West Coast Swing Dance Event Packing List

Do you get overwhelmed with packing before a West Coast Swing Competition? I know I do. Because, let’s face it, we have a lot of things to remember and if we forget this outfit or that outfit or our dance shoes or snacks for the plane, it could leave us scrambling to find a local replacement or just plain stressed out. I created the following list to help my boyfriend and I manage everything that we need to bring to competitions and I thought someone else might find it useful. Just copy and paste to a word document and go through the list as you pack to ease those pre-event jitters!


  • wallet with ID, paper money and plastic money
  • t-shirts
  • tank tops
  • belts
  • shorts
  • underwear
  • socks
  • dance shoes
  • sandals for walking to ballroom
  • pajamas
  • baseball hat
  • competition outfit
    • Prelims Jnj
    • Finals Jnj (Crosses fingers that planning for this doesn’t jinx us)
    • Strictly (talk with partner)
    • Any other competitions that you signed up for?
    • Note: Check schedule so you know what time you’ll be competing and if you’ll have time to change
  • back up all black competition outfit
  • comfortable social dancing clothes
    • Joggers
  • check weather – ______________________

Warm/hot weather

  • sunglasses
  • bathing suits
  • sunscreen
  • bug spray
  • sun hats
  • flip flops

Cold/snowy weather

  • big coats
  • gloves
  • wool hats
  • warm pants
  • scarves
  • snow shoes

Rainy Weather

  • umbrella
  • rain jacket
  • rain boots

Plane/Travel comfort

  • Light Jacket for plane
  • sleep mask
  • neck pillow
  • travel blanket
  • ear plugs
  • book to read


  • vaccine card
  • allegra/benadryl
  • tums
  • gas-x
  • ibuprofen
  • roller for muscles
  • massage gun
  • lacrosse ball
  • fan
  • face masks
  • toothpaste
  • toothbrush
  • shampoo
  • conditioner
  • lotion
  • hair brush
  • acne cream
  • electric shaver
  • Hair styling paste/gel
  • Valor


  • clear space on phone for videos
  • phone charger
  • phone
  • power bank
  • speaker
  • tripod
  • Speaker charger


  • steamer
  • broccoli (or something green) (byob – Bring Your Own Broccoli)
  • two empty water bottles
  • instant coffee
  • plastic silverware
  • paper bowls
  • paper plates
  • cereal
  • snacks for plane
  • mustard
  • salt/pepper
  • boiled eggs
  • instant oatmeal/grits
  • Jello
  • Jello Pan
  • Measuring Cup for making Jello
  • avocados

Feminine Products (Open to everyone who needs/wants to bring them)

  • bras
  • nail polish
  • nail polish remover
  • makeup
    • concealer
    • eye liner
    • lip stick
    • mascara
    • eyeshadow
  • razor
  • shaving cream
  • tweezers
  • hair ties
  • birth control
  • make up remover

Obviously, you can change or delete anything from this that you don’t need, this is just a guideline to get you started. Happy packing and see you at the next event! If you use this list and you think there is something missing, please let me know!

As always, thank you for reading!



In The Midst of Time

Recently, I decided, after much deliberation, to abandon a story that I’d been working on for over a decade. I realized that while my character was great, I just couldn’t get the plot figured out. So I’ve officially set it aside and begun working on a different story. But as I thought back to the story, there was one scene that I just couldn’t let go of. So I’ve retrofitted it into a short story and shared it below. Although, I spent the last decade working on this story the short story below is all that came out of it, I don’t regret it at all because the process taught me a lot about creating characters, plots and structuring stories. Let me know if you like it or if you don’t like it.

Dallas’ stomach grumbled. He pressed down on his abdomen to quiet his hunger. He shivered as a bitter wind whipped through the buildings of New York City. Surveying the sidewalks, he decided that the morning crowds had already found their desks for the workday, he might as well try and use what little money he’d gathered and the wallet he’d stolen yesterday morning to get some lunch.

He stood and gathered his belongings, and then dug in his pockets for the wallet and more change.The coins rattled in his pocket. Quarters and nickels bumped into each other as he fumbled for them. It was loud. Like it was right next to his ears.

“I’m sorry, honey. I don’t think I’ll have enough.”
A lucent female voice echoed in his ears.

Dallas jumped, looking to his right for the source of the voice. He knew who it belonged to. Her voice had been so beautiful. How many times had he wished that he could hear her sing one more time? Looking to his left, he saw her, standing taller than him, as if he was still a boy. His mother, eyebrows frowning in concentration, was digging through her large leather green purse for change. Her riffling causing a bunch of coins to clank against each other. Two one dollar bills waved in the wind between her pointer finger and middle finger.  She gripped them tightly.

“Mom?” Dallas asked. She glanced quickly at him through the corner of her eyes while small snowflakes dotted her mass of curly red hair. “I know babe, I’m looking. I almost have enough.” She reassured.

“Mom. What are you doing here?” He asked. His voice sounded smaller than he remembered. She stopped and looked at him. “You want McDonald’s right?” She asked. Dallas nodded, at a loss for what else to say. How many times had he begged to hear her voice one more time? How many times had he wished that he’d done something to save her?

She dug for a few more seconds. “Got it!” She exclaimed, triumphantly displaying a quarter to her son. “Let’s go get you some lunch.” She said smiling, reaching for his hand. His heart jumped at the possibility of feeling her warm hand around his again, but as Dallas reached for it, her skinny hand with purple painted nails gently faded into the wind along with his cold breathe.

Dallas stared at the spot where his mother had been standing. Snow had started to gather on the sidewalk, but there were no footprints. He looked up at the McDonald’s across the street. The big golden arches stretched past it’s childlike facade. Maybe his mother had already walked into the McDonald’s and he’d gotten distracted by the crowd. He rationalized.

He bolted across the street; ignoring the Don’t Walk sign. A taxi honked at him. Dallas saw the driver throw his hands in the air in righteous indignation but Dallas just shrugged and continued towards the McDonald’s and the hope of hearing his mother again.

He entered the two story fast food chain with red and yellow plastic trim splattered all over it’s interior. The line was so long, he was forced to stand halfway inside and halfway outside. He curled his body as much as he could inside of the building, attempting to steal some of it’s warmth.

A boy with a red and yellow hat that was too big for his forehand, was standing inside of the entrance. He glared at Dallas. His eyes roaming down his shoddy black jacket and to his damaged shoes with frayed edges. “Sir. You have to make a purchase to use the bathroom.” He said, pointing his finger outside. The four bundled people also huddled in the line entrance, turned to look back at Dallas. They rotated back towards the front without saying anything. 

“Did I ask to use the bathroom?” Dallas asked. The man snapped his head and hand back. “I tell everyone this sir.” He said. Dallas tilted his head. “Oh really? Excuse me, ma’am. Did the pre-teen with the clown hat tell you that you had to pay for something to use the bathroom prior to you asking if you could use the bathroom, or was that just me?” Dallas asked, staring straight at the bundled overweight woman in front of him. The woman shook her head. So he turned back to the employee. “Interesting. You say you told everyone of your policy. And yet the person directly in front of me isn’t as informed as me. I wonder why that is?” He said, while mimicking the Thinker statue and staring up at the ceiling. A man three people in front of him fought to hide a laugh. Dallas grinned, but managed to maintain his sarcastic composure towards the employee. “Sir, I, if you can’t….” The child continued to stammer.

Dallas placed his hands over his eyes, in an attempt to prevent himself from exploding further. His body began to shake.

And then, Dallas heard a distant and soothing voice. “Calm down, Dallas. Don’t let him upset you.” He took a deep breath. ‘Ok Mom. I’m sorry. I just don’t know why I’m always singled out.” He said out loud. He took another deep breathe and removed his hands from his eyes. Opening them slowly.

The bundled strangers in front of him had stepped two spaces forward. Only the prepubescent child was still staring at him, his mouth slightly open. Dallas locked eyes with the employee. “I intend on buying my lunch.” Dallas said. The boy nodded, pursed his lips and took a step back from the entrance to allow Dallas to pass. Dallas stepped pass the kid, shaking off the rest of the snow from his jacket.

The door chimed behind them, letting in a gust of cold wind from the freezing city streets. Dallas turned and saw a middle aged man dressed in a tailored suit and carrying a briefcase entering the fast food chain. Dallas grinned at the man. “Just so you know, you can’t use the bathroom without making a purchase.”

Thank you for reading,



I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about exercise and fitness and all of the magical wonderful things that it can do for you but CrossFit has done so much for me in such a short time period that I have to give it the credit it deserves.

For the 30 years that I have been alive, I never worked out for longer than 2 consecutive weeks. I’d tried a couple of times to implement my own workout routine and follow YouTube videos but it was just so boring to me and the amount of motivation I needed to do 10 push-ups was just more than my brain could manufacture. So after a few days, I’d procrastinate a workout session and then eventually realizing that I hadn’t worked out for two months.

I know there are plenty of people on this planet that are perfectly capable of creating their own exercise regiment, committing to it, and pushing themselves week after week to finally see a benefit, but I am not one of those people. It wasn’t until I was introduced to CrossFit, that my views on exercising finally started to change.

A couple of months ago, I moved in with my boyfriend and he convinced me to try CrossFit out. He told me that CrossFit would make me stronger, happier, and would even improve my dancing. And he said that if I didn’t like it, I could quit, but that I should at least give it a try.

I rolled my eyes at most of these promises.
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him. I was just skeptical. I’d heard these magical promises of exercising countless times, and when I’d tried it myself, I’d felt nothing. Perhaps, I was simply broken and that’s why I couldn’t get the benefits of exercising that so many others seemed to enjoy. But I love him and trust him, and I’m a big believer in trying something again even if I hated it the first time because tastes and preferences can change as we mature.

So, I agreed to join him in the 5:30pm class every Monday, Tuesday and Friday (with a bonus yoga class at 6:30pm on Thursday).

For the first month, I drove home, entertained myself for about 45 minutes and then we’d go to class together. Surprisingly, I really liked going to CrossFit. Specifically, our gym is CrossFit Ammo in Allen, TX.

I think that my fascination with CrossFit, opposed to solo working out or going to a regular gym, has to with a couple of factors including the structure, the coaches and social pressure.

CrossFit is organized into an hour of structured workout. There is usually a warm-up, a strength workout of the day and a workout of the day (but not always). And these workouts are different every single day. Sure, some of the movements are similar and we jump on a couple of the same machines, but the order, number and time is changed in really creative ways. So it feels like every day is unique. It feels like I’m being swept along on this little workout adventure, without having to think much about what I’m doing and if I’m doing enough or working out long enough to see a physical effect on my body. I just show up and do what the coaches tell me to do. It’s so incredibly easy and structured that it takes nearly no motivation to get me into the door and workout. And as I age and continue to manage my ADHD, I realize that if something is structured but continues to feel like it’s new, then I will love doing it and KEEP doing it. (I’m talking about you too, West Coast Swing.) And it’s the same way with CrossFit workouts. So if you find yourself struggling with non-structured workouts, I definitely think you should give CrossFit a try.

And speaking of doing what the coaches tell me to do, a major reason that going to CrossFit Ammo is so much fun is due to the coaches. They spend the entire workout walking around the group, chatting, encouraging you and giving little constructive criticisms to make sure that you do each exercise correctly. While I know a lot of these exercises and movements are complex and that I’m not doing them 100% correctly yet, their help and encouragement gives me motivation to do each exercise as correctly as possible, which means that, ultimately, I get the most out of each workout session. And im not spending half of the work out in solitary wondering if I’m doing it right.

Overall, their energy and support is ultimately a major driving force behind why the classes are such a success for the group.

And the last thing that I really appreciate about CrossFit Ammo is the group. Each one hour workout session is done together, so you get an added motivator of social pressure. Normally, social pressure is considered a negative thing, but in this scenario, I think that it is positive. If I’m doing the workout by myself, I might get lazy and do less than what was asked, or less than what is challenging me, but with the group, if I do way less than what I’m capable of, then I get ahead of everyone else. And a social fear enters my thoughts that they are judging me for being lazy. So, I end up doing as many as I can so that I don’t get ahead.

But instead of doing the same amount and doing it slowly, I often find myself speeding up so that I can keep up with the group. Without the group, I’d likely do less and take longer doing it, but with the group, I get a great workout in. Clearly, this is millions of years of evolution at work here. But whatever, if it’s the motivation I need to get a good solid workout in, then I’ll take it.

But while I was falling in love with CrossFit, the first few weeks were difficult. Getting home from work. Lying around for a minute. And then attempting to arouse the motivation to go workout, and then returning home with a bunch of energy right before I needed to calm down and get ready for bed, just wasn’t ideal.

However, with my work schedule, the only other option was to go to the 6am class. Which, if you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that the thought that I could get up at 5:30am in the morning to go workout for an hour before work, is beyond laughable. A major thing that I’ve dealt with my entire life was my inability to get up in the morning. I have been late countless times to class, school, work and pretty much everything that was first in the morning. I knew this about myself. I knew that I’d never been able to get up early before work before. But for some reason, I had the feeling that I could do it with CrossFit. And I knew that getting the workout done in the morning would be the best thing for me.

Now, after almost a month of getting up at 5:30 in the morning, I’ve noticed even more benefits from CrossFit. I’ve turned into more of a morning person, and for the first part of the day, I’m sharper and more focused. And for someone with ADHD, this is a very important benefit. And even though the physical benefits are slower to show themselves, I have noticed a slight increase in my ability to dance. I feel as though my muscles have a slightly better ability to articulate how I want to move my body. At the very least, I feel more confident when moving myself around during a dance.

And yes, I feel a little sleepy in the latter part of the day and I get really sore from the workouts, but it’s a sleepiness and soreness that leaves me feeling accomplished and confident so it’s worth it.

But this is only the first couple of months, so all of these benefits will continue to grow and improve my life.

Thank you to my boyfriend for his continued encouragement and to my coaches for taking the time to teach me everything that there is to learn about CrossFit.

As always, thank you for reading.


Turning 30

I turned 30 years old last week.

I know people older than me will groan and continue to remind me that I’m still young, but the thing is, I feel different than I did in my 20s.

A part of me wants to talk about everything I learned in my 20s, from eating less sugar, drinking less alcohol and learning how to turn my weaknesses into strengths. Another part wants to talk about how my attitude shifted, from one of feeling lost and confused about my purpose to finding things and people I cared about and feeling a strong sense of determination to figure them out and to do my best. But I just don’t think that either one of those captures the experiences of an entire decade.

I think back on some of the mistakes I’ve made in my 20s and I just shake my head at myself. But I’m also really proud at the same time. While I did some dumb stuff, I think I learned a lot and this is why I’m cautiously optimistic about my 30s.

I find myself trusting my instinct. I find myself feeling more determined and trusting of my abilities so that I don’t second guess myself as often or freeze when I’m afraid.

I have 3,652 days in my 30s and I want to spend them with as much intention as I can muster. I want to make them count. I want to be as happy as I can be. I want to focus on my health, physical and mental, and continue to grow the relationship that I found with one of the most amazing men I have ever met. I feel like one of the luckiest people on the planet to lead the life I have now and to be able to continue living it.

I know I’ll make mistakes in my 30s, but here’s to hoping that they are entirely new mistakes and that they will lead to completely new lessons.

Competing and Setting Goals

As west coast swing competitions begin to come back, I want to share my outlook on goal setting as it is related to dancing.

The most effective goals meet 5 criteria. They are within your control, specific, measurable, achievable and time bound.

We tend to set goals around the outcomes of competitions because they are the easiest to measure and they are time-bound. You know if you hit your goal as soon as the results are announced. Made it to finals? Boom. Goal satisfied. Placed at least third? Boom. Goal satisfied. Qualified to dance as intermediate or advanced? Boom. Goal satisfied. And you rely on this outcome to prove that your skills are improving. The problem with this outlook is that, sure, you made finals at this competition but if you don’t make finals at the next competition, the conclusion is that you now getting WORSE!! And while that’s possible, it’s extremely unlikely. What is more likely is that one or several of the many factors outside of your control ultimately affected BOTH outcomes. If something is outside of your control it isn’t a reliable source of validation of your skill level.

Here are some examples that explain why the results at competitions are out of your control.

Song choice – Song choice affects your dance and you don’t get to pick the songs. What if all of the songs they play remind you of a traumatic experience in your life? What if they remind you of an ex? What if the beat just annoys you? What if you’ve heard the song a million times already and now it irritates you? Sure you can mitigate some of the effects a bad song may have on you with practice but you’re still probably never going to perform at your best during a song that you hate.

Partner – Since it’s jack and jill, your partners are completely random and their skill level, attitude and everything else in between is going to affect your dance. They could hate the song choice and dance grumpy. Maybe they are overall a good dancer but they do that one thing that just drives you crazy! Or maybe you two just don’t communicate well? What if you think your partner is hot and you spend the whole song being distracted!? Their skill level could be way above yours or way below causing a distinct disconnect in the dance. They could be from a completely different location and do even the basics slightly different than what you’re used to. They could not even speak the same language as the song you two are dancing too, and while you’re hitting all the lyrical things in the song with gusto and enthusiasm, they are just staring at you looking confused.

Judges – The most obvious determining factor as to whether you will succeed in a competition is, the judges. In the lower levels they are often overwhelmed with a large number of people that they are expected to judge fairly. They may be simply looking for people who stand out to pass on or they are looking for people who look like they are noticeably struggling. And they catch you in those two seconds that you almost tripped and fell on your face. They might not even get to see you and if they do it’s so fast that they forget whether they liked your dancing or not. Maybe you do stand out and then you get looked at too much, long enough for them to be convinced that you shouldn’t move on. Maybe the judge is looking for something specific that you haven’t had time to work on yet so you don’t qualify. Maybe the judges don’t like what you’re wearing. Obviously, getting lost in the crowd is more of a lower level problem, but no matter what level they are judging they will always have a bias. And the higher up you go, the more this bias gets revealed because the differences between the dancers is actually so small technically that who places and who doesn’t gets decided based on musicality decisions. The point is that the judges are human too and they are doing their best to be fair but you can’t control when they see you, when they don’t and who they see you nor can you mind read to know exactly what they are looking for.

And all of these factors outside of your control were important before the pandemic. Now that we have all gone a year and a half without competing the factors have only increased. In the past year and half, your main competitor could have moved next door to a champion and spent the last 8 months in solitary practicing with a champion. But since there haven’t been any competitions they haven’t moved up like they should have!! Meanwhile, you were prepccupied with taking care of a newborn or your dad who just got sick and you haven’t had as much time to self practice. There are a ton of other factors that I could list but I’m hoping you see the point by now. Setting a goal that depends on the outcome of a competition is out of your control and is only setting yourself up for disappointment and a shoddy night of social dancing.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t want to make finals or semi-finals but they shouldn’t be your goals.

And you should have goals if you want to improve over time. They are the most organized and effective way to get better. All we have to do is structure our goals so that they meet the four criteria I listed earlier.

Be within our control

Be specific

Be measurable

Be achievable

Be time bound

It is still a good idea to place the culmination of your goal with compeitions because even though you will not be placing the weight on the outcome of the competition, it does satisfy the time-bound criteria of goal setting because there will be some time between competitions where you can practice and ramp up the performance where you test your ability using the goal you set. Essentially, goals need due dates. And the more expensive or the more negative the consequences of not meeting your goal by the due date, the more likely you will be motivated to achieve your goal. Also, because of the hormones and endorphins that are released when you compete, competing is just fun as it is.

Ok so you’ve picked your due date for your goal, maybe it’s Saturday at Wild Wild Westie or Desert City Swing in Phoenix in September, but we still have four more criteria to satisfy.

Think about your dance as it is right now, what have you been working on lately?
Musicality? Basics? Timing? Patterns? Anchor variations? Rolling through your foot? Engaging your muscles? Smiling? The list goes on and on of things to frustrate yourself over while you’re dancing. If you aren’t sure where to start, have a lesson with at least one pro a couple weeks before the competition and ask them what you might be missing that could prevent you from doing well. (again winning isn’t the goal but what it takes to win can help focus your daily dance grind)

For an example, let’s say you are working on your musicality. If you’re goal is to ‘be musically relevant’ during your dance at the competition, you are only setting yourself up to be disappointed because it is way too broad. There will be gray areas of whether something was musically relevant or not and then there will just be the moments where you realize your dancing resembles a scarecrow. You won’t be able to satisfy the criteria of ‘being musically relevant’ the entire dance. Your goal needs to be more specific.

As a follow, you could narrow the goal to hitting the 1 at the beginning of every 8 count. While it is specific, depending on your skill level, this goal might be too high of an expectation. It’s important that we set goals that will challenge us but not be unachievable. Give yourself the opportunity to exceed your own expectations within your goals. If your goal is to hit EVERY SINGLE 1 then you can only meet your goal, you can’t do better and that can cause a feeling of apathy even if you do meet your goal of hitting every single 1.

So let’s get more specific, but make the goal achievable and surpass-able. (Disclaimer: This goal could be really easy or difficult depending on your skill level, so just use it as an idea on how to construct your own.) Instead of trying to hit every single 1 at the beginning of every 8 count; you aim to accent a single 1 at the beginning of an 8 count using your head, then you accent another 1 using your shoulders and finally you aim to accent a 1 using some footwork. That’s only three times. During the competition, it creates a much more managable and focused mindset. Instead of thinking, “I need to win. I need to win” or ‘Hit every 1″ and then scrambling right before to think of what to do with your body. All you have to focus on is “do something with your head” and then wait for the moment. Maybe it takes you 3 more 8 counts before you have an opening but you nail the shoulder hit too. And then 2 more 8 counts later, you hit something with your feet!! Mission accomplished!! And now if you still have time, maybe you add a body roll on the last 8 count and you have managed to even surpass your goal. This goal is specific, achievable, within your control, measurable and timebound.

I could go on for awhile on how to break down each category into something manageable but I’ll give you only one more. I have been working lately on anchor variations. So my goal for the weekend competition is to get at least 3 anchor variations with each partner I dance with in the preliminaries. When I do a variation, is mostly within my control as I will just be waiting on my lead to lead me into an anchor, It’s specific because for the last 3 weeks I have been working on five variations and drilling them into my feets muscle memory so during the competition I should be able to focus on doing one variation, then the next and then the next. It’s measurable because I will be able to watch the video later to confirm whether I did them or not. And I’m challenging myself but I’m also giving myself room to get that blue light rush of exceeding my own expectations and getting maybe 4 or 5 variations in. And I can be proud of myself no matter what the outcome of the competition is. But let’s say my anchor variations get me into semifinals, then I can up my goal to 5 or 6 anchor variations with my partner. It might take some tweaking in later competitions to make sure that I’m challenged but not overwhelming myself but the point is that these goals are within our control, they are specific as possible, they are measurable and they are achievable!

My Daily Routine

I spend a lot of time criticizing myself over not doing enough, not being consistent enough or organized enough. But a couple days ago, the question “What is your daily routine?” was asked of me through a social media site and I decided to answer. What I discovered was that I actually do a lot. I think it’s important for me to write this out and share it so that I can be reminded that while I do have a lot of things to improve on, I am actually doing a lot on a daily basis.

This is my routine during the week, since the weekends tend to be a little more unpredictable.

I wake up in the morning using the Sleep Cycle app. It has a series of intelligent alarms that goes off for 20 minutes to ease me out of dreamland. It has greatly helped me get up in the morning when I used to be really groggy waking immediately out of a dream. After I wake up, I get dressed, brush my teeth, wipe down my face, feed and water my cat and then I pack a lunch and head to work.

When I get to work, I usually do some early work stuff and then I make some tea and eat a small snack. On this break, I open up the Evernote app and write down something that I’m grateful for, a quick affirmation and my intentions for the day. After that, I update my monthly schedule and look over what activities I’ve agreed to do the next few days. After that, I review and update a list of projects and priorities I am working on to stay on track and know what I will work on that day. These take about 10 minutes.

On my next break I will do a Spanish lesson in the Duolingo app and then look up the “English word of the day’ and the ‘Spanish word of the day’ writing a sentence in both. Which combined, also take about 10 to 15 minutes.

At my lunch, I will answer a series of questions that I created assessing my mood, the weather and a host of other things that could be affecting my mental state. I assess these answers in excel once a month in an attempt to understand myself better and what may be affecting me without even realizing it. I then update my budget and check to make sure all of my bills are paid and if I have time I will read from a fiction book.

On my last break of the day at work, I will read either from a nonfiction book or a news article and then take a few moment to enter a journal entry detailing what happened the day before, how I’m feeling now, any drama I’m dealing with and what I want to work towards in the future. I’ve been journaling since I was 12 years old, I have to credit it with why I have been able to cope with so many traumas in my life.

When I get home, I will do some cleaning and other chores around the house. Followed by 45 minutes to an hour of pulling out my yoga mat and doing some exercises, stretches and dance drills. I have only made this a habit for the past two weeks so hopefully it sticks.

Then I will usually make some tea and a snack and sit down to work on one of my longer projects. Which could be anything from my course in Autocad, writing for my novel, writing a blog, painting, drawing, or playing a video game. If I’m staying home, I will likely do at least two of these. If I’m not, I’ll just get one done and then get ready to go out or to go see the boyfriend.

I do not always do everything in that precise order, as I have a visual task manager that I follow which let’s me do things in the order that I choose. This gives me some flexibility but most weekdays; I will get most of that done.

I think the key to me being able to have time for all of this is that I limit my time on social media to 30 to 40 minutes a day and when I’m home, I do not really watch a lot of television. I prefer to spend my free time writing, painting, drawing or working on something that will help my career. Of course, I hit mental blocks all of the time and I have to continuously remind myself that I’m capable of doing anything I want to do. But I think we should take the time to credit ourselves with everything that we are working towards, a little at a time, every single day.

So, what is your routine? What would you like to take away or add to your routine? Comment below!! I would love to hear!

Thank you for reading!!


St. Patrick and his Legacy

I do not normally write blogs pandering to holidays but I watched a quick documentary last night on St Patrick and I realized that what I thought I knew about him was completely wrong.
First of all, he wasn’t Irish. But we will get to that in a moment. I want to outline what was happening in the world at this time because it puts into perspective St Patrick’s life.
St. Patrick was born in about 386 A.D. to a roman family of prominent social standing in Britain. His family had ties to the church but he apparently wasn’t raised with any sort of strict religious upbringing.
It is around this time of St Patrick’s birth that Rome begins to implode in on itself. Increasing attacks from Germanic armies, Saxons and other groups caused Rome to raise taxes on its’ citizens to increase its’ army. This left the Roman citizens starved and desolate. Not to mention the rise of Christianity created other problems. Many men devoted themselves to being priests and therefore refused to marry, have children and participate in violence. This coupled with disease outbreaks that was killing off Romans at an alarming rate of 5,000 people a day; led to a rapid decline in population. Without replacing the population, the Romans simply did not have enough men to defend their city and their extended territories. Rome had to almost completely abandon its’ citizens living in Britain, they simply didn’t have the manpower to protect them.
In 402AD, at the age of 16, St Patrick was kidnapped by the Irish and taken back to Ireland and enslaved for 6 years. After 6 years and a vision of his future in the church, he escaped slavery and walked the 200 miles back to Britain and his family where he subsequently decided to become a priest. Given that many men of this time were choosing this route, St. Patrick was actually pretty basic.
But what made him unique was that in 432AD, he went back to Ireland, intent on converting them to Christianity. He went back to the land that had enslaved them. I wonder about his motivations here. Did he do this because he believed in Christianity so much that felt that the Irish, even though they had enslaved him, deserved to be saved? Or during the 6 years he was held captive, did what he learn about the Celtic religion motivate him to eradicate it? Or had he actually fallen in love with Irish and their culture and was simply worried about their fate in the afterlife?
He was met with resistance on his return to Ireland but he continued persevere and established many churches, taught people to read and write and slowly he won over the population so that he was christened a Saint by the people. The church never actually gave him the title of Saint. (Because as I mentioned, the Roman empire and thus the Catholic church wasn’t in the greatest of order during his life. ) But many people give him a lot of credit for establishing the value of literacy in Ireland and the fact that he saved many old roman books by establishing the tradition of copying books in the far north. Critiques claim that he forcefully wiped out the religious tradition of the Celts and the pagans but the it will always be hard to say how much of the story is true or false. But either way, is an interesting chapter in world history that undoubtedly affected a large portion of western culture.



Dopamine – Part 2

The purpose of this Part 2 is to make the information that I outlined in part 1, practically useful. It is my belief that understanding our own brains, how they work, how they process information, how they learn, and their weaknesses; is the easiest and quickest way to align our priorities. Part 1 explained how dopamine works in a theoretically perfect system in our brains, but almost all of our brains are not perfect manufacturers of dopamine. The following article will give you a hack to examine how your brain creates its own motivation, therefore recognizing your brains’ weaknesses and strengths will help you strengthen your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses!

This is the fun part of our discussion about dopamine (and as such took less motivation for me to write!!)

What are the ways that creating dopamine in the brain can go wrong? You could produce too much dopamine. You could produce too little dopamine, or it could do both in a rather annoying and detrimental way that I will explain further.

If your brain struggles to produce enough dopamine, then you will have very little energy, have poor memory, experience extreme fatigue, have difficulty concentrating and overall have very little motivation or enthusiasm for anything. Things that others seem to love doing such as ice skating, swimming, dancing, drawing, walking, going to the movies, and playing with your kids; will hold little to no joy for you and other things that normal people struggle with on occasion, like chores, paying bills, being on time, or putting away laundry might as well be as painful as falling into a pond covered with ice. Your brain is fighting you to do the most basic things like it’s protecting you from something life threatening. All of these symptoms are easily associated with depression and even anxiety to some degree.

If the alternative is true, your brain produces too much dopamine, you will regularly experience hallucinations, mania and delusions that all feel very real. And your extreme energy will be motivating you to act on these hallucinations.

But what seems to be a more common problem in our human brains is an inability to naturally regulate the production of dopamine. The brain will produce too much dopamine sometimes and not nearly enough dopamine most of the time. If you are in a state of high dopamine, you will feel extremely happy, filled with energy, hyper-focused, enthusiastic, and highly concentrated. A few things that you are passionate about will kidnap your attention and not let you go! However, for other things, like the practical needs of life, you will feel next to no motivation. And there will be periods where you feel the other extreme, as in fatigue, losing focus, and an inability to focus. This inability to regulate the production in your brain is associated with many common mental disorders such as ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

As someone with diagnosed ADHD, this realization that my brain struggles to regulate the release of dopamine while other times giving me way too much, really explains a lot. When I see a bunch of dishes in the sink, I feel no motivation to do them and if I did manage to do them, I’d feel really no pleasure from finishing them. While at the same time, I can read and research for three days straight on the effects of the hormone, dopamine, in our brains. The enthusiasm in one area and the complete lack of interest in the other is very detrimental to daily life. It would be easy to diagnose yourself as existing in one of these problem areas of dopamine production and resign yourself to forever being stuck in this cycle, but rather, I have started to think about it in a different way and I suggest, even if you don’t think you have an extreme version of the disorders mentioned above, that you try this too.

I am essentially manufacturing my dopamine consciously instead of letting my brain do it subconsciously. (I highly doubt that this is the way actual neuroscientists would describe this but I’m merely experimenting with motivational techniques not publishing in a scientific journal.)

When I am staring at the dishes piling high, I notice my brain gets stingy with the dopamine it would normally send to motivate me to do the dishes, it’s saying ‘I’m not sure that doing the dishes is really going to be worth it, we’ve done the dishes hundreds of times before and it’s boring and not fun.” Recognizing that this lack of motivation is stemming from a hormonal basis can help me regulate it myself from a rational basis. I think to myself, “No, doing the dishes will be worth it this time.” and when I’ve mustered up the energy and done the dishes, I end the task with rewarding myself. I compliment myself. I notice quickly I jumped up to do them this time. Or I’ll just smile to myself and think positively about myself. If I don’t follow through and let myself pause and feel a sense of accomplishment and pleasure, then the dopamine doesn’t get replaced and the learned experience of ‘washing the dishes zaps my dopamine’ gets even more engrained in my memory. If I give myself the satisfaction and appreciation, then the brain will start to remember that as something enjoyable and will adjust it’s motivational memory accordingly. I’m essentially lying to myself and claiming that I enjoy something that must be done, until it is true and I do actually enjoy it.

The reward at the end is one of the most important parts in my opinion. I don’t care how small the step was. I started off washing only a single dish at a time! Maybe your starting point is only a single jumping jack. Look, it doesn’t matter that that one jumping jack or one dish isn’t helping you immediately accomplish the entire goal of being fit or of being the tidiest adult in DFW, what matters here, is that you are training your motivation center. Once the brain has been trained from dishes are boring to doing the dishes is actually quite meditative and enjoyable, it becomes smooth sailing. Doing the dishes and exercising become as easy as binging a show on Netflix or scrolling through Facebook.

One last example, let’s say you saw this article pop up by me. And you thought, hey she is my friend, I know she spends time working on these so I’ll support her by reading it. First of all, Thank you! Second of all, thank the dopamine in your brain. It figured that even if you acquired no new knowledge from this article at all, that you’d feel a sense of pleasure related to supporting your writer friend. And I hope you do!! And now that you’re done reading, remind yourself how awesome of a friend you are, how awesome you are for wanting to learn, and how amazing you are as a person for taking the time to read through an entire article when you could be scrolling through Facebook!

If you have any questions, concerns or thoughts to add, I would love to hear them! As always, thank you for reading!

Dopamine Part 1

The following quotes are from the source below and are the foundation for the inferences I make in the rest of this blog post. I am by no means an expert in neuroscience, the following blog is simply for thought provocation and discussion purposes.

“The neurons that produce dopamine in response to pleasure often seem to activate just before the pleasurable activity occurs” – Quote 1

“our brains release a certain amount of dopamine as a predictor of how pleasurable some activity is going to be” – Quote 2

“Dopamine motivates us, increasing our energy and drive and compelling us to engage in the pleasurable activity,if the pleasure prediction is correct, dopamine levels remain elevated if pleasure was better than predicted, dopamine levels increase and if pleasure was worse than predicted, dopamine levels plummet” – quote 3 (paraphrased)

Let’s break this concept down into stages.

Stage 1: Your brain makes a prediction about how much pleasure an activity will bring you on a scale of 0 to 10 and releases a corresponding amount of dopamine to get us motivated (or unmotivated) to perform that activity.

Stage 2: During the activity, the brain gauges if it was correct in it’s prediction by how much pleasure it feels, then adjusts the amount of dopamine it is currently releasing, motivating us to continue the activity or motivating us to stop the activity.

Stage 3: Upon completion of the activity, your brain decides how much pleasure it received from finishing the activity and correlates that to a certain amount of dopamine that it then releases into the brain as a reward or as a discouragement

From a purely numbers perspective, let’s give pleasure a scale of 0 to 10, 10 being one of the best and most amazing experiences of your life, 5 and 6 being somewhat neutral or maybe small amounts of displeasure or pleasure, and 0 being one of the worst experiences with no pleasure whatsoever. Activities receiving a 10 on the pleasure scale receive the most dopamine motivating you to do them and activities receiving a 0 on the pleasure scale receive the least amount of dopamine if any at all in an attempt to prevent you from doing them.

It’s easy to think of situations where the brain’s trial and error function of the production of dopamine is a great tool for producing good habits that keep us healthy and happy and can also prevent us from making the same mistakes in the future that harm our health or happiness, but let’s look at a couple practical examples.

Scenario 1

Let’s say you are sitting on your dining table and you look over at the sink and see a bunch of dishes piled high. Your brain anticipates the pleasure it will receive from having a clean sink and clean dishes and evaluates this pleasure at about a 5, in response, it releases a corresponding amount of dopamine for a pleasure of 5. So, receiving just enough motivation, you sigh, get up and do the dishes. While you are doing the dishes the brain continues to release dopamine so that you can continue with the activity until you are done. After finishing the dishes you survey the clean sink, wiping your hands with a towel and you smile, satisfied. Your brain feels a sensation that evaluates its previous prediction and claims that it was correct, the pleasure it received was at about a 5, and it releases that corresponding amount of dopamine as a reward. (causing the desire to smile and the feeling of satisfaction)

Scenario 2

Let’s say it’s Wednesday night and a couple of your friends have asked you to go out dancing for the fourth week in a row. You are weary. You’re pretty sure that you won’t like dancing and your brain only anticipates a small amount of pleasure from keeping your friends happy, which it evaluates at about 2, so it releases a tentative amount of dopamine and begrudgingly you follow your friends to the dance hall/studio. The brain releases less than half of the dopamine it did in Scenario 1 and only releases that much because it predicts it will derive at least some pleasure from keeping your friends happy. As far as dancing is concerned, your brain is stingy with its dopamine. But then, as you’re dancing, your brain realizes that it was very wrong, you LOVE dancing.

NOTE: According to other studies, three things associated with dancing can actually independently increase dopamine and they are exercise, music, and physical contact. Dancing takes all three and combines them into one activity making it dopamine tsunami!

But back to scenario 2, after your first dance, your brain receives a pleasure indicator of an 8 and it starts to freak out with dopamine production. The brain surges in it’s production of the chemical upon realizing it was wrong and uses the experience to motivate you to want to dance more. This is why so many people new to dancing become aggressively obsessed with dancing.

Scenario 3

Finally, let’s say during a winter storm, you are taking a quick walk outside as a child and you see a pond iced over. Your brain predicts a level of pleasure from walking on the ice at about 7 because you have seen beautiful ice skaters on television that seem to be having fun. Your brain is flooded with dopamine so that you are motivated to walk onto the ice, your heart beats as you get a few feet away from shore. All of a sudden, you feel the ice shifting under your feet and then the it suddenly cracks under your weight. You fall through the ice and into nearly freezing water. Your legs get bruised and your body experiences a terrible freezing shock. Fortunately though, your brain dumps a bunch of adrenaline realizing it’s very dire mistake pushing you to get you out of the ice and you survive. But following the dip in icy temperatures, your brain depletes all dopamine and adrenaline to imprint a memory on you that walking on top of a pond produces a pleasure value of 0. It’s telling you, I was very very very wrong and it almost killed you so I need you to not forget. Walking on ice on a pond is bad and brings no pleasure. Do NOT do this again.

The way our brain uses dopamine as a predictor and reward system for our pleasure to motivate us to do activities that will keep us happy and healthy is incredibly remarkable. I outlined the above information because I want you to start thinking about what activities you shy away from, which ones you just can’t seem to get motivated to do and which ones you avoid like the plague. Think about your level of motivation before doing different things during the day. The next blog I write is going to focus on how we can trick this dopamine production system in our brains to our benefit. I’m also going to talk about what happens when the dopamine manufacturing falls short or seems to fail completely. Please comment your thoughts or concerns and as always, thank you for reading!

The Hierarchy of Relationship Needs

I wrote this blog because I started watching the abhorrent and yet alarmingly addictive show on Netflix titled Are You The One? I noticed over and over again that the people on the show would pair up with people that they “had a connection with” and this irked me. I kept thinking, why are they so stuck on that? That’s really not that rare. But as I thought back on my own dating history, I realized I was definitely guilty of chasing just a connection. This got me thinking then about what relationships needed to potentially be ‘the perfect match’ as the show liked to repeat annoyingly every 5 seconds. Granted, the show isn’t real life and is only loosely related to this article, it was merely what inspired the hierarchy I have described below, but you should watch it and get horribly addicted to it like I did.

Starting from Tier 0, you have every human being on the planet as a possible match. I mostly included this tier to be funny. But also because it reminds me of that scene with the peanuts from the movie How to Be Single, which you should also watch if you haven’t, great movie.

Then when you move up to Tier 1, you diminish the possible matches by people you have a connection with. Sometimes this is described as chemistry or an initial spark or feeling of being on the same wavelength. But this tier doesn’t just consist of people that you share a romantic connection with. It could be people of any connection. Maybe you and your mom are close in a way that your relationship shares a special level of intimacy. There are also plenty of people that we share connections with that are just friends. The propensity for finding someone you have a connection with depends on the person. Some people find it very hard to connect with others on this level, others find it very easy and seem to connect with whoever they want. But no matter what group you are in, I think the romantic connection you might experience with someone that could be a potential romantic partner is often given more weight than it should be given. For instance, you meet someone and you have a connection with them and then you push for the relationship based on this factor alone ignoring the following tiers and red flags because you ‘shared a connection.’ Of course connection is important for a relationship but I think it is only the first requirement needed for a potential romantic partner.

The second tier, Tier 2, has to do with physical attraction. It is necessary in a romantic relationship for both partners to be attracted to one another. You might feel a connection with someone but if you are not physically attracted or sexually attracted to them, either because of their age, sex, or other factors, then the connection becomes more platonic. While physical attraction is important, it is possible that you are too shallow and are diminishing your options too much. The first two tiers can usually be figured out pretty quickly but I think it’s important to be aware of what you qualify personally as a connection and what you qualify personally as physical attraction to make sure that you aren’t diminishing your options.

The third tier, Tier 3, takes a little while longer to figure out. I sum it up as the Practical Alignment Tier. Which basically means that it includes every single one of your beliefs, values, morals, ideas, habits, strengths, weaknesses, cultures, social norms, personalities and everything in between that makes up you as a person and is then revealed practically in the real world. From what religion you adhere to, to your beliefs on polygamy, when a couple should be serious, what temperature the thermostat should be set on, what kind of food you like, how much money you make, what kind of movies you like or even your work schedule. These are only a few of the things that we could think of that affect the day to day interaction of our romantic relationships. Compatibility tests and personality tests love to focus on these areas to determine compatibility. And there is a reason they are used so often. I think, and I could be wrong, that practical alignment needs to be very close to the same. The more beliefs and practical things that you share, the less that could cause a potential fight or a need to compromise. Sure, what types of movies we both like seems mundane but if every night we are arguing over whether to watch a horror movie or a comedy, the tension might be slightly higher between us. But issues such as religious beliefs can cause real issues that affect many other decisions such as, when it is acceptable to be sexually active or if it’s okay to marry more than one person. This is why it is my belief that as many of the ideas belonging to the practical alignment tier should line up but as anyone who has been in a relationship knows, 100% alignment simply isn’t possible. There will inevitably be things that both people do not agree on. They could be big things such as dietary requirements or culture. They could be smaller things such as what to set the thermostat to or what movies to watch but the differences will surface. But what do we do when those differences surface?

The fourth tier is the last thing that a relationship needs and is so easy to forget about because it is so rare. We often think that by making it through the third tier that the relationship is destined to last because even making it through the third tier is rare. But there is actually one more tier that should be established in order for the relationship to be something that is pursued. I call the last tier the Respect Tier. If you do not have an underlying and unwavering respect for your partner, then the previous tiers will collapse. And this respect is revealed during tier 3, during the aspects of our partners’ beliefs, or morals, or habits that we do not agree with. It’s easy to like someone and respect someone when they agree with everything that you say and do. But in the 4th tier, when you don’t agree and your lack of respect for the other person shows; conflict management and the ability to compromise gets broken down. But if you still maintain and develop a respect for the other person, then these areas where you don’t agree can be managed and worked around.

Respect allows your partner to be different and their own person despite disagreements and each other’s flaws. For instance, my partner and I might have completely different shows that we care to watch. He likes to watch scary frightening nightmare inducing movies versus the movies that I prefer; goofy cheesy romantic comedies. But respect for one another creates a dialogue of compromise and also causes exploration to find a genre that is agreed upon by both such as sci-fi dramas. She might not understand why he wants his movies to frighten him and he wants to groan at every overly romantic gesture but respect for each other turns disagreements and differences from being huge fights into areas of growth and humor. Respect helps us come from a place of curiosity and a desire to understand our partner instead of a place of accusation and defense. I might not understand why my partner does this or believes that but since I respect them as a person, then there must be a reason that they think differently and I’m open to learning that.

Unfortunately though, there may be things that you simply couldn’t get over if your partner believed or needed. For example, if my partner believed the earth was flat, I would really struggle to maintain respect for them. While respect is extremely important, I also think it can be limiting if we do not broaden our respect to people who believe or act differently then we do and it’s also important that we evaluate where our respect comes from. Who do you believe has earned your respect and why? If you are with someone, do you respect them even when they disagree with you?

If all four tiers are satisfied; you have a connection or intimacy, you are attracted to them physically, you align mostly in your beliefs and practical requirements and then in spite of the things you don’t align on; you respect them, then you may have a match that could be considered close to ideal. I think that many compatibility charts and questions and personality tests match people up based on tier 3 since this tier is difficult to attain anyways, and they hope that having a lot in common will garner respect and a connection and physical attraction but I think that this is why so many relationships struggle because both participants do not have respect for one another. And without respect, you start to treat one another like crap and use one another. Of course, I am only playing with this idea and if you have additions or suggestions to my hierarchy, I’d love to hear them! Please send me a private message or comment below!

To sum up:

Tier 0 – Everyone human being on the planet

Tier 1 – Connection

Tier 2 – Physical Attraction

Tier 3 – Practical Alignment

Tier 4 – Respect