Our Habits Are Powerful

During the last 9 weeks in quarantine, I have had a lot more time to think about life. I examined what I took for granted pre-COVID-19, and what I want out of the next 43 or so years. I’ve spent time examining my routines and some of the habits that aren’t serving me during this time home. Taking the time to examine my existing thoughts and behaviors helped me to identify new habits that will help me to reach my goals. It turns out that our habits are powerful!

The biggest challenge we all face when analyzing our habits is the fact that many of them happen when we are on “autopilot”. We have to intentionally bring into focus our thoughts and actions – even the ones we do without thinking about them. A habit defined is an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary. It is a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

“All our life so far as it has definite form is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal (what is best) or woe (great sorrow or distress), and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny.”

William James

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg discusses habits from the perspective of how the brain is wired to function. He shares how habits work (we go into more detail in this blog along with how willpower plays a role), how to create new habits and how to change our existing habits (I go into more detail in my next blog post). 

How Do Habits Work?

He starts by defining the anatomy of a habit as a Cue + Response = Reward. Cues are combinations of stimuli (our senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, sound, and thought). Responses are chains of thoughts and/or actions. Rewards are increases and decreases in pleasant and unpleasant sensations, emotions or thoughts. We practice the response until it becomes an automatic and reliable habit. The repetition triggers some long-term changes to the brain’s structure (learning). This becomes independent of conscious decision making. It literally becomes automatic without conscious thought! It is WILD to me that we do so much on “autopilot”. 

According to Duhigg, over time the brain starts to expect and now crave a reward as soon as the cue comes into play. The cravings show up even before the habitual response happens. These cravings begin to drive responses that deliver the reward. Our cravings are strong enough to override basic survival instincts. The physical cravings are short-lived but the mental cravings are much more powerful. Our habits are powerful and some examples of bad habits are smoking, sleeping late, and nail-biting. Good habits set clear goals and rules for reward and punishment. Examples are brushing your teeth, showering, drinking half your body weight in ounces of water daily, exercising, getting at least 8 hours of sleep, and taking your Juice Plus daily. 

Duhigg says the role of habits is to free up our limited conscious attention and working memory. Because there are thousands of stimuli each day, we manage them by delegating responses to the subconscious mind. Habits can not be erased but instead must be replaced. They result from structural changes in the brain, but the good news is that they can be overridden with conscious willpower or a deeper new habit. We were designed with the ability to CHOOSE how we will respond! This is fantastic news! We can break bad habits and create new ones! If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.

Willpower

Unfortunately, willpower is limited in capacity and endurance but it is like a muscle and can be strengthened through practice. We can train our brains to get better at controlling our behavior. Kelly McGonigal wrote in The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, that willpower comes in three shapes and sizes. First is the “I won’t” power, this is when you resist something like fast food on the way home. Then there is the “I will” power. This is the force that helps you do what’s comfortable but important to reach your goals. This willpower allows you to delay gratification now in order to reap the rewards later. Finally is the “I want” power. This is the force that allows you to remember your long-term goals. The “I want” power is the most powerful because it is not so much about the goal itself, but more about having a strong and clear why for delaying gratification now to succeed in the long term. 

Pause-and-Plan Response

We already learned about our fight-or-flight response in my blog titled, Why Is It Easier to Think Negative Thoughts? and how it is triggered by stress. McGonigal says this response destroys willpower because it triggers impulsive reactions to everyday conditions. On the other hand, the “pause-and-plan response” method teaches us to notice our habitual reactions and consciously choose a more empowered one.

McGonigal recommends we take a deep breath. She says, “Slow your breathing down to four to six breaths per minute. That’s 10 to 15 seconds per breath — slower than you normally breathe, but not difficult with a little bit of practice and patience. Slowing the breath down activates the prefrontal cortex and increases heart-rate variability, which helps shift the brain and body from a state of stress to self-control mode. A few minutes of this technique will make you feel calm, in control, and capable of handling cravings or challenges.” You can set a timer on your phone and measure how many breaths you are taking per minute. Focus on slowing it down and remember not to hold your breath because this just increases the stress. For example, take a 5 second inhale and a 6 second exhale. 

McGonigal writes, “Your brain needs to bring the body on board with your goals and put the brakes on your impulses. To do this, your prefrontal cortex will communicate the need for self-control to lower brain regions that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and other automatic functions. The “pause-and-plan’ response drives you in the opposite direction of the fight-or-flight response. Instead of speeding up, your heart slows down, and your blood pressure stays normal. Instead of hyperventilating like a madman, you take a deep breath. Instead of tensing muscles to prime them for action, your body relaxes a little.”

She also recommends mediation to improve willpower. “One study found that just three hours of meditation practice led to improved attention and self-control,” McGonigal notes. “After 11 hours, researchers could see those changes in the brain. The new meditators had increased neural connections between regions of the brain important for staying focused, ignoring distractions, and controlling impulses. Another study found that eight weeks of daily meditation practice led to increased self-awareness in everyday life, as well as increased gray matter in corresponding areas of the brain. It may seem incredible that our brains can reshape themselves so quickly, but meditation increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, in much the same way that lifting weights increases blood flow to your muscles. The brain appears to adapt to exercise in the same way that muscles do, getting both bigger and faster in order to get better at what you ask of it.”

The final suggestion she makes is to get your body moving. It turns out that exercise is another powerful way to amplify your willpower. “When neuroscientists have peered inside the brains of new exercisers, they have seen increases in both gray matter — brain cells — and white matter, the insulation on brain cells that helps them communicate quickly and efficiently with each other,” McGonigal writes.

Charles Duhigg says, “Willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success.” He defines keystone habits as foundational behaviors that you can build on to create a cluster of good habits. When you change a keystone habit it can have a cascading effect on other habits down the line and cause changes across many different areas. Not all habits are keystone habits. An example of keystone habits is exercise. When you exercise it creates a desire to make other positive changes like eating better, smoking less, and feeling less stressed. When we feel good, we want to make decisions that keep us feeling good. 

I know this can seem like a lot to take in and it definitely is work to be aware of our thoughts and actions. Don’t all things worthwhile take effort? Who better to take care of yourself than you? I think it’s exciting and fun to think about all the wonderful changes we can CHOOSE to make to our current habits! Once we examine our goals, then it makes the most sense to be sure our actions are leading us toward reaching them instead of pushing us away from them. As stated earlier, in the next blog we will discuss how to create new habits and how to change our existing habits.r, smoking less, and feeling less stressed. When we feel good, we want to make decisions that keep us feeling good. 

Why Is It Easier to Think Negative Thoughts?

Man drawing a seesaw showing an imbalance between Positive – Negative – Thinking with the word positive being weighted more than the word negative on opposites ends with Thinking as the fulcrum.

Over the last five years, I have listened to and read a lot of personal development books. I LOVE to learn and with a Master’s in Psychology, learning about how the mind and behaviors have always intrigued me and I find people fascinating! I was reading Marisa Peer’s I Am Enough: Mark Your Mirror and Change Your Life and there are so many wonderful lessons taught in those 109 pages. It’s an easy read that I highly recommend! It is one I continue to read repeatedly because I learn something new every time. On page one she explains why it is easier to think negative thoughts.

Evolution Plays a Role

On the very first page, she talks about why it is easier to think negative thoughts. She says, “The truth is that the human mind has one simple job: to keep you alive as long as possible. To do that, our mind is an expert at helping us avoid and flee what causes us pain or danger.” When we were primitive cavemen, this was necessary! We had to flee from predators, hunt and gather food, find water, and hide from extreme weather to stay alive. Back then there were physical threats and our bodies developed “fight or flight” responses. We were in legitimate danger from large animals, angry tribesmen, and natural disasters. Those who were more attuned to danger around them were more likely to survive.

A lot has changed since then, but our brains are hard-wired to protect us from physical danger. Peer says, “Most people in the modern world don’t have a direct threat to their physical well-being. But there’s a fundamental design flaw here: our brain has changed very little to reflect our new, safer, and more tame reality. We are still primed for our fight-or-flight responses to the stress and adversity life throws our way.”

The difference now is that the stressors we have are more mental than physical. Our brains still have one job: KEEP US ALIVE. It does this by listening to the information we give about what causes us pain. It is important to specifically instruct our brains on how to respond to the world. Our mind thinks everything we tell it is TRUTH. So, if we say, “this traffic is killing me!”, then our brains think we are actually in physical danger from the thing that is “killing us”. 

Cortisol

Our heart rate goes up, our cortisol levels rise, our body surges with hormones and you feel physical reactions to the stress. We are telling our brain that we are under a direct threat and our brain BELIEVES us. It wants to get us out of direct danger from what is causing us great pain. This only leaves us feeling stressed and miserable. Remember that our words are powerful, and our mind is always listening!

I have also studied the hormone – cortisol. Cortisol is a chemical in your brain that flows more freely and spurs negative thoughts. It is kind of like an alarm system and your brain releases the chemical cortisol to warn you about imminent physical danger. For example, if a co-worker says something that irritates you, and we say to ourselves, “that guy is stressing me out”. Then our brain’s immediate physical reaction is to protect ourselves from the intense “stress”. Our natural and innate reaction is once again to protect us, and our mind triggers the fight-or-flight response.

Negativity Bias

The problem is that we develop a pattern of weighing negative information to a greater extent than the positive, known as the negativity bias. It is primed that way. Therefore, it is easier to think negative thoughts rather than positive ones. The co-worker may have been annoying, but there was not actually any physical danger.

According to Very Well Mind, “In almost any interaction, we are more likely to notice negative things and later remember them more vividly. As humans, we remember traumatic experiences better than positive ones, recall insults better than praise, react more strongly to negative stimuli, think about negative things more frequently than positive ones and respond more strongly to negative events than equally positive ones.”

Our bias toward the negative leads us to focus more on the bad things and make them seem more important than they are, actually. There is neuroscientific evidence that shows there is greater neural processing in the brain in response to negative stimuli compared to the positive stimuli. Because negative information causes a surge of activity in the critical information processing area of the brain, our behaviors and attitudes are shaped more by bad news, experiences, and information. This causes a wide variety of effects on how people think, respond, and feel.

We Can Overcome the Bias

The good news is that we can overcome this negativity bias! As humans, we can make choices about how we respond to stimuli. First, we need to pay attention to the thoughts that go through our minds. It is best to stop those thoughts when they begin. Instead of beating yourself up for past mistakes that you can’t change, CHOOSE to be kind to yourself (like you would a friend. No beating yourself up allowed). Be grateful for the chance to learn through error and make better choices next time.

What we have to learn to do is flip the negatives into positives with a lot of practice and repetition. We have to CHOOSE wisely what we tell ourselves in our 50,000 thoughts a day. Positive thoughts are not a natural response. It takes some work to develop new patterns and be aware of when we are making a choice to focus on the negative.

We have to reframe the situation and take a long look at how we talk to ourselves. When you interpret a situation as something negative, then learn to automatically shift your view of it into a more positive one. This doesn’t mean to ignore the danger, but refocusing your thoughts to give equal weight to include the good and not just the bad.

If you ruminate on the bad things, look for a way to shift your focus and pull yourself out of this negative mindset. For example, if you are reviewing an unpleasant event or outcome long after the situation has passed, consciously try to turn your attention to activities that bring you joy. Listen to your favorite music, read a book, take a shower, or go for a walk to get your mind off of the negative thoughts.

Give Positive Experiences Extra Attention

Since it takes more to remember the positive experiences, it is important to give them extra attention. According to a Very Well Mind, “Where negative things might be quickly transferred and stored in your long-term memory, you need to make more of an effort to get the same effect from happy moments. So when something great happens, take a moment to really focus on it. Replay the moment several times in your memory and focus on the wonderful feelings the memory evokes.”

Since the negativity bias can have a powerful impact on your behavior, it is life-changing to learn to be aware of it. By being aware of why it is easier to think negative thoughts than positive ones, then you can take the necessary steps to adopt a more positive outlook on life! Taking a mindful approach requires being aware of your tens of thousands of thoughts a day and consciously push the positive ones to the forefront of your mind. Continuing to dwell on the negative can take a serious toll on your mental and physical well-being.

Choose a Joy-Filled Life

I’m reading a book called 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life by Tommy Newberry with some friends on a zoom call at 12:30 pm daily, but not on weekends. It has been perfect timing for me! We are in our 7th week of self-quarantine and we are on Day 26 in the book. This was perfectly timed and just what I needed! I have had this blog post topic at the top of my list for a month. I sat down today and started it before I read the current day’s few pages. Then BAM! Today was right in line with the blog, so I had to include it.

Newberry says, “At any given moment, we are either on an upward or a downward emotional spiral. When we get drawn into a negative spiral, we have a key decision to make. We can overreact and kick off a self-defeating reaction cycle, or we can simply drop the negative thought.”

Wow! That is so amazing. Once again, we can CHOOSE how we respond. We are conditioned to respond negatively, so that’s the habit we have created. But we can refuse to indulge in negative thoughts! Can I get an AMEN!? This means we don’t have to let the brain’s primitive responses control our thoughts and actions anymore! We are free to choose! Newberry says, “When you neglect to drop the negative thought, you are choosing to drink the poison. Instead of enabling negative thoughts to affect you, you can starve them by letting them go.”

This is so empowering to me! I sometimes get in a rut of only focusing on lack and not the abundance all around me! You can not be negative and positive at the same time. Sadly, like myself, not everyone learned this information as children. I wasn’t taught to really take hold of each thought and look for the good in EVERY situation. I found myself becoming a worrier, having anxiety attacks, and overall just feeling icky. With lots of focus and practice, ANYONE can become more positive. I talked about choosing gratitude back in December. It is something that I’m constantly working on and I’m proud to say that I’m getting better each day I practice. You can do it too! Simply decide!

Anxiety and COVID-19

Anxiety Disorder

Full transparency – I have a mild anxiety disorder and have battled depression since college. I have had both minor and major panic attacks on and off since then. I don’t think you can fully understand this kind of anxiety unless you experience it for yourself, and I wish it on NO ONE. The first time I heard about this new coronavirus (COVID-19), in the kitchen of our rental house in Belize. I was on an amazing girls’ trip and one of my friends said that there was a new coronavirus in China. A man at an open market apparently ate a raw bat and the virus it had jumped from animal to human.

Fast forward to March 2020 and the entire world is now literally in their homes, hiding from an invisible killer virus – COVID-19. At first, we were told that it was mostly affecting the elderly but now I’m hearing stories about a 12yo that died and a healthy 25yo is on a vent. It’s just all so overwhelming and scary! About a week ago, I started waking up at 3 am with a panic attack. The first one I woke up my husband and made him sit on the couch with me because I was sure I was about to die. He is wonderful and came to help me get through the moment. After some time my heart rate went back to normal and I could go back to sleep. I rolled over around 3 am-4 am and needed to go to the bathroom. Sometimes I’m in a REM dream state, I wake up with my heart pounding out of my chest.

Since I have an anxiety disorder when I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s pitch black, my heart is racing, and so I panic. When I panic, I am telling myself that I’m about to die because there is no other reason that my heart would race at 3 am. Then, I spin out of control and extra cortisol and adrenaline releases because of the stress and my heart beats even faster than before! I sweat, my vision blurs, my stomach aches and my mind races with confusion. It’s horrible!!

After over 20 years of battling these episodes, I know how to stop them when they start. It just takes a few days to remember that. Ha! I’m human and imperfect and wonderfully made, just like each of you. It’s not as easy for me to function “normally” so I have to work at it – every single day. Some days are better than others. I haven’t had an attack in over a week now. I started taking a Benadryl before bed and it helps me to sleep through the 3 am time frame. If I wake up and my heart is beating fast, then I tell myself that it is only happening because of my stage of sleep and it will calm down with some deep breaths.

Choose Your Thoughts

After doing that for a few nights, now I can recognize it and ignore the anxiety creeping in and let it pass! Currently, I am listening to a book called: Loving What Is by Bryon Katie. Basically, she explains how it is your own thoughts that are making you miserable. I highly recommend it! I have known about doing daily positive affirmations and goal setting from Bob Samara and using words that are positive instead of negative. Instead of thinking, “I’m stuck at home because of COVID-19”, say, “I am safe at home during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Our mind is ours to control. Lots of times we get in the habit of doing the same things over and over so many times that our brains go kind of on autopilot. If we are not intentional about our daily, repetitive actions, then we may get stuck in a rut that is not serving our needs the best.

Right now we are all under a tremendous amount of stress. There is so much unknown with the virus, and our economy and many livelihoods are being negatively affected. Stress triggers a combination of signals from both hormones and nerves. These signals cause your adrenal glands to release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Then there is an increase in heart rate and energy as part of the fight-or-flight response. It’s your body’s way of preparing itself for potentially dangerous or harmful situations. 

Cortisol – Stress Hormone

Cortisol also helps to limit any functions that aren’t essential in a fight-or-flight situation. Once the threat passes, your hormones return to their usual levels. This whole process is designed to save our lives. But when you’re under constant stress, this response doesn’t always turn off. Sadly, long-term exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can wreak havoc on almost all of your body’s processes, increasing your risk of many health issues, from heart disease and obesity to anxiety and depression.

The good news is that we can control our thoughts! You are in charge of how you handle the stress of each event in your life. After years and years of studying personal development by reading and listening to books (Brene Brown, Rachel Hollis, Jen Sincero, Mel Robbins are all great authors), I work diligently to stop and think before I react to negativity. It is all a choice. Sometimes we are not paying attention to our reactions and when we are not intentional, then we act on autopilot. Choose to be intentional. It has taken years of training my brain, and with the help of medication, therapy and the support of my family and friends, I can say that I process change and adapt more easily than ever before. It takes lots of practice and intention, but anyone can become friends with their mind and always remember you are in charge of your thoughts! 

I was texting some friends a week ago, and I told them, “the good news is that we won’t go hungry. There are enough friends to figure out how to feed each other! Worst case, we all file bankruptcy (Crawley Law Firm, PA)  and move on with our lives! We will be ok!! I woke up today and was like – I’m done being scared. It only hurts me, and it doesn’t help things change. I read once that worry is like praying for the worst to happen. When I put all my energy into the negative what-ifs. What if I can’t pay my rent? What if this virus kills me, my husband, kids, my mom or my in-laws? What if, what if, what if? That’s a terrible way to live! I want to thrive. I want to be positive! I want to look for the good and look for the helpers. I want to be a helper. I can’t control any of it! Today I refuse to let my fear and anxiety take control of my reality and cripple me into a pile of sadness and self-pity! I choose love! I choose hope! I choose JOY!”

Choose Gratitude

It all goes back to choice. As I worked through an hour and a half warm yoga class at Griffin Power Yoga, I listened to each new member of the 2019 Griffin Power Yoga 200 Hour Teacher Training program’s graduating class share a little as they taught. Each one spent time leading the other 28 people sweating on their mats. It was an intense class that has my hamstrings sore now, a couple days later. I pushed myself a little harder as it got warmer. I enjoyed it! 

Griffin Power Yoga

Maddie, my 12-year-old came with me to support, my oldest, Alex. She was one of the graduates on Sunday and has spent the last 4 months and 6 really packed weekends, finishing this 200-hour training! Alex said she’s grateful for this life-changing experience and the life long friends she made. The first three weekends were more physically intensive, while the last 3 weekends were more mentally challenging. Many have told me that Alex was extremely wise and mature for a 17-year-old senior in high school. Their leader, Courtney Griffin, told me on multiple occasions that she was impressed by my Alex.

Maddie, Juliana, Alex

While teaching, one graduate talked about how life doesn’t always turn out how we expect. That she was always looking for some person, situation, accomplishment, or place to make her happy and content with herself. She found what she was looking for all along in her yoga practice. She found a love for herself and her community there at Griffin Power Yoga. 

I was talking to Alex today about how proud I am of her. She is such a wonderful young woman. She is intelligent, gorgeous, athletic, dedicated, focused, and happy! She’s the full package! I know I sound like a bragging mom, but other people say how easy she is to work with. They tell me she is compassionate and kind and how she is level headed. She really is mature beyond her years.

Choose Happiness

Today Alex asked me how my life is going and I said, “I’m happy!” Like the instructor, I spent many years looking for something outside of myself to make me happy. I made horrible mistakes and hurt people I love and who love me, by being selfish. It has been hard work but I forgive myself for past mistakes and today I feel happy! I choose gratitude.

Yes, it would be fun to have more money to buy a lake house or a beach house. For now, we can rent those things. One day I’d like to have an RV that we can drive around the United States. But, today, at this moment, I’m happy. I choose gratitude. I have a roof over my head, clothes, food, we are all healthy, a 2.5-year-old climbing on my back as I type. I’m grateful for all of it! Every single thing that has transpired in my life has been useful in getting me to this point in my journey. Some of it was wonderful and amazing! Some were emotionally and physically painful, other experiences were life-changing and memorable and the rest of it is a blur.

It all comes down to choice. Do I choose at this moment to be grateful for all that I have or long for what I don’t have? Of course goal setting is critical but at this very moment, I choose to be happy and content. I have people in my life who love me unconditionally and I love to work hard for my family at the office and at home. The choice is yours! Choose gratitude!

Focus on What Matters

Time seems to be passing more quickly with each given year. It is already mid-November of my oldest child’s senior year. How did that happen so fast? There are so many exciting things going on and I want to be sure I’m choosing to focus on enjoying life at this moment to the best of my ability. My mom is aging and has recently started peritoneal dialysis (at home). Alex will graduate in May of 2020, Lilly was talking to me yesterday on our way home from the State Dance Competition in Hot Springs about how she only has 2 1/2 years of high school left, Maddie is a 7th grader already and Trey is 2 1/2 and recently potty trained.

focus on what matters

Seriously, how does it all go by in a flash? I remember when I was the 30-something mom with three daughters who were 7, 5, and 2. Now I’m the 40-something mom with a 17-year old, a 15-year-old, and a 12-year-old and a 2-year-old. Wowzers! That was fast. It was a decade full of laughter, tears, pain, surprise pregnancy, prayers, trips, memories, and love.

The other day I was talking to my dear friend and wellness coach, Tharwat Lovett. I said, “I hope I’m enjoying it all enough. Am I truly taking the time to soak in all the awesome that is today…right now? I want to consistently choose to focus on what matters. I know it will all change again, probably quicker than I’m ready for.”

We discussed how all we can do is wake up each morning and choose to focus on the good. Be deliberate and choose to see the positive in every situation. Choose to embrace each moment as it comes, even the difficult ones because these are the ones we learn the most from. Don’t squander precious time, but choose to show the ones we love how much we love them. Call or go visit your parents and loved ones. Reach out and take a friend to lunch. Send a sweet note to someone on your heart. We have to do all we can at this moment to show the ones we love how much we care. Tomorrow is not promised. All we have is right now.

In the last few years, I have friends who have been diagnosed with cancer, who have lost a parent suddenly and those who have stayed in relationships that hurt them on the inside for years. Friends, we have the ability to make choices to build one another up, to love each other, and to forgive ourselves and others for the pain they have caused us. But, we must also choose to let go of those who harm us. Wish them well, then move on because taking care of our mental and emotional health is just as important as our physical health.

I made excuses for not writing for too many years. I’ve had this blog for over 5 years and every time I sat down to write I would feel overcome with fear of rejection. I’d ask myself, what if no one likes what I have to say? Why would anyone read what I write because I’m not important or significant? Who cares about me or my life and thoughts? What if people judge my truth. Well, all of the above is simply self-doubt and insecurity talking. I have a gut feeling that I’m meant to write and I’m ready to be brave and vulnerable and do just that.

As long as I speak my truth and I write with these four things in mind, is what I’m saying pure, positive, powerful and productive? Coach Bob Samara teaches, that if we are in this frame of mind then it doesn’t really matter what other people think. If we are sharing our truth then all that matters are the people who we could impact in a positive way. I have so many wonderful things going on and so much love for my life and the people in it. I’m ready to share my thoughts, observations, and stories that may help just one reader. Even if they simply feel less alone. We all struggle. I feel I’m here to help others, to learn how to be the best version of myself, and to love and be loved. We are all human after-all and we can learn from one another.

Alex signs with Industry Management – Miami

In November 2018, Alex decided to pursue professional modeling and we (she’s 16) signed a contract with Model Scout in Orlando. They are a minor mother agency who scouts for models and then work to get them bookings. Last week, Alex, Lilly and I went on a four-day adventure in South Beach – Miami with Ward Cottrell, owner, and Cobb Jones. Alex worked for two full days, meeting with 8 agencies along with 13 other models. 

She had five offers to sign with an agency in Miami and today she agreed to sign with Industry Model Management – Miami! We are learning very quickly about this high fashion world. Alex can have representation in all of the major markets – New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Paris, Milan, etc. This is the first major agency she has signed with. 

If you have spent time with Alex then you know she is a sweet girl. She is intelligent (4.0), kind, generous, attentive, loving. This profession requires many interviews and last week Alex knocked them out of the park. She is respectful, professional, articulate, and a natural people person. This is a huge asset for her in this industry. 

We will see what this next year holds as she wraps up her Junior year and starts her Senior year at Jonesboro High. Michael and I are very proud of the young woman she is becoming and we pray for wisdom as she enters this line of work full-time next summer (at 18).

Kristie Stokes of Jonesboro, AR

Since I heard the news of Kristie’s passing yesterday morning, I haven’t stopped thinking about her and her precious family. Kristie left to go home to the arms of Jesus around 1:45am on December 30th. Her husband Russell and sons, Jackson and Wyatt, were her greatest loves. 

Kristie battled breast cancer this year and the chemotherapy (chemo) severely damaged her lungs. Last week she was transferred to Memphis for additional lung therapy. She was put on a ventilator during the treatment to allow her body to rest and heal. During this time God decided to bring this angel home. 

I have known Kristie for over a decade now. We were not close friends but we parented alongside one another at International Studies (IS). Her boys are around my girls’ ages. There is nothing anyone can say bad about Kristie. She always had a smile on her face and was eager to serve others. We volunteered together at IS for years and she had a servant’s heart. She worked at First Baptist Church (FBC) in downtown Jonesboro for over a decade where she was the Children’s Minister first but most recently she was the Missions and Community Outreach Pastor. She also volunteered for neighbors in need at the FBC Care Center and led numerous mission trips and Bible Schools at the church. 

The last few times I saw Kristie she had lost her hair and either had on a wig or a wrap or a hat. She ALWAYS had that gorgeous smile, even through the most difficult and painful parts of the chemo treatments. The chemo left her weak and tired but she always showed up anyway. 

She told me she felt poorly but yet there she was, at school walk up to get Wyatt, at PTA meetings, at the JHS Homecoming parade, just to name a few of the last times I had the privilege to interact with her. Women like Kristie inspire me to be a better person. I pray that if faced with a difficult battle as she was, I would also fight as honorably as she did. I want to emulate her faith and perseverance. She rarely complained and I never saw her feeling sorry for herself. I only saw her out and about and being there for her boys, her husband, her friends, her church and her loved ones.

I don’t understand tragedy like this. It makes no sense why God would take her precious soul this early. But, I’m not supposed to understand why God does what he does. I’m here to trust Him and His unwavering love for all of his children. I am shaken to the core by this unimaginable loss. 

Many will never be the same because Kristie has left her earthy body and is now in the presence of our Savior. I believe good comes from bad things and I trust good is happening right now as I type because her passing has affected so many in our community. 

I know that I will choose to be more like Kristie. I want to smile more and be a better servant of God. I want to help others by being more loving and giving to those less fortunate. 

I want to be more selfless and not worry so much about what is going wrong in my life and focus more on the positive, the joy all around me and be grateful for everything, even this pain. We are all here for a reason friends. I want to spread love like Kristie did. I want to be strong like her and stand tall even in the face of adversity. 

This was Kristie’s last Facebook post on November 27th. Her words are soothing, powerful and reflect her love for our Lord and Savior.“So this is our 2018 family ornament. When we added it to the tree we talked about how breast cancer has changed our lives this year- in tough ways but always with blessings surrounding us. I’ve needed the reminder of that morning, after a really tough few days. What I thought was fatigue from the end of the end of chemo actually turned out to be some serious damage to my lungs. It’s good to be home from the hospital now, but I’m also facing a new reality of being on oxygen, a recovery that will be weeks, not days, and a delay in my other surgery until my lungs completely heal. Was this my plan? No. Have I seen blessing? An overwhelming Yes. The tribe of family and friends who have carried our family in love, support, and prayer just don’t quit. And I’ve seen that Christy Amaden Johnson,  Beth Williams Murff, and Laura Halford Wood rock in a medical emergency and sure know how to help a friend in need. But above all, I know without a doubt that the God who gave me this promise continues to carry us… ‘Even before I speak a word, you know all about it. You are all around me, behind me and in front of me. You hold me in your power.’ His promises sustain, and that is always enough.”

God, thank you for allowing us the time you did with this precious woman. Thank you for giving her a heart of gold and a smile that brightened any gloomy day. Thank you for allowing me to have known her even a little. She was such a blessing to me by being a wonderful and faithful servant to you. Her passion and strength and her fierce love of her family was such a blessed example of an angel right here on earth. Lord this loss is too great for me to wrap my mind around. I don’t understand why you took such a gift away from us. But, I do trust you and your perfect plan for all of our lives. May her sweet family and friends have the peace that surpasses understanding of this significant loss. May we all strive to be a little better each day and honor her memory by striving to be more like Kristie Stokes until you decide to call us home as well. Always faithful, even on days like today when I just can’t stop wondering, why. Amen. 

Everyone wants to do something for the family in times like these. I’m sure they would never ask but I know there is a PayPal account set up. I donated for Russell to use the money in any way he deems fit. If you feel to the desire to help, please send to :  randkstokes@gmail.com

Encouragement

Thanksgiving 2018 was last Thursday and I ate waaayyyy too many calories and grams of sugar. I’ve been going to the Trim Gym 3-5 days a week consistently for most of this year. I’m down 17 pounds since the first of the year and I’m stronger than I have been in a very long time! The last couple of months I’ve had a trainer, Anna Lane, program my workouts for me. I have to be careful with my knees, low back, and neck, so working with a trainer who creates my workouts with this in mind, is fantastic!

I was at the gym today, for the first time in a few days. I don’t like to miss more than 2 days in a row, so I was excited to get back into my routine. I started with cardio on a stationary bike. I was listening to Stin Hansen from MyThoughtCoach.com in my headphones. She provides an excellent 20 min workout where she tells you when to exert energy at different perceived levels of exertion. You start at 5/10 then go up to 9/10, while increasing a level each minute. Then on the fourth and final round, you go for 9/10 and 10/10! Each interval is only for one minute and you can do anything for a minute! The best part is that as you get stronger, you go a little farther, a little faster, naturally. Your perceived level of exertion changes as your body changes. It’s the perfect 20-minute cardio workout!

So, I’m working my ass off on this bike. It’s my 3rd of four level 9s and I was next to a guy in his mid to late 40s. He was working hard too. I noticed he was on his bike for about 15 minutes when I got there and he seemed to be riding at a decent pace up a steep hill. When he was done he cleaned his bike and as he finished wiping it down he could hear I was breathing hard, as I was a really tough part of my interval training (9/10 in intensity). I stopped peddling for a second to breathe and let my burning thighs rest for about 15 seconds because if I rest longer 30 seconds then the bike’s settings reset.

As he walks by, he pats me on the back and says, “You got this. Keep going!” Awwww. Isn’t that all any of us needs sometimes? Some encouragement from a kindred spirit who also knows what it’s like to push yourself? We are all in the gym together, all people with a common goal: to take care of our bodies and move them the way they were designed to move. We all want to be a little better tomorrow than we were today.

It meant a lot to me for him to care enough to tell me, a complete stranger, to “keep going!” I want to encourage all of you to take the time to tell someone in your life that you support them. Maybe it’s just what they need to finish that project or go that step further to complete the task at hand. Be kind and encouraging to those you love and even strangers; you don’t know what they are going through and your kind and supportive words may be just what they need to hear.

Pregnant after an Essure Procedure at 40 Years Old

ultrasound picture, profile, sonogram

A few years ago (August of 2016) I thought I was dying. I felt so horrible and literally thought I had some form of cancer that was making me tired and sick. I went to the doctor for my annual check up and told him I thought I had something seriously wrong with me. He asked when my last cycle was and I told him and said it was due any minute. He decided to do some blood work to rule out infection and then a couple days later, his nurse called and told me I was pregnant. How could I be pregnant after an Essure procedure at 40 years old?

I was in shock and disbelief. I said, “that’s not possible. I can’t be pregnant. I’m fixed.” The nurse said, “well your HCG is elevated and the doctor wants you to come in for an ultrasound on Monday to see if this is a tubal pregnancy since you had the Essure procedure.” It turns out that pregnancy symptoms are very similar to what I think dying feels like. The nurse said, “You aren’t dying Juliana. You are creating a new life!”

It was Friday, and I cried as I told my husband I was pregnant. He laughed and said, “you’re kidding, right?” I assured him this is not something I would joke about and we processed the shock together. We called immediate friends and family so we could all share in this shock together.  I took an at home pregnancy test )and we just stared at two bright pink lines in disbelief.

The following Monday we had an ultrasound to confirm the baby was in my uterus.  I sure enough was pregnant after an Essure procedure at 40 years old. I was in shock for months. 

After our third daughter was born in 2007, Michael and I decided our family was complete. Having never had surgery (besides a tonsillectomy when I was 16 years old), I didn’t want to be admitted to the hospital and have a surgical tubal ligation. Dr. Hong, my OBGYN, who has now passed away, told me about a new (at the time) in-office surgical procedure to prevent pregnancy called Essure. The procedure had minimal downtime (a few days) and I was only given a Valium before to relax me. Metal coils were placed in both fallopian tubes and the goal was for them to scar over and any block eggs from being fertilized and dropped into the uterus.

We had three healthy daughters in 2009 who were 7 years old, 5 years old and 2 years old. That seemed like enough responsibility for us at the time. My husband and I own our own business (he is a bankruptcy attorney at Crawley Law Firm, PA) and anyone who is self-employed knows the financial ups and downs that go along with this career choice. He sets his own schedule and doesn’t have a boss, but we have also taken a lot of risks and there are no guarantees of pay. The business owner is always paid last.

I went to the doctor a couple of times the first trimester and had several elective ultrasounds. The first doctor’s visit was at 4 weeks and 4 days and we found a gestational sac in my uterus and ruled out a tubal pregnancy. On our 15th wedding anniversary, September 1, 2017, we went to an elective ultrasound at Sneak A Peek to see the baby for a few minutes during what the owner calls a reassurance scan. We saw the baby’s heartbeat for the first time and then it all became more real. I was really making my fourth and 100% unexpected child at 40 years old.

I started with nausea and vomiting around 6 1/2 weeks pregnant and it is finally started to ease up at 11 1/2 weeks, but did not end until 19 weeks. At 9 weeks I had my first OB/GYN appointment and the blood work we did all came back normal. We opted to get additional blood work called Panorama to look for chromosomal abnormalities. We did not plan to terminate the pregnancy, but we wanted to be as informed as possible. I got a call from the nurse a week and a half later (at 10 1/2 weeks pregnant) that the test came back all low risk and there is no need for additional testing!! She also confirmed that we were having a BOY!

I actually already knew he was a boy because I ordered an at home blood test through Sneak Peak Home Gender Test to prepare for my gender reveal party on October 1st.

I took my daughters to see our baby boy for the first time live at Sneak a Peak in Jonesboro at 11 weeks and they loved it! He did not disappoint! After we woke him up, he wiggled around and stretched and was just adorable. His heart rate was 175 and he looked perfect to me; he was relaxing in there. Ha!

9 week ultrasound, sonogramGrowing up, 40 sounded really old. My 14, 12 and 9 year old daughters (at the time) also told me that it’s an advanced age. At their ages, I thought the same thing. I vividly remember when my mom turned 40. I decorated my grandparents house with black balloons and “Over the Hill” signs. In hindsight, that was cruel. Sorry mom! But, I was 10 years old and she did seem “old”.

But now that it’s me, I don’t feel old. I do however feel more mature and wiser. I feel like my purpose in life is to love others where they are and to be kind to everyone. I felt  physically stronger at 40 years old than I was at 30 years old, healthier, and more active too. I take my Juice Plus+ every day which ensures we receive 30 different fruits and vegetables in our body daily. This allows us both to thrive on nutrients we may not otherwise get on a daily basis. I worked out regularly and made sure I stayed active with the girls.
ultrasound picture, profile, sonogramThe anatomy scan at 21 weeks showed a strong heart, we saw him urinate, swallow and hiccup. It turns out that being pregnant after an Essure procedure at 40 years old is not so terrible after-all. This little miracle was born on April 21, 2017 and Michael Edward Crawley, III (Trey) has forever changed the course of our lives. We love him immeasurably!

Juliana and Trey’s First pic

Choosing Faith Over Fear

faith over fear

Choosing faith over fear. During the last few months, I have heard this phrase several times in books and articles I’ve read and therefore it has stuck. I heard it recently while listening to Jen Sincero’s audiobook, “You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.” 

There is a choice aspect of fear. Jen Sincero says, “It’s so simple. Fear will always be there, poised and ready to wreak havoc. But we can choose whether we are going to engage with it, or turn on the lights, drown it out, and crawl past it. Drowning it out is easy, we have just been conditioned otherwise. We have made fear a habit.” Continue reading “Choosing Faith Over Fear”