My Day With Oprah

I spent this week researching and writing about the blatant connections between large-scale animal agriculture and disease in humans. And until last night, I had planned on today’s post being about that specific cycle of speciesism and the commodification of life producing dire consequences for human health and safety. Because to a vegan (and a whole lot of scientists) the writing is on the wall, and it’s time to hold ourselves accountable.

After leaving my small business yesterday where I spent about ten hours talking to many women I consider friends, I decided that now isn’t the right time for that content. I’m not suggesting that “fluff,” or timely distractions are the answer to panic, uncertainty and fear. But I am suggesting that a good writer knows when to steer the audience to something positive until the true reality of a situation can be assessed and absorbed. We’re in the speculation phase of COVID-19, and the last thing anyone needs right now (myself included) is more uncertainty or stress about the unknown. My goal in helping others make a connection between eating animals and sickness can wait for another day when introspection is an option, and the initial reaction has ceased.

So today, I’m talkin’ about Oprah!

Yes, the one and only, Oprah Winfrey and her Your Life in Focus tour. I snagged my mom, sister, and myself tickets to go last month in Los Angeles, and now I can officially mark “seeing Oprah live” off of my bucket list.

First of all, let me explain that as a latchkey kid with limited access to television, it quickly became my after-school ritual to watch The Oprah Show with my sister. Later, as an aspiring news and editorial writer in my high school and early college years I idolized Oprah for her humble beginnings in broadcast journalism. Her ability to consistently ask the right questions provoking a spectacular interview and a deeper look into what it truly means to be human were skills any writer hoped to hone even half as well as she does. Fast forward to present-day – I listen to both of her podcasts: Supersoul Conversations and Oprah’s Masterclass on a regular basis. As a woman and an entrepreneur I look up to her even more now for her unapologetic attitude toward her fantastic success – she is truly a force. But I believe her true talent is in balancing that incredible power and energy elegantly with a genuine empathy and an unbelievable presence that draws truth from people coming from every center and walk of life. She is one talented lady.

We spent roughly seven hours at the event. It began with a full-on dance party of around 13,000 people followed by an extensive talk Oprah gave about her health and wellness journey. Throughout the day several experts took the stage to lead us through dances, guided meditations, and breathing exercises. Then to wrap up the show Oprah gave another in-depth talk about her background which led us into an interview with Jennifer Lopez. It was amazing, and I am so glad that I took the time to go.

Throughout the day, Oprah would instruct us to open our workbooks (which she provided in our gift bags at the start of the show) and she guided us through them, step by step to hone in on what our wellness focus and intentions will be moving forward, and how we will accomplish real change in our lives through commitment to these specific goals.

One of the first things you see in the workbook are the words

“You are here. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Then Oprah’s definition of wellness:

“Wellness for me is simply all things in balance. We long for a life without constraint, free from conflict, fear, or judgment– where our health, relationships, career, and finances coexist in perfect flow with our spiritual center. This is the highest form of well-being.”

I thought the most useful way for you to see what we spent much of our day with Oprah doing would be for you to participate, and for me to candidly share my results with you from my own workbook. These are the answers I wrote on the spot, and they have not been edited. I know they may be a little hard to read, but I did the best I could to brighten up the photos for you.

The first step was to figure out our “wellness quotient” through a series of questions, because it is hard to know where you want to go if you have no idea where you actually are.

“Knowing where you are on your journey is a gift. It grounds you in the moment and guides you to a hopeful future. Knowing why you’re on this path creates intention, which gives you the motivation to take the next right step.”

113 was my total. “Purpose” and “relationships” were tied. And the phone number is one you can text if you want help with your goals!

After we finished this section, she walked us through setting our wellness intention, because she, like me, believes that

“You don’t get what you want; you get what you intend.”

We did this by first, writing down and examining a time where we set a goal that we didn’t accomplish. More often than not, we did not accomplish this goal because our intentions did not align with the truth of who we really are. For example, I listed “Opening a business with a partner” as my goal that ultimately failed. I wanted to achieve this goal to “combine our talents and provide them to the community, to make money, to move forward in my career, and to employ more people in my town.” Those all seem like good intentions, but when you turn the page there are a list of underlying motives for accomplishing these goals. I read them through, and ultimately decided that underneath those reasons for opening that particular business with that particular partner I also wanted to: “prove something to someone. I wanted to win and to live up to someone else’s expectations. I felt obligated, and I felt like I was supposed to want it.” The goal failed because the “why” did not match up with the true person I am.

The next step was setting our intentions, because when they are not clear it is hard to accomplish specific things, and it is impossible to see if those goals line up with what is truly right for ourselves. I decided to set a general mind, body, and spirit intention with an understanding of how this intention will bring me more meaning and fulfillment.

Then Oprah says:

“The commitment to do well and be well is a lifetime of choices that you make daily. The space to live in is not ‘I’ll try.’ Not ‘I want to.’ Not ‘I really want to.’ It’s ‘I have decided.’”

Which leads us to the last part of the workbook where we commit by setting three healthy habits based on the areas of focus we determined from our “wellness quotient.” I didn’t include “nutrition” because for me, that’s not something I want to actively work on at this time. And then we conclude with a contract to ourselves that will hold us accountable.

Honestly, I have to admit that most of this introspection I’ve done before. Countless times. It’s in my nature to plan goals, explain them, and execute them through planning. If you follow this blog regularly, or you know me in person, you know this to be more than true. But what it did do for me was something unexpected and interesting. It challenged me to level up, and to expand my goals beyond myself and my own wellness and to really think about what that truly means. The bigger picture. There is always room for improvement and self-growth, and I have made my mental and physical health a serious priority that I work on daily. But what I realized is that I’ve been thinking too small. I’ve outgrown many of these goals because thankfully they’ve evolved from goals into my daily practices. Lately I’ve been feeling lost searching for new things to strive for. I think the key is to keep searching.

“Nourish what makes you feel confident, connected, contented. Opportunity will rise to meet you.”

-Oprah Winfrey

I Guess I’m A Digital Minimalist Now

My digital declutter ended about three weeks ago. After submitting a short article about it to the editor of the local magazine I freelance for, she had some logistical questions. I thought that the most beneficial way for me to answer these questions (and some others that I’ve gotten from friends and clients) would be to work them out in real time, on the blog. That way you can benefit from the broken-down, simplified answers. It’s important to be philosophical and introspective, but what about real-life application and practicality? This post is meant to wrap up my digital declutter series by breaking it down to it’s simple foundation – the “bones” of the experiment. That way you can move forward with practical tools and ideas to help implement digital minimalism principles into your own life.

Question 1: Was quitting all unnecessary technology hard?

The short answer is yes. Like any major lifestyle change, it was difficult for about the first week while I re-acclimated. That is exactly why I constructed a plan to implement less technology use over time, that way when I went “cold turkey” it was not such a shock to my system. I also defined what things I absolutely “needed” for my safety, and for my business to function properly, so I did not go 100% tech-free. Remember, it is a “digitally minimal” lifestyle, not a lifestyle completely devoid of all technology use.

The key to success is to have a plan. It’s as simple as that.

Question 2: What was your plan and how did you implement it?

The first thing I did was figure out how much technology I was using to begin with.

I would like to stress this point:

WITHOUT KNOWING HOW MUCH YOU ARE USING TECH, YOU WILL NOT HAVE AN OBJECTIVE STARTING POINT FROM WHICH TO REDUCE IT.

Numbers don’t lie.

For six months prior to my declutter experiment I tracked social media, texting, emails, and miscellaneous internet use, totaling out everything and writing the times down in my journal. I made it a point to reduce my consumption, if even by a small percentage, or a few minutes each week. After six months, I had reduced my consumption significantly (by about 80%) by just tracking it, and reducing it by nominal, almost unnoticeable (at the time) increments. This helped me to put into perspective how much time I was wasting, and how truly unnecessary most of the technology we spend our time with is.

The next part of my plan had to do with the actual 31-day period of time when I’d go without any technology that was not “necessary.” This means being extremely honest with yourself.

JUST BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT DOES NOT MAKE IT NECESSARY FOR YOUR HEALTH, SAFETY, OR MAINTENANCE OF YOUR LIVELIHOOD.

Seriously.

I went through all the things I use and basically figured out what I could omit without it having serious real world implications for myself personally, or for my business.

I:

• Deleted email, social media, entertainment streaming, and shopping apps off of my phone. I decided that I could check email at work during business hours only, and taking a break from all the other things would be FINE.

For all of you small business owners who think the world will go up in flames if you do not participate in social media for one month, this is for you:

IT WILL NOT. AND YOU NEED THIS EXPERIMENT MORE THAN ANYONE TO SHOCK YOU BACK INTO HAVING SOME PERSPECTIVE.

I was you. The time away will HELP your business.

• Did not watch TV unless it was a movie that I specifically wanted to watch as part of a social activity with others. So no streaming, mindless watching, watching anything alone, commercials, or background noise. Yep, this means if you cohabitate with others who watch TV, you will spend a lot of time in the other room. This will be weird and isolating at first, but then you will realize it’s actually quiet and wonderful alone time.

• Only texted and checked emails during three fifteen minute, predetermined time frames. This included personal and business text/emails. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. If I was at work that day, I would schedule these in so I wouldn’t miss them, giving me an excuse to check my phone later. If someone wanted an immediate response, they would have to CALL me. All business was responded to during business hours, and NEVER outside of them. I set up an auto-text response so these hours were very clear for clients.

• Allowed myself to use technology that does not drain my energy, but enriches me. I know this is very subjective, but I encourage you to really dig deep when determining what these areas are for yourself. The whole point of this experiment is to differentiate between technology that promises value, and technology that actually delivers it for you specifically. I allowed myself unlimited podcast and audiobook listening. I still used my phone calendar, weather app, to do list app, my fitness apps, and Pinterest (for recipes only!).

• Did not use my phone for ANY internet surfing or searching at all. I set this hard and fast rule so that it couldn’t spiral out of control. If I needed to look anything up, pay bills, or do things for my business that required the internet, I waited to do it at work.

• Allowed myself room to fail. I had a situation come up where it was necessary that I use the internet to email and sign documents. I did this outside of my normal digitally minimal parameters. But in my opinion, it was necessary and I wasn’t going to let that ruin the rest of my experience. So I just made sure to take care of business, and then go back to my plan.

Question 3: Did your husband do it with you? How did that go?

No he did not. In the beginning it was difficult to see him constantly watching TV or being on his phone when I wanted to interact or not remove myself from the space he was in to go be by myself. But I got used to it after about a week. And I did notice as time went on that he was watching a bit less TV so we could eat dinner together, or relax before bed together which I really liked. He respected my boundaries but all in all, we did spend a lot more time apart.

I realized that just because we’re in the same room does not in any way mean that we are actually spending quality time together, and being around a noisy TV puts me in an instant bad mood if I don’t like what’s on. So after a while, I started to value my quiet, alone time, and noticed that when I get to spend my time reading or listening to a podcast instead of passively watching something I don’t like, I’m in a much better mood, and I’m much more relaxed after a long day. Noise just drains my energy.

Question 4: Have I gone back to how I was before?

No. Nor will I. I have made slight adjustments, but plan on living a digitally minimal life moving forward. I am much happier, and more mentally alert and productive this way.

I obviously have gone back to posting to social media and my blog once per week. I do not go on social media more than this. I download the apps to my phone to make my posts and then delete them right after. I plan to post using this same method for my business on occasion, but this stepping away from social media has actually had positive impacts on my business, allowing me to work on bigger ideas and projects which produce better, tangible results. If my books are full at work then it is irrelevant how much time I spend on social media.

I do not plan on putting email back on my phone ever. Checking it at work is just fine. I no longer respond to potential business through social media – everyone gets an auto response to call or email. This will not change. I did not reinstall any other streaming or shopping apps. I don’t need them, and they are a waste of time.

I have been more lax with my internet and texting use – straying away from the fifteen minute intervals, three times daily. But I can already notice that this is beginning to drain my energy, so I plan to figure out a happy medium where I can use the internet and check texts, but not do it all day. I like to be able to plug my phone in and just leave it alone.

And with TV, I have started watching some again, but I plan to make sure that the time spent there remains small.

Question 5: Would you recommend a digital declutter for others?

Yes. Just have a plan and stick to it. I wouldn’t waste time doing it for any period of time shorter than 2-3 weeks. Less than that, and it’s not long enough to reap real benefits, in my opinion. I felt like a month was perfect.

Question 6: What was your favorite part of your experience?

Aside from learning A LOT about myself, it was all the reading I did. My attention span dramatically increased and my real, true love for reading and learning was reignited. I read FOURTEEN books in January. Last year, I read 21 TOTAL.

My new life goal is to learn how to feel like my true self- how I felt in my favorite wedding picture of myself, as often as possible. Purely happy and free.

_____

Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com

Resources: https://www.calnewport.com

Digital Declutter Diaries Part 2: I Can Feel

Being underwater dulls everything down. Light and sound. You try to laugh but it’s hard. You try to see but that’s hard too. You try to listen but nothing sticks. The details are all lost anyway.

All you know is that for some reason it feels as close to good and familiar as you can get with your head dunked slightly below the surface. Everything’s fuzzy. Slower. After a while it becomes normal to feel that way. Watching your life through a blurry lens of indifference and numbness.

You try to believe you’re happy. But deep down you understand that knowing you should feel happiness, and actually experiencing it are two different things. You think you’re sad, but at the end of the day you could take or leave whatever made you feel that way. Disappointment isn’t real, anger is just a response to another thing that isn’t real. Love feels real, but comes with a handful of emotions that are fuzzy now too.

So back underwater you go. Lukewarm.

Sometimes you can’t help it and you get upset – you don’t even know why. But you enjoy being angry, because at least it’s something. The few things you do care about, you distance by a few degrees just in case.

That was me. That is me still, sometimes.

Compartmentalized.

I had accepted this as my normal. It’s like being outside where everything feels bad for so long that you put a protection around yourself that makes everything feel about half (or less) of what it should. It’s okay at first. But then time went by and I started to worry that I’d completely forget how to really be happy, or sad. Or anything. I just wanted to feel a genuine emotion that I wasn’t capable of putting inside a box and neatly stacking on a shelf of 10,000 never-again-opened boxes. It had become SO easy to do that.

What’s it like to feel real joy? Or gratitude? Or disappointment? Without immediately putting it in check with the opposite emotion.

Neutralize it.

During this process of decluttering my mind I realized that my emotional shutting down happened in two stages.

The first began as a defense mechanism-type response to an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship I was in for about four years in my early twenties. Until I conducted this experiment, I hadn’t even realized, let alone accepted that what I had gone through was actual abuse.

Yet for years I lived in a constant state of isolation, uneasiness, fear, and defensiveness. I lost myself navigating the complexities of loving someone with mental illness, depression, and sometimes uncontrollable, unpredictable anger. I developed resulting post traumatic stress, and have often found myself exhibiting those same destructive behaviors – learned out of necessity to protect myself, then. Now I’m finally realizing that I can stop living a defensive life. Everything isn’t an argument; constantly worrying about my plans going off track is unproductive. I don’t need to always be on the highest alert.

Back then I retreated inside. Put up protective barriers. And apologized. A lot. I numbed myself to my reality because after years of mental manipulation it becomes extremely difficult to separate what’s real from what someone tells you are just your own “unreliable” emotions. It’s even harder to accept what you know is true when the good times are good, and when everyone around you seems to think everything is mostly fine.

And then there is the shame and the fear. I chose to be there, so obviously something must be wrong with me because I stayed. I’m not a “victim.” I’m smart and capable. So it must be my own fault for not leaving. It’s my own fault for not bringing it up until now. It’s my own fault.

I spent years worrying about his mental health and everything I was doing “wrong,” while my mental state and self worth deteriorated. But I couldn’t see what was happening.

That lightbulb didn’t even begin to flicker until about a month ago when I read Gavin DeBecker’s book The Gift of Fear. I thought long and hard about all the behaviors that he argues are precursors to violence, and how our intuition knows before our minds do that something is wrong. Back then I had gotten very good at ignoring my intuition and rationalizing behaviors that I now see as completely dangerous and unacceptable. I never once worried about my own safety, focusing primarily on getting him help for his mental illness. Only now that seven years has passed do I realize that I should’ve been extremely concerned about my own mental and physical well being.

The second stage of my emotional shutting down happened after he died, about three months after our final breakup. For more information about this please reference my first ever post, Context.

A huge part of my identity and self worth was caught up in a person who made me feel disempowered and small. Overnight, I lost everything I thought stabilized me, and I couldn’t help but feel partially responsible. I feel guilt now, as I write these words. But staying silent hasn’t helped me to heal. And protecting his memory and family should’ve never taken precedent over my own mental health.

The tragic reality of what happened to him, coupled with the awkwardness people feel discussing death and trauma had effectively rendered my experience within that relationship invisible. Somehow petty and unimportant. So I threw myself into a full fledged effort to convince myself it was petty and unimportant. And I simply cannot live that way anymore. In sharing my experience, it becomes visible, and there is freedom there. For me, and others like me.

I think that ever since I was a little kid I’ve known that I feel very deeply. That I can absorb energy from those around me, and that I can sometimes tap into the pain and sadness and love and happiness of animals and other people that I may not even know. Until I got into that relationship, I felt confident to exude that passion is everything I did. In my learning, in my work, in my friends and family. I felt deeply and unapologetically about everything. And I wasn’t even the slightest bit ashamed or afraid to show it to the world- thanks parents.

In a nutshell, I loved being me and I was not afraid to show it, and tell everyone about it.

And then all that passion and self confidence evaporated and I accepted it.

My therapist has asked me on multiple occasions if I minded being alone. My answer has always been a hard no – ask my husband; he knows. I love spending time alone. What I believe she should’ve been asking me (now that it’s 2020) is if I like being truly alone. Without all the things that make it so easy to never actually be by yourself. No phone, no internet, no TV. Because my answer would’ve likely been something like: I don’t know. Because I’ve never tried that. Solitude wasn’t something I had prioritized.

I thought I’d been healing myself the best ways I knew how. And I suppose to a degree, I have been. But I’ve always felt like I was hitting a wall, beyond the healthy eating, and exercise, meaningful work, therapy, and positive, supportive, loving people in my life, something still eluded me. Something still felt like a hole in my heart. A missing piece.

After a month of solitude, and A LOT of thinking, I realized that the missing piece was partially realization and acceptance. Moving through my past. The other part was remembering the confidence in my own spirit and abilities that used to come so easily, and the permission to feel everything and anything again.

I condensed about five years of therapy into one month, just by allowing myself to really think. I’ve already started to see glimpses of my “old self,” but in a new way, still trepidatiously approaching emotion. I can finally begin to heal the parts of me that have developed as coping mechanisms, shields, and responses to trauma. I can forgive him and let him go – he was hurt too.

I’m not sure if my mind had guarded me from my full reality on purpose, or if I was in denial. I’m not sure if I was being protected from recognizing my past as what it truly was until I was strong enough and stable enough to handle it. Or if I was consciously shoving it aside because it was too difficult to look at.

All that matters now is that I am beginning to see love in little things again and am so overwhelmed with gratitude on a daily basis for every wonderful and painful part of this life.

_____

Artwork by: TanyaZCdesign https://www.etsy.com/shop/TanyaZCdesign