How to Meditate

How to Meditate to Reduce Stress

In my ongoing campaign to reduce stress and anxiety, increase my levels of gratitude, and embrace optimism, I have taken up meditation. Actually, I should say that I have taken up meditation again. I have long been aware of the reported benefits of meditation. I first learned how to meditate in a college course on “Stress and Health”. At the time, my professor emphasized both the emotional and physical benefits of meditation. However, when I gave meditation a try as part of a homework assignment, I had a panic attack.

That experience stuck with me for a long time. I finally gave meditation another shot a couple of years ago, when life events sent my stress levels off the charts. I knew I needed to reduce my stress and anxiety or I was going to be heading to the doctor. This time around I had a much better experience, and have been meditating at least semi-consistently ever since.

So I learned how to meditate, downloaded a couple of meditation apps, and started practicing regularly. I have since reaped the benefits of meditation. My stress levels are definitely lower now that I meditate. Despite juggling three  jobs, two teenagers, and the financial challenges posed by a child heading off to college. Meditation also helps me to sleep better and think more clearly.

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How to Keep a Gratitude Journal

How To Keep a Gratitude Journal

When you are working toward long-term goals, it can be difficult to maintain focus on the positive.  If optimism does not come naturally to you, it’s easy to emphasize the obstacles and stumbling blocks rather than the progress you are making toward your goal. In order to keep your motivation high, it is crucial to acknowledge the wins. And the best way to ensure that you notice the good things in your life is to write them down. Keeping a gratitude journal has helped prevent us from missing all we have to be grateful for and kept our eye on the prize of our long-term dream.

Why Keep a Gratitude Journal

We keep a gratitude journal just because it feels good and it reminds us to be thankful. As it turns out, a number of scientific studies have shown concrete benefits of gratitude journaling. In 2015, Psychology Today published an article citing several scientific studies about gratitude which have shown, among other things, that gratitude improves physical and psychological health, improves empathy, and actually leads to better sleep. Last year, an article in Time Magazine added the benefits of patience, better relationships, and willpower to that list. Researchers at NIH have found the direct neurological causes for these outcomes. Gratitude increases activity in the hypothalamus (hormone levels and eating and sleeping control) and the brain’s use of dopamine.

So why not just think happy thoughts? There is value to translating your thoughts into whole language. In other words, simply thinking grateful thoughts is not as powerful as writing them down. Additionally, research indicates that using handwriting to record gratitude (vs. speaking or typing) is a  more effective way to reap the full physical and emotional benefits.

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The Summit: A Conversation for Healthy Relationships

Key to a Healthy Relationship: Save It for the Summit

Paul and I have a pretty healthy relationship. In fact, I would say that we are soulmates.  However, we also have each had numerous romance fails in the past. So we expend every effort to insure that our current relationship does not start to slide. Generally this is pretty easy. We agree on most things, work pretty easily together, and generally pick up the slack for each other’s weak spots.

However, into every relationship a little friction will come. When you spend 24/7 alongside another person (we work, live, and play together), sand will sometimes grind the gears. Despite being generally reasonable people, we both get a bit irrational when steamed. Each of us has resorted to, shall we say, less than ideal methods of communication when angry.

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4 Tips to Staying Positive When Motivation Lags

4 Tricks to Recapturing Self Motivation When Energy Flags

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Sometimes Paul and I have a bit of trouble keeping up our self motivation over the course of a long day. If you read Paul’s post on Stumbling Toward Optimism, you know that a positive attitude is not in our DNA. However, we have a lot of important goals and very busy lives. We have three kids still at home, full-time jobs, multiple side hustles, and this great journey to plan (largely through this blog). So when our motivation hits a low point, we need to figure out how to bring it back up quickly. And, sadly, motivation often hits a low point.

Fortunately, through our years together, we have identified some tricks to remedy the problem. We’ve tried a lot of different methods to throw off the gloom and get back to work. Below are the four measures we have found to be most effective at recapturing our mojo when we hit a rough patch.

4 Tips to Staying Positive When Self Motivation Lags

Make a Plan to Maintain Self Motivation

We plan out each week on a white board with a set of magnets edged in washi tape signifying who is assigned each task. We have color-coded categories for our main work, side hustles, household tasks, and this blog. Further, each day we list specifically what we want to accomplish, and how we will fit them around other personal activities (errands, son’s hockey practice, exercise, etc.). It can be surprisingly motivating to clean off a magnet and move it back to the empty pile. And damn, it feels good when the day’s column is empty. In case you’re interested, we use this white board, which we have found to be the perfect size for our home office.


Okay, I have to admit right here that I truly suck at meditating. My meditation grade is probably a C- at best. The mere fact that I grade myself on meditation shows you how sadly ill-equipped I am for it. Nonetheless, I persevere. Even in my failure, spending seven minutes each morning trying to let my chattery brain shut down puts me in a better place.  And if I am struggling with motivation mid-afternoon, a few minutes of peaceful breathing gives me a real boost. If you’re looking for a way to get started, Insight Timer is a great meditation app. It allows you to follow thousands of guided meditations, or just set a timer to focus on your own breath. Best of all, it’s free!

When all else fails, bribery remains. Do whatever it takes to recapture motivation when your energy flags.Click To Tweet

Take a Walk

The idea of exercise to lighten one’s mood is hardly groundbreaking. However, it is extremely effective. Paul runs, but I prefer to get outside and take a walk. The endorphins released from walking, combined with the positive effects of sunlight will turn my mood around every time. As an extra productivity bonus, I always listen to podcasts when I walk. My favorite side hustle podcast is Nick Loper’s The Side Hustle Show. It got us started side hustling, and gives me fresh motivation to get back to work and start hustling every time I listen.

Reward Yourself

When all else fails, bribery remains. If I face an undesirable task, I promise myself a treat upon its completion. You have to be careful with this one. No promising yourself a Tahitian vacation for taking out the trash. That will kill your budget every time. Also, for your long-term health: no bribing your way through a bag of Hershey’s kisses in one sitting. But offering yourself a small grace note when you’re really struggling to complete a task can be a great incentive.

For example, I hate making phone calls. Thank goodness for the internet, because if my job depended on calling strangers regularly, I might be homeless. So if I need to call the accountant, I’ll promise myself that afterwards I can sit down with a book for 15 minutes. Although I do tend to use Hershey’s kisses as an incentive more than ideal, the reward method does miracles in helping me recapture my motivation to do what needs to be done and keep me on the path to reach my goals.

Now it’s your turn! What tricks do you use for staying positive when your self motivation has taken a hike? We would love to hear your thoughts on how to get motivated.

4 Tricks to Staying Positive When Your Self Motivation Lags










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stumbling toward optimism

Stumbling Toward Optimism

Heather and I naturally gravitate toward the bleak. Optimism has traditionally been anathema to our shared world view.

We’re not proud of our glass half empty –  more like glass-broke-and-hope-leaked-all-over-the-counter – outlook. But it’s become ingrained. Brush teeth, shower, think about how we are going to die one day and how it has all been for naught.

Twenty-five years ago in a single weekend I went to see Glengarry Glen Ross and Waterland, and rented the John Cassavettes’ classic A Woman Under the Influence. If you’ve never seen those films, don’t. At least not without a bottle of Prozac and the local suicide hotline on speed dial. These are three of the most depressing films ever made. Yet, a quarter century later, I still refer to this as the most enjoyable film viewing weekend of my life.

Our version of Optimism
Our version of optimism. Image by Kurt Bauschardt

Heather, in turn, would dominate a game show called “What’s the Worst that Can Happen?”. No one can identify how everything might go to hell better than Heather. When an ambiguous situation arises with a range of possible outcomes, it’s like watching Jimi Hendrix play guitar.  She’s a virtuoso of pessimism. WebMD is bookmarked on her laptop. “I think it’s a tumor” is her most common utterance following a symptom search.

I understand this description of our personalities has assured none of you will be messaging us to grab a beer. However, despite our dearth of optimism, we do know how to laugh and have fun. We poke fun at ourselves and everyone else that lives and breathes, and laugh more than most couples I know.

Herein lies our goal for life in general and for our poker pilgrimage specifically. We need to spend more time dawdling in the land of optimism and less doing the dance macabre in the bottomless void of nihilism. Life has much to offer. We each have two children from previous marriages, and all four are healthy, great kids. Although parenting teenagers is a daily spin on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, we always count ourselves fortunate that these are the kids we got.

Yeah, we have each other, feel like soul mates, deserve each other (our exes might agree with that as well), etc. No one wants to hear that loving, mushy stuff. But, at minimum, it appears that “mutual restraining order” is not in our future.

glass-broke-and-hope-leaked-all-over-the-counter outlookClick To Tweet

Nonetheless, we want to infuse our lives with more meaning and enjoyment. Our pilgrimage is as much about our individual and collective soul searching as it is about travelling around the country enjoying poker venues. Poker may seem an odd mechanism on the path to enlightenment: the Dalai Lama probably isn’t bluff 4-betting the other monks at the monastery. But for two people who love games, enjoy the interpersonal, strategy, and math skills that poker requires, are stimulated by creativity and competition, and are compelled by the personalities that inhabit card rooms, poker feeds much of what drives us.

This journey will hopefully serve to actualize our poker avocation while offering the opportunity to find new ways to experience and view the world. A change in perspective is in order. We want to see what the people of Oklahoma, Florida, California, and Indiana can show us about how they live and think. Hopefully the journey will add new dimensions to the way we interact with the world at large and those close to us.

But mostly, it’s optimism we hope to cull from these travels; a future outlook that sees more good than bad in the world. When it is all over we hope to have found a path that takes us by the former more often than the latter.

Perhaps someday one of us will even see that glass as half full!


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