Finding Contentment & Resetting Priorities

How to find contentment in your life by examining your priorities and values, so you can find time for life's simple pleasures.

Ever find yourself muttering things like, “I wish I had time to read a book” or “I really admire people who can send out holiday cards,” then later wondering how you could be more like those people who do those things? I certainly do. I have an aunt who remembers everyone’s birthday, sends out handcrafted cards and considerate gifts for every occasion. There’s part of me that wants to simply dismiss this – who has the time for that?! – however, I’m always moved by her thoughtfulness. I love the way these cards & gifts makes me feel, even if the gifts are sometimes hit-or-miss. (Know what I’m sayin’?)

Lately, when I’ve had these thoughts, I’ve found myself doing a deep dive into them. Asking myself why, if I want to be like those people, I am not. I’ve been following up on such thoughts with a very important question: What needs to be in place in my life for x-y-z to happen? Take the book-reading example. What is missing right now, that keeps me from reading a book?

Possible Answer 1: Time

The obvious reason that I am not able to read more books, despite wanting to, is that I don’t have enough time. Okay, well Jen, if you magically had more time, would you choose to read a book?

Hmmm, maybe not, I’d probably have other things I’d need do with that freed up time. Clearly, I don’t have enough time because I’m prioritizing other things in my life.

Possible Answer 2: Priorities

So, what would it take for you to prioritize reading a book over the “other priorities” in your life? Complete and utter boredom? No, not exactly. I’d need to feel that things are settled; that my projects and to-do lists are handled; that the other things that I’m striving for in life, that I’m trying to achieve, are being attended to. So, to be able to use my time to read a book, I need to get through all the stuff on my to-do list? Here’s the real problem: MY LIST NEVER GETS SHORTER! Does yours? For every item that I cross off my “to-do” list, I add 2 more. In all my years, this has been true. Which leads me to another question: WHY?

After taking a good hard look at the conundrum, it’s quite simple. Throughout my daily existence, there is an underlying essence of needing to do and be more. I feel I am not enough. I am not good enough, smart enough, strong enough, stable enough, settled enough, accomplished enough, successful enough to deserve to sit back and read a book. So, what is missing right now that keeps me from reading a book?

Root Cause 1: A sense of contentment

I long to sit and read a book. The thought of cozying up in a window seat, overlooking the aspen trees on my property, with a fire roaring in the corner, a hot cup of coffee in one hand, and a great book in the other, brings me a sense of peace. To be able to do this, I need to find contentment in my life before-hand, even if it means I’m leaving some things partially undone.

One of the downfalls of being a highly ambitious (insecure?) person for whom where they are, what they are, and who they are, is just never quite enough is that we don’t allow ourselves to do the things we merely want to, because we’re too busy doing all the things we think we need to. But the reality is that there will always be another need-to-do that sneaks up on you. That is life. Some of the items on our “need-to-do” lists might never get attended to and that might be just fine. Because, as it turns out, you (and I) are already enough. Where we are today is not a permanent representation of where we will be in 5 years, and where we want to be in 5 years won’t manifest overnight.

I’m not saying that you need to abandon your drive, ambition, and complete to-do list, but simply to reflect upon it. Are your ambitions in line with your values? These are two distinct things and don’t always support one another. If you don’t know what the root cause is to your lack of follow through in a certain area of your life, you’ll never be able to change it.

I haven’t quite cuddled up with a hot cup of coffee and a book just yet, but I did mail my holiday cards. One of my most important values is making those whose lives I’m a part of feel loved. So, this weekend, my writing took a backseat to my loved ones. Today, I’m back to writing.

  Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't.
― Steve Maraboli 

Social Media - The True Cost & Value

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Before I get into this, I want to say something. YOU ARE LOVED. I know sometimes it may not feel that way, but it is true. Not only are you loved, but you have immense value to this world. And, you’re really cool. Seriously.

7 weeks. I went 7 weeks without a single Instagram post. Hardly anything on Facebook over the same amount of time. Twitter? Forget it. I’ve been opening my Instagram for the last few weeks, somewhat scrolling through my feed, blankly staring at my profile, pondering ‘what will I post, when will I post, if I post? What am I doing right now that is interesting, that people will like?’ Because, honestly, my desk job is quite boring (as far as Instagram is concerned). And I haven’t wanted to do much since I got back from the-trip-that-I-can’t-tell-you-about-for-a-few-more-months…I’ve been inside mostly. Or working on the house that my husband and I are building and helping my mom recover from knee replacement surgery. And working. And trying to get my website into a functional state, and trying to write my bio to appropriately reflect where I am (who I am?) at this stage in my life. And none of it is interesting in photographical form.  I could post an old photo, but what’s the point of that? That’s simply me trying to sell you on some part of me, which is only A PART of me, but not who I wholly am. But who am I wholly? Who are you? And who cares? I do.

The value of social media is something I’ve always debated. There is value and power there, but is it a value and a power that aligns with what I want in life? Does is support me and my loved ones in a compelling way? As I’ve taken a step back from social media, its “importance” has become more vivid. It is folded into our daily lives in a truly incomprehensible way. It is seemingly necessary. But why? It also became apparent, in my 30 days without a phone, that social media’s primary purpose is selling other people on something. Yes, even you are trying to sell someone on something. Yes, even me. If you’re not selling something, whether it be a product, an opinion, or a value, your post feels meaningless. But is it? At the very least, it doesn’t feel impactful. And if it isn’t impactful, who’s liking it?

If people will only “like” the most interesting and exciting parts of our lives, if we are constantly filtering our posts to show only those aspects of our lives, we are reinforcing some TERRIBLE patterns. We are reinforcing that we are only valuable if we are interesting, if we are fighting for some just cause, if we are daring, and bold, and beautiful, and edgily strong, and outspoken, and kind. But fuck that. WE ARE ALL VALUABLE. Even when the most interesting thing you do all day is add cream to your god damn coffee, YOU ARE VALUABLE. Hell, maybe you don’t even drink coffee. Guess what? STILL VALUABLE!

I’ve heard the argument that social media is a great way to connect people, to spread the word about (ahem, sell) a great cause, to make people aware of differing perspectives, to tear down barriers, to share, because as you know, there’s strength in numbers. But I’m just not so sure. After a month without a phone, I realized that there is more power in connecting with people around you. There is more power in connecting with a stranger, because they, most likely, will have a different perspective than you; at least more so than what shows up in your Facebook feed comprised of your friends or however their algorithm decides to show you information…

But I have returned. And why? I guess now I’m ironically trying to sell you on the perils of social media by using social media...such a hypocrite. Sadly, one of the first substantial things that I learned since returning to social media, is that one of my dear friends took her own life. I knew she was fighting an inner battle, had been through some rough patches, but from everything I saw on social media, she was winning that battle. Smiles, horses, dogs, bikes, friends, travels. These were the highlights in her reel. And no matter how many likes she got on these posts, no matter how many words of support and encouragement and love, it wasn’t enough. Suicide happened before the advent of social media, but the dichotomy that exists between what is inside and what is outside is far more transparent now. Not to mention there are scholarly articles written about the link between extended social media use and depression. Even more so than simply time spent online. We seem to be poisoning ourselves.

So, if there is one thing that I’m trying to sell, that I want to sell, it is this: please think about how you connect with people. Think about who you’re connecting with and how, think about the time you spend on social media and the true value behind the interactions you’re having, think about how you feel when scrolling through your feed. Does it bring you immense joy? Okay, then proceed. Does it make you feel down about where you are in life? Do feelings of envy or jealousy arise? Does it happen after seeing a specific person’s posts or when looking at most of your feed? Do you get stressed out thinking about what photo to “share?” Then maybe some changes are needed. Please, I beg you, unfollow someone if you experience negative feelings every time you see their posts. Even if they’re family, or a supposed close friend. If you want to punch in me in the face after you see my posts, then please, unfollow me! It’s not worth it.

Beyond how social media makes you feel, ask yourself how you feel in your own life, with your real friends who you see in physical form. Perhaps you don’t spend much time socializing with people in person. How does that make you feel? Content and happy? Excellent. Lonely and sad? Maybe this is an area that needs some work. Reach out to someone. Express how you’re feeling. Ask for someone’s time. We are all busy, but we all have time for a friend in need. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that we’re all in this juggling match called life, trying not to drop any balls, and prioritizing based on fragments of information. We don’t have the whole picture. Until someone says, ‘I’m feeling down and could really use some quality time with you,’ it may not make the cut. And instead of putting the onus on the hurting, try to reach out to someone today. A friend whom you may not have spoken to in a while. Let them know they’re loved. In Tricia’s words “be kind.”

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.

― Mother Teresa 

 

Monte Cristo Directissimo- The Mountains Are Mirrors

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My head spins with irrational fear. The weight of past mistakes, falls onto my shoulders, collapsing my core. I feel vulnerable, scared, but I'm lying safely in my bed, tucked under my down-comforter as my fiancee changes out of his work clothes before crawling in beside me. He's suggested our route for tomorrow: Monte Cristo Directissimo. In Andrew McClean's The Chuting Gallery: A Guide to Steep Skiing in the Wasatch Mountains, he cautions against getting stuck on this route too late in the day, as warming can cause wet-slides which could quickly turn a skier into a "corpsicle." We'd made that mistake just a year before, narrowly avoiding such a dreadful fate, and the thought of choosing to return, was daunting.

Sweet Dreams

I slept surprisingly well that night, albeit only for 5 short hours. Sometimes I feel that my dad visits in my dreams. I think he came to see me that night to remind me that these experiences are what life is about. Have many of them, as many as possible. And he's right. You can be safe, you can calculate your every move, and you could still be gone tomorrow, without ever having left the house.

My mind seemed to settle at rest, to sort out fact from fiction (or fear). The day would be cool, not likely to be above freezing until noon and there should be some cloud cover for most of the day. Last year we were inexperienced, and naive to dangers outside of a typical slab avalanche. Wet slides caught us off-guard, but we've learned so much since then. We know our route, are aware of the snow conditions, and have the proper gear. Not to mention, my lungs are screaming for some extra blood flow and my legs feel strong and ready for use.

So, I rolled out of bed to get ready for our day. My morning routine can't be altered even if I have to leave the house before dawn. Breakfast- a balance of carbs and protein, coffee, with a little cream, and a LOT of water before piling into the car. I used to strongly dislike the drive from Park City to LCC, but now I embrace it. I know that I'll feel good once my ski boots are on and I start the ascent.

Panorama of Alta & Snowbird across from Mt. Superior.

The Approach

The sun was beginning to rise when finally got our skins on and started our approach. There were about 10 other skiers on similar programs that morning, but we all found our own rhythm and naturally spaced out. As we worked our way up to the south edge of Toledo Bowl, Chris and I wondered if we should have brought our ski crampons after-all. Cross-hilling was challenging as there was a small dusting of loose snow atop a bullet-proof layer of ice, but we pressed on.

We reached the ridge in due time and after another 30 more minutes of precarious skinning, we started the bootpack. This is probably my favorite part of the ascent. For some reason skinning feels like torture, but bootpacking on a knife-edge ridge and stair-stepping to the top of the universe somehow feels fun...

The Summit

We reached the summit around 11:30 am and were content with our timing. We could take a moment to enjoy the summit, but still had enough time to descend before temps would become dangerously warm. There is nothing quite like standing atop a mountain like this. It's not huge in the grand scheme of alpine terrain, but Monte Cristo still rises over 11,000' and with views down to the Salt Lake Valley floor, the 7,000' visual drop feels significant.

It's the smallness you feel while standing up there that is compelling. The city seems small, the houses tiny, and the people microscopic. Our problems: nonexistent, yet we so often let them rule our lives. Somehow we all co-exist, not always harmoniously, but seamlessly. We push and pull, lift and drop, hope and dream, and the world turns.

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Slide for Life Skiing?

We settled in about 10' below the summit to shelter ourselves from the wind while we ate lunch. I couldn't eat much, my shoulders were tensing up and my bladder was extremely full. All I could think about was the descent, which was shrouded in a cloud, making visibility a challenge. The variable conditions began to concern me. We would we now be on slide-for-life ice above a cliff that we need to rappel down? My nerves started to fire rapidly, uncontrollably, [somewhat] irrationally, once again. This is where I'm grateful for the man I'm marrying and why we all benefit from a solid life partner.

"Jen, let's just take it one step at a time. If we don't like the conditions we can divert around. We're still a long way above the rappel. Besides, this open bowl is so wind-blown, the couloir is more protected and won't be this bad."

Chris has a way of simplifying things, sometimes too much so, which is what got us in trouble last year, but I tend to overthink things. We allow our dialogue to continue in this push-pull manner until we arrive at a safe and probably very rational decision to ski. Chris went first and found an island of safety below some rocks (not that a slab avalanche was remotely of concern today, but it's good practice to reinforce the right habits). I proceeded to ski into the couloir and nestled behind a large cliff at the start of a separate couloir that would divert around the rappel, should we decide not to complete this route. Once I was safe, I called to Chris. He skied down to the top of the first cliff to set up our initial rappel.

As I sat there, I could see and feel the wet slide that took place just over a year ago in that exact location. We didn't know exactly where we were (fail #1) and got caught out too late in the day (fail #2). I had skied all the way down to the top of the first rappel when I realized we were cliffed-out. Chris was above me, trying to see if we had another option out. He watched as a wet-slide powered through the couloir down the exact path that I had skied only moments before. I was fortunate enough to be able to tuck behind a small rock outcropping while the slide moved through, but I was out of Chris' site. For all he knew, I'd been swept over the cliff...

"Jen!"

Chris' voice snapped me back to the present moment.

"We're good. You can come down to me."

No wet slides today. No confusion. No thoughts of nearly losing someone you love. I carefully skied down to Chris and clipped into the anchor.

Rappelling With Skis On My Back...

There are fixed anchors on this route, which made our setup pretty straightforward. Chris descended first. I watched him ease over the edge and waited until he confirmed that he was secured to the next anchor before I maneuvered the rope into my rappel device. Now it was my turn.

I always loved climbing as a kid. My dad and his colleagues were avid rock climbers and I was fortunate enough to tag along on many of their adventures. A few of my favorites were climbing out of a canoe somewhere in the Gunks, working my way up the [former] Old Man of the Mountain and climbing one of my first multi-pitch climbs in the Las Vegas Red Rocks when I was 12. Rappelling was always one of the most enjoyable aspects for me. A celebration of completing a physically demanding feat, you could spring your way down the wall.

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While rappelling with skis on your back and ski boots on your feet is a bit more awkward than the rappels of my youth, it still felt celebratory and fun, and it's certainly easier than climbing with skis on my back! Once I rejoined Chris at the foot of the cliff, we prepared for the second, larger rappel. This one topped out at about 100' and gave me a few butterflies (the good kind, the kind where you know you're safe, but it's exhilarating anyway).

Halfpipe Couloir!

My feet planted softly on the melting snow and I sank into the upward pull of the rope to get some slack. I unclipped from the rope. We had made it down two pitches and we now had the remaining drainage to ski back to the road.

The couloir fills in in a halfpipe-like manner, making for a playful descent and oddly familiar terrain. Some roller-balls were forming due to the predicted warming temps, but a smile found my face and a full-breath filled my lungs. The mountains are mirrors for what's in our hearts.

This is life. This is what we're here for. Small progressions to move past previous limitations, comparing yourself to no one other than who you were yesterday.

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7 Tips for Making Your New Year's Resolutions Stick

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Happy New Year! New Year's Resolutions are notoriously hard to keep. I don't know about you, but 2015 took its toll on me; my lifestyle changed dramatically, grief and depression initiated some bad diet choices that eventually became habits (excessive sweets, lots of cheese and more fried foods than I'd care to admit). My strong-willed days of working out for 4+ hours a day and following the WHOLE30 Program seem long behind me, buried with my hard-focused goal of becoming an Olympian. But, I've sacrificed too many of my good habits, and I refuse to let my rough past year defeat me. Thank God for the New Year.I am welcoming 2016 with open arms.

Last year was a roller-coaster of a ride for me and though I don't doubt that 2016 will have its fair share of challenges, I'm feeling very optimistic about the year ahead. In the past, I haven't been the biggest fan of New Year's resolutions because I was consistently motivated and didn't need a kick-in-the-butt to get me going. This year, that's not the case, but my years of goal-setting for skiing have helped me strategize how to become the best version of myself in 2016.

So on that note, here are my 7 tips for making your new year's resolutions stick!

#1: Focus On the "WHY"

This may sound obvious, but if we set a goal or a resolution about something that we don't truly value, our motivation won't help us push through the sacrifices in order to attain it. Do you really want a rock-hard body and a 6-pack, or do you want to wake up feeling energized and strong? Dial-in on the WHY behind what you want (i.e- I want a rock-hard body so that I feel good about in my body) and begin focusing on the latter part of the statement- feeling good in your body. Sure, weight-loss and dieting goals are one of the most common to set, studies show 66% of people set fitness goals for the new year, but is that really what you're after? Maybe adding some yoga or meditation into your day, a little extra time in nature, or a 30 minute walk with your dog several days of the week will reconnect you with your body in a way that allows you to not only feel good about it but also in it.

Walking Lunges: Stand with dumbbells grasped to sides or a barbell on your shoulders. Step forward with first leg. Land on heel then forefoot. Lower body by flexing knee and hip of front leg until knee of rear leg is almost in contact with floor. Stand on forward leg with assistance of rear leg. Lunge forward with opposite leg. Repeat by alternating lunge with opposite legs.

#2: Be Specific

Me and my sister took our dad to the National Ability Center to sit-ski on Christmas Day 2014. We had no idea it would be our last Christmas together.

If we aren't specific about what we are trying to achieve, it's impossible to gauge our progress. If we can't gauge our progress, it's easy to lose motivation. And if we lose motivation... well, you can see where I'm going with this. You want to lose weight? Great, how much and in what time frame? You want to improve your finances? In what ways? Reduce your debt? By how much and by when? One of my resolutions this year is to "be a better citizen." If I left it at that, I'm not sure I'd do much more than loan sugar to my neighbor when he or she should ask. So, I've broken it down: once a month I will give back to my community in some way. There are lots of options here, but some things on my agenda for this winter are to volunteer with the National Ability Center and to organize an event with SheJumps.org. I'm using the next two weeks to build out that plan in month-by-month detail.

#3: Be Realistic

Yes, I want to improve my diet, cut my body fat percentage, and lose a little bit of weight. Yes, I've followed strict plans in the past, but my life situation is different now. If I say that I'm going to start eating paleo again and plan to workout two hours a day, 5 days a week, I'm just setting myself up for failure. So instead, I'm cutting any added sugar on days that start with "S" and eating real food breakfasts 5 days a week. You may think this is backwards, but for me, it's realistic. During the work week I have less time and more stress. Food is my drug of choice, and as much as I hate to admit it, I'm currently eating added sugars of some kind everyday. Two days is a great place to start. It provides a foundation from which I can begin implementing better choices over time. Also, I'm less likely to eat out during the week, so I'll be exposed to less temptation- the weekends are when the temptations really strike.

#4: Pair Something You LOVE With Your Resolution

One of my favorite ways to pass time on a road-trip is the Freakonomics podcast. The podcast came to be following the great success of the book by economist, Steven Levitt and writer, Steven Dubner. One of the more compelling casts that I listened to this year was titled "When Willpower Isn't Enough." In it, Katherine Milkman (PhD in Computer Science and Business) presents her theory of "temptation bundling." She proposes that if you pair two things, like your new year's resolution (something you should do, but don't entirely want to do), with something you really enjoy, but shouldn't be doing (like watching TV), then you'll be more likely to stick with your resolution. For me, this means pairing foam-rolling and stretching with an episode of Homeland. (Note: If you value your time, don't start watching this series! It's so addictive!) The key is that you must make a rule that you can ONLY do or have the thing you like, if you're doing what you've resolved to do. So, are there two things that you'd be able to pair together to give this method a shot?

#5: Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

I have twice signed up for Deepak Chopra's and Oprah Winfrey's 21-day Meditation Challenge only to make it part way through day 2 before dropping out. I would see the daily emails containing links to the20110302_J_Hudak_037 day's meditation and would convince myself that I'd just start a few days later where I had left off. In fact, I'm pretty sure I still have all the emails, unopened in my inbox... The main reason for this failure wasn't lack of time or lack of desire it was my failure to acknowledge my surroundings. This includes people, spaces, animals and objects. There was a shy part of me that wanted to try to meditate in private, to secretly sneak away from my fiancee so that I could meditate, without needing to explain why I wanted to start this practice. So, I woke up before him to meditate on the first day of the challenge, sat down on my couch and pressed play. It wasn't 5 minutes before my dogs were disrupting me because they needed breakfast, and by the time they were fed, my fiancee was awake. Then I felt embarrassed to say I needed some time to finish my morning meditation. The reality is that Chris would be entirely supportive if I had clued him and would probably have helped me find 20 quite minutes a day for 21 days... So, what is it in your surroundings that may be getting in your way? Are you able to turn that hindrance into an asset?

#6: Write It Down, Type It Up, Print It Out & HANG IT UP!

When I was competing full time and trying to be the best in the world at a sport that involved a significant amount of risk, I had to push beyond my comfort levels A LOT! It wasn't easy. If I had

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 28: UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey poses for a portrait during a UFC photo session at the Sheraton Rio Hotel on July 28, 2015 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

relied solely upon myself and was not accountable to anyone else, I would never have become a 2 time world champion or X-Games gold medalist. Every single goal was written down. Every big goal was broken down into smaller goals, and each of those goals was WRITTEN DOWN! I shared them with my coach, Elana Chase, and she kept me accountable for my actions. This is probably one place where my over-developed sense of responsibility has served me quite well, and yours can too. I understand, you probably don't have a coach or trainer by your side when that ice cream craving strikes, but if you clue your family and friends in, they can keep you in check. (Just don't get mad at them when they actually do try to keep you line!) Another trick I've used in the past is posting an image of what I'm striving for near a source of temptation. You know the saying "out of site, out of mind?" Well, these images make sure that your goals are not forgotten, whether they be an image of Ronda Rousey on your fridge, or a picture of the new car your saving for tied around your credit card.

#7: "Fresh-Start Effect"

Another interesting tidbit that I learned from my Freakonomics friends is the notion of a "fresh-start effect." This phenomenon describes an aspect of the human psyche which keeps a tally of events and files them away into segments of time. Thus, on January 1st, we are able to reflect on our lives in great perspective, write-off the happenings of the previous year, and move forward into the next. The key takeaway here is that we can create these time periods at any point. Every day is the start of a new 365-day cycle: the first of the month, the start of a new season, or following a birthday. If you aren't quite ready to make a new year's resolution, don't force it. Keep your eye other opportunities for a fresh start and move forward when aspiration is it's strongest. You don't have to wait for the next January 1st.

Please share your thoughts on what helps you stick to new year's resolutions in the comment section below! You'll be entered to win a POC Auric helmet and an Under Armour jacket of your choice! I'll select the winner next Monday night, January 11, 2016 at 6 pm MST.