “Yes, I did!” without any resentment in her voice.

Try to use visualization to improve your behavioral floor–the worst of your reactions. Practicing in the moment is often too hard because the reason you react so poorly is that you are hurt, scared, angry, or sad. Being removed from the situation allows us a safe place to exercise our self-control.