Why I’m Obsessed with Metacognition

Last summer, I was listening to a podcast that was discussing metacognition – the notion of thinking about what you’re thinking about. Here’s the formal definition for my fellow Webster nerds:

Not sure yet how I feel to admit this, but I haven’t been able to stop analyzing my thoughts since. Not every single thought, of course, just the big ones that make me stop and say: “Wait. Is that really true for me?”. I was probably doing it subconsciously before, but now I have a word for it: metacognition. It helps me shift my perspective when I need a fresh look at a tough or undesirable situation.

Here are a few recent examples of what’s rattled my brain…

First thought: “Holy crap. I can’t believe I have to leave the house for work every day in the middle of a pandemic.”

Next thought: “Wow. I love the quiet time I get in the car driving to work every day. The traffic is manageable, and thank God I haven’t gotten sick this whole time.”

First thought: “I left my blog alone for a month. How on earth will I get back into the groove of writing.”

Next thought: “I left my blog alone for a month because my day job got a lot more interesting, and I’m up for a promotion. I have so many new stories to tell about faith, women in engineering, and self-worth.”

First thought: “Ugh. I only worked out twice this week. I’m behind on my goals and feel exhausted.”

Next thought: “It’s time to reassess my goals this week and back off where I need to. On the plus side, finishing The Glass Castle and a couple Grey’s Anatomy episodes felt AWESOME.”

This week, I also finished the book The Dance of Anger by Harriett Lerner. It has completely changed my perspective on anger. It is going to take a LOT of unlearning, but I am amazed at how differently I see anger already. It’s always felt like such a charged, negative emotion for me. But I learned that anger can be a tool to help tell you what you need to do to take care of yourself. It is possible to look at anger as a neutral emotion, instead of an emotion that beats up my self-worth and makes me feel “wrong” for feeling upset.

The book reminded me that I’m entitled to all my feelings, especially anger. It’s just what I do with it once I feel it that makes all the difference. And after this book, I have so many more options to deal with my anger than my standard go-to’s of over functioning, blaming, and defending. I highly, highly recommend it for women, since it’s written for us specifically. I plan to read it again this year (and, nerd alert, take some notes this time).

Metacognition helps me mind the endless “what if” scenarios that can plague me and overwhelm me. Metacognition is an antidote any time I have self-imposed feelings of self-doubt. Metacognition, guided by two of my favorite allies—grace and gratitude—powerfully tames my coronacoaster thinking, so I can hold onto a realistic yet positive perspective throughout life’s daily curveballs.

Three Tips to Help You Face the Fear of Starting Yoga

First things first: I am not a skinny, size 4 (or even size 6) woman trying to get your attention. My BMI has been in the “overweight” category (mid to high 20s) for years now. Thankfully, the 21st century yoga space is becoming more visually diverse with people of all shapes and sizes enjoying it now. This matches what the practice strives to be, ever since it started centuries ago in India: an accepting and welcoming environment to all soul-seeking individuals.

I was first drawn to yoga in college and went to a few classes with my roommates at the time. But after we graduated and parted ways, it took me 10 years to develop a regular practice. The usual culprits gnawed at me: I’m too busy, I’m not good enough, I can’t bend like that, it’s too slow, what if other people look at me weird. Well, guess what? All those things are still true. The difference is that I finally stopped it from stopping me to pick up the practice. And here’s three things I learned along the way that helped me stick with yoga.

  1. Do not compare yourself to others. Easier said than done, I know, like anything in life. But really. Someone will always be more bendy than you. With the lights down low, no one can really see you anyway. And if they came to the space to judge, then they’re in the wrong place and will eventually be found out as the real outsider. You might be the last one to move out of a pose, but it’s not as embarrassing as it sounds–you can enjoy the extra couple seconds you got there (your body may have needed it anyway) and pick right back up with everyone in the next pose. Plus, yoga takes such intense concentration that you won’t have time or energy to look around for longer than a quick glance, just to see what “pigeon pose” means (one of my faves).
  2. You are a yogi simply by showing up on your mat. I know this sounds soo mushy gushy, but I love it. When a yoga teacher calls us all “yogis”, I feel like it silently binds us all together in community in the purest and simplest of moments. Naming what you are helps you become what you are. Calling yourself a yogi gives yourself permission to stick with the practice. Being a “yogi” doesn’t mean bending your body into a pretzel or mastering a Vinyasa Flow 3 class and doing headstands right away. You could be a yogi your whole life and never want to get to that level. Being a yogi lets you do you in a room full of others doing the exact same thing.
  3. Pain means back off. Any yoga instructor will tell you this over and over throughout a class. There should be a “comfortable tension” in each pose, with the overall goal of both stretching and strengthening your beautiful muscles. You should get familiar with what “comfortable tension” means for you, knowing that it will constantly change the more (or less) you practice.

Other pro tips? Find what style works for you. I love Vinyasa because it keeps my mind engaged with a faster pace. I also love Yin, not only because it sneakily loosens up my joints, but it also makes me confront my Type A-ness and (try to) let it go gracefully.

So, if yoga is on your list to try this year, do it. Give yourself permission to be adventurous and messy with it. When you find the right studio, or YouTube channel, that fits you, you’ll know it. Your mind, body, and heart will all feel in sync. Even if it’s fleeting, the feeling will be profound and noticeable. Appreciate how the eloquent, ancient Sanskrit words wash over you, knowing that you’re tapping into a powerful, global practice that transforms lives in the smallest of ways every day.

P.S. My go-to YouTube channel right now for yoga is Erin Wimert – she is down-to-earth, uploads new videos each week, and offers different lengths of classes from 20 minutes to over 1 hour. (I don’t get any kickbacks at all from this, just meeting one of my own goals this year to actively support small businesses!)

My Word for 2021: Heal

I wasn’t planning to have a “word” this year. I only learned of the practice a few years ago, and I’ve picked maybe one or two annual words since then. It’s typically hard for me to land on just one thing. I don’t want to be disappointed if this one thing, one thought, one feeling doesn’t come through for me. Also, my FOMO kicks in and says, but don’t forget about X, Y, and Z.

Anyway. I just got a couple’s pedicure with my husband, and “heal” came to mind. I loved the symbolism. Heel on feet reminds me of self-care that’s been a large part of my healing, even if I sometimes question if I’m doing it “right”. Heal: something I’ve been trying to do for over a decade now to actually feel closure from past traumas. As I pondered “heal” in the quiet of the spa room, with music gently playing and essential oils lightly diffusing, it resonated deeply.

Trigger warning: I want to heal from childhood traumas that play out internally for me on a daily basis. My dad was an abusive alcoholic who moved away when I was 13 and passed away in a car accident when I was 16.

To shift gears to a less triggering place, I know that everyone has traumas. The more I see my own trauma without judgment, the more I can face it. Some form of childhood trauma affects all of us: not getting picked for a team, the humanity of parents, falling down when we’re sure we can stand up, etc.

I’ve seen 3 therapists since college. One smiled and nodded after I shared my story, then handed me a pamphlet that said, “What it means to grow up in a dysfunctional family.” I experienced a mini trauma from this because no one in my family had used those words before. But deep in the recesses of my mind, it slowly awoke a new awareness.

I described this experience a few years later to the next therapist, and to my relief, she said, “well, that probably felt awkward.” She explained that what he probably meant was that I was an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA). She gave me a beautiful quote by Nelson Mandela about being a gift from God. But I still wasn’t ready to fully dive in. After four sessions, I stopped going. I learned more about ACOA, buying several books but finishing few.

I’ve seen my current therapist for over a year. But it took me 8 years to try again. And I’ve done a LOT of work. I’ve learned all about codependency, boundaries, ACOA, feelings, and more. I feel more informed and emotionally stable. But certain memories still haunt me. Certain sounds still trigger me. So, I’m starting EMDR (just Google it). After all the self-work and introspection, trying to rewire my brain to get to my heart feels like the next step.

I believe in God, and He promises healing to those who believe and seek. “‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 30:17. I believe in the power of these words. Feeling them is hard. And I know that His promises look very different in real time vs. hindsight.

After all my efforts over the years, I just want to feel peace. I know there is no way to “perfectly” heal, much to my recovering perfectionist’s disapproval. Maybe peace is really my word. But right now, heal is the only way I feel I can get there.

I picked this word on Sunday. After our nation’s utterly tragic, historic events this week, I can’t think of a better time to focus on healing.

Final Verdict: I Love My Products

Oh, beauty products. How we love to loathe you. Or is it loathe to love you? I’ve had my fair share of these moments, vacillating between appreciating and despising the beauty industry and what I perceive it stands for.

But after some “beauty”-ful soul searching on where I stand with it all, I’ve decided: I love having the choice to buy and experiment with so many different hair, skin, and makeup products. As I often do, allow me to share my whys…

My products do just “feel good”—when I keep it in balance. The scents, the colors, the silkiness when applied. The sheer level of creativity one can appreciate from entrepreneurs who risk it all to create products they believe in wholeheartedly. But I’m responsible for that balance. I’ve fallen for plenty of labels promising that my life will in fact be changed by a certain blend of coconut oil and shea butter. I’ve thrown out expired products, which feels regrettably like a jangle of coins hitting the trash can, never to be seen again. But I’ve also bonded with my girlfriends over just the right dry shampoo, or reminisced over a favorite vacation when I brought back a lotion or soap to help me remember.

Wandering the beauty aisles in Target is one of my favorite forms of self-care. In the pandemic, it gets me out and walking around, especially on these colder fall days. The colorful, brightly lit aisles lift me up while I browse and make new discoveries. The Soap & Glory labels tell me it can still be summer, even if only in my mind. And I can splurge or go cheap, whether it’s a $2 face mask or a $20 scrub.

Since March, I’ve painted my nails a different color every two weeks. It started out as a simple routine to keep me entertained in quarantine, but I came to enjoy the femininity of it. It keeps me from biting my nails (and keeps those hands clean) and forces me to sit still for a few minutes. I invested $60 in the Dazzle Dry system that is hands-down the best—no major chips for over a week. With about 15 manicures down by now, and only halfway through my system, the price per use continues to drop as I keep enjoying my DIY mani time (bonus!).

Lastly, products help me look older. Call it “blessed by good genes”, but naturally looking 10 years younger doesn’t always have its benefits. Especially since I work with mostly men who can, subconsciously or not, find other reasons not to take me seriously. A little eyeliner, mascara, and multi-tasking tinted moisturizer go a long way to help me look as confident as I feel, when I know I know what I’m talking about at work.

Sometimes I use two products, sometimes ten. A Tahitian vanilla body scrub or lavender clay mask on the weekend can make a long shower feel like a sweet escape. I will never get through my Birchbox samples, even though I quit a year ago. Hair smoothing oil is a game changer that gives me an extra day or two between washes. I love practicing this flexibility to decide what works for me and when.

We each have our own ways of feeling beautiful. With the sh*t show of a year it’s been, and no signs of that slowing down, my products give me space to stop and enjoy. I hope you are finding little ways to feel beautiful. Each of these moments is significant and matters—letting beauty infiltrate from the outside, reminding us to keep believing in our beauty on the inside.

A Lesson on Kindness from My Last Yoga Session of 2019

In December, I bought a four-week unlimited pass to the yoga studio by my house. I had driven past it for months, wishing I would just go in already. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried yoga before. I love yoga. But I had been stuck in a mental rut, thinking I wouldn’t “fit in” to the yoga community.

I’m not a relaxed person by nature, and it takes a lot of work to get me there sometimes. While I practice yoga to get some of my Type A energy out, I want it to be self-contained, in that I don’t want it leaking out and contaminating someone else’s calm, soothing space.

Anyway, after getting over myself and signing up, by December 23rd, I was on a roll and headed into my 3rd day of yoga in a row. I was loving how loose and relaxed my body felt. I was starting to feel more mentally loose, too, and it took less and less energy to be present with the poses and let all else fade away for 60 minutes.

And then something happened. At the end of our session, where we sat with relaxed bodies and (somewhat) still minds, the yoga instructor invited us to turn our attention inward. She spoke for about two minutes, giving us specific, beautiful reminders of what to keep in the new decade and what to let go of from the last. Her words were more than motivational for me. I don’t know if it was the intention with which she delivered, or the moment of time I was in (or both), but I felt like she was speaking just to me.

My spirit cracked open wide. Context: left brain here (*waves*). It all felt unnatural at first, but I held onto her invitation long enough and wanted to capture the moment. So here’s what I wrote down (yep, I am that person):

  • A new decade is starting. Bring in what you want, and leave out what you don’t.
  • Acknowledge and honor how much you’ve grown in the past 10 years.
  • Honor the light and the darkness. In the darkness, you celebrate what you’ve learned that brought you out of it. Light always overcomes darkness.
  • Celebrate that you showed up and did the work today. For yourself.
  • Honor any new progress and growth as it comes. It is the essence, the reason, why we struggle.
  • The world needs your kindness.

I wrote a few more notes in my journal on December 27th. “Reflecting more on how I want to start the new decade… No matter what I put on my list, my intent is to tackle it differently this time. There will be no big moment when I am done with my growth. I will appreciate any slow, incremental changes. I will be patient and forgiving with myself. I will be confident and calm in the process. I will adjust or abandon any parts of the process that don’t fit, to stay of healthy mind, body, and soul.”

Enter 2020. Where the world is an entirely different place than what these words were ever meant for.

And yet, I find I’m celebrating myself as I reflect. I hadn’t read the bullet points or my journal entry until now, but I can confidently say I am doing these things now. I am calmer. I am more centered. I am much more focused on bits of improvement over perfection. And ironically? The pandemic gave me that. It stripped away physical and mental burdens that weighed me down, inviting me to deepen my connection to my spirit.

Sad to say, my yoga practice has understandably dwindled this year. I tried the studio’s livestream classes. I’m hesitant to go back in person for two reasons: 1) I still go to work every day and would hate to over-expose myself in either space, and 2) total first world problems, but it just does not feel the same with the extra but necessary restrictions. I did find one instructor who streams free YouTube videos and DJ Yoga sessions, which are so much fun. But I miss the in-person community. I miss the cool, lavender-scented cloth for Shavasana. I miss the hands-on adjustments.

But. The world needs my kindness. Yoga or not, at no other point in my life have I felt the importance and gravity of those five words more.

10 Things I’ve Learned About Myself After 10 Years of Marriage

My 10 year wedding anniversary is today. I feel like we blinked, and 2020 showed up. There we are in 2010, in the traditional black and white garb, followed by a colorful honeymoon in Hawaii. In the next blink, it’s a blurry, action-packed ride, and 2020 zoomed on in. The year that many of us want to erase or rewrite almost as soon as it began.

I’ve always been a Learner type – it’s one of my five strengths in the CliftonStrengths themes. I love soaking up knowledge, whether just to “know it”, or to categorize and file it away for future use at some opportune time. When I got married, I knew I’d learn and grow as a wife with the same curiosity and vigor that I had throughout friendships, my career, and other aspects of life.

But what I did not anticipate was how much I would learn about myself. Just me, outside of all the other hats I wear. More so this year than the past 9 years combined, I’ve grown and stretched in ways I never anticipated. I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever knew I could. I’m certain I wouldn’t have had this much personal growth without the gift of marriage, where you link up your life with another: hopes and dreams and vulnerabilities, flaws and struggles and fears, all of it. 

To commentate this major milestone, I want to take a different spin and pause from the “here’s how we did it” angle. That is all good and worth celebrating, don’t get me wrong. But today, I’m reflecting with gratitude on all that I’ve gained from the mid-20s woman I was to the mid-30s woman I am now.

  1. There is no limit to the amount of grace I can show my spouse – especially when they don’t deserve it and especially when I don’t want to. It is really difficult to put this into practice. But, the more I try, the better I get. This goes for relationships beyond my marital one, too.
  2. The illusion that each spouse gives 50/50 to the marriage is irrelevant and inaccurate. Some days I feel like I give 65 and he gives 35, he gives 80 and I give 20, etc. There is no magic formula, and self-awareness goes a long way when assessing where I’m at at any given time. (side note: Brené Brown refers to this concept as the family gap plan – highly recommend listening to S1, E4 on her podcast, “Unlocking Us”).
  3. Humor is a nonnegotiable asset; specifically, it is a lifeline in the heat of an argument. I really hate it when my husband makes me laugh when I’m just about to land point #378 of how I’m right. But then again I love it, because I get to laugh with him, and the argument ends sooner. I wish I had countless examples of how often I embraced this, but it’s a regrettable few.
  4. My husband is supportive of my personal ambitions, while at the same time keeping me in check when I stray across the line of overdoing it (marriage has definitely exposed the depths of my intensity). But ultimately, I am the one who gives me final permission to fulfill my goals and passions. They may have evolved or shifted from when we got married to now, but they are still mine to own once I’m start pursuing.
  5. Self-care is an absolute necessity, and a practice that I did not intentionally start until last year. I was fooling myself when I thought I was tough or brave or sacrificial if I didn’t workout or take a long bubble bath once in a while. It did not make me “super-wife” like I hoped it would. My dissatisfaction with myself slowly seeped into other areas of my life, until I made the conscious decision to take better care of myself.
  6. I do not like awkward silence; I’ll be the first to fill the dead air with mindless banter to avoid any real or perceived discomfort. However, I learned the importance of autonomy and letting things just “be” sometimes. Magical things can happen in silence, such as moods shifting, clarity to tough decisions, missing each other, and so much more.
  7. This may sound trite, but I discovered I can host parties by myself. As a kid, I was an only child, and all of my relatives lived out of state, so we didn’t have regular get-togethers. My husband has a knack for whipping the house into shape, gathering people around the kitchen island, and cooking a delicious meal. His skills rubbed off on me, and being able to share quality time with friends and family at our house is one of my all-time favorite activities.
  8. The Fruits of the Spirit are my anchor when I am lost and feel like I’m failing, in life or in marriage: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Who doesn’t want one or more of those?! Sometimes I’ll meditate on just one word for a few minutes to help bring clarity to my angst.
  9. I am a recovering codependent. It basically means that you look to others to fulfill your innermost needs instead of looking within. I am now a self-proclaimed work in progress and have woken up to the reality that the Land of Perfection is a fictional place.
  10. Actively choosing to be the things I want to be – kind, joyful, patient, etc. – is incredibly challenging. But, it is way more effective than just wishing or praying for them. I naively thought these qualities would “just happen” and be bestowed on me by willpower or “should”-ing myself. But once I gravitated toward books, sermons, or podcasts with actionable steps that felt doable, I slowly began to grow and mature in grace.

Marriage has taught me so much, and I know it will continue to as I share life with my best friend. I’m closing with one of my favorite quotes that I want to start off with for the next 10 years. Cheers!