Having a Routine

The summer session is in full swing and it’s very busy already. I was extra tired at the end of the day and wondered what was happening to my body. I figured it was an adjustment getting back into classes and having extra responsibilities. Then I realized I was completely off my sleep schedule and usual routine, which may have been the reason for my extra tiredness. So I decided to get back on track with my morning and night time routine and it has been helpful.

One thing that I totally slacked off on, and have been trying to work on, is checking my phone as soon as I wake up and being on my phone right before I go to bed. It’s interesting how technology traps you, draws you in, and makes you think you are missing out on so much if you don’t stay active online. What i’m trying to get back to is not being on my phone (unless I get a phone call or urgent text) for at least an hour before I go to bed. Also, on mornings, I want to avoid checking my phone for an hour after I get up. It is really important for me to have time away from technology, and those times, early mornings and late at night, are ideal times to dedicate to my well-being, not technology (unless there is an emergency).

On mornings and at night, I try to dedicate time to reading inspirational material and meditation. I’m still getting my sleep schedule figured out, and hopefully the more consistent I am with my sleep habits, the easier it will be to get back to my routine. My body feels better when I have consistency with sleep.

Having a routine, not just for sleep, is a great way to help with productivity and maintain good wellness practices. As I like to remind myself, if I do not take care of myself, all that I am working hard towards will not be worth it. I want to be around, and in good health, to enjoy my accomplishments.

To help with my routine, I also write a to-do list and try to keep it realistic. Because summer session is usually filled with lots of work to do in a very short space of time, I have to break up my responsibilities so I do not overwhelm myself. I am excited about getting my routine back on track, and looking forward to the benefits that will come along with it.

I will share some important points about having a routine and hope you find these helpful:

Having a routine…

  • is helpful to give you some structure
  • can be adjusted
  • is not intended to make you think you are boxed-in to what is written down
  • is based on your priorities and life goals
  • is not meant to be something that restricts you from living a balanced, healthy life
  • can include wellness and self care practices
  • should be realistic
  • is a good way to practice discipline (eg., if you want to practice meditation daily)
  • is not mandatory: it’s totally up to you!

What does your routine look like?

“If you want to have a strong structure, build the foundations the right way.”
― Eraldo Banovac

Self Care Practice

Year 2 is coming to an end pretty soon. Yikes! It’s been such an emotional journey and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. Recently, I attended the graduation ceremony of my mentor/friend (he probably doesn’t know he’s my mentor, but he gave me so much support and direction, was always available when I needed help, and I admired his drive and dedication to his work), and I kept visualizing my graduation and the excitement I would experience. It made me think about this journey of going through graduate school and what I need to continue being successful. I thought about my personal wellness and how I take care of myself, and I realized that there is always room for growth. Self care practices do not have to be confined to one set of practices that are constantly repeated (unless that’s your thing), you can add as much variety as you need. You can do what you need to do, in order to get what you need to get.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I set aside one day of the week as my “free” day. I’m really loving this practice i’ve set for myself. It really makes a difference having one day where I commit to doing nothing related to school. I’ve been able to maintain this practice consistently and learned to set boundaries with others if they ask me to do school-related stuff on that day. Hey, if I don’t take care of myself, this PhD is of no use, and I WANT this, so….yea.

In addition to taking a day off, i’ve also incorporated other ways to take care of myself and want to share a few of them with you.

  • I read novels. Fiction has never been a preference, but I learned how amazing it is to step out of the world of counseling/supervision/education/self help/therapy/teaching and dive into another world that requires no helping skills or pedagogy 🙂 Right now I’m reading The Expats by Chris Pavone.

 

 

  • Meditation. I use the Calm app and I have a meditation “buddy.” We check in with each other to see our progress. This app is pretty great and you have a variety of meditations to try out.

 

  • I find new places to explore in my town. I’m not really a fan of living where I am, but hey, it’s going to be my home for while again, might as well enjoy it right?

 

  • Netflix. I make time to watch my favorite shows on Netflix when the TV doesn’t seem as interesting.

 

  • Yoga. This is essential. Although I have not been to class in a long time, yoga is a way of life, so there are other ways I can practice and I enjoy doing this.

Those are just a few of the ways I de-stress and maintain my sanity during this PhD program. I would love to hear some of your self care practices.

“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
― Eleanor Brownn

Giving Yourself Permission

As graduate students we set the bar pretty high for ourselves. We engage in projects, have part time jobs, full-time jobs, families, research projects and too many deadlines to count. Things can get pretty hectic and we may feel guilty about that one hour we spent just lying around staring into space doing absolutely nothing.

Let’s talk about that.

I believe it’s okay to give yourself permission to have that one hour,or two, or six to just relax and do nothing. Be mindless. Eat popcorn and watch funny movies. Go to the beach. Sleep. Whatever you want. You deserve it because you work really hard.

During the start of my second year, I decided to try a new self-care strategy: I decided to take one day a week to myself. Crazy, I know. A whole day! I must say it was probably one of the best decisions I have made.  There was something about having that extra day that made it seem okay to work harder during the week. At first, my day off was Sunday, then it changed to Friday and I’ve kept that day. However, I am also flexible with that day off.  Sometimes things happen beyond our control, and when I have those crazy weeks, I am okay with adjusting the day I take off.  I try to stick to this every week to avoid going 7 days without a break.

By giving myself permission to take time off, I am respecting the fact that I am a hard worker that deserves a reward. I am also respecting my body’s need for time to rejuvenate.  I like to think of it this way: if the gas tank on my car reads “E” and I don’t get to the gas station to refill, my car won’t work. The longer I take to put gas in, my car may start to deteriorate due to lack of use. It’s the same with our bodies. If we don’t re-fuel by taking time for rest, we get sick, exhausted and unable to function. Eventually, if we continue for too long without taking rest, we may end up in the hospital. No one wants that.

This week, think about what you can give yourself permission to do.

“You must make time daily to care for your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita

Planning and Organizing

There are so many assignments to complete and lots of activities to engage in while at grad school.  It’s not difficult to forget an appointment or even an assignment, and that can really set us back. Having some organizational skills is important and one way to demonstrate this skill is by keeping a schedule of activities.

I write everything in a planner.  I write appointments, assignments, reminders to drink water and take vitamins, birthdays, conferences. You get the point.  It’s not that I cannot remember these things, I don’t want to forget them. In my planner, I write in the month section and then re-write the tasks/assignments on the day as well. So I basically have two reminders: when I flip to the month and when I get to the actual day.

I also use the calendar on my phone to help me with reminders. I put appointments and activities and set reminders for the day before or maybe a week before. This is a good addition to my paper planner. On Sundays I usually sync my phone and paper planner to be sure I’m up to date.

While learning online course development last semester, I found this great app called My Study Life. This app allows you to enter information about your courses, assignments and exams. What I like most is that it color codes everything according to the courses. You can use this app on an apple or android phone and you can also use it on your computer.

This may sound like a lot, but it really works for me. You may need to only use one form of scheduling or you may need multiple (like I do). The important thing is to do whatever works best for you to increase your chances of being more productive and organized.

I’m interested in what other scheduling techniques you use. Feel free to share here!

“An idea can only become a reality once it is broken down into organized, actionable elements.”
― Scott Belsky

Finding The Right Mentor

Let’s be honest, it’s not easy to find someone you can really feel comfortable with as you navigate your academic life. However, when you do find this person, consider your blessing and do all you can to maintain a healthy relationship. You may not realize the importance of a good mentor when you start your program, but you surely will understand their role when you begin your dissertation, need to search for funding, jobs, and other opportunities. I personally don’t believe a mentor is someone to be “used,” I believe you should connect with your mentor when things are going well, not so well and when you don’t have a clue how things are going. You get my point.

I am fortunate to have good mentors.  My undergraduate mentor, among several other things, helped me find the right school to pursue my master’s degree. He had a lot of knowledge about universities in the US and provided me with great resources. I narrowed  my choice to one school (risky…I know) and was accepted a week after my phone interview! I was so excited and scared. I kept in touch with my mentor during the first year of my master’s degree until life circumstances caused us to disconnect.  During this time, I formed a mentoring relationship with the director of my master’s program.  He helped me navigate academic life and became someone I consulted with when I began working.  He was the first person I told about my interest in pursuing a Ph.D. and was kind enough to help me find the right school.  We still keep in touch via email and I consider him to still be a role model, mentor and now a friend.

When I enrolled in this Ph.D program, it took me about a semester to figure out which professor I wanted to mentor me.  That lead to three professors with different strengths and skills.  One professor helps me develop my research identity. The second professor provides good mentoring regarding professional identity. The third professor is the one that demonstrates the beauty of balance and the importance of mindfulness in all I do. You may be thinking “do you really need a mentor for that?” Ummm, yes! Trust me.

The best thing about having these mentors is that they all agreed to be part of my dissertation committee. Yay!

I am sharing a couple points from my mentor search throughout the years.  I would love to hear about your mentor search!

  • Know what you want. It’s like the idea of “if you don’t know where you’re going any road can take you” type of thing. For example, I knew I needed a mentor during my master’s degree to help me with my identity as a clinician. I wanted a role model who was good at CBT and could teach me the process. Done. I still keep in touch to process several things because my brain works  CBT-ish and so does his!
  • If you don’t know what you want that’s okay. One role of a mentor should be to help you filter all the information you receive so you can decide what your interests are. I mean, it is not helpful to have a mentor who does not know what they want in life. It doesn’t work that way, or at least I really hope it doesn’t work that way! My research mentor taught me about different methodologies outside of my statistics courses.
  • Know their personality. Okay, my personal opinion is that I need someone who I feel connected with. Someone I can share jokes and still get down to business with. You may be very enthusiastic and want a mentor with as much energy as you to keep your adrenaline going, and that’s okay. You may be very enthusiastic and constantly on the go and may want a mentor to help you be more mindful and relaxed, and that’s okay too.  The point is, you should find someone that you can get along with.
  • Find someone to provide support. We may have one time, or one day when we really just need someone to listen, to let us know it’s okay to have the feelings we experience. Finding a mentor to be supportive in good times and in the rotten times is crucial.
  • Be able to learn from this person. I need (and luckily I have) a mentor I can learn new things from. A mentor should be able to teach and inspire and help you discover new opportunities.

 

“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their
own.” {Nikos Kazantzakis}

Tips For Working At Home

I’m not sure if you feel the same way as I do: I’m more productive out of my comfort zone. When i’m at home my bed, blanket, tv and pillows seem more interesting and important than the million articles to read or several projects/assignments due. Right? Ok maybe not. However, working at home is quite oaky for some people and I admire you immensely.   The truth is, whether you like it or not, there may be times you have to study or work on assignments at home, so it’s probably a good idea to figure out how to make your space as conducive to productivity as possible.

I wanted to share some tips that may be helpful for you to design a productive space at home.  Some of these work for me, others not so much. That’s okay.  Take what you need from the list and leave the rest for someone else 🙂

Tip 1: Location. You want to find a space in your home to dedicate to your work. Unless you like moving around a lot, having a specific location makes it easier to get in the “zone” of writing or reading once you get into that space. Having a special location also helps you to set boundaries with others you live with. If you share space, you can probably agree on hanging a sign outside the door when it’s your study/writing time.  Personally, I have one area that I do work in. I avoid reading anything school related in bed and do not check emails on my laptop or phone from my bed.

Tip 2: Colors. If bright colors spark creative energy – go for it! Whatever you select, be sure it’s a color (or colors) that will not distract you, give you an eye ache or headache. select colors that are inspiring, make you feel focused, centered, and even relaxed.  Not too relaxed because you shouldn’t fall asleep while working 🙂

Tip 3: Organization. If your space is messy, you probably will feel flustered and be very disorganized.  It’s hard to focus when you can’t find what you want. I get annoyed when I can’t find the pen I was just using, or where I put the post-it notes. I try to keep my desk organized so I know where everything is. It really helps me feel more productive.

Tip 4: Schedule. Going right along with being organized, keeping a schedule or time-table of when you plan to write or do assignments will help with time management and general productivity. A suggestion is to take one day of the week (for me, it’s Sundays) and sit with your planner or a plain sheet of paper and write your goals for the week.  At the beginning of the semester I set monthly, weekly and daily goals.

Tip 5: Timing. You know yourself and when you are most likely to be productive. Maximize on those times and make it part of your scheduling. Remember, what works for your other friends may not work for you, and that’s quite okay! I like to think I am not an early morning person, but I am learning to accept that when I get up very early and sit at my desk, I get a lot done. So now, I am planning to take 2 hours on mornings, before I leave for the office, to dedicate to writing. This means I have to prepare from the night before or when I do my weekly schedule what I will be writing about.

Tip 6: Comfy chair. Okay, let’s be honest: this is very important. No one wants a back cramp or numb butt when working, especially if you have to sit for a long time. Check out your local Target, Sam’s Club or other stationary stores/office supply stores for a comfy office chair.  Although some may be a little pricey, I believe the investment is worth the comfort.

I hope these were helpful or at least a good reminder for you.  They are by no means the only tips, so feel free to share what are some suggestions you have as well.

Here is a little snapshot of my workspace. I keep essential oils near me whenever I am writing or doing assignments. They add some “fun” to my space and they help me to focus!

IMG_0079

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
Henry Thomas Buckle

Moving Along

I really don’t know how I got this far into the doctoral program.  I think I may have been unconscious for part of it because it seems like year two sprung out of no where! I still remember packing, moving, and my road trip to get here as if it happened yesterday.  I guess time flies not only when you are having fun, but when you have a lot going on. I will say that I am extremely proud of making it to the second semester of my second year with all mental faculties still functioning at optimal level. Of course, there’s been the occasional anxiety attack and the what-did-I-get-myself-into-I-should-quit-now thoughts.  I mean, after all, this is a Ph.D. program, not vacation .

This semester, I will be working on a research project while writing chapter II of my dissertation.  I am preparing for a proposal defense and also comprehensive exams coming up in a few months. I’m scared, excited, hopeful and scared.  Did I mention scared? One of the things I am very grateful for is that I have a small but very strong support group cheering me along this journey.  Without these people I don’t know how I would make it.  My internal drive is strong and I am pretty much self directed and goal oriented. However, it’s an added bonus to have others encouraging you along. I’ve been thinking about how I can possibly show more gratitude to these people, especially after I cross the graduation stage.

As I move along this semester I have a few things I need to keep in mind:

  • remove the unimportant and focus on the important
  • be okay with not living a life that others understand
  • continue to make prayer/meditation/yoga a priority because it’s the foundation upon which I stand
  • continue to be open to new ideas and opportunities. Growth doesn’t happen in comfort zones
  • be authentic
  • set boundaries
  • maintain a healthy balance
  • enjoy life!

“Never confuse movement with action.”
Ernest Hemingway

Mental Health Awareness

APA-BlogDayBadge-2015 I’m blogging for mental health awareness!

Individuals and families across the world are impacted by mental health concerns.  It is important to recognize signs and symptoms, know when to reach out for help, and also how to take care of yourself if you are caring for a loved one with a mental health concern.

Here are a few sites with helpful information.  Please read and pass it along.  Education and awareness are important factors in reducing stigma.

How to cope when a loved one has a mental illness

Depression 

Anxiety

Bipolar Disorder

Schizophrenia

Borderline Personality Disorder 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Suicide

Eating Disorder

Academic Writing Groups: Graduate School Support Group

Last semester I was first introduced to the term “writing group” by my professor as he discussed the publication success of one of his colleagues.  He stated that writing groups help to keep each other accountable and that if you have a good group, the possibilities are endless if you want to really step up your publication game.  One of the benefits of being in a writing group is that you can share first authorship on manuscripts.  Sounds like a great idea right? I was totally sold on the idea and began looking into writing groups.

As I began reading online, I read a good article on the benefits of a writing group and decided to check out some of the materials referenced within the article. The first thing I did was to purchase the book How To Write A Lot by Paul J. Silvia, PhD.  This book is very detailed but easy to read with a lot of beneficial suggestions.  Dr. Silvia mentioned an agraphia group which is a support group for writers to encourage them to write better and faster through motivation, goal setting, and social support. Basically, it’s a writing group. Another valuable point that was mentioned in this book is the importance of planning what you will write. Essentially, the idea is that if you have a well-developed plan for writing then the chances of having writing block is decreased.

The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides some good information on having a writing group starter kit, including information on ways to talk about a writing group. Also, on her website, Jane Friedman provides some writing group tips.  She explains the benefits of discussing group frequency, group size, structure, and receiving and giving feedback within the writing group.

This article by Carissa Froyum, PhD., and Marybeth Stalp, PhD., professors at the University of Northern Iowa, was the document I used to help me form my own writing group.  Among all the sites I explored, this document gave me the most guidance and points for consideration.  Here are the suggestions for structuring the writing group:

* Decide how often you will meet: My group decided that we will meet weekly, before one of our classes (we are in the same cohort, so class schedule is the same for us).

* Decide how many members:  I started my group with 2 other members.  I decided to start really small as this was our first attempt, and we are all working on the same project together.  So I figured this was the perfect way to introduce the concept.  I was really happy that they were excited that I brought the idea to them.

* Leadership: Froyum and Stalp suggested that a leader should be assigned to the group and this position should be rotated among members.  We decided that I will take up the leadership position right now, and at our next meeting we will plan the rotation schedule for leadership.

* When to provide pieces for feedback: We have not decided how we will do this yet, however at our next meeting, this is on our agenda.  Froyum and Stalp mentioned the idea of emailing group members your paper the day before you meet is a good way to keep everyone updated.

* How to begin sessions: Our first meeting, we basically discussed being in a writing group and agreed that we all needed the support.  More detailed planning will take place next week, however I liked the suggestion in this article to begin with 5 minutes of social time.  Knowing the members of my writing group, I think they will enjoy this and even some mindfulness activity to start and end our group.

* Ways to give feedback: We agreed that we will provide each other with verbal feedback based on the specific writing target goal of that week.  We also discussed the possibility of emailing drafts and using track-changes to provide feedback that way.  However, what was important to all of us, was the idea of being able to have open discussion about what we are struggling with and ways to overcome writing obstacles.

I am looking forward to this new experience with my small writing group and hope that in the future we can expand and work on more projects with other students.  The most important thing is that I trust my group members and feel very comfortable and supported by each of them.

Have you ever been in a writing group?  Have you considered joining a writing group?  

“It is not enough to do your best; you have to know what to do and then do your best.” ~ W. Edwards Deming