Setting Systems and SMART Goals to Help 2021 Start on the Right Foot

A #Reclaiming2020 Thread

For so many of us, the end of 2020 can’t come soon enough. The allure of a new year and the proverbial blank slate is something that has incredible psychological power.

Well now we’ve got 30 days left and, though the last few months have given me hope for a brighter future, my own personal future is still a bit of a hot mess.

While the allure of January 1st as a clean start is tempting, I know from personal experience that starting a brand new routine or adopting new habits is a process of trial, error, success and failure, highs, and lows. Starting on a new blank routine from day zero anticipating perfection and success is a recipe for disappointment. Logically, you wouldn’t sign up to run a 10k on January 1st without participating in some kind of training regimen beforehand. So why do we consistently operate on the idea that we can successfully launch ourselves into a brand new routine or lifestyle with zero preperation?

There are 30 days left in 2020, and I intend to use them as my ‘training period’ for 2021. Trying new routines, new habits, training for a fresh start at the beginning of the new year.

So, with 2020 coming to a close, I’m setting SMART goals to try new habits and routines leading into the New Year.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART Goals are something I first learned about in business school, but have recently been used by self improvement and study guru’s to help people create more effective and targeted methods of reaching their goals.

Full Function Rehab | SMART Goal Setting Vaughan
For more on how to create SMART Goals, click HERE

The underlying idea of SMART goals is to find a way to make us accountable. ‘I want to find a job’ or ‘I want to write a book’ or even ‘I want to get an A in Genetics’ are all wonderful goals, but because they are so vague they can often be difficult to track, and therefore difficult to stick with. You can find more on how to create effective SMART goals HERE, but the general idea is in the name; make your coals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

Kaizen – The Art of Continuous Improvement

Something else that I have found makes a vast difference for me ties in with the Japanese Concept of Kaizen – or the art of continuous improvement.

Kaizen de-emphasizes perfection, which can be a leading cause of stress and a major contributing factor to giving up or abandoning our goals altogether, and instead focuses on improvement. The idea is not necessarily to get it right the first time around, but instead to do just a little bit better than last time.

In that thread, I focus less on my relation to an ultimate and ever-changing goal, and more on my engagement and performance in the day to day process of it all.

Otherwise called a ‘System’.

Atomic Habits – Systems not Goals

If you have not yet heard of Atomic Habits by James Clear, I really must ask what rock you have been living under. Even if you do not have the time to read the book in full, there are plenty of taking aways and summaries that can be of tremendous insight. But for our purposes, we are going to be focusing on the delineation between goals and systems.

If your goal is to be able to deadlift 200 lbs by the summer, and you spend every day pushing yourself closer to that goal, you may ignore warning signs from your body in favor of adding on just a few more pounds. But if you end up injuring yourself in the process, you could be setting your goal back by months if not years. By shifting focus from your proximity with the end goal to continual growth and consistently showing up, this changes the pressure we put on ourselves and makes our goals, ultimately, more achievable.

My 30 Day End of 2020 Goals

My general goals for 2020 focus more on routine and continuous improvement. They also happen to fall into the four general categories of self-improvement that most of our New Years goals tend to fall into, but perhaps that will make them easier to relate to or use to draw on for examples when making your own goals.

My 2020 – 2021 Goals

My general goals are blocked under four categories but are free to change from day to day. The ultimate takeaway is my ‘participation’ in that given area.

Physical Goals

I want to be more physically active and just generally take better care of myself. Sitting in front of a desk for hours on end is not generally a good thing for either my spine or general level of fitness. It would also be good if I ate less like a gremlin and more like a hippie, but I’ll settle for somewhere in the middle.

Intellectual Goals

I want to learn something new every day. And yes, I’m in grad school, so learning is kind of par for the course. But diving through pages of notes often feels less connected to learning than mastering a singular concept. So even if I’ve been studying ‘phenotypic heritability’ for hours, I’ll only be counting it if I have an ‘Ah-ha!’ or ‘Eureka!’ type moment while doing so, or if I have that moment in a completely different subject.

Creative Goals

The same general principle holds true for creative enterprises. As a children’s author, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories, characters, impact, engaging readers… but that doesn’t result in a finished product. So much my collecting of ‘Ah-ha’ moments above, I want to be able to wield tangible results in my hands for it to be able to count. Whether that is words written, pages drafted, characters sketched, or even scarves knitted… I will be focusing on things that yield tangible results in real time.


Being in Sweden, so far from most of my family, in the middle of lockdown, the short days and long nights are easy to let get to you. It is so much simpler to turn to merge dragons than it is to turn on mentally. But that is neither healthy nor sustainable. I want to do things that feed my soul. I want to reconnect with friends and family (even if it is digitally). I want to consume media that helps me grow. and I want to take the time to check in with myself on a regular basis, rather than just keep on pushing forward.

Trackable SMART Goals Example

The four categories above, while representative of most of what I want to do, are hardly specific. So for a better idea of what those goals will look like in the real world, here are a few of the micro goals I will be setting myself.

Drink Water

And oldy but a goody, and yet I still never do it. I will be attempting to drink 2 liters of water, each and every day, of 2020 and beyond.

Read in Swedish

This is really a 2 for 1 so I should want to do it even more but, again, it often gets pushed to the wayside. I’ve picked up two children’s chapter books in Swedish from the second hand shop and intend to read 5 pages (one sided) before bed at least 4 times a week (70%).

Stay off Social Media

I feel bad leaving this for last as this goal will actually affect those reading my articles here at TNN. I walk more about the why’s behind this on my YouTube channel HERE, but suffice to say I have a busy month coming my way in December. And, as such, for the rest of 2020… this will be the last you see of me. I will be staying off Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and, yes, even for the remainder of this year.

At the end of my free trial run for 2021 (also known as December 2020) I will create SMARTER Goals moving forward. SmartER because I will Evaluate (E) and Review (R) the steps I have taken, the systems I have tried, and see what really works for me and what doesn’t and adjust. Hopefully, I’ll be back and writing away with a clearer head and more time to focus on what is important, but I am trying not to enter into this trial run with any preconceptions. This is an experiment after all, and as any student at the school of Bill Nye will tell you, bias = bad science.

So, until next time, here’s hoping to a better and brighter future in 2021.

Check out this and more original content available every week at by subscribing to us on Facebook or Instagram.

You can also check out Eve Daniels, author of The Nerdy Nanny books, on YouTube where she gives writing and academic advice as well as updating you on all of her latest and upcoming projects.

Healthy Study Habits for Students

A #Reclaiming2020 Thread

School can be a lot for students under the best of circumstances, and this is equally as true for grad students as it is for kindergartners

Burnout, Screen Fatigue, and Other Anxieties

Mental health, establishing healthy study habits, and knowing how to find an appropriate balance is something we put a lot of focus on her at TNN.

Our students, especially in the US educational system, can oftentimes be put under extreme amounts of stress, and are very rarely given the tools to know how to deal with it. Even more so now during the age of COVID as classrooms shift into bedrooms and the lines between ‘study’ and ‘sleep’ become blurry at best.

Identifying the early stages of burnout (difficulty concentrating, poor sleep quality, irritability, eye strain, and more) is crucial to help curb it’s effects.

Knowing When to Walk Away

Burnout is something that is more often associated with high paying executive positions or even online content creators. But it is a common experience in all walks of life. Any time you expend more effort than you receive value from, you a prone to burnout. That could mean working at something for an hour and not making as much progress as you would have liked, or it could mean studying for months without feeling like there is no return.

To recognize if you are approaching or at risk of burnout, here are a few resources that can help.

The Tell-Tale Signs of Burnout from Psychology Today

Burnout Self Test from Mind Tools

Burnout Prevention and Treatment from Help Guide

Productive Procrastination

Procrastinating one activity by performing another is a trick as old as time. It’s why students who have a dreaded assignment suddenly find themselves with one thousand and one other little mindless things to do.

And while procrastinating something at all costs can easily develop into self-sabotage, there is a way to use that procrastination instinct for good.

If you are staring blankly at your screen, don’t know where to start, or just otherwise fighting tooth and nail to focused … stop fighting. Frustration and anxiety make focusing on a new subject even harder and that natural resistance you feel towards getting into a project can sometimes (not always) be your bodies way of telling you that you need a break.

So instead put on a ten-minute video, podcast, or music playlist, and use find a healthy use for that procrastination energy. Like;

By giving yourself an intentional ‘break’ that is still productive, you can start to create healthy habits around work-life balance and recognizing when you need to step away.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

As we mentioned before, with so many students performing some or all of their academic duties from home, the lines between ‘school’ and ‘no school’ can get kind of blurry. As anyone who has ever tried to work from home before can confirm, that is a sure fire recipe for burnout.

Creating physical or mental space where you can flick on and off in work/study mode is key to setting healthy boundaries, achieving a balanced lifestyle, and long term success. We all know the age old adage of the unhappy employee or executive who keeps bringing their work home with them. But what happens when the work starts at home with you as well?

There are a few ways to help deal with this but none quite so effective as creating a physically separate space for study time. Setting your desk against a wall or window so that you are less distracted by other stuff in your room, working in a separate office space, or working at the dining room table, assuming you have a supportive household, are all valid options.

It can also help to set time restrictions. Parents can enforce this by breaking up study time with schedule meal times, but also by putting a time limit on school stuff. If school work HAS to be done by 8pm, then it leaves students time to unwind and helps create that space. It also helps to include regularly scheduled breaks throughout the day. I find that I can rarely focus for more than 3 hours at a time, so I plan walks, kickboxing, or meal prep time around those gaps accordingly.

Limit Screen Time

By now we all know how bad starring into our screens for hours on end can be bad not just for your eyesight, but also for your circadian rhythm, your general physical well being, and even our mental health. This is even more true for younger kids whose brains are still developing.

In a classroom setting, teachers of younger students will routinely break up longer periods of sitting with short periods of movement. This same concept can be easily applied to screen time as well, serving a dual function here as screen time is typically relatively stationary.

Schedule regular intermissions to get up, walk away from the screen, maybe get a snack or go to the bathroom or even take a little walk (this is easier to enforce if you have pets). Do anything and everything that is not related to a screen (computer, cell phone, TV) for at least ten minutes in order to allow your eyes to rest and give you a break.

Print notes or use physical study guides when possible. Take notes on paper instead of in a tablet. Zoom your classes by connecting the computer to a TV screen or larger monitor but further away. And, whenever possible, choose options that are physical rather than digital. We will never be able to completely walk away from our screens, they are too valuable a resource. So limiting their influence where we can is a big help.

There is still a lot of the school year left, and much of the world is still in a constant state of change. As we adapt to different circumstances and try to build good habits, it is important to be kind to ourselves, listen to our bodies, and take steps to protect our mental and emotional health, particularly as students. Building good study habits and setting healthy boundaries is just a small part of that, but it is a part that we can all work on a little bit every day.

Check out this and more original content available every week at by subscribing to us on Facebook or Instagram.

You can also check out Eve Daniels, author of The Nerdy Nanny books, on YouTube where she gives writing and academic advice as well as updating you on all of her latest and upcoming projects.

Balancing Mental Health, Productivity, and Self Care

Over the past several weeks, learning to balance productivity and keeping busy against mental health and practicing self-care has been more vital than ever.  While productivity and staying busy are sometimes a necessary part of this, it is also important to recognize that there will be times when we just need the time and space to not be okay. 

This is where an important distinction is needed.  You do not need to be in ‘extreme circumstances’ to be struggling.  Acknowledging that others may have a harder time than you does not mean that you cannot acknowledge your own difficulties.  You do not need to be in the worst possible situation for your feelings to be valid.  You just need to feel pushed beyond the boundaries of what you are capable of handling.

Mental Health

There is a common analogy given in stress management. I will link a version of down below but the essence of which is this; 

An individual is given a glass of water and asked how heavy it is.  Eight ounces, twelve, the real answer does not really matter.  The glass is light enough for you to carry with ease for a short while but, after an hour, the strain begins to build.  After a few hours, your arm will begin to hurt.  After a day your arm will feel numb and paralyzed and unable to help you do the things you need to in order to get through the day. 

Our brains work the same way.  We can handle almost anything for a set amount of time but, as the days turned to weeks and those weeks keep adding up, pretending that we are not holding onto a weight will only leave us paralyzed and cripple our ability to move forward.

We need to give ourselves permission to set the glass down which, admittedly, is difficult when you cannot just walk away from the situation… or even leave your house.  But if you can set aside the strain of it, just for a little while, and give yourself space to not be okay.

Previously we have talked over the science behind cabin fever and ways to combat its effects HERE.  These methods, while excellent for shaking yourself out of a funk, are not long-term solutions.  It is important to identify ways to protect your mental health, keep yourself occupied, and embrace self-care.

Protecting Your Mental Health

Limiting Screen Time

Sometimes we all just need a little help fighting our own bad habits.  Most of us are racking up impressive but terrifying average daily usage on our phones, not even counting the contOver the last few weeks I have racked up an impressive daily average of 7+ hours of screen time on my phone alone.  This does not even begin to count the hours spent binging on YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and Prime.  I had constant headaches, had difficulty sleeping and just generally could not concentrate.  Eventually, I just had to cut myself off.

  • Restricting access to certain apps or setting time limits is a great way to keep you aware of just how much time you are spending on your devices. 
  • Lock yourself out of your device entirely for one hour to stop the temptation entirely when you are trying to be productive. 
  • There are also programs you can install on your PC to accomplish the same goals
  • Turn off the ‘AutoPlay’ feature on your streaming services.
  • Try and limit total screen time to 8 hours a day and take breaks every 2-3 hours.  I know that may seem like a lot under normal circumstances, but we are not under normal circumstances.

Stay Active

Not moving is one of the biggest contributors to physical effects of cabin fever.  Muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, even digestive problems can all arise from being sedentary for too long. 

Going for long walks and listening to your favorite podcast or music playlist is a great way to give yourself a break from the screen.  Bike riding around the neighborhood with the kids is a good way to help them burn energy.  Move along to your favorite workout or stretching video, even if you do not go full force just getting up and moving is enough.  Or dance like no one is watching… and then post it to ticktock anyways because why not.


Some people have a strong internal locus of control, setting their own deadlines and sticking to them.  For others we need an external force, be it a boss, a teacher or even a friend, to be accountable too.  If you, like me, need a little bit of responsibility to help keep you focused, reach out to your friends, family, or online community to set up an accountability system.  Check-in with them and have them check in with you.  Set specific goals and try to motivate each other to keep to them.  Often times just knowing that there is someone else keeping track is enough to keep me focused, or at least more so than if left to my own devices. 


“You are not working from home, you are home during a crisis trying to get some work done.” – the internet

Let’s share a moment of honesty here.  Being ‘productive’ should not be the end all be all goal right now.  A nice perk, yes.  But not the finishing line.  Mostly I have found keeping busy to be an excellent tool in the toolbox for keeping my head on straight. So long as I focus on what’s in front of me I can forget, if just for a moment, about everything outside my window.

School / Work

For many of us, quarantine still means responsibilities.  And while school and work are not necessarily the first things you might want to jump up and do in the morning, they are a valuable avenue to focus your energy. 

If your job has more leeway it might be a good time to try putting together a new proposal or experimenting with new ideas that you would not otherwise have time for.  I’ve been experimenting with marketing options for the bakery I work at and branching into virtual tutoring for my nanny gig.

My Organic Chemistry class meets online twice a week and, without any other fixed points in my schedule, having that constant has been a tether that keeps me grounded.  I may lose track of time over the weekend but I know, come Monday and Wednesday, I have somewhere to be (even if it is only at my computer).  Additionally, the level of concentration required to even pretend to understand my course materials gives me a reason to, at the very least, keep a clear head for that three day stretch.  While few people are masochistic enough to sign up for organic chemistry unless they absolutely had to, it, if you have ever wanted to try an online class and have

Having a Creative Outlet

I am so lucky to have a creative endeavor already built into my life.  Writing has always been an amazing outlet for me, now more than ever.   That does not mean I don’t still struggle with getting motivated.  What has helped keep me inspired and focused has actually been YouTube tutorials and live streams.  Being around other people, even digitally, who are all trying to accomplish the same goals is a great feeling.

Exploring new creative outlets and opportunities can be fun, though they sometimes require special tools or supplies that you may not have readily available or could come with an unwanted delivery bill, which we talked about HERE

Try revisiting hobbies that you already love but have set aside because you were too busy. Or look at what materials you have available to you and explore from there.  Have paint?  Turn on a Bob Ross marathon.  Randomly stocked kitchen?  Check out SortedFood, Tasty 101, Binging with Babish, or even Mythical Kitchen and get cooking.  Only pencils and paper?  Try drawing your favorite TV characters from Tommy Pickles and Danny Phantom to Sesshomaru and Angewomon.  Or join our nerdy writerly collective and finally put that story idea you have had in your head to paper.  Have a phone? Photography, video, graphic design… the choices are limitless. Find a passion that interests you and that you have the resources to explore and dive in. 

Mental Outlet 

If you are actually serious about learning another language, I cannot recommend Rosetta stone enough. For those who are just curious, free apps like duo lingo are a great place to start.

We have already mentioned online classes as a great option, especially if you want to pursue a degree or certification. For those interested in learning for the sake of learning, Khan Academy and YouTube tutorials are a great place to start. However, SkillShare is still offering one month of free classes (as of the writing of this article) which are generally more comprehensive, better produced and more reliable.

Self Care

Spa Day

I am not normally a ‘spa’ kind of girl.  But even I want to be taken care of every once in a while. 

If you are feeling in a funk, try some of the methods to shake yourself loose HERE first, but then follow them up with a little self-pampering. Have a nice bath or shower, bust out the good body scrubs, clean up your nails, go for a face mask or all of the above!

Eat Right & Drink Water

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the human body was not meant to survive on coffee, potato chips, and French onion dip.  At least, I know my body seriously did not appreciate it when I attempted to do just that.  Ruling out all snacks and junk food is just not an option for most of us right now.  But taking the time to make yourself a delicious, healthy meal can help your body offset all of the sugary salty goodness we’ve been ingesting in the meantime.  A nice clean stir fry or a creamy vegetable pasta are both great places to start. Fill yourself up on fresh fruits and veggies or lean proteins. Eat as much as you want, but make it the good stuff.

Find a cup that you really like, especially one with a straw, and it will help you remember to drink more water.

ProTip from R.W. –

Drinking 16 ounces of water (the size of a large travel mug) is also an excellent way to give your body a fighting chance at normal.  You can temper your water with flavorings, extracts, or even juice if plain water is not your thing.  Water with citrus is one of the best choices, healthwise, though cucumber and mint are also popular.  A 4/1 water with cranberry juice and a little mint or lemon is a great mocktail option to keep you hydrated.

Give Yourself Time to Wallow

Pretending that everything okay is a strategy as old as time and one that, for a limited, is an effective coping mechanism.  We passed the point where that was effective in week two.  Keeping calm and carrying on may be the British thing to do, but it is not necessarily the healthiest. 

Give yourself time to not be okay.  Allow yourself to deal with the stress of this situation in whatever way helps you.  Take up kickboxing, binge watch every single James Bond movie, play Animal crossing for the entire morning.  Give yourself permission, give yourself that time and then, when you have sufficiently wallowed, pick yourself up, have a glass of water and a cool shower, and bring on the day.

Check-in on your friends.  Check-in on your family.  Do what you can to help others, but do not minimize or ignore the load that you are carrying.

We have all been under varying amounts of stress for weeks without a break.  Whether you are in an ‘ideal’ situation or one that is more difficult, do not minimize the weight you are currently carrying. 

When a plane encounters turbulence you are instructed to put on your own oxygen mask first and foremost.   We are in turbulent times, and ignoring your own strain and failing to reach for the oxygen is not a sign of strength or toughness.  Find your oxygen.  Find the thing that keeps you grounded and clear-headed and grab onto it like the lifeline that it is.  Check-in with others both for their benefit and yours.  Keep yourself preoccupied to keep your mind off of things.  And give yourself the time and space that is needed to acknowledge that yes, the plane is shaking.

Quarantine and Mental Health – Combating Cabin Fever

Day 27… I have run out of Cheese It’s.  The Gilmore Girls witty banter no longer soothes my consciousness and Captain Picard’s voice is the only thing tethering me to reality…

Okay, it is actually only day 12 for me, but it certainly feels longer.

Hopefully you, like many of us, are self-isolating as much as possible and are practicing social distancing.  And while this is essential for slowing the spread of the virus, it can play havoc on your mental health.

Quarantine & Cabin Fever

As we are all self-isolating as much as possible and businesses remain closed, our levels of human contact and normal everyday routines are being severely disrupted.  Working from home, or being out of work entirely, time starts to lose its meaning.  Days blur into one another and we lay around in our pajamas and binge watch old episodes of Mythbusters for the four thousandth time. 

Having other people with you can either help or make it harder.  Another person, child, or pet can keep your consistent and grounded as their routines remain fixed.  The dog still needs to be walked three times a day, at least, your partner still watched Ellen every day at 4 pm, the toddler still wakes up at 5 am.  Other times having another person there can make the effects of isolation feel worse if your internal clocks become increasingly disparate.  When one person is waking up at 3 am and barely sleeping and the other is sleeping 12+ hours a day it can feel almost as isolating as if you were on your own. 

All of this contributes to a well-established psychological state known more commonly as ‘Cabin Fever’.

Isolation, Depression and Anxiety

Cabin Fever is a very real mental health phenomenon that most people who live up north are intimately familiar with.  The MythBusters did an experiment to demonstrate the various symptoms (currently available on Hulu) back in 2008.  Lethargy, irritability, loss of patience, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest, trouble sleeping.  All of these are symptoms of cabin fever.  They can also be symptoms of depression and can be extremely destructive to our mental health. 

Add to that the anxiety and uncertainty around everything that is happening in the world around us and it can be easy to see how people may struggle.

Combating Cabin Fever

Various medical resources such as the World Health Organization and Psychology Today have useful and more comprehensive information on how to deal with Cabin Fever, like this collated article on WebMD HERE, but below I have narrowed it down to the top three techniques for dealing with cabin fever.

Combat Cabin Fever by Going for a Walk

I know, I know. It sounds stupid. It’s also something that people have probably already been telling you to do. But did you actually do it?

One of the contributing factors to cabin fever is the lack of direct sunlight.  Broad-spectrum UV radiation, at safe levels, has a number of widespread health benefits.  The Mayo Clinic discusses using a ‘Light Box’ to treat seasonal affective disorder HERE, which is commonly associated with cabin fever.  Seasonal affective disorder and cabin fever are not the same, but they share many symptoms and often overlap.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is also known as the ‘winter blues’, but the poor weather, shorter days, an increased amount of time spent indoors can all contribute to feelings of cabin fever, which could occur at any time of the year.

Here in South Florida, we are lucky enough to have a warm sunny climate for most of the year and, as coronavirus is not airborne, we are able to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine without investing in a lightbox.  A short, 10-20 minute walk just around your neighborhood as an excellent way to soak up some sunlight and fresh air.  Feel free to put on music or your favorite podcast as you walk, but avoid just staring at the screen for the entire time.  If a walk around the neighborhood isn’t possible, just sitting on your balcony or front step and soaking up whatever light you can is still a good way to ease yourself back into reality more gently.

If however, you live in a climate that is more gray and cloudy than blue and sunny, a lightbox might be a good investment if you find that you are particularly affected by the lack of light exposure.  Various models are available for purchase over the internet with contactless delivery available.

Help Your Mental Health by Exercising Vigorously for 10 Minutes

Gyms may be closed and, if you’re like me, you weren’t going to one anyways.  But being stuck inside for several days at a time can make anyone a little bit twitchy.  Instead of fighting those nervous instincts, it is far better, and healthier, to let them out. 

The next time you are feeling just a little bit jumpy put on some pumping music, set a timer for 10 minutes, and go to town.  Run in place, do jumping jacks, do pushups, do crunches, squats, or high knees. Dance like nobody is watching. Don’t pause, don’t wait, just go to town, pushing yourself comfortably but firmly until you are mentally and physically exhausted.  The point is not to get in a comprehensive workout, but just to move and release all that pent up energy and anxiety in a healthy way.

Avoid scrolling through exercise workouts until you find one you like.  The next time you feel jittery, just turn on the music and do what feels comfortable, even if that’s only latent memories of the 4th-grade presidential fitness test, as long as you just keep moving.  After you’ve burned off all, or at least some, of your nervous energy, you can always look through exercise routines or YouTube videos for things to use the next time.

Vigorous exercise produces endorphins, increases the oxygenation of your blood and muscles and provides a cathartic release that can help to settle anxious minds and refocus us mentally, physically and emotionally.  Regular exercise can also help promote GABA production, increases your mental fitness and clarity, and elevates your mood.

Elle Woods said it best – “Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Happy people don’t shoot their husbands.”

Shock Yourself by Taking a Cold Shower

For the record?  I absolutely HATE this method.  That does not mean it does not work or that I have not already used it twice this week, but it still seriously sucks. 

For our purposes, a ‘cold’ shower is anything below about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  We are not talking Ice Bucket challenge temperatures here, just low enough when compared to normal human body temperature to trigger a small shock reaction.  Also, while extended cold showers can help with things like inflammation, muscle soreness or joint pain, this only requires about 30-60 seconds under the spray.

Stepping into a cold shower shocks the body by constricting the blood vessels, thereby forcing the heart and lungs to punch in that bit of extra effort to keep things circulating.  It sends an electrical jolt through the peripheral nervous system straight into the brain which triggers a fight or flight response that promotes mental clarity.  Cold showers affect the metabolism by tricking your body into thinking you need to burn more calories to stay warm, and it can actually affect your blood sugar (Diabetics, talk to your doctor before starting a cold shower routine).  Alternating between a warm shower and a blast of cold also works, but if that is your preferred method you should always end on cold for the best results.

All of these come down to some form of physical shock.  Why?  Because the human body is an amazing and complex biomechanical construct – it knows when to prioritize certain stimuli over others as a matter of survival. 

Ever had a headache and then stubbed your toe?  Yeah, bet your head did not hurt after that. Your body actually took in the new information of ‘stubbed toe’ in the form of nerve impulses, compared it to your headache, and decided that it was more important for you to deal with the new painful stimuli rather than your dully throbbing head.  It works in much the same way that our ancient ancestors would have prioritized being clawed by a saber tooth tiger as more relevant than a mild sunburn and therefor reacted accordingly. 

Shocking your body physically, whether through light and stimulation, vigorous exercise, or cold, is the surest, simplest and safest way to shake yourself out of a mental funk and reorient focus to what is important.  Various tactics and techniques have been used over the decades, and even centuries, to help combat depression, seasonal affective disorder, and our old friend ‘cabin fever’.  We picked out these three because they are the easiest, can be almost universally applied and, at least in our experience, work.

As always, if you feel your mental health begins to deteriorate, exhibit unusual behavior or find yourself having thoughts of self-harm please seek out emergency medical help. Resources are available even under self-isolation advisories and quarantine measures. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 as well as the National Alliance on Mental Health at 1-800-950-6264. Other resources such as dedicated video counseling are available through various apps and you can always reach the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 741741.

The methods listed above can help shake you out of a funk, but they are not necessarily enough to stop you from sliding back into one.  It is important to find a routine or activity, we will discuss a few options next week, to help keep you grounded and locked in over the coming weeks as it is looking increasingly likely that we are in this for the long haul.

Stay Safe.  Stay Sane.  Stay with us.

Great Expectations

Setting Realistic Goals for 2020

Tuesday night brought an end to a rather tumultuous decade. For many people, the years between 2010 and 2019 passed in a blur. But with the stroke of Midnight, Wednesday surged forth to usher in a new year, and a new decade, and a new beginning.

New Beginnings have a magical effect on our psyche. The idea of a fresh start or a chance to begin again is something that, as human beings, we find desperately alluring and, at times, almost cathartic. Nothing inherently magical happens at the ticking of midnight as seconds bleed from one year to the next, but the psychological ramifications are very real and can be an amazing leg up if used to our advantage.

In a tradition as old as time, many of us have scribbled down a few well-meant goals, vague wishes, or firm self-imposed edicts. But creating those resolutions is a process that that is often paved with the best of intentions and, as a result, just as flawed as you might expect.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. Making, and subsequently keeping, a promise to yourself is one of the hardest things you can do. It is also the most worthwhile. If you cannot be held accountable to yourself, you will be perpetually reliant on others to provide the motivation and structure needed to grow.

Knowing how to set realistic goals and expectations is a necessary life skill that is important for everyone.

For kids making their first attempts at resolutions to working adults struggling to find enough time in the day to take care of their careers, their relationships, and themselves, to retirees trying to make the most out of every moment.

Creating realistic goals is difficult. Following through on them day after day will ultimately be down to you. But knowing where to start? We can help with that.

*If you go through the steps below, and trust them in their entirety, it can help you create a realistic set of goals for the year to come.

Start from Scratch

Think you know what you want to set as your goals or resolutions for 2020? That’s great! Write them down, create a list on a piece of clean paper, and fold it in half…

Now burn it.

We all have preconceived ideas of what we want to do or accomplish which also means that, more than likely, you have preconceived ideas about how they are going to unfold based on your experience attempting them before. Which means you already have a bias, for good or for ill, which will influence your behavior.

Forget what you’ve done before. Forget what you think you want to do. Start from scratch and we’ll get there.

The 7-3 Rule

Human beings are not generally able to juggle more than 7 distinct items within their short term memories. It is a general principle of psychology known as “Millers Law”. On a practical level, this generally means that if you are trying to instigate changes in your everyday life, the same limits apply.

Now, this has nothing to do with the practicality of implementing 7 distinct changes to your life or routine but purely comes down to the simple task of memory as you try to juggle all 7.

Realistically, when it comes down to large sweeping changes, it is more helpful to look at our ability to concentrate on more than one subject at a time. Generally speaking, the Rule of 3 applies here.

This does not mean trying to do three things at once (ie. trying to read while doing elliptical while eating vegetables) but rather that we as humans are only able to prioritize a certain number (3) of things above everything else at any given time.

We are still not making our lists yet, but keep these two things in mind as you move forward because it will help to shape your goals into something more manageable.

The I-Beam Test

* I am failing in my due diligence here. This is an established practice by a motivational speaker who I have been unable to locate online. If anyone knows or can identify the person to give them proper credit, please list them in the comments below.

We once had a speaker in college who talked about identifying what was really important to you via something called ‘The I-Beam Test’. The basic premise was that, when offered a reward, you walked across a steel construction beam on the ground for say, ten bucks. Easy, right? As the beam was raised further off the ground, the reward increased. Two feet off the ground, twenty bucks. Ten feet off the ground, one hundred dollars. And so on and so forth. At a certain point, a thousand feet off the ground, there are very few things most people would be willing to cross that I-beam for. Even if you have crossed that very same I-beam a thousand times before without ever faltering. Even if it something that you are absolutely 100% sure you can do, the risk stops us from acting.

The challenge becomes this – at a thousand feet up, what would you cross the beam for? A thousand dollars? Nope. A million? Yeah, not happening. A hundred million? Mmmm… still thinking. So, what would you cross for?

Now let’s try this from a different angle. Parents, your child is dangling over the edge on the other side, about to fall at any moment. Are you even going to hesitate?

Most parents will be across that I-beam in a heartbeat without even questioning it.

That is what you are looking for. The things that, when it comes down to it, you would risk everything for. So really, what would make you cross the beam?

A lot of people will probably skip this step. It is hard and requires a level of self-honesty that makes most people uncomfortable. When you really sit down and evaluate what it is you would take that risk for, it can make you completely re-prioritize your life.

There was a man attending this speaker’s event some years ago who, months after the event, finally sat down and really thought about the I-beam test. He was working all the time to provide for his family and was progressing well in his career, but as a result, he never had time to spend with his wife or ten-year-old son. After examining his choices he took a step back at the company, came home early, helped his son every day with his homework, coached his soccer team, and even took his son on business trips with him, introducing the boy as his business partner. The time they spent together brought them closer together than he ever thought possible and he cherishes every moment.

Two years later the man’s son died of Leukemia. He wrote to the speaker shortly after the boy’s death to thank him for the memories and time he had with his son that otherwise, he never would have had.

I will say that if you choose to skip this step for your resolutions I understand. Evaluating your entire life is not the lighthearted tip or ‘life hack’ that many of you will have clicked the link for. But if you choose to actually sit down and put your goals to the I-beam test, it will completely change the way you think about your priorities.

Set General Goals

Remembering the 7-3 Rule, begin thinking of the kinds of overall goals you might like to aim for.

For most people, resolutions tend to fall into one of three categories; Health, Social, Career. There are other commonly reoccurring themes; traveling, trying new things, saving money. But most will fall into these general categories. Keep in mind the 7-3 Rule and, if you did it, the I-beam test.

For the sake of this exercise, we are going to use this general list of goals on the left. Some are specific to me, most are more general. I want to use a broad range of examples as we go through each of the following steps to turn them from General Goals to Actionable Resolutions. Your goals and ultimate plans may be completely different. And I advise not actually having this many. But in order to provide the broadest example, we will start here.

Be Specific, Be Realistic, Be Accountable, Be Honest

These aspects (specificity, reality, accountability, honesty) are what take the goals from our previous step and sharpen them into something actionable.

Be Specific

According to U.S. News and World Report, 80% of resolutions are abandoned by mid February. One of the most common reasons comes down to the general vagueness of the resolutions.

“Get out More” is a great goal. But because it is so vague it is also inherently harder to follow through on and a lot easier to let fall to the wayside. When trying to make a goal more specific there are 3 things to consider.

  • Parameters; what counts as going out? If you end up at the same sports bar three times a month would that count?
  • Solo or Squad; does this require other people or are you going alone? Doing things with other people can create more accountability, but also increases scheduling difficulties.
  • Timing; is this a once a week thing? Every Sunday? Or is there a minimum time for this, like exercising for 3 hours a week or meditating for 10 minutes a day? *Setting a schedule can also help you to determine if a goal is realistic and keep you accountable as the weeks and months go on.

“Go out and try something new with friends (or alone) at least once a week”. This is a lot better. It sets parameters, you can include suggestions of what to do or maybe a wish list of things you want to try, and it includes a self-imposed deadline (once a week). Additionally, because two of the resolutions were so vague, we were able to combine them, which makes it more likely that to follow through on both of them.

Be Realistic

Check that your goal is realistic in terms of time commitment, finance, and energy. In terms of the previous example, is it really reasonable to be able to go out every week?

Even if you’re just going to the neighborhood bar and grille, dinner a couple of drinks, and a tip can easily be $40 or more. Trying new experiences, attending classes, these things can easily become a daunting expense.

Will you have time/energy every week? Lots of us have more than one job, family, or other commitments that draw on our time and energy. What happens if you get sick? If you need to travel for work or family? Starting to make exceptions when things come up can make it easier to give yourself a free pass.

Be honest with yourself and your reality. Setting goals is great. But if they aren’t attainable you are only setting yourself up for failure. Adjust your goals to suit your reality.

Sometimes you will need to adjust your goals after you’ve started. Wanted to get fit so maybe you joined a gym or a club, but it isn’t working out? If you aren’t comfortable in a class, or if it is hurting your body in ways that are not just muscle fatigue you might be doing more harm than good. Don’t be afraid to adjust your method in order to achieve your underlying goals.

Be Accountable

At the beginning of this article, we discussed how a resolution is a promise that you are making to and for yourself. Even resolutions that you may make with others in mind (spend time with kids, be more present at home, call mom) are still yours and yours alone.

Knowing that you can say you are going to do something and that you will actually follow through with it is no small thing. Being accountable to yourself, first and foremost, is a hallmark of integrity and something that should never be underrated.

It is also really hard.

There is nothing wrong with needing to lean on someone else to start with. While the ultimate goal is to be self-sufficient in this matter, starting off with an accountability-buddy or using programs or apps to help is absolutely fine so long as it helps you to achieve your goal.

When you keep a promise to yourself, even with help, it is a powerful thing. And it is self-perpetuating. Being accountable to yourself gives you the power to set your own path and accomplish so much more than you might have been able to before.

Be Honest

None of this means anything if you aren’t honest with yourself. Resolutions are promises that you make to and for yourself, not others. As such, if you are being dishonest with yourself, the only person hurt is you.

We all tell little white lies here and there. Sometimes as a matter of social convention, sometimes to spare someone’s feelings. Lying to yourself fulfills the same functions. But lying to yourself also means you are the only one being hurt. And it works both ways.

Begging out of a workout because you are ‘too busy’? Trying to stick with a new routine that just isn’t working because ‘you just need to get used to it’? I would say ‘Be Honest with Yourself’, but that’s not enough. Instead, I would rather you learn to recognize when you are starting to lie and call yourself out on your bull.

Additional Tips and Tricks

Setting Gentle Goals can make it easier to stick with it. Instead of ‘Eat Healthy’, ‘Try and choose the healthier option’ or ‘make better food choices’. Setting firm rules is a great way to set yourself up for failure. ‘Breaking’ a diet or a new habit often leads to people going off the deep end and completely overdoing it, which makes it harder to get back on track. Go out with friends, order that burger- but maybe just skip the fries and the soda.

Having Accountability Buddies can be a great resource, but this is only as reliable as the buddy. If your ‘buddy’ is likely to waver or lose interest a few weeks in, it does you no favors and can actually make it harder to keep going yourself. Be honest about your buddy’s ability or willingness, or choose a group of people (online or IRL) to help keep you honest.

Know when to give yourself a break. Diets have cheat days. Plans get put on hold. Projects are abandoned and started from scratch. Knowing the difference between when something just isn’t working rather than if you just don’t want to do it is important here. We all have off days, but sometimes strategies need to be adjusted. Check-in regularly and just be honest with yourself.

For more on setting new habits, self-honesty, and accountability, check out This Video by Matt D’Avella. Seriously, he’s awesome. And so much time and work and research go into his videos to create a great platform for you to use in creating your own habits going into the new year.

Check out this and more original content available every week at by subscribing to us on Facebook or Instagram.

You can also check out Eve Daniels, author of The Nerdy Nanny books, on YouTube where she gives writing and academic advice as well as updating you on all of her latest and upcoming projects.

7 Healthy Habits

The Holiday season can be a time of chaos, stress, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Most of us are running on not enough sleep, we are eating like teenagers (whatever is around) when we remember to eat at all, and basically doing anything and everything possible to slowly degrade our own physical and mental health only to try and do a complete 180 as soon as January hits. But why?

Why are we waiting for a designated day on the calendar to start taking better care of ourselves?

So, whether it is the middle of December, the first of January, or a random Tuesday in April, here are a few things you can do NOW to help take better care of yourself.

Ditch The Caffeine

While an extra cup of coffee was helpful for a quick influx of energy, the more cups I consumed, the worse the inevitable crash. It started to take a long term toll on my health.

I’m basically running on caffeine and stubbornness at this point. But as the days and my to-do lists got longer, my two cups a day was rapidly closing in on six. Eventually, I became a walking bag of sleep-deprived delirious jitters being held together at the seams (just barely) by my next fix. That was when I realized I needed to cut back.

The Nerdy Nanny

Simple things like switching to a smaller coffee mug in the morning, or ditching the travel mug in exchange for actually having to get up and get a fresh cup in the afternoon, can drastically reduce your overall caffeine intake. Avoiding sugary flavored coffee drinks is also a generally good idea, though for other reasons.

Drink More Water

Most likely, someone has been telling you this already. As a general rule, we rarely drink the amount of water we actually need.

Most people should be drinking about 2 liters (or a half-gallon) of water each and every day. Men a little more than women, and someone who is 6’8″ need more than someone who is 4’9″. But in general, a half-gallon is a good place to start.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten came from a 13 year old.

Get a new cup or travel mug, but like, one that you really really like, so that you’ll remember it and use it more often.

-R (age 13)

Bring a Snack

I am a firm believer that 9 out of 10 problems can be solved, or at least helped, with the addition of a snack. Don’t have time to meal prep? Don’t worry about it. No time to eat in between business meetings? We’ve got you covered. Screaming toddler? Well, I never said you had to eat the snack.

Whether it’s a Multigrain bar, granola, a piece of fresh fruit, a Ziploc of mixed nuts or pretzels, or just an assortment of whatever was in your fridge; veggies, cheese, deli meat, fruit, boiled egg.

The world is a much better and more easily manageable place with the addition of a snack.

Take Ten

Meditation is not for everyone. And while Yoga is great, taking the time for a one hour class isn’t always manageable.

So Take Ten.

Just ten minutes. Set a timer on your phone, start with twelve in the beginning as it will take you longer to relax the first time. In your office, at home, sitting in your car (a personal favorite). Take ten minutes, eyes closed, to just breathe. Think about all the things you’ve managed to get done already. Check-in with yourself. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Need to pee?

What can you check off your to-do list already? Which errands are you stressing out about that really aren’t that important? How do you really want to spend your time that day?

Times up. Open your eyes, turn off your timer, take a deep breath, and go conquer the world.

Blue Light = Bad

Blue Light, which is visible light with a wavelength between 350 and 500 nm, exists all around us. It’s why the sky looks blue, it comes from natural and unnatural sources, and, most notably, computer screens. This is a problem for a couple of reasons. First of all, the eye is not particularly good at blocking out blue or ultraviolet light, which can harm the cornea and cause eye problems after extensive exposure. Additionally, blue light activates certain parts of the brain which essentially tells your body ‘it’s time to be awake now’. This is why it can be so hard to wind down while using electronic screens.

I am by far one of the biggest culprits the world has ever seen. When stressed, I have a tendency to turn to my phone for ‘downtime’.

What started out as ten minutes of games or a casual scroll through Facebook, can easily become an hour or more of screen time. I don’t feel any more rested for it and usually have a headache.

The Nerdy Nanny

The Solution? Parental Control yourself.

No, I’m not kidding. These days everything from your smart phone to your laptop to most modern TV has a plethora of parental control options. Check your usage, see what’s sucking up your time, and put down healthy limits.

For me it was two things; social media, which I kind of need for work, and Merge Dragons, which is painfully addictive. I limited myself to two hours per day on total social media, but quickly learned I needed to exclude FB Pages from that ban (which is very easy to do) for work. Merge Dragons on the other hand… in once spent in one week on vacation a grand total of 17 HOURS playing that game. That’s another part time job! I cut myself down to one minute a day for 30 days, just to break myself of the habit. And now that I am (mostly) able to control myself, I have two hours per week.

Parental control are easy to set up and a great resource for breaking bad habits. Because sometimes, the person we need to parent is ourselves.

Plan Ahead

Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance


I used to HATE that expression. I thought it was pompous and arrogant and disingenuous… and I especially hated it because it was true.

I would spend hours each week working through my to-do lists, coming up with to-do lists, forgetting/losing those lists, and then having to come up with them all over again. But, beyond giving myself and anxiety headache, I never accomplished much other than actually making the lists. I knew what I needed to do, I just never put any thought into how I was going to do it.

This may sound like a simple step. And for most people, it is. But for me, there was a logical disconnect between knowing that I had to do something, and actually planning out how to do it. But once I did that, I found my to-do lists continuously shrinking rather than growing faster than I could handle.

  • Buy Milk – stop at the store on way home from work Thursday
  • Submit Sample Writing – use draft from ‘Mocking Bird’, edit & submit Friday
  • Christmas Presents – Stop at Super Target Saturday & Envy Sunday.

Once I laid it out so that I knew not just what I had to get done, but also when, how, and where I was going to do it, everything became that much more manageable.

Forgive Yourself

Too often we are ready to forgive others, but hold ourselves to such high standards that they are impossible to meet. We are only human. We are flawed, and we are fragile. We deserve the same kindness we would give to others. If you are struggling, or overwhelmed, or feel like you have failed in some way- please, I beg you, just take a moment, and forgive yourself.

If you’ve forgotten some important form or piece of paperwork – forgive yourself. If you’ve been working hard to eat healthily but fell off the bandwagon when someone brought in donuts – forgive yourself. If you said something careless to someone you care about and hurt them, even if you didn’t mean to – forgive yourself.

The world will keep on turning. We all will keep on trying. And tomorrow, we will try again. Flaws, failures and all.

So put a granola bar in your bag. Grab that cool $15 water bottle that you really liked but held back on. Put the phone down before bed. And give yourself a moment to breathe, be, and be happy.

Because I think you’re doing a darn good job of being a human being.

Check out this and more original content available every week at by subscribing to us on Facebook or Instagram.

You can also check out Eve Daniels, author of The Nerdy Nanny books, on YouTube where she gives writing and academic advice as well as updating you on all of her latest and upcoming projects.

Setting Fall Intentions

To Survive the Holiday Chaos

In the old calendar, Samhain (now Halloween) marked the end of the year. A time when this world and the next were pressed closely together, a time of spirits and predictions when energy and intentions and magic held a special sort of power.

Samhain may be over, but setting your intentions for the months to come can still have a powerful impact. Providing focus and intention to a time when, quite frankly, most of us are just trying to get through the day.

As the Holiday Season approaches it brings with it tidings of joy and goodwill, along with long hours, overtime, errands, rushing around, online shopping, screaming kids, and the overhanging feeling of guilt that we’re somehow not making the most of the season. The stress of the holidays has a way of wearing you down and making it feel like even accomplishing the most basic of tasks is an uphill battle. It doesn’t have to.

Setting Your Intentions can Save Your Sanity

First, let’s rewind a little bit. By this time of year, most of us have long since abandoned whatever goals or resolutions we might have made those long nine months ago. Our schedules, our diets, our best-made plans, they all go out the window once the holidays tick around. But why? Just because you didn’t get it absolutely spot on right off the bat? Making a few deliberate choices and taking decisive action can help you to keep your sanity and actually make the most out of the holiday season.

So what does it actually mean to ‘set your intentions’?

Setting your intentions is about focusing your life, your time, and your energy towards accomplishing your goals. It’s an active process, not a set and forget, that you have to do every day. But starting off on the right foot can help make this process easier.

I am going to walk you through three simple steps to help set your intentions for the fall and make the most out of the looming chaos…

Step 1:

Find Four Hours to set your Intentions

If you’ve ever cracked open a self-help or productivity book, they usually start with the suggestion of ‘taking a day’ to start the process… a day? You’ve got an entire spare DAY lying around that you’re not using? The last time I had an entire day to myself it was because I had Norovirus and no one wanted to be within ten feet of me (google it, or don’t, because ‘ew’). Having a whole day to yourself to get things done is a luxury that, if I had it, I wouldn’t be so behind on everything else in the first place!

So let’s get real here. Four Hours. That is really all it really takes, and that’s all most of us can manage at one time anyway.

Block off one entire morning after dropping off the kids at school, try and slip out a few hours early from work, grab a triple espresso or energy drink and try to power through in the evening. Drop the kids at grandmas if you can, or suggest a swap day with a friend, ‘you take them Saturday, I’ll take them Sunday’ kind of deal. Find an afternoon between Job #2 and Responsibility #17 where you can stretch that time and just block it off. But find the time, and build a barbed wire fence around it. It is yours, and it is all you’ll need for this.

Step 2:

Clean and Purge for your Mental Health

Deep cleaning your entire house and going through all of your clutter is a daunting multi-day task and not really a realistic goal here. But that is not what we are doing here. The process I am going to outline is not about organizing, it’s not about tidying. This is a power move to plow through the chaos and restore some measure of sanity. I will go more into detail at a later date, but for now, just know that it is the process that is important.

Odds are, if there is chaos in your life then there is chaos in your house, your car, your office… you’re getting the picture here. So start by finding two areas. Just two places that are piling up with stuff that you really want to deal with and just don’t have time.

For me? It was my car and my desk. Somehow, someway my car always ends up full of other people’s junk. And my desk runneth over with unopened bills, packaging, receipts, and other miscellaneous junk I don’t really need. Grab a garbage bag and an empty bucket or bin, plug in your headsets or put on some high tempo tunes, and get ready to attack.

Once you’ve got your bag, your bin, and your songs going, you’re ready. Pick something up, anything at all, and ask just two questions;

Is this garbage?

Yes. Good, then throw it away.

No. … are you sure? Do you actually need that old Walmart receipt? Or the pen that’s running out of ink? The Tupperware lid with no container? If you are really sure you need it, then you can move onto question two.

Does this object ‘live’ within five feet me?

Yes. Okay, great. Put it there. Yes, even if it’s already cluttered. And don’t get distracted attacking that new area! Stay focused and turn back to what you’re working on.

No. Dump it in the Bucket. You can deal with it later. Now is not the time to be going on side quests. Put. It. In. The. Bucket.

With the music jamming and no distractions, it should take no more than one hour per area (unless you bit off more than you could chew – aka, trying to tackle the entire garage). This process frees up the need for side trips, keeps you focused on the task at hand. The end result is a more manageable area in a relatively short amount of time and a bin of stuff that can be sorted through at a later date.

Step 3:

Be Kind to Yourself

You’ve just spent the last two hours jamming and getting *^it done. You deserve a break. And I’m not just saying this. It’s important.

So Take. A Break.

You just got something done. You set a task, you tackled it head-on, and now it’s done. You probably already feel good for accomplishing that, but reinforcing that feeling with a little love and some self-care creates a positive feedback loop that will encourage you in the future. Been waiting to catch up on an episode of Stumptown? Hit play (but just the one!). Feeling kind of hungry? Grab a bite, something that will really hit the spot. Want to close your eyes for five minutes? Put on some nice tunes, lay back, set a 20-minute timer, and grab a well-deserved nap. Been feeling kinda ragged? Buff up your nails and put on a fresh coat of polish.

Or, best of all, go for the combo. Pop on Stumptown, grab yourself a bag of chips, or maybe a little fruit and cheese to feel fancy, both followed with a few squares of stolen Halloween candy, and try not to get chip crumbs in your nail polish before it sets. Settle down, take an hour (or one episode of your favorite TV show) and be kind to yourself.

Step 4:

Take a Monkey Off your Desk

The holidays have a way of collecting a myriad of tasks and errands and little odd jobs that, quite frankly, we say yes to without considering whether or not we actually have the time or energy to get them done. Did you say yes to helping out with that school function? Did you agree to host dinner for one of the many family events coming up over the next few weeks? Did you promise to babysit for a friend, or stay late at work, or do any one of a hundred other things that are really just NOT your problem?

It’s all right. We all do it and I am not saying you should abandon your responsibilities to your friends or family. But each one of these things, these responsibilities, these little favors, is a monkey being piled onto your desk. A screaming, belligerent, poo throwing monkey. And your desk can only handle so many monkeys before it overflows and then, well, zookeepers have horror stories…

So take stock of your monkeys. Figure out which ones are yours, which ones are others, which ones only you can do, and which ones can be handled by anyone. Then, hand out the monkeys. No time for the four-hour-long school event? Offer to pick something up or help out in some other way. Agreed to babysit but seriously behind, ask for a swap, or to return the favor. Hosting dinner? Well, it’s pot luck now. Said you’d stay late at work? Take the morning off or a long lunch to run errands.

And if you agreed to do something that you just straight up do NOT have time for? There is nothing wrong with admitting that you are overwhelmed and overextended. Take a deep breath, kick the monkey off your desk, and keep going.

Step 5:

Focus Your Intentions on What is Important

You’ve set aside the time, you’ve attacked the chaos in your physical space, you’ve taken the time to be kind to yourself and you’ve taken the monkeys off your desk. Or at least, most of the monkeys. Now take the last few moments of your secluded section of sanity to focus.

Setting your intentions is hard, for a couple of reasons.

Knowing what you want is more complicated than you might expect. Knowing you want out of life, well, that’s a whole other series. But knowing what you want in the next three months? That’s usually a little more manageable

Setting your intentions requires being honest with yourself about what you truly want out of the coming months. For those who practice self-honesty regularly, this is a habit. But for others, it can be more difficult. We often have the potential to confuse what we need or want with what everyone else believes we should need or want. Being honest with yourself is hard, but if you can manage it, self-honesty provides a level of focus that helps keep your sanity.

  • Do you want to ace your classes at school?
  • Do you want to reconnect with friends or family?
  • Do you want to step up your game at work and try for that big promotion?
  • Do you want to be more proactive in addressing your own health?
  • Do you want to make more memories with the kids?

All of these, and many more, are perfectly valid goals worthy of support. As long as you are honest with yourself, recognizing your priorities and your goals is an important step. But no one else can do them for you, or even help, unless you take those first steps yourself.

Once you know which intentions (and yes, you can have two, but more than that is not recommended) to focus on, you need to make it a part of your routine. Remember, this is an active process, not a set and forget. I will go more into ‘focus lists’ in the spring, but for now we’re going to do a rough outline.

Each week, create a list of up to five things to focus on that line up with your chosen intentions. Put it somewhere that you will see it every day, multiple times a day. In your planner, car visor, as the screen on your phone. Note: this is not a To-Do list, it is purely to help keep you on track and remind you of the things which you have already determined to be important. I’ll give you one of my focus lists from a few weeks ago as an example;

  • Conquer Genetics Mid-term
  • Establish SEO connections
  • Make healthy food choices
  • Nephew – Aunty Time

I kept my list limited to four that week, as the first two were big-ticket items that took up a lot of my time and energy. The second two were more ‘back of the mind’ considerations that I tried to take into account when I could. I didn’t manage to finish everything I needed on the SEO, but I did make a good start. I avoided the drive-thru but wasn’t perfect with my food choices. I got to spend Tuesday night with my two adorable nephews, even if one of them did puke on me. And, best of all, I managed to get an A on my midterm.

This process, like the one we used in step two, takes time but, when practiced regularly, helps to provide a clear intention and keep your mind and energy focused on what matters most.

Setting your intentions is, funnily enough, an intentional process. But it’s one that can keep your head clear and your life resembling some semblance of sanity in the months to come. More importantly, it gives you the freedom to focus on the things that really matter to you.

You’ve set aside the time, you’ve owned your physical space, you were kind to yourself, you eliminated unnecessary burdens, and you have focused on what matters. All that’s left is to follow through.

Take the time, make the choices, and focus on what you want out of each and every day, week after week. You’ve got this.

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