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Flying out of my comfort zone

When I was 11, I sat up at the top of a zipline for forty-five minutes, refusing to slide down. I shook, I cried, and eventually I had to be pushed off the platform. It was very scary, and I never did it again.

I’ve always been afraid of heights, and sometimes I’m also afraid of trying new things (that I worry I won’t be good at!).

Recently, I went to a flying trapeze lesson with my good friend Jackson to celebrate his birthday. I chose this particular activity for Jackson’s birthday because I knew he would love it (he is a dancer and he loves adventure) and I hoped that I would love it too—11-year-old me would be proud!

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Jackson went first and wowed the trainers and other participants. “You’re sure it’s his first time?” they asked. I laughed.

It was my turn—I began climbing the ladder and started to feel more and more nervous. “Maybe I should just watch Jackson instead,” I fantasized. Once I reached the platform, I told the trainer how I was feeling. Tears welled up in my eyes. She instructed me to take a few deep breaths.

I closed my eyes and imagined how I would feel once I landed in that net—accomplished and confident. I slipped off the platform (not very gracefully) and flew through the air. I was surprised that it was actually fun!

By the end of the lesson, Jackson and I were having such a great time that we decided to continue learning trapeze art. On our second lesson, I performed a “catch”—I was swinging while hanging from my knees, one of the trainers grabbed my arms, and I let go of the bar! It was exhilarating.

So what? Jackson’s birthday celebration ended up being a great opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone and experience something new. And I really enjoyed it…I’m already looking forward to the next time we go!

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Women’s March on Washington

I was lucky to participate in the Women’s March on Washington with one of my closest friends and my mom. It was such a special, moving experience–I will cherish the memory forever. The friend whom I marched with, Carolyn Twersky, wrote an article for Seventeen about the #womensmarch which featured me and a few other awesome women. Check it out here: 4 College Women Explain Why They Joined the Women’s March On Washington!

My mom and I at the march

My mom and I at the march. So proud of her for traveling across the country to do this with me!

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Carrie and I were all smiles on Saturday as we marched on the National Mall

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Practicing Mindfulness in the New Year

Last week, my mom and I talked with Holly Rogers–author of The Mindful Twenty-Something: Life Skills to Handle Stress…and Everything Else. I had a great time getting the chance to speak with Holly about how mindfulness can benefit “twenty-somethings” like me. Her book is great–I even sent it to my friend Erin as a Christmas present. Find the podcast here!

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A few great podcasts you should listen to this week!

Hi, everyone. Happy Sunday! Recently, my mom interviewed a few fascinating authors on her radio show: Ann Marie Dobosz, author of The Perfectionism Workbook for Teens, and Andrea Wachter, author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens: A Workbook to Transform Your Relationship with Food Using CBT, Mindfulness and Intuitive Eating. You can listen to the interviews by clicking here!

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Change the Way You See Everything

This week, I read the book Change the Way You See Everything through Asset-Based Thinking by Kathryn D. Cramer, Ph.D. and Hank Wasiak. Interestingly, I was assigned to read it for a course in my Education, Inquiry & Justice minor. At first, I was a little confused why a self-help book had been assigned in school, and how it would be relevant to the class. So far I haven’t heard of our book, Communication Skills for Teens, being used in a classroom, but that would be pretty cool!

I came to understand why it was applicable to what we’re working on in my class, but here I’d like to focus on its impact on me personally. I especially want to talk about how it relates to communication skills we highlight in our book. Both books give readers tools for success in the way that they approach themselves, others, and situations.

So, this book presents the approach called asset-based thinking. Asset-based thinking encourages us to focus on goals, resources, and things we see to be valuable. However, the author is not saying that everything is good and there are no negatives. Asset-based thinking shows how the glass can be simultaneously “half-empty” and “half-full.” It helps us be less critical and more curious about how to overcome challenges.

Asset-based thinkers don’t say, “Why didn’t I do this?” Instead, they say, “What can I do better next time?” It’s not about pretending that you didn’t mess up or that something wasn’t wrong, but it’s about being proactive and looking for positive motives in negative action.

The book is split up into three sections associated with yourself, others, and situations. The author explains how engaging in asset-based thinking in these three areas can help you counteract obstacles.

  1. Change the way you see yourself

The key presented here is “Magnify what’s best, focus on what’s next.”

One exercise that had to do with changing the way you see yourself through asset-based thinking that I appreciated was the Morning Mental Workout.

Begin each day with a mental workout. Coach your first thoughts to be strong, clear, encouraging. This morning routine will keep you from wanting to roll over and go back to sleep. It is a vivid dress rehearsal that shapes what you aim for and how you respond to what comes your way. Review your most important objectives by completing the following sentence: “I am perfect person to accomplish ___________ (describe your objective) because I am/have ___________ (describe your assets).”

The book talks a lot about the importance of vision and that really resonated with me. If I start out my day with a confident vision, then I am more likely to believe that I can do it and am probably more likely to actually accomplish it, too!

  1. Change the way you see other people

The key in changing the way you see others is to utilize “positive filters.”

My favorite part in this section explained how to use asset-based thinking to give constructive feedback.

  1. State the behavior that bothers you clearly and concisely.

  2. State the impact of that behavior on you and the relationship.

  3. Present the positive vision you have to resolving the conflict or disruptive interactions. (This will set the tone of your listener’s action)

Here, the idea of vision comes back into play! It’s so important to talk about how to move forward when discussing a problem. Being proactive will always result in a better outcome. I can see using this model for constructive feedback with my siblings, parents, friends, significant others, and co-workers.

These steps for constructive feedback complement the skills we discuss in our book. In particular, it would be great to check out Chapter 1 on listening skills to help you in an interaction like this one. Knowing how to listen is just as important as knowing what to say!

  1. Change the way you see situations.

The key to changing the way that you see situations is to “widen your lens.”

Asset-based thinkers see problems as pauses, and think (…) not (.) This means that you don’t get stuck. Instead, you look forward when you face a challenge. You ask yourself and those around you “How can this be the best problem we’ve ever had?” I think that is such a cool question.

I would encourage you to check out the book if any of this sounded like it would be helpful for you. I’m glad I had to buy it for school because now I have it as a resource for my personal life, too.

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Guest Appearance on Relationships 2.0

This week I appeared on my mom’s radio show, Relationships 2.0. We discussed our book Communication Skills for Teens: How to Listen, Express and Connect for Success. As teens head back to school, we thought it would be a good time to revisit and reinforce healthy communication skills. Above all, we had a lot of fun chatting and telling stories. Check it out here!

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Mindfulness and Technology

I’m sharing an article below titled “The Joy of Missing Out.” It’s written by Dr. Christopher Willard, author of Growing Up Mindful. He was recently a guest on my mother’s radio show. You can find that podcast here

The Joy of Missing Out

I was flying to a mindfulness conference recently when I looked down to my tray table. My Macbook formed the base of a neat pyramid of trendy technologies, with my iPad on top of the laptop, and my iPhone resting on the iPad. It took a moment before I realized the absurdity: I’m off to talk about the importance of staying in the moment and have no less than three gleaming Apple products sitting in front of me just to get through one cross-country flight? Sure, it was funny, but my next impulse was to take a picture and share the moment online.

There’s nothing inherently bad or good about technology. Technology just is. How we relate to it and what we do with it are what matters. But our phones are not designed to be neutral, they are created to keep us hooked with texting, shopping, and sharing data with marketers, corporations, and even government agencies…oh, and our friends and family, too.

I’ve heard it said that a thinking mind can be our most powerful servant or our most terrible master. The same could well be said of our technology, which more often disconnects us from others and ourselves that connects us. And, our phones and devices are addictive, in a very literal sense. Our beeps and alerts arrive on what behaviorists call a “variable rate reinforcement schedule.” The term essentially means that our phone’s random buzzing throughout the day acts as a little reward for the brain, which is rewired to crave more. Video games, slot machines, and even our phones are often designed by psychologists to maximize their addictive qualities. This explains why we see kids (or catch ourselves) mindlessly refreshing email and social media feeds.

Our devices hold out the false promise that there is something more important, more urgent, more interesting than our present-moment experience. Unfortunately, while that statement makes rational sense, it is not going to hold much water with a nine-year-old clutching an iPad, or a tween on snapchat.

We can tell kids that they need healthy boundaries around screen time, or we can show them with our own actions, which is far harder but far more effective. I’m as guilty as anyone else; I love my gadgets and my social media. Ask yourself, how long do you spend in the morning checking in with yourself and your loved ones in person before you tap the glowing screen of your phone? Where is your phone right now? How do you feel when you don’t know where it is? Do you usually keep it in your pocket, your bag, your desk, another room?

When we teach children to disconnect from their experience with digital distractions, by modeling that behavior ourselves, it is no wonder they never learn basic emotional fluency, attachment, and social cues. They don’t learn that emotions and urges arise and pass, and that human beings actually can tolerate discomfort.

Sherry Turkle, who writes about technology says “If we don’t teach our kids to be alone, we will teach them to be lonely.” Explicitly and implicitly, the way we live and the media we consume are teaching all of us to be lonely, to be too busy to attend to our needs, and to deal with emotions through looking outside of ourselves, rather than looking inside at the first twinge of discomfort.

Running counter to all of the checking out, mindfulness teaches us how to be with ourselves, a capacity for being alone. Mindful curiosity reveals that the present moment is both important and interesting. Checking in with the pleasant, the unpleasant, and the neutral aspects of our experience and the world around us is profoundly worthwhile. With mindfulness, we look inward, get in touch with the internal experience, tolerate it, and maybe even learn from it. In this way, we become happier and healthier. Mindfulness teaches us not only how to be alone, but how to be in authentic connection with others as well.

When we are intentional about taking time off from technology, we may face resistance at first. One family I work with turns off the wireless router for much of the day, and if the kids want the Internet, they plug in the old-fashioned way, with a cable. Since there is only one room where the cable can be connected, this rule at least keeps family members in the same room, and it makes connecting to the Internet an intentional act, not something done merely due to boredom.

Other families and institutions have set hours when the Internet is on or off, or they have virtual quiet rooms where the router blocks access to some sites. Others set specific days or hours to be “technology sabbaths” or “phone-free Fridays,” when we can truly be present for ourselves and those around us. Time away from technology has been shown to have significant benefits to social skills,⁠ as well as reducing stress. Kids often worry about FOMO, the fear of missing out, but increasingly talk about the relief of unplugging and JOMO—the joy of missing out.

How To Set Mindful Technology Limits

    • Establish tech-free times, such as the hour before bed or the first hour after waking up.
    • Designate tech-free places, such as the dinner table, the car, the family room, or staff meetings.
    • Try leaving your phone in the car or in your bag, rather than your pocket, while you run errands.
    • Establish wireless hours and wired hours within the home, and check with your provider about how to shut down non-emergency use of devices during certain hours.
    • Lobby for virtual quiet rooms, where chat functions or social media are blocked, within schools, libraries, and other public venues.
    • Only check messages when you can actually respond to them.
    • Deliberately interact with people: ask someone for directions, chat with the shop clerk, and say hello to someone next to you rather than immediately looking into your phone.

Two Tips for Mindful Tech:

1) When you pick up your gadgets, do it mindfully. Each time you look at your phone it’s an opportunity for a short mindfulness practice to check in first. The beeps and buzzes of our devices can also be reminders to take a breath or check in with ourselves. Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist and writer, even suggests sometimes not shutting off the cell phone when you meditate. Instead, just sit in meditation and notice the body’s and the mind’s reactions to each beep and buzz of the phone, the stories and urges and emotions as they arise. The objects of attention become our emotional response to the silence (anticipation, relief), our emotional response to the beeps, chirps, songs, and buzzes as they arise (irritation, curiosity, anxiety), and whatever urges arise due to the sounds.

2) Build mindful reminders into your devices. Make the background wallpaper some kind of reminder to breathe or check in. How many times a day do we type a password into our devices? This too can be a reminder if we make our password breathe or something similar. My friend Mark Bertin suggests putting calm images like beach scenes on your most annoying contacts or difficult people. There are also plenty of free websites, apps, and podcasts offer guided meditations and discussions of meditation as well. Other software and hardware teach basic mind/body principles through biofeedback and neurofeedback. Plug-ins for browsers can block certain websites and distractions for chosen lengths of time. Shut off automatic passive alerts and push notifications, and instead make the active choice to check in with messages and updates.

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What’s Your Kilimanjaro?

Here’s a blog post from fitness professional and transformation coach Molli Surowiec entitled “Saying Yes to New Experiences” about my mom’s adventure climbing Mount Kilimanjaro! Check it out below.

“When it comes to new experiences, do you have a habit of saying yes? Or a habit of saying no? Do your daily choices support a life of openness, adventure, and growth?

As we kick-off a new month, I’m sharing a story that can inspire all of us to get out of our comfort zones, on and off the bike.

To an awesome, kickass month.

xo,

Molli”

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Get Outside

by Ari Goldstein

Two years ago, I trekked alone into the desert of Southeastern California and set up camp miles away from civilization. I stayed there for a week, isolated from technology and the comforts of modern living. I didn’t see another human for three days and nights.

I had just concluded my term as high school Student Body President and was graduating with honors, seemingly ready to take college and the real world by storm. But I felt empty inside, so exhausted by my full-speed push through high school that I feared I would enter Georgetown University in the fall as a hollow version of myself.

So I did something radical, signing up for my high school’s Vision Quest program to allow myself to reflect on where I had been, where I was going, and what was important to me. It was the most difficult week of my life, but spending time alone in the desert allowed me to reconnect my outer self with the inner energy that I had lost in the chaos of my day-to-day life. 

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Although the concept of a Vision Quest is rooted in Native American tradition, the role of nature as a space for self-exploration can be found in almost every spiritual and historical tradition. Christian monastics have retreated to the wilderness for hundreds of years, defining removal from urban civilization as a necessary condition for sanctity. Hinduism sees the wilderness as a separate sphere that balances the ordered world, one that should be embraced rather than shunned in the quest for wholeness. And the wilderness is central to my own Jewish tradition, too, in which the ancient Israelites wandered in the Sinai Desert for forty years before entering the Land of Canaan. (Almost like a communal forty-year Vision Quest. Sort of.)

But these traditions each speak to something fundamentally human about spending time in the natural world, and recent science is backing that something up. Last year, researchers at Stanford University monitored the brain activity of people walking through a park in comparison with people walking through an urban environment, and unsurprisingly found that the people walking through the park had noticeably lower blood flow to the parts of the brain associated with stress than their urban counterparts.

“If I had to give advice,” commented Gregory Bratman, an author of the study, “make time for yourself to interact with parks. Look at natural landscapes. It may help with stress.” What Bratman found was the same thing that Christian mystics found in the mountains of France a millennium ago and that I found in the desert of California two years ago: that spending time in nature is, simply, good for you.

So if it’s objectively good for us and it’s rooted in our traditions, why aren’t we doing more of it?

Because we’re busy. Perhaps that’s a sad statement about the priorities of our society, but if so then I’m guilty of the same sad prioritization; two years after my Vision Quest, I again find myself filling my schedule with classes and club meetings, living a life that is both phenomenally productive and phenomenally removed from the natural world. There is almost nowhere more distant from the desert of California than the streets of Georgetown.

But I’m going to try to do better. While I can’t simply escape to the desert again, I can take lots of small steps to reconnect with the outdoors. I can go on walks. I can meditate. I can stargaze. And I know that, with each step, I will more deeply root myself in the values and traditions that are so important to who I am. In the century-old words of the ever-wise John Muir, “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.”

I’m making a commitment to get outside. Will you join me?

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The Real Side

This week, I appeared on The Real Side with Joe Messina representing the “millennial perspective” on a number of topics, including student activism, free speech, and safe spaces. I’m excited to announce that I will be coming on Joe’s show weekly to talk about relevant issues and current events. You can listen live on his website—I’ll be on the show Monday nights from 9:15-10:00 PM Eastern time.

Check out a podcast of my first show HERE!
 
About Joe’s show:
 
Have you had your healthy dose of reality lately?
 
There are always at least two sides to every story. Have you ever wondered how someone, who saw the same thing you did, walked away telling a vastly different story? Which version was correct? Which one was the REAL story? Actually, both are! It’s just a matter of perspective.
 
Joe takes the issues, especially the controversial issues (politics, prejudice, religion, illegal immigration), and brings in people from different sides to share their viewpoint. This is definitely not a fluff piece. And while no one is attacked, the questions are hard-hitting. But the conversation is always respectful and you’re sure to learn something new, even if you don’t agree!
 
If you’ve always wondered how the “other side” thinks and how they’ve arrived at their “stand”, then this is the show for you! It’s not the right side, it’s not the wrong side, but the REAL side of the issues!
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