Book Review: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This book discusses the science behind what make us content and feel that living life is worthwhile. What drew me to this book was its genuine, no-frills approach to achieving true happiness regardless of your material conditions. Anyone who knows anything about contentment knows that material conditions are secondary to our quality of life and in this book Csikszentmihalyi describes how we can enjoy more of our life, more often regardless of our current material advantages or disadvantages.

Throughout the book he shares that the key to our enjoyment is in increasing the amount of “optimal experience” or “flow” we cultivate in our lives. We’ve all experienced it in those moments when we are fully engrossed in an activity that demands our full attention to completing the task at hand. During these situations we remove ourselves from the any worrying, boredom, anxiety or any other “entropy that brings disorder to consciousness” and we enter into the world of flow where we experience psychological growth and the feeling that perfection is attainable.

He deduces that the “autotelic personality”, the person who can enjoy themselves in a multitude of situations by blocking out distractions and focusing their energies on what is relevant for the moment will describe their lives on the whole as enriching, meaningful and challenging. This experience is the polar opposite of what many people feel their lives are which is a life that “passes in a sequence of boring and anxious experiences over which a person has little control”. This is most striking in our era where we are surrounded by a staggering amount of entertainment choices that despite their novelty and cleverness, leave us unsatisfied and intangibly frustrated. The reason for this boredom and emptiness despite the explosion of leisure activities that have been invented is that when they are only engaged in vicariously and for external reasons, they absorb our psychic energy instead of strengthening it, leaving us emotionally spent and more jaded than before.

Csikszentmihalyi goes into much more detail that what I have written here about how to experience “flow” in all aspects of life from work, to relationships, to simply thinking, and the science behind it. But if this subject has intrigued you at all, I recommend that you read this work. Its made me reevaluate what I see has truly enhancing my enjoyment and utilizing my psychic energy and what is inducing psychic entropy and disorder.

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Why You Can’t Keep Resolutions

My plans for New Year’s Eve evening include a chilled bottle of Martinelli’s Apple Cider, deliciously warm and buttery popcorn and some much needed relaxation and pampering in the form of watching one of my favorite movies, “French Kiss” with Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline. It’s an oldie, but it never fails to get me in a good mood.
To be perfectly honest, this evening has never held any special appeal to me. I’m not one for crowds or loud cheering, so partying it up is out of the question, I need my beauty sleep so staying up late is a no, and I never wait until a new year to invite change into my life. All of this talk about New Year resolutions bore me to tears as well. Who actually gets excited about losing weight?
And yet, I admit that there is some special reflecting that happens this time of the year. I love the feel and experience of a new planner and a new year asks us to intentionally and deeply think about what we’ve done and what’s to come. But too often I see people create and rush into goals that aren’t truly exciting and enlivening to their souls and inevitably by the time we get to mid-January those goals are abandoned.
This year I challenge you to breathe some love and elegance into your resolutions…
Instead of saving more money and paying off debt, why don’t you commit to finding ways to savor quality and implement a higher standard of allowing only what you truly value into your life?
Instead of finally losing those pesky 10 pounds, why don’t you fall deeply in love with yourself by enjoying only the best foods that would be fit for a queen?
Instead of quitting drinking and smoking, let’s learn to appreciate the amazing things that our body does for us everyday and show our gratitude by making healthful choices everyday.
It’s clear which version of these goals will give you the energy to be inspired to make a lasting change in your life. As long as you approach your resolutions from a space of love and belief you’ll be led — not pushed or dragged — into whatever person you want to be.
I wish you health and happiness in this new year!
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Minimalist Challenge: Finale

I love my closet.

I’ve organized my clothes from light to dark, my purses are very prettily arranged along the wall and my jewelry is placed at eye level where I can easily see all of it.

To be honest, I don’t have many articles of clothing. I’ve found a good number of different outfits that I rotate and subtly change with accessories. I found a couple of dresses that I choose to donate because I didn’t absolutely love how they looked on me and so I barely wore them. I also don’t own a lot of jewelry. I choose simple pieces that I can wear with almost anything so I was happy with everything in my collection.

But my purses are a different story. Anyone who knows me knows that one of my most favorite things in the world is a fabulous handbag. So, my collection has more than just a few! This was where I knew I had an opportunity to sell down my collection.

There were models that I loved and had two colors of and I really couldn’t justify having two different colors of the same bag. For example, I had 2 Jerome Dreyfuss Billy bags (one in black and one in cognac), 2 Goyard St. Louis totes (black and blue), and 2 Gerard Darel 24 hr purses (beige and dark chocolate). I had to make a decision to get rid of both or at least one. I ended up selling the black Jerome Dreyfuss, the blue Goyard, and the beige Gerard Darel, along with a crochet Gerard Darel, a grey Gerard Darel Besace purse, a black Ralph Lauren purse I just never used, and my YSL muse bag. Selling all of these put a tidy sum back into my pocket and while I still have more purses than the average lady, I truly love each and every one of them.

With my closet cleaned out, that concludes the “Minimalism Challenge” for my house. I made a goal to finish this before the end of the year so that I can start off 2017 already streamlined and I feel so good that I did it. Now that I’ve got all of my material things under control I can focus on improving other areas of my life.

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Minimalism Challenge: 3rd Update

The storage room. The room that I was dreading the most to clean out. Partly because its full of things that I don’t want to sort though but mostly because its in a dark and drafty part of the house that I’m afraid of being in alone.

We moved into our house this summer and since then we’ve acquired all sorts of odds and ends that go into maintaining a house. We’re also using the room as a holding place for anything that we don’t know where to put or aren’t sure of what to do. It’s actually started to overflow outside of the room itself, so this purge is definitely needed.

My goal at the end of this is to know what is actually in that room, throw away the things we won’t use, and bring some organization to the area.

Stepping into the room I see the work before me. There are boxes of things I’ve forgotten, spare blankets and comforters, plastic bins of electronics, paint cans and paint brushes, roller blades, and so many other things.

First thing I do is get rid of the empty boxes that I thought I would use one day but probably never will, which frees up a lot of space. The bins of tools and painting equipment are set against on side of the room. Since I’m not quite sure what tools we will or will not be using in the future, I decide to keep them all since they are already organized into a plastic bin and don’t take up much space. I examine the plastic bin full of electronics and wires and I’m glad to see that I can actually discard most of them. The bins are mainly filled with random computer cables and headphones which I know we don’t use. The comforters and blankets I will keep. They were given to me by my grandmother and now that I have 2 spare bedrooms they will be used once the rooms are set up. The paint and equipment I will keep because we are actively painting and touching up various areas. The suitcases I will keep as well, since they will be used in the future.

…and with that, the storage room is done. Surprisingly, there wasn’t that much that I could get rid of. Maybe because I avoid going into this room, I don’t really put that much in it. I mainly reorganized what was inside and at least I now know what there is if I need it.

The last area that is left to purge is my closet. This is where I keep my clothes, my shoes and my beloved purses. It’s my favorite part of the whole house and its going to be tough to part with my purses, but I just have to keep asking myself if it is something that I use, value or love and all that remains will be a space that I adore even more.

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3 Ways Elegant Women Remain Collected

We all want to feel more in control when things go awry. I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed feeling nervous and helpless and I’ve also met some women who seem to defy all characteristics of normal human reactions when it hits the fan. It made me wonder what this quality was and if I could learn it too. After some study of their behavior, I realized that this quality was “elegance”.

Now, elegance is not snobbery and high tea with lace fans and finger sandwiches.

Elegance is a state of mind and therefore anyone can be elegant — strands of pearls and diamond rings are not compulsory. What elegant women share in common is their mind. They are focused, clear, and decisive in their thoughts which leaves very little room for them to feel “off”, worried or hysterical. After much study, I’ve reduced their behavior down to these three ways to that use to stay calm, cool and collected.

1. They know their priorities

If you ask most women what is important in their lives, you’ll be inundated with an avalanche of things which is no wonder most women feel like their running on steam much of time.

Elegant women are not super-human. They have the same amount of time and energy as anyone else, but they know where to focus it and not give it away to unimportant people and things.

To feel in control, you need to be able to constantly decide what is truly, deeply important to you and be at peace with your decisions. There is this phenomenon called “FOMO” today. That stands for the “fear of missing out” and that has no place in an elegant woman’s life. If you find yourself at the mercy of FOMO and afraid to cut off things and people, just remember that if everything is important to you, then nothing really is.

2. They abhor drama

In a world where vulgar, outrageous personalities are gossiped about, emulated and celebrated, elegant women take a step away from these people and prefer to acquaint themselves with those who uplift and inspire others to our highest ideals. Choose the high road all the time and soon you’ll find yourself among others who have done the same.

There’s also the drama that women create within themselves by giving away their feelings self-worth to other people. How many women do you know always think about what someone else is thinking about them and base their decisions on what someone else thinks? These women torture themselves which shows up as social anxiety by trying to know the unknowable — and frankly, the not worth knowing. Elegant women are truly confident in themselves, not confident in what others think of them. There’s a distinction there that makes all the difference.

Lastly, an elegant woman does not create negative thoughts in less than ideal situations. She understands that things will happen that are beyond her control and all she can do is remain level-headed and make the best decision with the knowledge she has. These last couple of weeks have not been the best: my husband got in a car accident (thankfully he’s fine even though the car is totaled!), my car has some sort of electrical issue that even the car shop can’t figure out so that car can’t be driven until they bring in an electrician, my husband’s job interview did not go as he wanted and they chose another candidate, and due to all of the car issues there are going to be some hefty, unexpected bills coming our way soon. With all of these events, it is very tempting to succumb to the stress and anxiety and begin to weave negative thoughts into my days, but an elegant women sees the facts for what they are.

Have these last two weeks been an anomaly? Yes.

Does that mean my life is falling apart and that nothing good will ever happen to me ever again? No.

Can I handle this with grace and not let it affect my overall happiness? Yes.

Life happens and there’s nothing that can stop that. Sometimes what seems like a bad thing can actually end up being good for you. It was time for a car upgrade anyway.

3. They are disciplined and intentional

Like I mentioned before, elegance is a state of mind and the mind is an incredible thing. It takes a lot of discipline to control your thoughts and actions, most people just let the first feeling that comes into their brain decide their actions. An elegant woman knows that life is just a series of decisions between what is right and what is easy.

On the same line, if something is important then you have to truly intend to do it. An elegant women does this by putting it down in a calendar. This can come in many different varieties and can be electronic or old-fashioned pen to paper (my preference). For example, if you decide that writing that novel is truly important to you (this is key) then you will write in your calendar the steps required to accomplish that:

  1. Write the novel
  2. Research the best publisher for you
  3. Find an illustrator

All that’s left to do is to tap into your discipline to believe in yourself and do those steps.

Of course, elegant women have their days when they feel stressed out, get angry, make some drama and commit themselves to something that they don’t truly feel is important to them. No one is perfect. But they don’t stay in that space for long, certainly not long enough to ever make a real impact on their lives, but if you are ever feeling that like, just remember these 3 methods and get back to being and living your fabulous elegant self.

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Book Review: Elegance

Today I want to share with you my review of a delightful little book, “Elegance” by Kathleen Tessaro. If any of you are familiar with Madame Dariaux’s concise encyclopedia by the same name and loved it — you will appreciate this book. It follows the transformation of Louise Canova from a drab, depressed and depressing person who is stuck in an unsatisfying marriage to an elegant woman of substance who is unapologetic in living her life.

I really like this story because I think its a journey that all elegant women share. Although Louise’s specific background may be different from ours, we all have times in our lives when we have to choose between what is right and what is easy, an opportunity to express out highest ideals or to stifle that expression out of fear of change.

Louise’s journey is structured with passages from Madame Dariaux’s iconic book that set the tone for her metamorphosis. I will admit, it is a rather banal story, but the question of what elegance actually meant to me was what made it interesting for me.

At a certain point in the book, Louise gets fed up with trying to become the “perfect” elegant lady and decides to live for the moment with the exclamation that “life’s too short!”. She tosses everything she learned about elegance in the bin (including her chic wardrobe) and trades that in for impulsive nights at the trendiest clubs, expensive purchases from this season’s hottest fashions, and the dazed and hungover mornings that follow suit. She starts to interact with the world around her differently and her experiences shift as a result — and not in a way that ultimately served her true objectives. But, she realizes all of this and she eventually finds her way back thanks to a friend and a hilarious yet poignant incident at The Ritz.

By the end of the book we learn that elegance is not about appearances or about belonging to a certain social circle. Elegance is a state of mind that is reflected on the outside of a person. It is the daily practice of refining and cultivating the experience of quality emotions in our lives. Fittingly, the book does not end on a note of resolution. We see that Louise is starting to settle into her new life and enjoying all that she has to appreciate, but with the new awareness that she needs to remain in touch with her values and practice expressing them on a daily basis. Perhaps by reading this book it will trigger you to start nurturing quality moments in your own life, or if you are satisfied with your life, to go deeper into those moments because after all, there is no “destination elegance” — we all must find it everyday.

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Minimalism Challenge: 2nd Update

Continuing in my office, I headed straight for the boxes of craft paper, office supplies, and notebooks.

I threw away any notebooks that I knew I would not use because they were used up, torn or otherwise in pretty bad shape. I kept the rest since I knew that either my husband or I would use them eventually out of necessity. In the same pile, I got rid of a whole host of plastic accordion file folders, paper folders and binders. I like buying different types of organizational tools if their style or patterns catch my eye, but you can only go through so many of those before they start to add up.

I also had a box of pens, pencils, pencil cases, paperclips, erasers, binder clips, stickers, and different types of post notes. It was hard for me to choose what to get rid of with the pens and pencils because there were quite a few that I had spent a tidy sum of money on because I only buy and use rollerball pens, but only the .5 millimeter size — so all the .7 millimeter sizes could go. I ended up giving them to my husband because he is not as particular as I am with pens. I now only have office supplies consolidated in a box and only those supplies that I know I love and will use.

I’m a planner junkie, but there’s only so many planners you can use at one time. Lately, I’ve been trying out using my iphone as my planner (it’s okay but I still prefer writing things down and will switch back at the start of the new year) so I had a spare arc system notebook with all of the inserts, a personal filofax with all of the inserts, two 2016 week on 2 pages planners and midori traveler’s notebook in both sizes. I tend to acquire a new planner whenever I get bored with life and want a lift in my routine. I threw away the two 2016 planners since they were half used and listed the filofax and the arc system on eBay since they were barely used and decided to keep the midori notebooks. I’d had them for a over 5 years and they had a lot of sentimental value to me although I don’t use them at the present.

A while back I got caught up in the whole planner decorating kick, but it has long since fizzled out. I just don’t have the time or desire to do it and my tastes run more simple than that. However, I had purchased a laminator, a paper cutter and a set of Martha Stewart decorative paper punchers that I used perhaps twice, so those went on eBay too.

With that, my office is done. I now have my makeup items in one corner, a box of all of the notebooks and office supplies that I decided to keep in storage, and my desk with just the right amount of supplies in it. It feels good to get rid of what I don’t use and to know that I love what I have so that I can make smarter purchases in the future.

Next up is the storage room. I can’t even remember what’s in there at this point, but I have a feeling I won’t have trouble remembering once I’m done!

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