It’s May! ….well, we’re already 12 days into May. 🙂 That means it’s time for a post about my Feel 2018 April Observations and Reflections. I don’t know if anyone else is interested in these posts, but it is good for me to go back through my journal over the past month and see what kinds of things I have been learning and growing in.
For the first few months of this year, and at the beginning of my Feel 2018 personal research project, I focused a lot on learning about how to process negative emotions. I think that that was a good place for me to start. But then towards the end of March and beginning of April, I started to feel the push to transition to learning how to invite and embrace positive emotions more consistently, intentionally, and fully in my life.
Here are some things that April held in store for me…
Embracing Dancing and Singing
From my journal…
April 16, 2018
With my feel 2018 personal research project, over the past few weeks I have been feeling drawn in the direction of focusing more attention on intentionally creating more joy and cheerfulness in my life. I want to smile and laugh more. One way that I have been realizing how to do this is particularly through music.
One of these things, I actually started doing at the beginning of the year, but I have continued to do it and even been more intentional and excited about it – which is dancing to an upbeat, feel good, start-the-day-off -right, kind of song during my morning routine.
Vulnerability at it’s finest for me. 🙂 You should feel honored to be invited into this moment of my life. 🙂
A couple nights ago, Jershon and I were laying in bed, reading our books for a few minutes before bed. I was reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown and the part that I was reading was about singing and dancing.
Here are a few quotes that really stood out to me…
“Throughout human history, we’ve relied on laughter, song, and dance to express ourselves, to communicate our stories and emotions, to celebrate and mourn, and to nurture community.”
“Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing; We are not alone.”
“Whether it’s a hymn at church, the national anthem, a college fight song, a song on the radio, or the carefully scored soundtrack to a movie, music reaches out and offers us connection – something we really can’t live without.”
“It didn’t take me long to learn that dance is a tough issue for many people. Laughing hysterically can make us feel a little out of control, and singing out loud can make some of us feel self-conscious. But for many of us, there is no form of self-expression that makes us feel more vulnerable than dancing. It’s literally full-body vulnerability. The only other full-body vulnerability that I can think of is being naked, and I don’t have to tell you how vulnerable that makes most of us feel.”
“There’s no question that some people are more musically inclined or coordinated than others, but I’m starting to believe that dance is in our DNA. Not super-hip and cool dancing, or line dancing, or Dancing with the Stars dancing – but a strong pull toward rhythm and movement. You can see this desire to move in children. Until we teach our children that they need to be concerned with how they look and with what other people think, they dance. They even dance naked. Not always gracefully or with the beat, but always with joy and pleasure.
Writer Mary Jo Putney says, “What one loves in childhood stays in the heart forever.” If this is true, and I believe it is, then dance stays in our heart, even when our head becomes overly concerned with what people might think.”
“A good belly laugh, singing at the top of your lungs, and dancing like no one is looking are unquestionably good for the soul. But as i mentioned, they are also exercises in vulnerability. There are many shame triggers around the vulnerability of laughing, song, and dance. The list includes the fear of being perceived as awkward, goofy, silly, spastic, uncool, out of control, immature, stupid, or foolish. For most of us, this is a pretty scary list. The gremlins are constantly there to make sure that the self-expression takes a backseat to self-protection and self-consciousness.”
So that spurred a conversation with Jershon about how I have been feeling drawn to add more singing and dancing into my life – which I know is a shocker because I have told myself and everyone else for several years that “I am not a dancer.” But I am starting to see the light. And I’m starting to recognize how valuable singing and dancing can be for my life. He was thrilled about this because he loves to sing and dance. Haha.
I told him that I have even had the thought that maybe I will look up some free online dance lessons sometime – to improve my dancing skills and moves. Haha. Seriously. I don’t even know myself anymore. Hahaha.
After we were done reading, Jershon randomly turned on a song on his phone and then I wanted to show him the song that I have been dancing to pretty often for my morning routine. So I started playing that song and he started dancing “with me” …although I wasn’t even dancing yet. I decided to just be vulnerable and dance with him. I felt kind of silly and awkward but I just leaned into it and gave it my best shot. And it was fun. Haha.
I also finally signed up for a spotify premium account so I have been listening to a lot more music lately. I’ve been adding in dancing and singing into my normal day at random times.
Another thing that I’ve been doing is singing “To a Child” to each of my kids, individually, before tucking them in. I’ve always (well, at least since being a teenager or something) thought of myself as not a very good singer, but I’m throwing that notion out the window and singing anyway.
Last night, Jershon started singing the song “You’re my Inspiration” by Chicago, on my family’s Marco Polo (it’s an app were you can send video messages to someone or a group…kind of like text messages, but they are videos) group. We had been joking about how Brendan loved that song when he was in high school so Jershon just started singing it. He only sang a few lines and then told me that I should sing the next few lines and we should just go back and forth. Haha. Normally, I wouldn’t be up for this. Being vulnerable – singing and positivity and let-my-guard-down-just-be-silly interaction with my family aren’t usually my cup of tea.
But I decided to just go for it. We sang almost the whole song, just going back and forth. Haha. Jershon changed outfits for each of his parts of the song and I ended up laughing so hard that I was crying.
Even though I still felt vulnerable, it felt really good to just relax and enjoy myself and smile and laugh and have fun. It felt freeing to allow myself to positively “interact” (through the phone at least) with my family.
All of this reminds me of something that really stood out to me during the Living Legends show that we went to with Jershon’s family in the middle of March. It was a good show, but we had only been back from India for a couple weeks and the overstimulation hadn’t worn off all the way yet. So watching a bunch of ethnic dances ended up being a shame trigger for me in a lot of ways. I felt shame for not having enjoyed our India trip more and for getting annoyed with all the dancing.
Something that really stood out to me though was when the narrator said that the people had “rhythm and love for life.” I felt strongly that I wanted to figure out how to cultivate more of this in my life. I wanted more rhythm and more love for life. And perhaps, I could find some of this through dancing…
Positive Parenting and Teaching
Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash
Remember how I mentioned in my March post that I had been feeling a lot of shame in relation to certain situations in my life? Well, a big one of those situations was my church calling. I am a primary teacher and I teach the 5 year olds. Now, to be clear, the kids in my class are good kids. But they are still kids. I don’t hate kids. Of course, I don’t. I have 4 of my own. 🙂 But precisely… I have 4 kids of my own. Which means that I’m not exactly thrilled to teach primary because it means that I miss out on adult interactions and lessons, and I spend my entire week with my kids and then go to church and spend all of church with kids as well. I know that some people love teaching primary. I applaud them. 🙂
If you would have asked me a month ago about my calling, and I was super honest with you, I probably would have said that I didn’t like it at all and was secretly hoping that we would move or something so I could get released. Haha. I got this calling at the beginning of the year and the first handful of weeks weren’t horrible, some weeks were pretty decent. But then a series of things happened – my co teacher moved so I was left all on my own for a couple months; I took a couple of instances of consistently absent kids (who come from very active families), personally; and in general, I just had a hard time managing my brain about the kids’ behavior and seeming disrespect and unwillingness to listen to the lesson that I had taken time to prepare.
All of this culminated with a very rough lesson one week at the beginning of April. I lost it. No, I didn’t yell at them, or do anything mean. But I did cry. My primary class made me cry (and not in a good way)! Right there, in the middle of class! How pathetic and embarrassing! Haha. Now, to be fair and give myself some grace, my emotions were on the veeerrryyy surface that day because I was stressed and worried about a different personal issue in my life that day. I was very vulnerable and susceptible to overflowing emotions that day.
That day became a turning point in my calling though. After having a good long vent session with my husband and getting all my feelings and thoughts and frustrations out, I started to have a change of heart. I started to work on my thoughts and see what I could do to change because I knew that I didn’t want to ask to be released – I feel like I have something valuable to learn from this calling – but I also didn’t want to keep coming home from church feeling grumpy and miserable.
That week, I happened to start reading a book that I had heard about called Parenting with Love: Making a Difference in a Day. At first, I was only reading the book to help me to improve my parenting, but over the course of the week, I started to see how the skills and tools might help me with my primary class as well. I just didn’t know exactly how to apply them in the primary class setting.
On the following Sunday morning, I woke up early so that I could do a mini morning routine. In my prayer, I specifically asked Heavenly Father to help me with my class. I asked him to help me to have higher thoughts and to see the kids through His eyes. I asked for extra help with helping me to be calm and peaceful, even when they kids were disobeying and being disrespectful.
After my prayer, I decided to just see if I could find any answers or resources on the internet about how to stay calm as the teacher when the kids aren’t listening. Miraculously, I happened to find a really great resource that was exactly what I needed. It was definitely an answer to my prayer and gave me some hope that I could have a successful class that day.
I tried out the suggestions and techniques and that lesson ended up being the best one I’d had the entire year. And I came home feeling successful and fulfilled. 🙂
I have continued to use these techniques and teaching tactics every week (gradually increasing the time intervals each week for the rewards) since then and it has continued to be successful.
As far as parenting goes, that book that I mentioned has been helping me to create more of a positive environment in our home. I’ll have more to report on that in my May post. 🙂
In the middle of April, I started reading a book that has been on my to read list for a couple years (but I had forgotten about). It’s called Hardwiring Happiness. The author, Rick Hanson is a neuropsychologist. The book is about brain science and how we can literally rewire our brains to overcome the brain’s negativity bias. We can strengthen the neuropathways that are positive inner strengths such as peacefulness, contentment, love, resilience, confidence, determination, and insight.
I have been enjoying this book and testing out the strategies and tools as I make my way through the book.
“Your experiences matter. Not just for how they feel in the moment but for the lasting traces they leave in your brain. Your experiences of happiness, worry, love, and anxiety can make real changes in your neural networks. The structure-building processes of the nervous system are turbocharged by conscious experience, and especially by what’s in the foreground of your awareness. Your attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it highlights what it lands on and then sucks it into your brain – for better or worse.
There’s a traditional saying that the mind takes it’s shape from what it rests upon. Based on what we’ve learned about experience-dependent neuroplasticity, a modern version would be to say that the brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon. If you keep resting your mind on self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness, and guilt. On the other hand, if you keep resting your mind on good events and conditions (someone was nice to you, there’s a roof over your head), pleasant feelings, the things you get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take a different shape, one with strength and resilience hardwired into it, as well as a realistically optimistic outlook, a positive mood, and a sense of worth.
In effect, what you pay attention to – what you rest your mind on – is the primary shaper of your brain. While some things naturally grab a person’s attention – such as a problem at work, a physical pain, or a serious worry – on the whole you have a lot of influence over where your mind rests. This means that you can deliberately prolong and even create the experiences that will shape your brain forever.” (pg. 11-12)
“If you want to develop more gratitude, keep resting your mind on feeling thankful. If you want to feel more loved, look for and stay with experiences in which you feel included, seen, appreciated, liked, or cherished. The answer to the question of how to grow good things inside your mind is this: Take in experiences of them. This will weave them into your brain, building up their neural circuits, so you can take them with you wherever you go.” (pg. 13)
Rick Hanson talks a lot about taking in the good and installing good experiences into your brain. Of course, this includes big, amazing moments, but it’s more about the little, everyday moments of joy that we often overlook, or don’t fully embrace and absorb into our brains.
Photo by Aubin A Sadiki on Unsplash
Here are a few examples that I wrote down of moments that I took in the good in April…
April 23, 2018
We’ve gone to a couple of baptisms for kids in the ward over the past month and something that I have really liked is that when the primary president gets up to welcome the child into the ward as an official member, she brings them up to the front and has them look out at everyone that is there to support them on this special day. Then she tells them to “Close your eyes and make a memory”.
It especially goes well with what I have been learning from my book – Hardwiring Happiness. I really want to start doing this in my own life. – closing my eyes and “making a memory”. It’s a moment where I can “take in the good” and install the moment/memory into my brain.
This afternoon, the kids and I went over to the park in our neighborhood. As we were walking over there, their was a breeze and the wind was blowing through my hair. I took a few seconds to enjoy the moment and I closed my eyes and “make a memory.”
Another time that I “took in the good” was this afternoon. Roxanne was watching the video that I made of Grandma Hall’s life. She is obsessed with this video. She calls it the “Paka woo-wee” (Grandma movie). The video is 17 minutes long but she loves to watch the whole thing – and she’ll watch it multiple times in a row if I let her. Today when she was watching it she kept pointing to the photos of Grandma and saying “it’s Paka! … it’s Paka!” It was so cute. I just love the connection that she seems to have with Grandma Hall.
April 26, 2018
After the graduation was over, we had to wait outside for a while and then we walked back to the van. It was quite the walk because we had to park so far away (Jershon dropped us off at the Marriott Center and then parked the van and walked over by himself.) We got to Heritage Halls. The kids and I (and Jenna) hung out on the big grassy lawn while Jershon ran across the super busy street to go get to where the van was parked. It took Jershon several minutes before the traffic slowed down enough for him to cross. While we waited, the kids ran around on the huge lawn. The weather was perfect, warm, slight breeze, sun starting to get lower. I could hear a song playing from the bell tower. I closed my eyes and made a memory … partially a memory of a memory, and partially a new memory. I was reminiscing on my time as a student at BYU. Those were some good times. Sometimes I miss that time of my life – even though I wouldn’t trade this current stage for it. I was thinking about where I was standing – at Heritage Halls – these aren’t the same buildings as when I lived there (they tore down the old buildings and built new ones a few years ago), but I was still standing in the general area of where I lived as a freshmen. And now, 12 years later, I was watching my 4 kids run around in the grass and enjoy the feeling of BYU campus. BYU really does have a special feeling to it.
The Lookup Challenge
Photo by Thiago Cerqueira on Unsplash
I’ll let my instagram post do the talking on this one…
April 16, 2018
Personal story… about 9 years ago, when I was a newlywed and expecting my first baby, I was serving in young womens as my church calling. I can’t remember the details of what the lesson was about, but one Sunday, I vividly remember the comment that one of the 12 year old girls made. She said “my mom just spends time on the computer all day.” That comment really hit me. I felt so bad for the girl. And I told myself that I was never going to be that kind of mom.
Well, life has a way of making me eat my words when I’ve judged someone. And over my 8 years of mothering, I have found it a challenge to not get sucked into spending time on my media devices. It’s a habit that I have wanted to figure out how to balance for several years but have struggled with the application. Over time I have made improvements, but not as much as I wanted to. That young woman’s comment has come back to haunt me over and over again.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago… That morning I had written down my questions for general conference. One of my questions was “how can I spend less time on my phone and more time connecting with my kids?” Lo and behold, that afternoon, Heavenly Father sent me a message with a big part of the answer… through my friend Emily. Emily mentioned a podcast episode that she had just listened to and was recommending. It was called “How to stop looking at your phone so much and why it matters.” (Katie Penry, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the area of women’s children’s and infant mental health, was the guest on the 3 in 30 Takeaways for Moms podcast)
I immediately listened to the podcast. I felt several emotions: hopeful, shame, excitement, guilt, etc. But I decided that I was determined to change. I was just going to move forward. The past couldn’t be changed but the future could.
I looked up @afriendlyaffair and signed up for her free 7 day look up challenge.
I completed the challenge a couple weeks ago and it has made a big difference in my life. The way that Katie approaches this topic made so much sense to me.
She helped me to establish media free spaces and times instead of going the route of time limits, or media fasts, like I had tried in the past, but ultimately didn’t last because I didn’t have the understanding of WHY to back them up.
The result has been more connection with my kids, more happiness for me, and the ability to use my media devices in a guilt free way at the appropriate times/spaces. Because there really is so much good that can come from technology. It just has to be used in the right way, and at the right time, and in the right space.
I know that this is a vulnerable topic… for me at least, and I am guessing that it is for other moms as well. I have often struggled with the thoughts of “I feel guilty about these bad mom habits, but I’m too embarrassed to talk about it and admit it to other people.”
But really, this is such an interesting challenge to navigate in our world today. We are the first generation of moms that have had to deal with smart phones and social media. We are pioneers. I think we should all give ourselves a little bit of grace as we try to intentionally figure it all out and find the balance.
I had my off days, but for the most part, April was a very successful month for me, especially in relation to parenting and increasing joy in my life. Here’s an entry that I wrote in my journal…
April 20, 2018
I kind of feel like a ticking time bomb for even admitting this “out loud” (to my journal. haha) but motherhood has been going soooo well over the past couple weeks. That doesn’t mean that my kids have been perfect, or that I have been perfect. But I have felt a noticeable positive difference in my heart and in our home and in my relationships with my kids.
I think all of this really is a result of 2 main things that I have implemented in my life since the beginning of this month.
The first is the look up challenge, which I have written a bit about. I established media free spaces and times (like mealtimes, after school until 4:30 pm, bedtime, bath time). Because of these media free spaces, I just don’t even touch my phone at all unless it is completely necessary for some reason. And having a watch (which was part of the look up challenge) has helped me to not look at my phone as much because I don’t even have to check the time on my phone anymore.
The second one is that parenting book that I read last week called “Parenting with Love.” This parenting book teaches how to parent with a positive approach.
These two things, combined, the look up challenge and the new parenting approach have been helping me so much to be a better mom. And I have been getting some amazing (though on the surface they don’t appear to be monumental) results.
I genuinely feel more calm, more peace, more contentment, more joy. I am actually enjoying motherhood. I actually feel happy. I am more present with my kids, especially during the most important parts of the days – the “cross roads” (as I remember them being called in my parenting class at BYU) – in the morning when the kids wake up, after school, and at bedtime.
A couple weeks ago, I started singing to the kids individually before bed. I sing the same song to each of them, every night. The song is To a Child – that song that my Grandma Hall loved. I can’t remember exactly why or when I started this little nightly ritual with them, but I think it was when I was doing the look up challenge and was trying to be more intentional about connecting with the kids – and not being tempted to get on my phone at bedtime.
The kids have been loving this little ritual. And I have been enjoying it too. There are nights when I am tired and maybe feeling a bit grumpy and ready to “clock out”. I’m tempted to just not do this little ritual, but I do it anyway. And because of that, I always feel like I end the day, in motherhood at least, in the right way. I feel like I end the day as a winner. My kids are happy, I’m happy, all is right in the world. It’s so interesting how even if there were parts of the day that didn’t go so well, if we end the day in the right way, all the rest just seems to melt away and we don’t remember it.
Along with that, if everything in the day went really well but the day ends in a bad way, somehow the bad ending seems to really put a damper on things and I don’t go to bed feeling like a winner.
So this is kind of my new approach – start the day off the right way, end the day the right way – and make my best attempts in the middle, but if the middle gets a little messy, the right being and the right end will somehow make up the difference.
Also, I have been having great results from the new positive parenting approaches that I’ve learned from that book and I’ve been putting into practice. Basically, it comes down to focusing on the positive, ignoring the “noise” (inconsequential negative behaviors), and outlining expectations.