Amanda Cade

Worth It! (Things to try, read, watch, hear, and discuss)

desk stress 2This weekend really got away from me! Actually, that’s true of all last week-lots of extra time at work, plans with family, and hosting a friend’s birthday party left me with very little free time. I’ve also been, for some reason, struggling with writer’s block this week. I started drafting posts on four different topics, and couldn’t seem to make any of them come together. Charles Bukowski once said that “writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention that the words just aren’t coming this week. On a brighter note, I have four partially written posts that I’ll be able to finish when my brain is a little less addled.

Earlier this week, I noticed that I had crossed the 1000 followers mark on this 16 month old blog, which just blew me away. When I started this project, I had no idea what to expect, and I’m amazed that so many people are interested in my potpourri of reflections, reviews, and advice. So I definitely didn’t want to miss posting this week, and since I’m excited to be welcoming new readers, I thought I’d highlight a few of my earliest posts.

party time2As I mentioned above, I had a party a few days ago (and I’ve mostly finished cleaning up the house, so yay), which made me think about a few posts on the subject of entertaining:

I especially enjoyed writing the disaster posts, because I think they’re good stories and solid reminders of what’s really important. In my humble opinion, they’re worth a read (or a reread).

bad writing

Have you experienced writer’s block in your blogging journey? How’s your week going? What’s new?

 

Depending on who you ask, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, a Hallmark inspired scam, or a depressing reminder of being alone. I tend to go with the celebration of love, despite being single. In my Valentine’s themed post last year, I talked about different ways to think about Valentine’s Day, whether you’re single or part of a couple. However, I am well aware of the fact that a lot of people regardless of their relationship status and best of intentions find Valentine’s Day stressful. So let’s talk about why that is, and how to avoid it.

Couples

date niteWhy it’s stressful: Expectations. There are some very strong messages coming from everywhere, all the time, about what Valentine’s Day should be. I think this has gotten especially strong in today’s world of ubiquitous social media. You need the right gift, the right card, the right flowers, the right restaurant. If you don’t plan the perfect Valentine’s Day, you’ll be in the doghouse, or if you aren’t on the receiving end of the perfect Valentine’s Day, your partner is insensitive, irresponsible, and/or just doesn’t care enough.

What to do about it: First of all, tune out all of those advertisements, movies, and advice from others and realize that there are only two expectations that matter: yours and your partner’s. Have an honest conversation about how important Valentine’s Day is or isn’t to both of you. Talk about the options, and plan together instead of one person taking on all the responsibility. You might find that your expectations are in sync, and if not, it gives you the opportunity to find your middle ground or to decide what you’re willing to give up or grin and bear. 

Once upon a time, I had a significant other go absolutely insane planning an expensive and elaborate Valentine’s Day experience. I appreciated it, but honestly, it was completely unnecessary. I’m a no frills kind of girl and would have been fine with something simple. I wish I’d made the effort to make my feeling’s known and saved the poor guy a lot of stress. 

Happily Single

hello friendWhy it’s stressful: This is where I live my life right now, and it’s actually a very easy place to be. For those of us who are content with not being in a relationship, most of the Valentine’s Day messages just become white noise. The thing that can be stressful, though, is that Valentine’s Day often inspires the people around us to comment on our single status. It amazes me how often people try to fix me up in the first few weeks of February. 

How to deal with it: Start by remembering that most people are doing these things from a place of concern. Odds are that if you hear them out, they will then be receptive to a polite response. Have one ready so you aren’t caught off guard, like, “I appreciate it, but I’m actually very happy with my life right now. I hope that you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, and again, thank you so much for caring.”

Unhappily Single

broken heart rainWhy it’s stressful: This is probably the toughest place to be, and I have been there. If you’re not in a relationship and would very much like to be, Valentine’s Day is one of those times where you feel the universe is rubbing it in your face. 

How to deal with it: First, remind yourself that things happen when they happen and that trying to force a romantic connection almost never leads to a good outcome. Second, keep yourself busy. Make plans with other single friends, or set the time aside for solo activities you enjoy. Remind yourself that there are also benefits to not having to check with someone else about what to do, what to eat, what movie to watch, etc. Give yourself a self-care night or time to indulge in a hobby or interest. Enjoy the company of friend and family, or yourself, because those relationships are important. Either way, focus on what you have as opposed to what you don’t. 

And stay away from the rom coms. Trust me on that.

happy valentines day

Do you have any plans for Valentine’s Day?

I’m a big fan of TED talks, and there’s always something new and interesting on my activity feed. I also frequently turn to the TED site for talks to integrate into trainings and presentations, so I get to watch them at work, too. Early this week, I came across this talk, where Matt Cutts spends just three minutes outlining a simple way to make life changes:

The idea gels with what I learned from reading The Power of Habit (one of my favorite reads of 2018), and reminded me that I’ve been meaning to post about new habits for a while. If you’re looking to make some life changes, here are few things that I’ve found helpful:

Choose small habits for big goals

cleaningLet’s be honest: we usually fail at big sweeping changes. Eating one extra serving of vegetables every day, for example, is a lot more attainable than completely eliminating sugar (especially for me, because sugar is life). Decluttering one area of your house every week is much more doable than completely overhauling your space in one manic weekend. I’m not saying those kinds of things can’t happen, but they’re a lot more difficult, and they often aren’t sustainable. I’ve done the top-to-bottom declutter, for example, and I have to admit that it didn’t take long for things to start piling up again.

Instead, break things down into small things that you can make part of your daily or weekly routine, and as each one becomes a habit, you’re consistently working towards your larger goal.

Create reminders and accountability

Don't ForgetWhen I decided I needed to drink more water (because surprisingly, coffee is not a perfect substitute), I put rubber bands on my left wrist every morning. Each time I finished eight ounces, I moved one to my right wrist. The reminder was right in front of me, and I got a little boost of satisfaction every time a band switched sides. I’ve also used checklists and Post It notes (like “Go clean up the kitchen!” on my bathroom mirror, where I’d always see it when I was getting ready for bed).

You can also ask a friend or family member to help you remember, which creates both accountability and support. One of my friends, who is working on a novel, asked me to be part of her support team about a year ago, so every night around six I send her a text asking if she’s done her writing for the day.

Reward yourself

I’ve written before about the impact of small rewards on motivation, and it’s worth mentioning again. Charles Duhigg’s book breaks down why habits form and why they linger, and a huge part of the science is based on mental, physical, or emotional boost that comes from the behavior. If you’re using an accountability system (like my rubber bands), you have a small reward built in already.

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I’ve also had a lot of success in delaying something I normally do until the habit I’m building is covered. For example, for many years the very first thing I did every morning was drink a cup of coffee. Then I decided not to allow myself to have coffee until I’d had my first eight ounces of water, and now reaching for water first is automatic.

happy cool

How do you make changes in your life? What are you thinking about changing? Let’s talk!

So this past week work stayed crazy, the weather was annoying, and I had yet another cold. Despite all that, I was in a great mood. Why?

  • We celebrated my sister Audrey’s birthday.
  • A coworker’s cancer was officially declared to be in remission.
  • A friend’s son received early admission into his first choice for college.
  • My best friend Katie gave birth to her second child!!!

With all the joy and good news around me, there was no way anything was going to bring me down.

studying

So I got to thinking about the way that happiness is contagious, and then did some serious research to see if science supported my thoughts (spoiler alert: it does). Here’s why it’s good to spread joy around:

Sharing Good News Helps Everyone

One recent study looked at the benefit of talking about happy events, and found that “participants who had shared their grateful experiences with a partner reported significantly more satisfaction with life, more happiness, and more vitality than participants in either control condition. This indicates that there are salutary benefits unique to sharing one’s grateful experiences with another person” (Lambert et al. 2013). In other words, you can extend your own joy by telling someone else, and the benefits go beyond the immediate boost and create a more sustained level of happiness.

baby 2You don’t even have to worry about being selfish, because when you share your joy, you also help the person you’re sharing with. Another study found that someone’s happiness can “extend up to three degrees of separation (for example, to one’s friends’ friends’ friends)” (BMJ 2008). Katie’s baby girl, for example, makes Katie happy (of course), then that happiness spread to me, and I was so excited that I was showing pictures to everyone I saw, even if they don’t know Katie, which made a lot of them happy…and so on.

Seeking Good News Helps Everyone

let's discuss 2The BMJ research shows us that hearing about other people’s happiness can boost our own, so it stands to reason that we should seek opportunities to do so. Sometimes people are hesitant to share good news, because they don’t want to feel like they’re bragging. So that’s the first reason to get in the habit of asking others what’s going on in their lives, with a focus on positive topics. I like asking people questions about their hobbies and interests, which usually leads to stories with smiles.

Another reason we don’t always hear happy things from others is because of what psychologists call “negativity bias”, which means that people tend to consider, remember, and react to negative things more than positive things, even though the average person has three times as many positive experiences. Getting someone to talk about the good stuff encourages them to think about the good stuff, which is, again, good for both of you. Sometimes I’m completely direct and just say, “Tell me something good that happened today”. (I frequently do this in meetings when people have been complaining for a while, and it often helps clear the air.) 

The most important thing is to make sure that people know you’re interested in what they have to say, whether it’s good or bad…but don’t forget the good. Sharing and seeking joy is good for everyone.

current mood 2

Share something happy in the comments!

When I was a teenager, I had the privilege of attending a presentation by Mark Scharenbroich, an award-winning motivational speaker, author, and filmmaker. It was a powerful experience at the time, and many years later, when I was struggling with depression and negativity, I looked him up, read his book, and was reminded of the important messages that had so inspired me as a high school student. I still clearly remember many things from his talk, but the one that’s been on my mind for the past few days was when he discussed feeling celebrated and appreciated. At one point, he proposed the idea that everyone in the world should, at any time, be able to call out a request for a standing ovation…and then receive one. It was a radical idea that probably wouldn’t work in the real world (although my fellow attendees actually did that for several weeks afterwards), but the concept really struck me, and still does.

Showing appreciation is one of my personal values, and something I do frequently, but a few days ago I found myself on the other side of the equation. For a few weeks I had been dealing with a nagging sense of discontent, and I’ve finally realized that I was feeling unappreciated. I wanted a standing ovation-not literally, but metaphorically-and I didn’t even know it until it happened. When it did, I was reminded of how something so small can change so much.

Appreciation Matters

Appreciation 1There’s a reason we teach kids to stay “thank you”. Feeling unappreciated has been linked to frustration, anxiety, resentment, depression, and a lack of motivation. I once had a supervisor who, during a tense meeting, announced, “I’m not going to kiss your a** just for doing your jobs”. I’m not sure he could have found a better way to poison our team if he’d set out to do so. Obviously, announcing that you don’t intend to show appreciation is an extreme example, but just passively ignoring people’s need to be acknowledged can, over time, be just as damaging. On the flip side, study after study has shown that regularly expressing appreciation leads to healthier relationships, stronger marriages, and improved corporate cultures. 

Appreciation is Contagious

Appreciation 2One of my professors in graduate school, where I studied Organizational Leadership, liked to say, “There are three keys to a successful organization: Culture, culture, and culture”. He preached the importance of modeling behaviors and values, and presented us with overwhelming evidence of how both positive and negative attitudes can sweep through and transform a group of people. I’ve seen evidence of this in both my professional and personal lives. Here’s an example: one morning someone puts a sticky note on the wall of the coffee room, thanking and praising a coworker. By lunchtime, there are three more. By the end of the day, there are a dozen. By the end of the week, people are hunting for space that isn’t already covered. Or how about this one? At a holiday gathering, family members are stressed and sniping at each other while trying to finish dinner preparations. By the time the food is on the table, they’re all at a slow burn. When Dad takes the time to honestly and genuinely thank them for their efforts, the tension dissipates as they all stop concentrating on their own contributions and consider how everyone made this time with family possible.

Appreciation Benefits the Giver and the Receiver

Appreciation 3This article lays out the neuroscience of gratitude, and reminds us that whether we’re giving or receiving heartfelt thanks or a token of appreciation, our brain gets a dopamine boost. In other words, it feels good, and those good feelings lead to a desire to keep the cycle going in a positive direction. It helps to create a better environment, positive feelings, and increased wellness. It improves interpersonal relationships, productivity, and connection. This isn’t just true in the workplace, but among any group of people.

What was causing me to feel frustrated and unhappy over the past few weeks? I’d been working overtime not just on my own projects, but because another department asked for help finishing a last minute training module, and someone in my department was struggling with a difficult temporary responsibility (doing something I used to do while the person who is currently responsible for it is out on medical leave). I’m not complaining about helping (I like to help), but it was stressful. More significantly, in the midst of all this there were a lot of negative messages coming from the higher ups, focusing on what people were doing wrong and the increasing workload we could all expect. Finally, the training module I’d worked so hard on was unsuccessful because of technical issues that were unanticipated and out of my control, leading to a lot of complaints and angry emails. I went home that day absolutely seething at the fact that after hours of work on something that wasn’t my job, I was rewarded with a barrage of negativity about something that wasn’t my fault.

So what turned my attitude around? A week’s worth of bottled frappuccinos and several bags of M&Ms. Just when I needed it most, two people I’d helped stopped by with small tokens of gratitude. Both of them had asked around to find out some of my favorite things, bought them, and gave them to me to express their appreciation. I immediately felt less stressed and more energized, and had a more positive attitude that lasted for the rest of the week. These small “standing ovations” made all the difference.

grateful

How can you give someone a “standing ovation” this week? Who do you plan to appreciate?

Well, my new year is off to an interesting start. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you would probably need only one guess to predict what I’m about to say: Work. Went. Crazy. (I am now picturing all of your shocked faces.) I also have not been feeling one hundred percent this last week, party because of what was likely a minor cold and partly because work has been physically and mentally taxing. So I have been very intentionally spending my evenings taking care of myself, and not letting my workaholic tendencies take over. As a result, I have been especially grateful for several items that are great for regular self care and wellness. 

Foot Massager

feetWhen I’m conducting training, coordinating events, or running between meetings and conversations, I don’t get a lot of desk time, and even well chosen shoes can’t stop all that from taking a toll. Here in the United States, studies have shown that 70-80% of adults experience intermittent or chronic foot pain, and I’d guess that just about everyone has felt the ache that comes from a long day in motion. If you experience chronic or serious pain, you should discuss it with your doctor, but for everyday foot fatigue, an in home massager is fantastic. Mine has both massage and heat, and usually ten minutes is enough to wipe out the effects of the day.

Vaporizer

Screenshot 2020-01-12 at 8.11.01 AMDry air isn’t good for your skin, eyes, or sinuses. Keeping a healthy level of humidity in your home helps maintain both health and comfort, as well as leading to better quality sleep (and that’s always a good thing). A lot of people feel that vaporizers are only for when they’re sick, but regular use leads to increased overall health and comfort. I have a Vicks model that has slots for Vapo Pads, which I use any time I’m feeling slightly congested. It works like a charm.

Heated Mattress Pad

bedThis is a relatively new addition to my home, a gift from my sister Audrey. There are two reasons I absolutely adore this gizmo. First, I hate being cold. I mean I despise it. I sleep under a blanket and a comforter unless the weather is over eighty degrees, and then I’m still tempted. An even greater benefit, though, is that it’s also like a full-body heating pad. Before, when I came home aching from a physically taxing day, I would use a standard heating pad, sometimes moving it around from back to calf to forearm and so forth. Now, I can just lay in bed for awhile, get heat everywhere, and feel the soreness ease. I’ve also found that I’m a lot less stiff when I wake up in the morning.

self care 2

What are your essential self care and wellness items?

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Yesterday, the Netflix/BBC adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula became available here in the United States. I’m a big fan of the Dracula mythos, have read the novel multiple times, read many other books featuring the character, and have seen too many film adaptions to count. Basically, if there’s a new Dracula movie, I watch it. So of course, yesterday I dropped everything to watch the three part miniseries, which runs about 4.5 hours.

Was it time well spent? Well…yes and no. Let’s take it one episode at a time. I’ll be including a few plot details, but no serious spoilers. We kick things off with…

Episode One: The Rules of the Beast

Dracula 1 The first episode gives a nod to the epistolary format of the novel by framing the narrative as a conversation between Jonathan Harker and Sister Agatha, who struggles with her faith but has made a serious study of vampires and the occult. The introduction of this character let me know right away that the show wasn’t planning on strict adherence to the source material, but that wasn’t really surprising. There are a lot of elements from the original story here, and the show’s take on Harker’s time in Dracula’s castle is creepy, visually engaging, and generally felt like a worthy adaption. I really enjoyed Claes Bang’s portrayal of Dracula as he used Harker’s blood (the show relies heavily on the idea that drinking blood allows the vampire to absorb knowledge, memories, etc.) to transform himself from an octogenarian, old-world aristocrat to a young, modern gentleman who would fit in well once he journeyed to London.

As Harker’s story came to a close, the show included some reveals that further distinguished it from the novel. I won’t get into specifics because of spoilers, but I will say that overall I didn’t mind the changes, because they were interesting and made me wonder where the show was headed. The climax of the episode was a confrontation with Dracula that showcased both his powers and his limitations. The situation surrounding this event was completely new, and while it felt a little forced, and went on a little too long, on the whole I thought it came together pretty well.

Overall, I enjoyed the first episode and happily went straight into…

Episode Two: Blood Vessel

Dracula 2 Here, Dracula shifts firmly into the role of protagonist. Once again, a large chunk of the episode is framed by storytelling, but this time it’s Dracula himself narrating. Again, we have an important section of the novel adapted and re-imagined. This time, it’s Dracula’s voyage on the Demeter. In the book, Dracula is only glimpsed as he slowly picks off the ship’s crew. The show greatly expanded the story of this trip, adding a collection of passengers, including Dracula himself. As the death toll mounts, the count actually participates in the attempts to find the murderer. I would have liked to see a little more exploration of a few things (specifically, several of the passengers and their connections), but you can’t have everything. Unlike the Demeter’s doomed voyage in the novel, in the show a group of survivors discovers Dracula’s nature and we have another confrontation.

I liked the second episode as much as the first, especially because of the flavor of a mystery story, a genre I really enjoy. I was looking forward to seeing how everything played out in…

Episode Three: The Dark Compass

Dracula 3 …when, in my opinion, the whole thing falls apart. After the events on the Demeter, Dracula wakes up in the modern world, and it turns out that he has been expected. I was dubious about this turn of events from the start, but was willing to give it a go. What I was expecting was a new interpretation of the London events of the novel, with a spin on Lucy Westenra’s turning and the subsequent final confrontation with Dracula. Was I got was…not that. Honestly, this episode simply couldn’t decide what it wanted to be about, and became a strange collection of shallow characters, poorly developed conflicts, and plot holes. It was completely lacking in tension, and the resolution was as bland as it was unsatisfying. Stories can be changed, adapted, reinvented, etc…but any story needs to be good.

This version of Dracula ended up being 2/3 pretty good, and 1/3 hot mess. I’d say it’s worth three hours…but not four and a half.

vampire

Seen it? Want to see it? Other thoughts? Let’s chat.