Neurobiology and Behavior self-development

Setting goals you’ll actually reach

One of the biggest problems with how most people set goals is they fail to realize in order to get X, they have to re-imagine their lives as someone who has X. Then get to work developing the skills and knowledge required to have X.

Learn to set long term goals that level up your life. Read more at

Let’s start with an example:

To achieve a health goal you have to look at the ripples of change required to sustain effort and progress over time. Imagine you’ve met your goal – how do you shop, cook, sleep, play, work differently than you did before you set your goal?

Sometimes this happens accidentally – I was significantly constrained financially when I first started learning how to cook for my family. Eating out, buying the pre-made version, etc was out of reach. I had to get our food budget planned out down to the last dollar for every month in order to make sure I was squeezing every bit of value out of our budget (which was around half the size of the average family’s food budget). I became a person who cooks mostly from scratch and emphasizes nutrient density because there was zero room for empty calories and I learned we could get more variety if I made it myself. Now we have more space in our budget…but I still cook everything at home. Eating out doesn’t even occur to me because my environment forced me to think and live a different way.

If you choose not to constrain yourself to this degree, it will take a lot more pre-strategy on how you will reinvent your habits around whatever area you hope to change.

Here are my tips for goal-setting that, I hope, go beyond the usual way of approaching things. I like Lara Casey’s method for reflection and daily tending on long-term goals. But I’ve found that I have to infuse that method with a little extra work to fit my own brain so I’m jotting down the result.

Think of this as a bit more of an analytical approach. It won’t work for everyone because nothing ever does – just like the many other methods I’ve tried don’t really work for me. I aim to provide a more systematic approach that incorporates the (un)predictable nature of the brain amidst change and hope you will be able to pull a few insights for their own planning. We are all a mish-mash of methods tailored to our own context. Strict following of anyone else’s plan is not a guaranteed success.

I do not consider this to be complete. It’s not a product I’m trying to sell. I’m sharing because I get asked and I thought it’d be worthwhile to write down what I do (and a bit of why).

Disclaimers aside…

The first part will address the initial selection of goals, the second how to stick with goals that are a ways down the road – we worked for 5 years to buy our Tesla, we’re on a 10 year term for our current financial goal, and I’m in a year in to a 5-ish year career goal. Through each of these experiences I’ve gotten more comfortable with things taking consistent effort over a long period of time. Setting goals is not trivial – because failure has a high cost on the individual and the family – but sustaining yourself until the goal is fully accomplished often feels like more of a black box that I’m going to try to parse out.

Setting goals

Goal setting is a skill. People often achieve long-term goals, like a graduate degree, but it’s also common to see they’ve let a lot of other things slip in order to make it – they didn’t manage their stress well, their relationships suffered, etc. It’s like in college when people tell you, “there’s fun, good grades, and sleep…you can only pick two.” Maybe the way we’re currently equipped to self-manage makes that true, but I don’t think we’re actually limited in that way. A goal can result in a holistic upgrade to your life. I’m attempting here to capture how.

  1. Any vision of the future you could have is separated from you by a series of skills you haven’t yet acquired. It’s up to you in the design phase to parse out those skills and map them to your life. Every skill has a knowledge component – learning more about your body in order to take better care of it, etc. Then there’s the deep practice (habits) – like performing air squats until you can do them properly without thinking, skipping snooze, preparing meals with enough protein, etc.
  2. Any goal ought to tie in to what you want your future self, family, environment to be like, anticipate the needs and obstacles – how can you get yourself ready to meet them?
  3. There needs to be a pull – a planned benefit that is personally meaningful. Just forget the goals you set because you “should” set them. What do you actually care about. You may end up circling back but get some success first before you tackle the stuff you can’t decide you want yet.
  4. Instate milestones that bear load – meaning if you don’t achieve them it actually means something. 
  5. I suggest the milestones be clustered closer together for the first 3-5 if it’s a goal where your life will look significantly different on the other side. Big goals like that can feel intangible, you need to make progress right away that a) builds confidence and b) moves the present “before” a little further on so you can more easily imagine a future where you are a different person and in a different life. Grad school is a bridge that will usher me (and consequently my family) into a new phase of life that is sometimes tough to imagine ever actually happening. So I have to build in milestones that make it easier to believe we will actually get to that imagined life.
  6. Don’t be afraid to iterate and refine as you go. It’s not always possible to anticipate what your future self will need – but you can get started in a direction and once you reach a couple of milestones you’ll have more information to go off of – adjusting course if needed.
  7. Turning vision into action is, itself, a skill – it’s one thing to design a goal, it’s another to break those goals up into little pieces and scatter them effectively over the next few months. It will take experimentation to find a method that works well for you and you might discover a method doesn’t work because you don’t make any progress – that’s ok! 

Goals can – and should – be thought about on different scales. One of my current goals is getting my PhD – I expect to be done sometime in the next 3-4 years…and I originally set the goal in late 2016. However I think of graduation as more of a placeholder because the real purpose is to become a PhD. It can mean different things to each individual but when you spend somewhere around 2000 hours per year over 5 years thinking, strategizing, experimenting with a (sort of) singular focus, you change. Holding a degree doesn’t do that, putting in the effort does that, letting go of what you thought you knew and who you thought you were does that. The 2017 version of me was not capable of what I’ll go do at work this week.

Progression over time doesn’t come through single large jumps from milestone to milestone. Instead it’s the accumulation of daily, weekly, monthly, etc action. When something is going to take years we aren’t really even jogging…we’re walking. One step at a time. Besides work-related development, working on my PhD is a time frame for developing a number of other skills, habits to fill in the picture of the 2023 version of me. What habits has she developed to handle stress of more responsibility? How does she dress, present herself, etc? What’s her relationship with her kids like?

Daily – 

Each section depends on the goal you’re working towards. At a minimum you’re recalling + envisioning the future state you’re moving toward on a daily basis. The more time you spend with your future self in mind, the more you’ll start to make daily decisions for that person. Your present self gets a lot of attention each day – food, clothes, hygiene. Many parts of your day can either share attention or be more focused on what gifts you’re giving to your future self (whether it’s a month from now or further). Exercise and food choices are two such categories. Part of becoming someone new over the next few years requires a set of daily choices that will benefit that person (you!) beyond the present moment.

Monthly and beyond –

How you set milestones and choose which skills to develop is very contextual. Once I started my grad school I made choices about classes and my personal goals based on job searches for what would come next. Career goals can be structured around what a person who gets hired is capable of doing. Job descriptions are helpful. You should also consider the “soft” or otherwise unspoken skills that people who get hired have — network connections, physical presence, communication in multiple mediums (email, written, casual phone or in-person, more formal “talks”, etc), effective improvisation, etc.

Even if your goal isn’t a career it’s still possible to design your milestones using other people (I recommend going further than what your hero shares on instagram). What is life like for people who have what you’re aiming for? What problems do they face? What skills do they tap into on a regular basis? 

[A few words on comparison: get over it. Yes, there are a lot of people who are better at X than you. And you’ve got some things figured out that still other people don’t. That’s life. This becomes obvious when you transition to thinking in terms of skill development. You can choose to learn from others, stealing what is useful and discarding the stuff that is context-specific, or you can stay stuck simply because you weren’t born with some of the skills “she’s” got. Any person consists of a set of skills. If you want something they have, reverse engineer the skill and decide if the cost is worth the effort.]

That’s all I’ve got for the moment – not complete, but a starting point. Throw your questions in the comments – I’m happy to be more detailed where it’s needed.

If you take away only 1 thing – take note of how often the word “skill” comes up. If you don’t see life as a series of acquired skill sets you will continue to struggle with achieving long-term goals.

Nutrition and Meal Prep

Feeding a first grader

Frey is back in school and I definitely enjoyed a more relaxed summer in terms of meal prep.  Her school is nut-free (is that how it is everywhere?) and she eats both lunch and a snack at school (that we send with her).

Food habits and favorite meal prep recipes for the school year. We eat a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet and our first grader is very active. Here's how we're all staying fed through the school year.

How we eat at home

We don’t have any food sensitivities nor allergies so no special diet per se. However we do aim for nutrient dense foods and focus our efforts on protein, fiber, and healthy fat choices since simple carbohydrates are easy to come by.

We make 90% of our meals from scratch and near 100% is prepared at home. I put more of an emphasis on breakfast and dinner since the kids have been preparing their own lunches for a year or two. However dinner is where variety happens as we eat the same breakfast everyday and lunch is usually leftovers or pb&j. We don’t really do snacks generally speaking unless we are traveling (though I keep cheese sticks, fruit, raw veggies, and cliff bars on hand for grab-and-go foods when we have afternoon plans and need finger-food lunch). Otherwise the food in our fridge / cupboards is for cooking.

Since starting work last year I’ve had to rethink our food prep a bit since I’m no longer home during the day to take care of it. In reality this means our meals have gotten even simpler. Things are changing up again now since school has started and the weather is shifting (into more soup and slow cooker friendly temperatures).

Feeding Frey

I have 3 conditions for food as Frey transitions back to eating away from home:
1. keep prep simple
2. maintain high nutrient density
3. increase autonomy in her food choices

Toward the end of last year Frey was itching for more variety and was asking for hot lunch. We changed up a few things to help her finish the year but come August I started looking for ways to give her what she wanted (without paying for school lunch she probably wouldn’t eat).

As I mentioned, her school is nut free. It’s smart – reduces risk for other kids. But Frey has eaten a pb&j for lunch most days since she was 2 years old. Would’ve been nice to not have to think about it. But I do and so here I am sharing about how I’m planning to maintain density without adding a bunch of food prep to my plate.


Very simple: egg bake and I’m often switching between muffins, baked oatmeal, and waffles.

Our day starts a lot earlier than the kids are used to so keeping their breakfast as familiar as possible – and already prepared – has been essential.

Our egg bake is super simple – I can’t remember where I got it. I’m sure I used some pinterest recipe as a framework.

18 eggs beaten with 1 cup coconut milk, salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound breakfast turkey sausage, cooked
4 oz cheddar cheese

Spray a pyrex dish (9×13) with olive oil, add all ingredients.
I stick it in the oven Monday morning when I wake up. It’s ready in about 40 min (at 375 degrees).

As for the baked oatmeal, last year we’d prepped tons of apples in August so I used frozen apples to make this one:

Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal from Five Heart Home

Our mods:

  • Doubled the recipe to get enough for the whole week
  • Throw in an extra 1/2-1 cup apples and 1/2 cup milk to make up for not having applesauce.
  • Swapped walnuts for almonds and reduced the quantity (essentially we just didn’t double it like all other ingredients).
  • We’ve also added zucchini (with a bit more milk) and we’ve swapped out apples for pumpkin puree (using pumpkin spice but the rest is the same).

Since we don’t have apples this year I’m using a mixture of applesauce and raw apples. I also add in pureed butternut squash or pumpkin to get a good moisture level.

We also like these waffles and these muffins. I’ve done shredded apple and squash for the muffins. 


Here’s where I’ve done the most thinking. Have you noticed that most foods geared toward kid’s lunches are either fruit or dairy based? I’ve got nothing against either category, but when it comes to picking quick things for Frey to eat (she doesn’t get very much time) I’d like a bit more than simple sugars and low-fat dairy products.

She did a little investigating while at school to see what other kids were eating and use it as inspiration for what she might want to bring. She happily informed me that Sun butter is acceptable and has also shown the most interest in yogurt. Now it’s my turn to round out her meals so she is getting a good amount of protein, healthy (as unprocessed as possible) fats, and complex carbohydrates. A lot of grab-and-go foods that also claim nutrient density are based on nuts, so it’s taken some time but I think I’ve landed on something.

She is mainly switching between a few lunches:

  • Leftovers! I bought this Thermos and she’s used it so far for leftover tacos and curry.
  • Sun butter and honey (or jelly) sandwich with a piece of fruit and raw veggies.
  • Yogurt with berries


Snacks have been surprisingly difficult – she eats lunch before 11am so her snack needs to be substantive enough to keep her focused, energized all the way until home by 4pm. Again, most store bought options are fruit or dairy based. Nutrient dense options are all nut based. 

I want to keep meal prep easy so this week I’m trying Pioneer Woman’s Homemade Aussie Bites. We got the Costco version during our summer road trip but they were a little sweeter than I wanted. Both kids liked them

I doubled the recipe and switched out sunflower seeds and butter for chopped pumpkin seeds and coconut oil, respectively. I also didn’t fully double the honey and skipped coconut flakes. Overall took a whopping 10 minutes to put together (including grinding oats to flour and chopping up the pumpkin seeds and apricots in my food processor).


Here’s where we eat most of our vegetables for the day.

Throughout the fall and winter we eat a lot of soup, chili, stir fry, and tacos with as many vegetables as I can fit in. There are a couple of times each week when I’m not home until late — Eric and the kids handle dinner those nights, I just leave a recipe behind. I haven’t really needed to do much for meal planning except for a short refresh of my mental options when the weather changes. Essentially, I keep our fridge stocked with vegetables that are good for a variety of soups or favorites for roasting. As the weather cools I usually slow cook a large quantity of meat (chicken thighs, roast beef, pork shoulder) at the beginning of the week to have with roasted veggies throughout the week.

I wouldn’t say I’ve got a particularly novel plan for dinner — during this season I’m not really trying new things. But we’ve accumulated some favorites over the past several years that add variety without much thought required. The best thing I’ve done for our meal planning is develop a framework for meals. I saw it written out for the first time in the book Bread and Wine. But I’d been doing it subconsciously longer than that. Basically, instead of planning specific meals, I have categories of meals for each day of the week. I.e. Taco Tuesday. It’s not always “tacos” but some variation at least. This adds an automatic filter to my mind when I’m thinking about what to make for dinner…narrowing the possibilities and working from a template makes improvisation a lot easier.

There is also a general trend of more involved cooking at the start of the week and faster meals as we near the weekend. That’s usually because the soup and meat I make on Sunday and Monday lasts for lunches through the week and we can improvise a bit more Wednesday and Thursday if I don’t have a meal already in mind — leftovers if we have them or else a quick rice bowl. And we always make our own pizza on the weekend…1 pesto and 1 pepperoni.

One last note:
While not having a plan or forgetting to pull out things from the freezer is frustrating, I don’t do a whole lot of food prep. [[Occasionally I’ll chop veggies on Sunday so they are ready for soup / roasting later in the week…but that’s usually because I’ve run out of fridge space and broccoli takes up less spaced once chopped.]] Instead, I’ve developed enough comfort in the kitchen where making dinner after a long day of class and work is relaxing. I’ll listen to a book or just to the melodic sound of chopping brussel sprouts. It’s recovery. And I’ve already used it a number of times as a moment of self-care before returning to studying.

Mindfulness and Cognitive Science

Revisiting self-doubt

It might be helpful to take a look at a post I wrote previously on a mindful approach to self-doubt. The following post is independent but I’m not going to go into detail about our current understanding of impostor syndrome or biological reason for self-doubt. Think of this as an informal follow-up case study from my first semester of graduate school.


Every time we endeavor to learn something new we have the opportunity to become new people. It’s like giving little gifts to our future selves who will be able to see and interact with the world around them in a different way because of the work we do today.

“No deep learning takes place unless learners make an extended commitment of self. Learning a new domain, whether it be physics or furniture-making, requires the learner to take on a new identity: to make a commitment to see and value work and the world in the ways in which good physicists or good furniture makers do.”

James Gee, 2005  (emphasis mine)

As stated by Gee (and personally experienced + witnessed), identity and learning are strongly linked. A person cannot fully understand a domain if they choose to hold tightly to their present sense of self — because that present self doesn’t include the pending knowledge or experience. Additionally, the true integration of new mental models will forever change you. Besides, if you’re seeking to develop expertise, why would you want anything different than a shedding of previous selves in exchange for a new self?

For example, when I did a deep dive on dryers so I could diagnose and fix ours I had to release the mental image of myself as someone who has never fixed a large appliance. It took a while. I stalled, I hoped Eric would do it, I second-guessed myself. Then I watched a bunch of videos, took apart the dryer, identified all the parts, diagnosed and repaired the problem and put it all back together. And so, in a small way, I became a new person. What opened the door to learning? Recognizing I had the ability to learn something new and deciding to grow into someone who can fix a dryer. Perhaps this seems like a lame example – but I’ll point back to Gee’s quote above. Whether you want to be a physicist or furniture maker, you have to open your mind up to the reality that the world is actually different than how you see it right this minute. 

As seen in my example, you can limit your future self just through thought. This is already strongly supported by research (with Carol Dweck’s classroom experiments being the most well known). Looking at the dryer – I’ve never broken an appliance. I don’t have any evidence that my involvement in a project is more likely to yield damage than success. One could argue the contrary, actually. And yet, if that’s what I tell myself that’s how I behave.

When the biologist studies technology

[I had the chance to do a real-time study of taking on a new identity and dealing with the unavoidable uncertainty period of that experience during my first semester of graduate school. The following are my takeaways]

The first week of classes is, typically, filled with ensuring I know where + when class is, getting important dates into the calendar, and testing out new rhythms. However, in that mix was my personal objective #1: Establish a way through the self-doubt I assumed I’d encounter.

I’d been surrounded by it in my previous work as a personal trainer — from clients, fellow business owners, and my own personal experience. Self-doubt came up enough that I even wrote an article on how to approach it mindfully a few years ago. Since that post, it’s been a point of interest to examine what predicts self-doubt. Is it simply a part of life? Do some experience it more than others? Does it correlate to certain fields, positions, or genders? Then self-doubt, belonging, and impostor syndrome were the theme of graduate student orientation speeches by leaders of the University — I began to think maybe this was an opportunity to test myself. Have the past several years equipped me to enter a new field and mindfully maneuver through my [presumably inevitable] self-doubt? Or would I need to relearn everything in situ?

Learning and doubting

Taking on a new identity requires dismantling the old one — an intensely disconcerting state of mind. This is why people avoid trying new things – especially to a point of proficiency. Makes sense then that it shows up a lot in graduate students. The journey to expertise requires us to first admit who we are right now is insufficient for the task ahead and, therefore, we must change. But we just finished compiling all the records to convince others that we ARE sufficient, right? So maybe throughout that application process we start to think we should be further along by now. Then classes begin and we start to wonder about where we stack up among our peers – and come to realize we’re less prepared or practiced in some areas. What’s your response to this? Do you start complaining about your classmates, escape to Netflix, or do you simply admit that you have work to do? (Not a grad student? Just substitute motherhood, marriage, job, etc).

A better way

There’s a way around the mental discomfort, of course. Fake it. Every time that feeling of “I don’t understand” creeps up, just turn on Netflix or scroll Instagram. Go rant about something you think you have all the answers to. Or talk about your work with enough confidence and ferocity that no one dare probe deeper.

That’s what I chose in undergrad…but I’m choosing something different now. My future self doesn’t just want to know more about chronic disease and how technology can help us better predict + prevent it. I want to personally help predict and prevent chronic disease. Which means I need to understand technology and how it’s developed. Turns out that means math, stats, and computer science. A BS in biochemistry is helpful to some degree, and also not at all.

By the time I applied for graduate school I’d already gone through several cycles of identity shifting as I zeroed in on what I wanted to study and why. Once it was finally time to start I thought my first computer science class would send me into a valley of doubt but instead I found that now it was just time to go to work. So I did. I leaned hard on my mindset training and my support network and let the semester be my training grounds. I reminded myself that I wasn’t there to impress anyone – I was there because there’s a set a concepts and skills my future self needs.

Adjusting your attention

It’s important to note that implicit in much of our talk on expertise and education lies, I think, one of the roots of impostor syndrome and self-doubt. This is the idea that at some point we should reach an “arrived” state where we are the expert with all the answers and everybody listens. With this belief comes the habit of  “there’s so much I don’t know” leading to “someone will find out and I’ll be exposed as a fraud” when it should be “what do I need to do to fill this gap?”.

Of course there is more to learn. Of course learning one thing uncovers a whole new set of domains you must also try to understand. We are a speck in the story of the universe — it’s ridiculous to think you will ever learn all there is to know. That’s what makes it so cool.

Those who have dedicated themselves to expanding into new domains whenever needed can do it, in part, because they have come to expect the mental game that comes with learning and applying new concepts. They understand it is a part of the process of gaining new tools for attacking their problems. So long as you’re testing your models and working to improve them, you will continue to progress. It’s just the way it works. Pay attention to where your gaps are and choose to work until they’re filled.

What will you choose to focus on? Will you resolve to focus on the vision of who you want to become and savagely attack the gaps in your character, your knowledge base, your experiences, etc in order to shed the old you who was lacking and become a more capable you who is one step closer to realizing the goal? I’ve decided I will.

Taking uncertainty in stride

I expected that my “#1 objective” of finding a way through self-doubt would be difficult. But it actually wasn’t – I worked hard and got a lot of feedback. I went in expecting to feel lost and confused over and over again (rather than being surprised by it), I worked to stay mindful about how that impacted my mental health and attitude toward my family, and I just kept attacking. I knew that in the end if I could suffer the uncertainty and endure, things would consolidate and I’d make it. (I did, and I’m happy to be going back for more).

Learning from the trends 

The observation that impostor syndrome and self-doubt are rampant in professional adults is important — it exposes a gap. If we don’t learn how to approach problems and the brain chemistry associated with uncertainty we will continue to stand still and, perhaps inadvertently, avoid growing. In comes anxiety, depression, general unhappiness, burnout, and questioning if we are where we should be. The world has infinite problems that require clever thinking. If we all quit because we start to question our standing in the social group or get bent out of shape over negative feedback, we’ll continue to give the next generation crappy outcomes. We have to learn how to keep moving forward in the midst of uncertainty.

Mental toughness is only part of the story, but it’s a huge sticking point for people. We can’t start talking about learning algorithms if you quit whenever you encounter concepts you don’t understand or you start feeling uncomfortable. The article I wrote a few years ago on self-doubt walks you through how to begin seeing self-doubt differently. You can also chat with me on social media.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to build new habits. Leading up to graduate school I’ve done a lot of reading and philosophizing on learning, managing stress, and developing expertise — now I’m glad to be testing myself, improving models, and culling my weak points (there are a lot). I chose this path for a reason – and it’s one that still tugs at me every day. I can’t say with certainty what the next 10 years will look like. But I think if I keep at it, I’ll be a better human than I am now. I’m satisfied by that notion.

If you’d have told me I’d learn to celebrate exposing my own incompetence or the chance to do something uncomfortable I would wonder if you really knew me at all. Well, actually, that’s what Eric used to tell me. I guess he’s proven he knows me better than anyone.

Onward! And welcome 2019!

Mindfulness and Cognitive Science

New Adventures

Grad school has begun.

This journey began back in December 2016. There have been major accomplishments from GRE scores to putting my vision into words to acceptance into BICB to getting hired as a technician and research assistant in Dr. Peter Crawford’s lab. And now orientation is done and the program is under way.

But my own schooling is not the sum total of the new adventures in the Nelson household. Frey started school last week and Arthur began full-time school/daycare as well. For the first time in 6 years we are all leaving the house and going in separate directions.

As is common with change, I’m doing a lot of reflecting, so I thought I’d share.

Summer highlights

Back in April our family transitioned to me working full-time. I was hired as a technician and pending graduate research assistant in Dr. Peter Crawford’s lab. I’ve had the opportunity this summer to get familiar with the biology we’re studying and the state of the union of metabolomics before my program begins.

A brief aside: metabolomics is the study of all the metabolites in a given system whether that be whole organism or a specific tissue or cell type. Metabolomics uses analytical technology like mass spectrometry (MS) to detect compounds in a sample and identify them based on their chemical properties. I’m working with the data sets that come from MS to pull out real signals and try to identify what those metabolites are using databases.

That alone has made it a unique and satisfying summer. But for memory’s sake, let’s recap a bit more, yea?

  • In June I attended the annual conference for the American Society of Mass Spectrometry held in San Diego, CA. I got hit with a fire hose on MS state of the art and metabolomics specifically. Plus a week of great food and spending time with other UMN folks.
  • July 4th (and a weekend in August) in Brainerd is a highlight every year because we get to spend a few days with some of our favorite people playing and relaxing. This year we learned how to barefoot ski (including Frey!) and I experienced the most intense tubing I’ve had since high school.
  • In July we also celebrated our 7th anniversary. We’ve done a lot of reflecting on how our relationship has evolved and well, I still like the guy a lot. Probably even more than when we first started this whole thing.
  • In August we went to Fargo for my high school reunion. Truthfully, I’d been looking forward to it and was not disappointed. We had a great time reconnecting with old friends.
  • Finally, this summer we accomplished growing our entire garden from seed. Not all of it was successful but we did it! We’ve seen a shocking number of lemon cucumbers and even managed to beat the squirrels in harvesting our tomatoes and butternut squash.

I know at year’s end I’ll be scouring my notebooks for little snippets of journal entries to recapture the magic of 2018 – it’s been a big year for us. It’s been a mixture of harvesting the hard work put in over the last several years as well as a deeper enjoyment of the sowing for our future selves.

Habits for the Fall

I was a stay-at-home-mom for around 6 years. During that time I ran a business and had help from family & friends with my kids so I could work but all-in-all I was home. Now I’m gone 40+ hours per week. Over the summer the kids were home with Eric, forcing some new habits but also allowing us to keep mostly the same routines.

Biggest change was the kids completely taking over house cleaning. They’d work through a list each Monday and I’d come home to a clean house. I wrote more about what their help looks like (and how it developed) in a previous post.

This will change a bit with school but we’ll all be working together. I hope to have time to write more details but for now I’d like to share some of the habits I’m cultivating for our home life so we can all keep moving forward (and stay healthy).

  • I signed up for my first powerlifting meet and I’m using the UMN rec center to train. I’ve wanted to compete for a while but having the registration paid for helps me prioritize the type of training I want to be doing at the moment.
  • Dinner routine — every night has a “type” that makes meal planning really simple (like Taco Tuesday). I’ve transitioned us to fall recipes that are more crockpot friendly so meal prep can be faster when we’re all coming back together. Plenty of leftovers for packing in bags too.
  • Grab-and-go breakfast — I think food is the hardest thing for me to let go of. I’ve grown accustomed to always knowing what my kids are eating. Egg bake and a nutrient dense baked oatmeal help us all get good food in a hurry. I’ll share our favorite recipes in a later post.
  • Daily sync-ups with the kids and with Eric when we all get home. We’re used to using each other for brainstorming, problem-solving, etc plus it pushes me to put my work into simpler terms and take an account of my time.
  • Reading fiction. This has surprised me but I’ve been listening to / reading fiction all summer and while I’ve had to push through the “obsessed” stage into a more casual habit I’ve really appreciated the chance to let my mind go on something else without it being television. We’re also reading a series with the kids and after a long season of not really doing bedtime reading together it’s nice to reconnect before sleep.
  • Morning reflection + desired outcomes. This includes some gratitude and positivity practice then wraps up with considering what steps I’ll take today to improve + move forward. Big thing here is that everyday I’m thinking about why I’m doing what I’m doing. This season will be hard on us as a family so each of us have to give our best to fight for the future we’ve decided to pursue. It won’t just land in our laps.
  • Finally, writing! I spent a big chunk of the last 6 years studying the effects of stress on the body and how to maintain wellness while going all-in. I’d like to spend time writing in real-time about our life as a high-performance team. And, ok, maybe I want to show my mom we really are doing well.

For each of us there are things that felt really hard 12-18 months ago but little by little we have become different people…in large part because when where you want to go excites you more than it scares you, a whole lot more becomes possible.

And maybe you also become less willing to let all the small stuff stand in your way.

Raising Capable Kids

Raising capable kids: autonomy in household tasks

Here’s the big idea: kids are capable of contributing to household needs through an individualized training approach. It’s a simple concept that can be challenging to implement – which is why I’m deconstructing our process at home right now. Like most large topics, this outlining of ideas and strategies needs to come in small chunks but I get asked about it enough that it’s time I start working toward a written document of what has been a 3-4 year ever-evolving system in our home.

Starting steps for training kids to contribute to household needs. Read more at


There are many areas in which kids need to develop capability – there’s foundational skills like literacy, systematic thinking, and deadlifting, there’s specialized skills like art, music, bike riding, or a specific sport, and there’s the skills related to care of self and home. As parents we are most often thinking about how to make our children’s worlds as big as possible – how do we best use our time together to raise capable kids filled with the skills they need to make whatever they can dream up happen?

While the Olympics were going on in February, it occurred to me how natural it is to think about developing specialized skills for performance on a more global stage (where global is simply beyond the household). However, I think we often overlook the importance of training our children to contribute to the household…until we see adults patting themselves on the back for getting their laundry done.


I get asked about this topic frequently because I share images of our life which includes my kids being responsible for keeping our home.

Frey (5.5) making scrambled eggs. She has been cooking regularly since she was around 2.5 to 3 years old.

Inventory, my children currently contribute to (and lead):

  • Breakfast preparation for whole family
  • Lunch + Snack preparation for self
  • Dinner prep: Chopping vegetables, cooking rice/pasta, cooking meat, washing fruit, grating cheese, setting the table
  • Taking care of dirty dishes after meals
  • Emptying the dishwasher
  • Sweeping + mopping floors
  • Vacuuming all carpeted areas
  • Cleaning main spaces of house and personal bedroom
  • Making their beds
  • Washing, drying all laundry
  • Folding and putting away their clothing + all towels
  • Cleaning the bathroom
  • Getting themselves dressed + ready for the day (including selecting clothing appropriate for activity / weather)
  • Personal hygiene
  • Getting themselves ready for naps / bedtime
  • Preparing themselves for leaving the house (including getting outdoor clothes on and gathering any required materials for destination – i.e. library books they need to return)
  • Pantry inventory + compiling the grocery list for the week / month
  • Helping plan the meals for the week
  • Garden planning + care


Acquiring the above list has been in process over the last 3-4 years where we have slowly added new skills as kids’ physical capability grows and the need arises. A study in the big ideas employed by women like Maria Montessori directed our attention to the importance of “if the child can do it, they should do it” and we began designing our space to allow for small children to become as autonomous as possible from the time Freyda was around 18 months old. We continue to reassess our home to modify as a new level of independence becomes possible.


I have also worked to internalize Montessori’s focus on observing the child you have. Children go through stages in which areas of development are naturally interesting. For example, Arthur has been in a language phase for about a year. He is excited to practice reading pretty much whenever asked and will often initiate a conversation on letters (that starts with ___, that word rhymes with ___) and words (what does ___ mean?). In parallel, he has a growing interest in writing and drawing. These interests are predictable as he sees his older sister do things AND has gained prerequisite skills that open up the possibility of gaining new skills in language.


An amoeba is a good visual for how I’ve seen this play out. Amoebas are microscopic organisms that are constantly extending pieces of themselves in order to envelop nutrients in their environment and move around. They can extend in multiple directions and are pretty oddly shaped. So it is with a child’s capability. A child’s zone of capability is not perfectly round where every area is expanding at a uniform rate. This means that parents cannot take a uniform or standardized approach to capability growth. Sometimes a child will show natural interest or “readiness” – I’ve certainly heard stories of children initiating potty training or learning to read. Other times the parent must assess the child’s readiness based on associated capabilities and the needs of the household. Meaning if the child has prerequisite skills, they don’t need to explicitly tell you they are ready, (nor does the learning period need to be instantaneous – why would we expect them to get something on the first try?).

Arthur fixing a snack at age 3

Quick anecdote to illustrate:

Freyda began folding laundry at a much younger age – before she was 2. Whereas Arthur only recently began contributing beyond sorting or finding his own clothes – after he turned 3. For Frey it was because she taught herself how to fold. She would fold and re-fold burp cloths as part of play. Arthur on the other hand began contributing because we knew he was capable – not because he showed a particular interest. We began in a similar way as Freyda – he helped sort laundry and practiced folding small towels and rags. But because he was older he was expected to progress at a faster rate to the point where he is expected to contribute the same amount as Freyda after just a few months. As Arthur’s capability grew, we began to expand Freyda’s responsibilities where she learned to run the washer and dryer and now works together with her brother to execute every step of the laundry procedure rather than just the folding and putting away.


As I wrap up this first segment I’ll touch on a couple key elements that were involved in the above laundry example: agile thinking and procedures.


It’s easier when the child initiates developing a skill or acquiring new responsibilities. But that is rare by my estimation. More often it’s up the parents to be thinking about the edges of their children’s capabilities and what does the household need from its participants. This is difficult to do because it feels a bit anti-schedule and it’s certainly anti-curriculum. If you’ve ever ventured into Pinterest territory on early education ideas then you’ll see the expected path of development in the form of seasonally themed activities. Specific to household – any “chore list” will be very basic, and more geared toward “water play” than an expectation that a toddler or preschooler will contribute substantively. Montessori is an exception in some ways but not all…I still most often see it executed as activities determined by what the child expresses interest in over the needs of the household.


To have agile-thinking in your child’s development you have to

1. Know their current capabilities [specific to each child].  To be agile is to be able to quickly change directions. Looking closely at your own child will help you develop a personalized approach that can pivot when needed rather than getting stuck in any one direction.

2. Consider what a household task entails physically and mentally.What does the child need to understand in terms of safety or in order to reach the desired outcome? Do they need a stool? Are the tools appropriate sizes for their hands? What’s the simplest (yet useful) skill they can begin practicing first? Most likely you will be able to find clever ideas online in terms of increasing your child’s independence.

Some changes that have made a big impact for us:

  • Stools everywhere
  • Kitchen layout that gives children access to their own dishes, storage containers, and the appliances we use regularly
  • Water station where they can fill measuring cups, drink cups, cereal bowls, etc without needing access to the sink
  • Lots of rags in easy reach for cleaning
  • Oatmeal making station where all ingredients are kept in one place
  • Simple ingredient cleaning supplies so they can handle them without me
  • Appropriately sized toilet seat


Once you’ve got some entry points for how your children can contribute their current + growing capability to the needs of the household, it’s time to think about procedures. This has been surprisingly difficult for me – I’m not very methodical by nature so it’s taken time to uncover why I do things the way I do and pass those on (or change my habits) as appropriate (ie sweeping pattern for efficiency and efficacy).


[[I also had to confront the fact that I run around the house like a crazy person when we are trying to leave.]]


Everything a child does should have a procedure linked to it – if it doesn’t it will still fall to you to ensure everything gets done. Which means you’ll have kids all dressed in their snow gear who suddenly need to use the bathroom because you didn’t think to remind them to do it before they got dressed. Sure, you might be capable of holding each step in your head and issuing the next element at the appropriate time – [[necessary for a time since remembering a set of instructions is itself a skill that children acquire as their brains develop]] – but your kids will continue to be habituated toward waiting for the next instruction rather than letting one action initiate another in the procedure (ie needing mom’s reminder to wash hands rather than habituating turning on the sink water after flushing the toilet).


Example procedure our kids use when preparing to leave the house:

  1. Gather all necessary materials for in the car (library books, grocery bags, etc)
  2. Use the bathroom
  3. Get dressed
  4. Get in the car and buckle up


Now it is my job to initiate the procedure rather than each individual step for leaving the house.


There is a lot more to be said on this topic but I’m ending here for now. 

Action steps:

  1. Inventory how your children currently contribute
  2. What’s the adjacent possible?
  3. What do those new roles require physically and mentally? What behaviors indicate your child is capable of beginning to learn the new skills?
  4. What adaptations does your home need to increase independence in completing the task?
  5. What procedure will you train your child in to decrease confusion and increase self-management?


Things to keep in mind:

  1. Training in a skill just outside current capability most often has a learning curve.
  2. Your child will most likely suck at first. They are learning to coordinate a new skill’s physical movement alongside extending attention span and following a new procedure that hasn’t been habituated yet.
  3. You will get frustrated. Again, that’s just a part of the territory when expecting a child to learn something new in order to contribute. Frustration may be a sign of needing to rethink the procedure but it is not a given that the child isn’t “ready” or that you just aren’t cut out for this.
  4. This takes commitment. Which will get a whole post all to itself. But as a visual: whenever a mom asks me about potty training one of the first things I talk about it that you must get rid of the diapers…if they are an option in your mind you’ll be looking for signs they aren’t ready rather than signs that they are getting it.
  5. You are giving a gift to your future self and the future self of your child – autonomy, power of an attentive mind that takes pride in their work and values their time, a foundation of skills that many current adults don’t have, a family that is capable of doing work together, etc.


I’d love to include answers to your questions in future posts – leave a comment below or on social media!

Neurobiology and Behavior Self Care

Turning 28

Today is my birthday.


For most of my life I’ve struggled with birthday expectations (and later, mother’s day expectations). I know I’m not alone here – it feels good to be celebrated and especially good when someone else did the planning.


Last year I wanted things to be different. I began asking myself what a really good birthday celebration would look like – one that isn’t all about getting a break from responsibility or attention from others.


Birthday tradition: How did you grow in the last year? What new skills or experiences made the year unique?


What I came up with is a simple tradition I’ve now enacted on my own birthday as well as mother’s day and my kids’ birthdays: How have you grown and developed as a person? How has the last year been put to use? [On mother’s day I ask myself that question with special focus on how I’ve changed in motherhood – the effects my kids have had on my life and who I am because I’m a mom.]


This is designed to be a gratitude practice. And what I found last year was that my daily work, that was still there even though it was my birthday, became a worshipful experience…it all became a way to see in detail how I’ve used the last year to be more of who I want to be.


Secondarily, it has helped me become more comfortable with celebrating myself rather than waiting for someone else to do it for me. Last year I made my lists intending to share them but never getting around to it – despite no one else seeing them, I felt more satisfied on my birthday than ever before.


I thought I’d share my list this year. My 28th year was very different than any other year…so this list will reflect some of the shifts I’ve made:


  1. Competing in my first Crossfit Open – overcame a lot of mental and physical barriers in the last year and I’ve gained a lot in terms of conditioning, skill, and strength, grateful to get to test it now.
  2. Strength: Overhead squat 145lbs, Snatch 115lbs, Clean 160lbs, 15 strict pull ups, 1 strict ring muscle up, 12 strict handstand push ups, Deadlift 300lbs, Back squat 255lbs, 60lb DB snatch, 140lbs Split Jerk.
  3. Physical skills: handstand pushups, handstand walk, chest-to-bar pull ups, double unders, 1 kipping ring muscle up.
  4. Learned how to wake board and ice fish.
  5. Uncovered the bigger vision I’ve been working toward the past handful of years – now able to take more deliberate steps toward making it reality.
  6. Translated that vision into writing to be seen by graduate admissions (super challenging and vulnerable)
  7. Submitted applications for PhD programs – and endured one rejection after another.
  8. Developed a deep interest in technology – and acquired capability in 3 programming languages.
  9. Uncovered previously-unrealized patterns in my mental health and have been able to reach a new level of mental and emotional strength.
  10. Grew a successful garden – we are still eating some of the surplus!
  11. Strengthened my internal work ethic – less reliant on imposed expectations or pressures.
  12. Becoming a better + faster learner – more focused on personal understanding and identifying essential ideas.
  13. I’ve reached the “competent” level of development in my ability to clear my mind when I sense overwhelm or anxiety. Less likely to sit in it, proactive in regaining my footing.
  14. Along with that I’ve grown in how I communicate about my internal environment – giving those around me a way to interact with and support me when I’m in a state of anxiety or depression.
  15. Also related: relationship with Eric and my kids has gotten richer as I’ve continued working on overcoming barriers to connection.
  16. I’ve leveled up on home management – where I can stop thinking about some things and they still run in a state of control…particularly personal habits like house cleaning, budgeting, meal planning and preparation. Always room for improvement but it’s continued to develop since last year and I’m very happy with the track I’m on.
  17. I have become a significantly more positive person. Still a long way to go in developing this skill but so grateful for the changes that have already happened.


I intentionally only gave myself 30 minutes to do this – I wanted to make sure it happened but also have many things to do today. This year has been very full – I’m grateful for the experiences that continue to shape who I will become and for the growing sense of power I have in directing my own evolution.





movement Neurobiology and Behavior

Getting Stronger in 2018

Last year was a big year for me all around. Deciding to go back to school brought a slew of things to do and think about which, in itself, would take several blog posts to unpack. A second major area of growth was in my physical training – I got a whole lot fitter.


Tired of making the same fitness goals year after year? This post is for you. Read more at


If you follow along on Instagram then you’ve seen various snippets of PRs and workouts. You’ve probably also observed that I went “all in” on the Crossfit framework. In the past I’ve done bodybuilding, general strength training, hiit, and powerlifting – all of which play a role in crossfit programming – but I’ve seen an increase in intensity and volume plus the addition of monostructural (running, rowing, jump rope, etc), gymnastics (kipping pull ups, handstand push ups, etc), and olympic weightlifting movements. In the past I have dabbled but no real time spent acquiring skill.


With all that new stuff 2017 was filled with trying a lot of new things and getting stronger in order to be more successful (and stable) in those skills. I also had to adapt quickly to the intensity part. I humbly scaled weights and exercises for workouts, confronting my “I’m fit!” mentality for one that respects my current limitations and seeks effective ways to expand my capabilities. And I also pushed hard against my long-time avoidance of sustained elevated heart rate.


Despite stepping out of my personal training business over a year ago I continue to field questions and send out recommendations for programs and tutorials whenever I’m asked. Because of that, and in an effort to externalize what I’ve been thinking about in terms of strength goals and skill development, I’m going to spend some time over a series of blog posts talking about how to systematically gain strength in 2018.


Why getting stronger is more than finishing a program

While it’s tempting to view getting stronger as simply following a designated program – indeed, that’s how it’s often done – I think it’s important to note that you can complete a program without acquiring the skill of strength training. Just as you can take an algebra class, pass, and remain to recognize when and how to use it in everyday life.


What’s the outcome of finishing a program without understanding the concepts?

  • Making the same goals for your health year after year.
  • Continuing to go to the gym and feel insecure in your ability to effectively use the equipment / space.
  • Not being able to tell if you made any progress despite getting through the workouts.
  • Meeting your goal followed by a drop in consistency and re-gaining weight / losing muscle mass or strength.


Big idea: If you’ve tried various diets and workout plans but you still ended the year feeling like all your work hasn’t added up to significant change then you need to take a different approach altogether. One that emphasizes understanding *your* body and the relevant concepts to physical transformation.


One of my personal goals with coaching was always to produce clients who could make progress independently. There are plenty of reasons to use a coach or program, but you cannot outsource understanding your own body and its capabilities. This takes time and can happen faster through the help of a high quality coach focused on equipping you [rather than focused on making money off of your shame triggers] however you must fully engage in the process.


In order to have power and autonomy in your body you must have a framework for developing your physical capacity and transforming your body as you desire. To have a framework would mean you have to have a system of concepts and methods for getting the outcome you desire for your body. It would also mean that you can effectively problem solve when you come up against something like increased bloating when you change food intake or failing to see physical changes during a program.


A quick look at what a framework in strength training might include (not in any particular order nor all-inclusive):

  • Anatomy and physiology
    • Muscle, nervous, and skeletal system – knowing both their individual components as well as how they coordinate to produce force that can move a load
    • What muscle groups are being targeted in each movement? Where do they attach? How are they activated? What joints and movements do they drive (i.e. extension versus flexion)
    • What does proper movement look and feel like?
    • What are the important ingredients / players in each system? Where do they come from? How are they activated?
    • Key terms like hypertrophy, aerobic versus anaerobic,
  • Physics of movement / force output
    • What does it mean for the body to get stronger? How are each of the above systems changed? How does a change in 1 affect the other?
    • What determines the level of difficulty in a movement?
    • How does each system respond to stress/overload?
    • Why do we squat, press, pull, hinge? What are each of those anyway? What movements should be included in a movement?
    • How does weakness in one area (like the core) affect force output and susceptibility to injury?
    • Pain: Sign of injury or sign of progress? Back off or push through?
  • Other-system factors – how they affect outcomes
    • Nutrition
    • Stress
    • Sleep
    • Support / Community
    • Mindset
    • Cross-training (conditioning, accessory, mobility, gymnastics, brute strength, etc)
    • Menstruation, etc
  • Metrics
    • How do you know you’re on the right track?
    • How do you know when to add weight?
    • What kinds of changes should you expect and in what time interval?
    • What landmarks make sense for each stage of experience?
    • What do other markers, like sleep quality and heart rate variability, should be tracked throughout the day?


A framework gets developed over time with experience

If that list seems overwhelming, take a deep breath. Reality is that I can’t definitively tell you all you need to know about each of those items. And no doubt there are many more I could include. This gets at a major element of gaining skill: recognition that it’s a never-ending process. There are always more layers to uncover. There are countless movement variations and science cannot yet explain how all the various systems interact. So rather than feeling overwhelmed, see it as an opportunity – an area of your life that can provide endless exploration throughout your life.


As I progress through this series it will be a personal challenge to put out two or three stages of strength training skill and the concepts a person should understand at each stage (e.g. beginner, competent, proficient). I think that is about the most useful “download” I could give you. Over time I will develop similar downloads for nutrition and mindset as well.


What’s coming next

I intend to publish on the subject a couple of times per month until I’ve covered all I’d like to cover.

To end this first installment, I invite any questions you have about the above framework. Is there are particular area you’ve found to be difficult to understand? Any areas or concepts I didn’t mention that you’d like to hear about?


Finally, I’ll be making a resources page that I’ll keep updated with my recommendations on coaches, programs, and products I’ve found to be trustworthy.


Next time I’ll get into the essential skills of learning skills progressively.

Self Care

Taking responsibility: self-care

If you’ve been with me for the last year you might already know this but I define self-care in a special way:


self-care is the action you take to prepare yourself to keep going


After living in survival mode [as a new mom working the opening shift at Starbucks while my husband worked side jobs + started his business] I came to realize that the urge I felt for a break…that itching sensation that felt like it would only be satisfied by a whole day of silence…was my body and mind calling for a change in habits. Fast forward 4 years later and while we’re no longer a family of ships passing in the night, life is still pretty full. And self-care has evolved into a philosophy.


Self-care is more than how you pamper's a way to think about our daily actions from our work environment to how we play. Read more:


If you’re anything like me you’re not a huge fan of the damsel in distress storyline. But often our habits as women who are constantly pouring out is to run ourselves so deep into the ground we need someone to reach down and save us. We need someone else to recognize our desperate state – to look past our crabby face and unwashed hair – and give us permission to sign out for a day [or 10].


The problem is that getting to that point – where you can’t speak a kind word and all you can think about is how badly you need a break – is a lagging indicator. Meaning it’s one of the last symptoms of your overstressed system. Like a heart attack or arthritis, we’ve missed the opportunities to avert disaster and the compounding effects of our behavior (and systemic failures) have chosen our course.


I can’t tell you for certain what your first symptoms are – I’m not sure I even know mine yet. But I know that [for me] a symptom that is somewhere in the middle is looking at my phone at any moment of silence. Or when I can’t imagine picking up a nonfiction book to read. If I get to the point where I can’t laugh at my kids’ antics I’ve gone too far and immediate action must be taken.


Our jobs as mothers, project managers, bosses, teachers, employees, caregivers, sisters, friends, etc is three-fold:


Bring awareness to the earlier signs burnout

I wrote a post on signs of burnout a while back to get you started. Awareness builds with questions – asking why we might be doing something and getting curious about the chain of events. Taking the opportunity to look into ourselves in order to understand our truest motivations can tune our attention to notice when things are out of sorts. The sooner we can detect stress, the easier it will be to give our minds and bodies the care they need. It will also become more apparent what behaviors need to find their way into your everyday life.


For example: Play is an essential part of my daily life. Not necessarily getting down and playing whatever pretend game my kids think up but getting out of my head and into my body is extremely therapeutic. So much so I’ve ceased to see it as optional. Similarly, morning yoga + journaling is a habit I’ve been working on re-establishing for the last month as I’ve seen the positive effects in externalizing my thoughts on a topic and letting it guide a personal exploration (and the negative of not doing it).


Choose to break the cycle – developing a plan of action for recovering so we can keep going


It is not enough to be aware of your symptoms. You have to choose to take action. But here’s the thing – even ugly habits like rage, lethargy, or workaholism came to be for a reason…they feel good on a chemical level. Really, in terms of biology, there isn’t much difference between anger, sadness, or joy. They each raise your heart rate, narrow your focus, increase your breathing rate, etc. It’s the fixation that tends to be different. You must learn to change how you think about these states of being so you can take action even when, in the moment, you don’t really feel like it.


The best strategy I’ve encountered in regard to disrupting the habit pathway for these habits that perpetuate fatigue, negative affect, lack of motivation, self-doubt, etc. on a daily basis can be found in my free guide on reclaiming your evenings. I wrote it specifically for recovering from a long day at work (and avoiding the slippery slope of throwing away your time on habits that don’t serve you like mindless scrolling, crappy food, and netflix bingeing) but the strategies can be implemented at any point in a day to break you out of autopilot and use your time more mindfully for recovery and satisfaction.



Keep a weather-eye on the horizon for the emotional and mental struggles that can short-circuit our efforts and put us right over the edge (think shame triggers, loneliness, deadlines, etc)


In the past few weeks my family and I have enjoyed a bit of vacation. My entire family got together at my parents house for around 5 days then we were in Brainerd for the 4th living the lake life for a few days. Finally, we had my sister + her kids at my house for 4 days. It was a wonderful time. But as it came to a close I knew I had to be on the lookout for the kind of hangover that can come after an extended amount of time with extra people – lethargy, loneliness, and the mind-body confusion of being out of routines.


Think of the various things that put extra stress on your system – events that may sneak in some emotional disruptions (like swimsuit season? Seeing vacation pictures on social media? Spending a lot of time with family? Or heck, your monthly cycle?).


When you can predict these additional stressors and either side-step them (because you don’t have to look through 300 pictures from her Hawaii vacation, right?) or mindfully move through them (celebrating the time you spent with family while also experiencing the grief of saying goodbye), you are keeping things like burnout from sneaking up on you.


Looking into the future and simulating how various life events that are coming and not necessarily within your control is some serious self-care. We have the foresight function, so use it. You don’t need to be thrown into survival mode every time your mother-in-law comes to stay. Predict the stress, determine a plan for coping effectively, and practice mindfulness all the way through.


Finally, what’s makes an action “self-care”? Let’s look at some examples…

  • House cleaning:
    → Using it to stay rooted in your body, focusing entirely on your breath and your movement.

    → Using it to zone out and let your mind recover while you think about nothing in particular and scrub the dishes/fold laundry.

    → Using it to direct your attention to gratitude, compassion, or introspection (how am I feeling? Why might that be?).

  • Exercise:
    → Rooting yourself in your body (as above), focusing your attention on muscle contraction and lengthening, your breath, etc.

    → Practicing mental toughness as you push through the cardiac and muscular distress.

    → Using movement to release false stories and bring in truth.

    → Zoning out (as above) and just enjoying the feeling and sounds of a pounding heart.
  • Time outside:
    → Use a hike, a run, a walk, or a bike ride to either zone out or contemplate a new perspective.

    → Play a sport with friends, connecting over movement and experiencing a lighter side of life together.

    → Just sit and watch the birds go about their work.
  • Intentional, engaged conversation with friends
  • Cooking good food and staying present throughout entire meal
  • Journaling through issues + searching for the information you’re missing as you try to find a solution.
  • Reading a good book (trips to the library are my favorite).
  • Trying something new with a friend (get out of a rut, initiate some forward momentum).


What is NOT self-care?

  • Using any of the above as opportunities to ruminate on disatisfaction, comparisons, past hurts, regrets, etc.
  • Going through the motions without engaging your mind + body — journaling to externalize your heart + mind while also checking your phone every couple of minutes is not gonna do the work you claim to be looking for.
  • Disengaging from the moment to numb out the stress of the day (eating past satiety, making a movie or show about pretending the day didn’t happen, drinking in excess)
  • Using time with friends/loved ones to dump your stress on them in an effort to relieve the building tension in your heart + mind.
  • Turning play into over-the-top competition (your worth is not in proving you are better than someone else)
  • Avoiding vulnerability as you spend time by yourself or with others
  • Avoiding time with other people because you don’t want to have to practice compassion for them when they are struggling too.
  • Trying to escape your real life instead of engaging problems head on.


Only you can determine if you are cleaning your house out of a perfectionist mindset or one of calm gratitude and autonomy. A good rule of thumb is to look at how you feel afterward – ready to engage or still clamouring for relief from negative emotions? Finally, one question you might consider is: what is your first reaction when negative emotions arise? That is most likely what your brain has habituated for escaping uncertainty/vulnerability. This doesn’t mean that if house cleaning has long been an escape you now ditch it entirely, but practice going into it mindfully and choose to not run immediately for the duster when you see negative emotions come up. Leave space for the cortisol to ebb and flow, then make an intentional decision about what is actually going to help. Cleaning can come at a different time.


Wrap up questions for you:


  • Which of the 3 responsibilities is the most difficult for you to embrace?
  • Have you encountered any tell-tale signs that you’re trying to get relief through numbing or withdrawing techniques?
  • What forms of self-care have been most effective in helping you step deeper into your life?


I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!