Healthy Boundaries

It took me 40 years to discover how to set good boundaries with others. If you were brought up in a family system that didn’t always demonstrate healthy boundaries, like me it might take a major life event to even realize you weren’t setting boundaries for yourself in the first place.

Much of this personal growth has been accomplished by working with my excellent therapist. I distinctly recall her first educating me about boundaries when discussing a difficult interaction I had with a loved one. I felt so puzzled at first by this notion of setting boundaries! It was so foreign, and as someone who has struggled with abandonment fears, really scary.

The first epiphany in setting and upholding my own boundaries was simply recognizing the inherent “okay ness” of doing so. It is healthy to set boundaries with those we love – and healthy people will not only respect those boundaries but will simply love us more in the ways we want to be loved.

Unhealthy boundary pushers will try to make us wrong for setting boundaries with them – trying to convince us that our personal boundaries are inappropriate or wrong. They will continually retest our boundaries to break them down.

Without this pillar of “okay ness”, it was difficult for me to uphold my boundaries at first. I would find myself overcome by the criticism. With time and practice, I’ve developed a greater sense of self that has allowed me to feel confident in the boundaries I set, even if continually tested.

One thing I’ve experienced when setting boundaries is that the best boundaries are those that I alone can enforce. If am I relying on a difficult person to respect my boundary for me, I’m going to have a hard time. It’s far more effective if I find a way so that I’m the one who gets to respects my own boundary.

I’m still learning how to set better boundaries and identify areas where I can better stand up for my needs. Lately I’ve become interested in exploring how to demonstrate and teach healthy boundaries for my kids so they may learn these skills earlier in life.

If you’ve struggled with setting boundaries in your life, or even if I’m speaking a foreign language to you right now, I’d love to hear your story. What has worked for you and what have you learned? How do you pass on these teachings to the next generation?


Relentlessly give the user what they want

I love my Peloton. Mostly it exists as a fancy piece of abstract art in my office, but I occasionally use it for workouts. When I overcome my lazy butt inertia, my experience is that the Peloton almost always wants to do an update.

Instead of giving me what I want (to work out), I have to wait several minutes for the software to update itself. The engineer in me appreciates their rapid release cycles, but they are just frustrating users and they probably don’t even realize it.

When I’m driving in my car and I have a flash of inspiration, I love that I can instruct Siri to “make a note” and she helpfully transcribes it for me. Then she cringingly repeats the whole thing back to me, including reading the first few words twice (presumably because they were input as the “subject” of the note).

All I wanted was for her to take a note, but a PM at Apple was (understandably) concerned that the transcription engine was so bad that the content should be verified. For a text message going to someone else this makes perfect sense, but I don’t need 100% accuracy when it’s just a note to myself. Waiting while she slowly and robotically repeats my words is just annoying and only serves to remind me how bad she is at transcribing.

There are several examples of these little annoyances in daily life. Unexamined user experience quirks like this build up minor stress and annoyance throughout the day.

If software designers would simply ask this one question relentlessly, all software would be seamless:

“Does the user want this?”

Everything the user experiences in the course of using your software should pass through this filter. Does the user, who just sat down to exercise, want to wait several minutes watching a progress bar? If not, then accomplish your engineering need another way!

Less user-focused engineers advocate for their own needs: “But we need to update so everyone is on the same experience!” Then design your platform to support overnight or post-workout updates. Like technical debt, minor user experience oversights like this build over time into a frustrated user.

If your company has user-facing software, use this question as a tool to refactor and refine your user experience. Be relentless about delivering a user experience where user needs are met at all times.


What masks do you wear?

Interacting in a world of masks has been an insightful experience for me. Without visual clues as to the emotional state of those around me, the world seems somehow flatter and colder.

While shopping at Whole Foods today, I realized that in many ways I’ve always worn a mask, shielding my authentic self from the outside world.

In fact, wearing masks of self protection seems to be part of the human condition. They protect us from the fear that our inner pain might be exposed to the outside world.

Sometimes we put on a mask because others expect it of us. Like the checkout clerk who is having a bad day but is forced to wear a happy mask. Why is our culture so allergic to healthy emotional expression, forcing others to dehumanize themselves for our comfort?

Sometimes, we project our most painful masks onto others. Instead of expressing those dark and difficult emotions like feeling “weak” or “unimportant”, we put the masks on those in our lives who will wear them for us. We feel weak inside, so we make our loved ones feel weak. It’s a subtle and terrible thing we humans do to one another.

Most of us aren’t even aware that we wear masks. It’s one of the most difficult personal growth tasks you can sign up for, finding and removing these layers of protection. Exposing your authentic soul to the outside world.

All my life I’ve been wearing masks like this. One such mask protected me from my fear of abandonment. Calcified with age, it caused me to form relationships that were not healthy for me, abandon my own needs in favor of pleasing others, and be dishonest with myself and those that I love – all to avoid a fear that I wasn’t willing to face or share.

I don’t want to wear these masks anymore. I’m ready for a life of greater authenticity and deeper connection.

As the world starts opening up again and we stop wearing our covid masks in public – what of these inner masks will you remove as well, to emerge a more aligned and authentic you?

Musings Parenting

Intend and dream

I have a newfound interest in exploring my dream life. To better honor and engage with the sacred journey that I embark on every night.

When I was a child, I had recurring nightmares. My experiences at night were so traumatic that I developed a fear of sleep itself, knowing that the monsters of my dreams would be there waiting for me night after night.

As is often the case with universal timing, my mother happened to be taking a class in lucid dreaming. She taught me the basics of lucid dreaming, imparting that it might help me overcome the nightmares.

An enviable part of being young is the flexibility to absorb most any teaching, and I recall being able to lucid dream by almost the first night. All I needed was this flash of inspiring possibility.

The first stage of lucid dreaming I experienced was of simple awareness; knowing that I was in a dream. While this didn’t alone stop the nightmares, it calmed me and encouraged me to continue.

Over a short time, I could command the monsters to obey my will. They weren’t always so obliging, but with time I was organizing colorful parades of these monsters in my mind. What was once so terrifying became a playful game of celebration.

The feeling of triumph I got from this experience was profound and extended into my waking life. I became more confident at school and I felt more empowered in my life. I had accomplished something that felt like magic, and it had a real energy to it.

I retained this lucid dreaming ability for a few years, but with time it withered away. In college, I myself took a dream course in hopes of rekindling the experience. Through journaling, I was able to at least start remembering my dreams again, but actual lucid dreaming remained elusive.

I’ve spent most of this life remaining curious about dreams, but not really getting to the point of prioritizing the experience enough to dig deeper.

Now is the time for me to prioritize dreaming.

From my experience, an important aspect of any inward journey is setting intentions for the meditation. Ask your guides what you want to come out of this sacred time you are setting aside for yourself, and they will often deliver in profound ways.

So I’ve decided to approach each night as a journey inward, and set intentions as I go to sleep about what I want to get out this time.

In a previous post about morning rituals, I wrote about the importance of allowing screen-free time in the mornings after I wake. I’ve found that an important part of remembering my dreams and receiving the results of my intentions comes from allowing space for it to come in. If I get into productive mode immediately, I’ll quickly forget important aspects of my journey and the dream time that I set aside for insights has been wasted.

One final thing I’ll add is that I’ve always encouraged my children to approach dreams as something they have control over. Every night since they were too little to talk, I’ve asked them to think about what they want to dream about that night – like selecting from a menu of experiences to enjoy. Every morning, I ask them with genuine interest what they dreamt about and tell them about any dreams I remember. I hope this sets them on a path of having a more meaningful relationship with their own dreams.

What is your relationship with dreams? Do you have experiences of lucid dreaming you could share with me? Any techniques that you use to better remember your dreams? How do you talk to your kids about dreams?


Morning rituals

What is the first thing you do upon waking?

I got into the habit of reaching for my phone. I was so addicted that if I didn’t check my phone after waking, I’d get anxious.

In this impressionable time of day, I witnessed that the news of the day scrambled my thoughts and even soured my mood for the rest of the day.

Recently I’ve reconnected with the value of this liminal space and started reserving my mornings for screen free time.

What do I do instead? Lately I’ve been starting my morning with journaling or meditating. It’s the perfect time of day for such activities in the space between dreams and waking life.

I’ve also started making myself a daily cacao elixir as a ritual. I purchase cacao from a local manufacturer called Firefly Cacao, and add in a variety of mushroom powders and adaptogens from Sun Potion. Finally I add a green or herbal tea and blend it all in the Vitamix. I love starting my day sipping the creamy chocolatey beverage filled with healthy nutrients.

I find that giving myself the extra time to transition into waking life sets me off on a more spacious and thoughtful path for the rest of my day.

What do you do to start your morning?


Are you an artist?

A young man posed this question to me recently in the checkout aisle at the Rock Shop in Fairfield.

The answer came instantly to my lips: No, I am not. My companion, who happens to be a musician, brightly replied Yes I am.

The young man, satisfied with this affirmative answer, replied with a smile that he thought as much. “You look like artists” he said.

Here I am, shopping for crystals by feeling their energy, with a Flower of Life mask and a man bun… I admit that I definitely look like an artist. My earlier answer suddenly stepped into the spotlight for reinspection. Am I an artist?

These past two years have been a period of great reset and personal renewal for me. I’ve been diving inward to get in touch with who I am and what I want in this life.

I’ve undergone a transformation of purpose and self identification that is still unfolding yet feels foundational and future oriented.

My strong and immediate “no” to the young man’s question feels like a vestige of the past. While I’m not prepared to say “yes”, I am prepared to ask the question with newfound curiosity.

How am I an artist today, and how have I always been an artist? What parts of me have yearned for more artistic expression, yet been filtered by layers of doubt, fear, and limiting beliefs?

For the next 30 days, I’m going to explore this question by following the vein of my own creativity. Every day I will create something and post it somewhere online, such as Facebook or Tik Tok, that allows me to dig deeper.

If you identify as an artist, what hurdles did you overcome to get there? If you don’t, how do you embrace artistic expression in your life?


Gamifying Toddler Discipline

I’ve been experimenting with a new parenting technique with the my young kids that has been working well for us. I never liked the idea of negative incentives for kids, because I want them to focus on doing good rather than avoiding punishment.

Many video games reward players with an in-game currency that they can earn for doing certain tasks like completing a puzzle successfully. Players can trade these tokens for in game rewards like a new virtual outfit.

Gamification is the process of adding game-like incentives to something that isn’t a game. So I decided to try gamifying the rewards for my toddlers as a way to incentivize chores and good behavior.

Today, Tetris (4) and Coda (2) earn “tokens” (repurposed poker chips) for completing responsibilities like cleaning up their rooms before breakfast or putting away their toys after they play with them.

Once a task is completed, a token is taken from a “bank” and given to them. They then get to place the tokens in their own “wallet” jar for later spending on rewards. Because the jars are glass, they can see how many tokens they have at any given time.

They can cash the tokens for privileges like having a movie night, eating popsicles, or choosing the music we listen to in the car.

The reason I love this concept is that it decouples the reward from the responsibility. Instead of incentivizing good behavior by telling them that they can watch an hour of TV if they clean their room, I tell them they’ll get a token that they can use however they wish.

Tokens can therefore given at any time, not just when a reward is available or desirable. Just like life, when you put in the hard work, sometimes the reward doesn’t come right away.

My kids love earning tokens and they seem to be a compelling enough reward in and of themselves now that they’ve associated them with good outcomes.

I love that the token system teaches them both about doing their part around the house, as well as the value of currency and planning ahead.

I also think it is valuable to hold yourself to the same standards as you set for your kids, so I’ve set up my own token jar. Of course the responsibilities a bit different (ie making my bed) as are the rewards (ie buying something on Amazon for myself), but I find this technique helps me accomplish my responsibilities as well.

Fortunately the kids haven’t caught onto the fact that formerly free features like popsicles are now locked behind a paywall, so I’m coming up with a longer list of privledges and responsibilities for them, and would love to hear your creative ideas!


Slowing down, waking up

COVID is an undoubtedly tragic event that will cause ripples across all our lives. As I looked out at the gorgeous evening sky today I realized that hidden in our challenge is a growing awareness.

As factories are shuttered and travel all but stops, we are finally collectively doing the thing that allows the earth to heal herself. Perhaps we will see how changing the way we live can improve our lives and health, and the health of the planet.

Adopting remote work, reducing travel, simplifying our lives… I welcome this awareness.


10 Tips for life in quarantine

  1. Get out in nature. Being outside is not in and of itself dangerous, and it is so healing to your mind and body.
  2. Get exercise, even if you have to adopt a new routine. Keep up the program, it’s healthy and will keep your immune system up.
  3. Keep up your spiritual practice, don’t let the change of routine throw you off.
  4. If you’re invested in the markets, don’t sell anything. Consider buying real estate if you can. Cryptocurrency is on sale too. This too shall pass and the market rewards bravery.
  5. Drink plenty of water, limit sugar. Try to stick to a healthy diet as much as possible.
  6. Ask for help if you need it, there are people able and willing to assist.
  7. If you aren’t in a high risk group, don’t go to the hospital if you are sick. Isolate at home and allow the hospital to serve the elderly.
  8. If you know a health care worker, offer to help if they need. Many will have children out of school and grueling schedules. They could use our help as they are vital right now.
  9. Love one another. Send love when others send hate and fear. They know not what they do, and they will be healed with your universal love.
  10. Find the positive in the negative, especially for children. Play games, catch up on Disney flicks (frozen and frozen ii are amazingly spiritual!) and have fun together. You’ve just been given the gift of time!

Incentivized joy

I find myself frustrated by today’s Instagram culture. The system creates an endless toxic cycle of envy fueled by inauthenticity, when we’d all be happier just being present.

Children are great reminders of what it means to be in the flow of joy. Below is a photo of my daughter at the Museum of Ice Cream that captures her authentic joy of being in that unique place. It wasn’t posed, edited, nor planned – she just ran over to this thing she liked (a swing!) and laughed because playing with it was giving her joy.

And below is a photo of an instagramer who was visibly annoyed by this display of authentic joy, which was getting in the way of her photographer snapping a photo that looked like authentic joy.

The juxtaposition above captured the irony of instagram culture so well. While I hope the Instagrammer was having a good time, it sure didn’t seem like this was anything more than work. Her followers of course only get to see her inauthentic joy.

I hope my children (and those of her generation) find a way to disavow this false prophet of incentivized social sharing, and never allow people like this to question the value of their authenticity.