Journal_wPencil

I have kept a journal since I first learned to write, somewhere around the first or second grade. So the idea that anyone would find it difficult to write just a few sentences a day is incomprehensible to me.

I cannot force anyone to write daily. But I can shout from the roof tops why I think it is the prescription for a healthier and happier life.

Author Pat Conroy said, in his book My Reading Life, “Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself.”

Journaling is not only your live-action autobiography, it can be a useful tool to help you accomplish any number of goals. From training for a race to losing weight, over-coming a personal struggle to achieving your goals, your journal is whatever you make of it.

12487245_1297692596923575_6596595293670981293_o

These colorful journals from Flow magazine range in subject from How to Slow Down to Fresh New Beginnings.

Maybe you’ve heard of Oprah Winfrey’s Gratitude Journal? Each day writing down something or someone in your life you are thankful for? This simple task is a common suggestion for coping with depression.

Or if you are dealing with grief or a loss, a journal is a safe place to let all of your emotions flow freely without filter or judgment. Your journal can be a place to remember your loved one every day, which can bring enormous comfort.

1424409_1297692636923571_6495266402970983486_n

Art Journal from Somerset Life, Volume 10, Issue 1

Many doodlers and artists alike keep fun, funky and fabulous art journals with elaborate drawings and water colors, mixed-media fabric scraps, art papers, and embellishments. They’re stunning.

For me, my journal is sanity-saving. The very act of putting pen to paper gives me an immediate feeling of calm.

I like ruled pages. My collection of leather-bound Moleskine notebooks is vast. I have one in virtually every color, and I get a certain thrill opening a new one and seeing those blank pages in front of me.

I write stream-of-consciousness style, with no attention paid to self-editing. Just pouring the contents of my overactive mind out onto the page. Nothing is off-limits. I write everything from the mundane details of everyday life, “the commute was beautiful, with the sun rising all blue and pink over the frozen lake, and The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ on the radio” to my struggles with anxiety, or progress on achieving my goals as an amateur photographer.

I tell family stories. Some days when I’m feeling nostalgic, I can devote pages to my favorite memories of my grandparents.

In the summer I detail my garden endeavors, birds at my feeder, progress on home renovations, and my ongoing struggle with finding and fitting into a swimsuit that doesn’t make me feel like a dancing hippo at the circus. My journal is the place where I hold myself accountable. Tracking how well I’m doing on sticking to a diet (Two cupcakes? Really? Did you need that second cupcake?) And also, where I rally myself after a setback.

12507315_1297692556923579_7479634890824982493_n

Love this glue pen for adding quotes to my journals.

I can talk myself down or build myself up. I like to glue motivational messages inside my journals. Or use little doo-dads, stickers or Post-Its. With the popularity of Smash Books, a journal/scrapbook hybrid, you can find all kinds of cool little embellishments to add to your journal.

12466191_1297692253590276_7725278807442286757_o

These cute sticky notes and pockets are fun additions to your journal.

It’s January. A blank slate. A fresh new chapter in your life. You don’t need to invest in anything fancy. Paper and a pen. That’s all it takes. Your journal can be whatever you make it. Simple to elaborate. Regardless, you’ll find it can be a powerful tool to create change in your life, or to provide you with peace.

What are you waiting for?

10392239_1293941907298644_8554289899474421337_n

 Blogger Melanie Bisson, a Smart Perks employee, could fill a POD storage unit with all of her journals. She’ll never go digital.

New Year, New You

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions

Who, me? Blogger Katie agrees with Calvin! © Bill Waterson

Come mid-December, we start wrapping up the previous year and looking forward to the upcoming one. During this holiday season, as we sit around with friends and family, recounting the trials and tribulations of 2015 – we end up eating cheese plates and cheesecake, drinking beer and wine and soda, maybe capping the long nights with a cigar and heading to bed way past our bedtimes. But while this type of over-indulgence is what the holidays are about, the New Year is always about the New You!

Champagne and Cake.jpg

Cupcakes and champagne – I’m about that life!

That is, until it’s February and you realized you didn’t even keep your New Year’s resolutions for a month. And you wouldn’t be alone. According to Franklin Covey, a time management firm, 30% of New Year’s resolutions are broken by the end of January. The thing is though that when you start to backslide, you think, “Well, I already got off on the wrong foot, might as well try again…later!” and get discouraged, and give up.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can successfully set and keep – and even exceed! – your New Year’s resolutions if you keep three things in mind.

  • Set Realistic Goals
  • Think Short-Term, Dream Long-Term
  • Plan It Out

All too often we think of our resolutions as make or break it. Trying to commit to huge changes like, “I’m going to write a book in 2016!” when you haven’t so much as written a paragraph in 2015, sets yourself up for failure. Instead, we outline the three most common New Year’s resolutions and small ways you can make big changes, leading to a happier, healthier you!

Fat to Fit Before After Diet Weight Loss Success

1. Lose Weight

Ah, the most common resolution we make. Who doesn’t want to lose a few? Actually, according to some estimates, between 30% and 40% of us vow to shed some lbs annually. If your plan is to incorporate more veggies in your diet or hit the gym more, this might just work. But science says setting a goal to lose 30 pounds is most likely not going to work. Why? For the same reason that agreeing with your aunt you’ll meet her coworker’s friends’ daughter’s boyfriend for coffee in three months: you’re making vague, faraway promises you can’t (or won’t) keep.

The best way to lose weight is to make small lifestyle changes that can lead to you losing those 30 pounds. For example, set the goal of determining your ideal daily caloric intake and then logging your calories each day with a site like http://www.caloriecount.com/. At the same time, start a workout routine that’s appropriate for your lifestyle and level of current fitness; again, it’s all about moderation! Throwing yourself into a new rigorous workout is a good way to throw out your back.

Are you a person that’s worried they’ll judge you at the gym, and you’re just not cut out for running miles and miles outside in the snowy January weather? All the more power to you if you can, but if that’s just not you, check out SmartPerks’ solution: The Total Gym machine. It offers complex workouts, utilizing all of your muscles that need to firm up, but without putting too much strain on your body. I know a huge factor that keeps me from working out as often as I should is the struggle to drag myself to the gym, so getting a full-body exercise in my own home is a huge plus. If it’s good enough for Christie Brinkley, it’s definitely good enough for me.

Losing weight is a commendably healthy goal to set for 2016, so we don’t want you to let yourself down. Just go slow!

2. Eat This, Not That

Similar to the losing weight resolution, but not fully, because you can be at a totally fine weight, but still eat too much chips and guac or French fries. Most of us could stand to eat better, even if we think we’re really on top of our diet. And while the SmartPerks office is a great place to work, there is one downside: the abundance of snacks. Between the homemade toffee, apple pie bars, caramel popcorn, and bowls of Hershey’s kisses, it’s a sweet tooth-owner’s dream. Tasty though these treats might be, they’re certainly not good for my thighs.

Popcorn

How could anyone say no to a handful of these?

So, one of my personal 2016 resolutions is to cut back on the daytime snacks. When my blood sugar levels are dipping around 10:30 am and 3 pm, I need to turn to something wholesome like a piece of fruit or dried soybeans, not those delicious, mouthwatering, scrumptious apple bars… dang it, Mary!

Of course, it might be obvious to cut down on the sodas and sweets, but often our biggest issue is our main meals themselves. Oversized, low on fiber, or high in sugar, we might be able to fool ourselves into thinking our veggie burrito is healthy, but we’re not fooling the scale. Even something like salad dressing can be a shockingly caloric addition to an otherwise healthy salad. For example, Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian, a vinaigrette-style dressing, is loaded with unhealthy ingredients – two tablespoons is 130 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 320 milligrams of sodium. Certainly not a good option with which to top your greens. Something I do to cut down on calories but not on flavor is I make my own dressing.

Katie’s Apple Cider Vinegar Dressing:

Salad dressingThis dressing is excellent on kale salads, roasted vegetables, or any kitchen sink salad. This makes ¾ cup, and after using you can keep in a Mason jar or Tupperware in the fridge.

 

  • 1 small shallot, diced small
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar – I often use closer to ½ cup to thin out the dressing
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey (or maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or any citrus – grapefruit works great!)
  • Pinch each of salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine ingredients in mini Mason jar, and shake until your preferred consistently! Store in tightly closed jar for up to two weeks. Upon use, shake jar to re-emulsify ingredients.

Two tablespoons of this dressing equated to 14 calories, .5 grams of fat, and 214 milligrams of sodium, without losing out on any flavor.

Another way of managing your eating habits? Subscribing to a food delivery service like Blue Apron or Home Chef (Pro Tip: Use the SmartPerks promo code “SP30FREE” to receive $30 off your first order.) The best thing about weekly meal kits is they’re chef-curated so they’re probably more inventive than anything you whip up. You can also pick and choose which weeks you want based on the meal plans listed online. Also, since they’re specifically portioned, you know exactly what nutritional value (including calorie content!) your meals have.

On top of that, they are usually very balanced, representative of the good parts of the food pyramid, so you know you’re getting your veggies, too. For example, one of the available meals for Home Chef is “Winter Quinoa and Arugula Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Walnuts, and Apricots.” Now, doesn’t that sound healthy and yummy?

Quinoa Salad

Home Chef’s winter salad

If your New Year’s Resolution is to eat healthier in 2016, know that you can do it, it just takes some planning, self-control and motivation. And for your coworkers to not bring in treats.

3. Break the Habit

Always Late

Whether it’s smoking cigarettes, biting your nails, being perennially late, or procrastinating on the job or elsewhere, make 2016 the year to break the bad habit.

nail biting

 

 

We’ve all got something we do that we shouldn’t, right? If your resolution is to finally learn some healthier habits, we encourage you to get to it! Though some are worse for you than others, anything that negatively impacts your life should be stopped. For example, I’m a nail-biter, guilty as charged. Whenever I’m nervous, bored or tired, I gnaw on my nails like there’s no tomorrow. So far, nothing has helped…though I hold out for next year! I’ve heard no-bite nail polishes can really help, but I’m not so optimistic about me actually taking the time to paint my nails.

Another issue I face – like an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans – is sleeping problems. Sometimes, even after getting 7 hours of seemingly restful sleep, I’ll wake up groggy and exhausted. There are plenty of tips out there for getting a better night’s rest, including avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine (go figure), consistent sleep scheduling (“catching up on sleep” on the weekends is a big no-no), and regular exercising (perhaps a New Year’s resolution double-whammy!).

In addition, setting up your bedroom as a sleep sanctuary can help get you in a relaxed mindset. Just recently, I bought some black-out curtains for my bedroom windows to keep out light and a new cozy throw blanket to stay warm during winter. I also light lavender candles in my room about an hour before bed for aromatherapy. I have found that buying a new set of really soft sheets, a fun duvet, or a great pillow help to make your bed the most inviting place for you to unwind from a long day and catch some z’s.

Cozy bed

How cozy does this look? From MessageNote’s Pinterest

To help you in The Pursuit of Sleep, check out SmartPerks’ deal for My Pillow, a machine-washable, always-cool foam pillow that cradles your neck and head, helping to guarantee a sound night of sleep. Use promo code “smart2” for 50% off your first order! Saving money and sleeping better? Say no more!

Whatever your New Year’s resolution is, whether it’s specific or vague, big or small, a lifestyle change or a daily tweak, SmartPerks wishes you the best of luck in accomplishing your goals for the new year. And as we head into 2016, don’t forget to enjoy the remaining days of 2015!

Blogger Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, bit her nails the whole time she was writing this blog post. 

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: The Best Motivational Reads for Women

Book_SM_image

“It’s a man’s world.” Etta James

Well, at least it used to be when it came to the genre of self-improvement books.

The concept of a written guide for readers on solving personal problems has been around since the pyramids. Some of the mid to late 20th Century classics, books like Dale Carnegie’s 1936 confidence-boosting classic, How to Win Friends & Influence People,  Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, and Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People are still widely read today. I know I use many of Covey’s strategies to keep my life on track.

12188169_1251257811567054_8247993140834606883_oOne of the most powerful books on coping with great loss, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner, holds a place of honor on my book shelf.

But up until the last 15 years or so, it was definitely a man’s world, and I didn’t personally connect with these authors as individuals who could really empathize with my unique experiences, as a trusted friend or confidante.

According to Psychology Today, one of the most important factors in any good self-help book is “the author’s ability to connect with you as though you are in a relationship, to communicate understanding and compassion,” and for me anyway, to feel a recognition, a feeling of “You get me, you really get me.” Or, “I get you.” In the parlance of social media, you’re part of my tribe, or “squad”.

10897052_1251257844900384_7545959439673354695_nThat’s how I feel about Liz Gilbert, the best-selling author of Eat, Pray Love and The Signature of All Things. I call her Liz, because simply by having read her books, and following her on Facebook, I feel like we are the best of besties. I know her. Her posts are a daily treat that I indulge in – guilt free. It’s a conversation where she writes thought-provoking, motivational messages in a letter to us, her “Dear Friends”. And she responds to many commenters. Who does that? I want her to come to my house for the holidays.

Eat, Pray, Love was a memoir/travelogue/inspirational novel, and The Signature of All Things, an epic work of fiction, is Gilbert’s homage to fearless, bold, ambitious, intelligent, curious women; family; love; history and botany. But her latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, was probably the most motivational, joy-affirming, “stop with the excuses  and live your dreams” book I’ve ever read (as you can probably tell by all the Post-Its I used to mark up my favorite passages).

Big Magic isn’t just for writers, artists, and starry-eyed dreamers. It’s a book for anyone who wants to break out of the rigid confines of grown-up life, with all its expectations and restraints. Gilbert proclaims that you don’t have to quit your day job to live a creative life. She didn’t. She leads by example. The other day at the bookstore, I accosted a woman when I saw her pick up Big Magic and put it back down. I told her, “You MUST get that book! You’ll LOVE IT! It’s a quick read because of Liz’s conversational style, I don’t know if you’re a writer, because if you are, you have to have to own it. But even if you’re not, you’re just looking for a creative outlet in your life, something that feeds your soul – then you need this book. If you’re into crafts, or ice skating, or photography, you’ll feel like your best friend is giving you the best pep talk ever.” Needless to say, the woman was probably a little frightened to put the book back. (Note to Liz’s Publicist: Not that she needs the help, but I’m available to stalk book stores and drum up sales).

I felt the same way the first time I heard author Brené Brown’s TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability. She is sooooo intensely relatable. If you haven’t watched this 20-minute video, give yourself a gift and watch it.

12196186_1251257838233718_9001777228001757311_nHow many times have you heard the debate about whether a woman can or can’t have it all? How many times have you felt the pressure to do everything, and to do it perfectly, and then felt shame when you fell short? Have you either not done a thing, or found yourself paralyzed to do a thing, because you were afraid it wouldn’t be JUST RIGHT? After watching Brené’s Ted Talk three years ago, I bought every book of hers I could get my hands on, including The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. The book teaches us to stop being so hard on ourselves, and understand the difference between “healthy-striving and perfectionism.” Brené talks about how perfectionism paralyzes us, “because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.” Just think of “all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing.” She talks not only about the “power of vulnerability”, but also the power of shame, of being judged, or blamed. Read everything she’s written! But start with the Ted Talk and this book first.

12189800_1251257851567050_26179638385492710_n

So you’re already pretty happy with your life? That is awesome. But what if you could be even happier? Not “Pollyanna Slap-Happy”. But what if using the wisdom of the ages, and in a fun, “what have I got to lose, I’m already happy” kind-of way, you could challenge yourself to focus on giving some thought to and making some simple adjustments to one area of your life, each month, for a year? That’s exactly what Gretchen Rubin did, and she chronicled her findings in the book, The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. 

karen_salmansohn_(@notsalmon)_•_Instagram_photos_and_videos_-_2015-10-30_16.18.00

Cheryl Strayed (New book, Brave Enough, YAY!), Oprah, Alexandra Stoddard, Marie Kondo, Karen Salmansohn (follow her on Facebook and Instagram for daily inspirational posters!) – there are so many women out there who speak to me and inspire me. I could go on. But instead, I want to share a famous quote from inspirational author Marianne Williamson that has guided me for almost two decades now:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be…Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

I hope whether you read any of these books for yourself, you continue to make your life better every single day.

Blogger Melanie B, a Smart Perks employee, is giddy with optimism and trying her best to live a creative life.