The Importance of Seeking Awe

Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

White Noise.

I frequently feel like I am wading through white noise, so many distractions and somewhat meaningless words continually swirling around me and all the people in my life. While I am driven and passionate at times, sometimes I know I am putting things on autopilot, and that is the first step to mindlessness, and mindlessness, for me, feels like one step closer to apathy.

Even my mindfulness practice and exercise can sometimes start to feel like a series of motions, and I find that the more often I push through those motions without making sure I’m fully engaged, the less they open me up and give me the mindful attention span I want to have throughout my day.

This is normal. We all have routines, conversations, checklists of things we do every day, and it’s so easy to fall into that routine (or out of it), and maybe there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I want to do better.

This is where something I call “seeking awe” comes in. Seeking awe means going out of your way to have experiences and awareness that intentionally either reveal the beauty and terror of the Earth around you, or generally make you uncomfortable and therefore think (read: pay attention to your life) in new and different ways. This is also something that routinely brings back to me the feeling of being meaningfully humble, and grateful for myself in the context of the environment and people I get to live and work with.

Five Examples of Awe-Seeking

  1. Travel

    Travel doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Travel can mean checking out your local state park or green spaces. It can mean walking through the oldest part of your city and really looking at the buildings, the streets, the landscaping, the restaurants. Or it can mean saving up and flying half way around the world to experience a culture or landscape you’ve only imagined. Filling your mind up with the beauty of nature and people and food and both abundance of community in those places or lack of it, is eye-opening and sometimes jarring. It is best when it is jarring. Fill your eyes with beautiful things, and let it charge you up.

  2. Reconnect with your body

    That does not mean you need to run a marathon or something crazy like that. What it does mean is taking some time to really connect with your body in a way that pushes it around physically in a positive, awareness-driving way. I highly recommend an extended hike, hot yoga or a level of cardio that gets your heart-rate up and your mind into a different space. (PS, if you have any concerns about your health or exercise-related issues, consult a doctor before doing anything rash). It can be as gentle as walking briskly or stretching easily. Anything that works your body in a different way than usual, and allows you to focus your mind on movement and breath in a way that extends or breaks you out of your normal practice or routine. Generate a little awe for the body you have and all it can do.

  3. Eat something really good  and really pay attention to the process.

    This technique works best for me when it’s not only a food or recipe that I know will taste phenomenal, but that I prepare and cook myself. Pay attention to the repetitive motions of chopping or mixing ingredients, and let your attention linger on the smells and feeling of the tools you use for preparation. Once things have come together, dwell on and be thankful for the food itself, and then bring awareness to the sensation of eating.

  4. In all of these endeavors, let uncomfortable experiences be what they are.

    You may notice, in all of those experiences, there is a high chance of encountering some feelings that are not necessarily good. Let those be. When you’re finally on the trip you’ve planned for so long, and your flight gets delayed, lean into that uncomfortable feeling and exist with it. When you get bored with chopping the eight vegetables needed for the stir fry you chose to cook, allow yourself to be bored and focus on the actions and sensations in the moment. When you’re attempting more cardio than you’ve done for a while and you start to get tired, slow down a bit and focus on what you can do and what you can do to press on.

These three things help me get out of ruts and refocus on what matters to me – clarity, focus and gratitude. What do you do when your routines start to feel like only a grind? Let me know in the comments!

Book Club: Discipline Equals Freedom

Discipline Equals Freedom is a manifesto and field manual written by a former US Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink. While, for my personal tastes, it is a little extreme, I think it offers some excellent opportunities for conversation, both around extreme philosophies and how Willink’s mindset is something we can learn from, if not adhere to religiously. Check out the full review of the book’s content here.

This is a short book (quite a few pages but the type is large), so while I think this book could easily be read by most in a week or so, the questions it brings up I think would be well-split between two or three book club meetings (if you like to split things). If you’re the kind of book group that likes to discuss a full book at a time, this book would work well for that purpose.

Discussion Prompts

Part I: Thoughts

  1. What drives you? This is a very driven, relentless man. What is it that drives you out of bed, to work, to create each day?
  2. This worldview is pretty black and white, how does that make you feel? Is this plausible for the vast majority of people? Is there room for gray area here?
  3. How does being disciplined bring more freedom into your life?
  4. How does this just do it approach make you think about things you’re procrastinating? Do you fall into the over-analysis trap he discusses?
  5. How can we learn from others’ weaknesses and strengths, while also accepting that we can’t control them?
  6. What in your life are you giving a vote that doesn’t deserve one?
  7. How do you detach and gain perspective in stressful situations?
  8. What helps you push through when you just want to quit? Are there times, either important or unimportant when you needed “destroyer mode”?
  9. Focus on questioning and finding knowledge – both of yourself and your environment or peers. How can we get better by asking better questions.
  10. How did the “Hold the Line” section hit you? Are there times when you’ve had something like a donut or cookie and thought “Man, was this worth it?”
  11. What do you think of his almost total negation of “failure”. Failure is either something to fear or is “good”.

Part II: Actions

  1. Physical fitness or exercise is central to Willink’s philosophy, part of how he approaches seemingly everything. Is this something that’s required to live a healthy or successful life?
  2. How can you use stress to improve yourself?
  3. How does discipline give you a “psychological edge?”
  4. Sleep is seen by many as one of the most important parts of health. How do you promote good sleep habits in your life?
  5. Do you see being prepared for a physical fight as something you feel is in the forefront of your mind on a given day?
  6. What parts of you diet does this philosophy attack? Did he persuade you that you need to make a change?

If your group would like to add additional prompts or activities around the exercise portion of the book have at it! For me they were interesting to look through but are maybe not pertinent to a discussion group.

What do you think of the book? Did this prompt list help you? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Discipline Equals Freedom

After reading this book, I definitely have things to think about. It’s a book that I don’t feel like I can identify with, but that I feel like I learned from nonetheless. The first thing I learned about former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, is that he is relentless. I am so inspired by him, both the philosophy he’s written down in this book, and his service to his country. The philosophy recorded in this manifesto is what I would call extreme, and maybe won’t fit for all people, but offers us some tactics that I think anyone can use. His commitment to a lifestyle of utter discipline is worth studying, and it also has some great tips for some new workouts and health choices to check out. 

On self-discipline

By far the loudest call I heard in this very rhythmically written book was that there are no hacks, there is nothing besides your own choices and decisions every day that will make you successful. 

“Self-discipline, as the very term implies, comes from the SELF. YOU. It comes when you make a decision to be disciplined. When you make a decision to be better. When you make a decision to do more, to BE more. Self-discipline comes when you decide to make a mark on the world.”

In Willink’s mind, being motivated isn’t a part of the “will I do this or not” equation. Discipline frees him from needing to make choices based on available willpower. He simply chooses to do. 

On just getting started

Talking about building a new routine or habit, the language we use can be really frustrating at times – the way we talk about things is always in the future, and even worse, sometimes is time-boxed. Think of the times you’ve heard yourself or others say “I should” or “30 day challenge”. This sets us up for failure. Your vision is meaningless without action. 

You have to do it. And you have to do it now. So stop thinking about it. Stop dreaming about it. Stop researching every aspect of it and reading all about it and debating the pros and cons of it … Start doing it. Take the first step and Make It Happen. Get after it and you will become the person you want to be. And you become that person through: One. Small. Decision. At. A. Time.

And this applies just as well to procrastination and staying motivated. Willink pulls a brilliant quote from Shakespeare: “Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first motion, all the interim is like a phantasma or a hideous dream.” Action is tied fully into your commitment to being a better human. If you don’t feel like doing something, or the voice in your head is telling you to take unnecessary rest, go through the motions, push off that rest a little longer. 

On stress

Willink’s view of stress is one that I see as essential to working through life with some amount of peace: 

Stress is generally caused by what you can’t control. The worst thing about incoming artillery fire is you can’t control it. It is happening and you just have to accept it. Don’t stress about things you can’t control. If the stress is something tha tyou can control and you are not, that is a lack of discipline and a lack of ownership.

There are things you can’t control – accept that. If you can control it – do something!

On failure

Many sources of motivational advice right now are advocating for an embrace of failure, to stop being so afraid of failure. Willink does quite the opposite – in his mind, being afraid of failure powers him to keep working, and to work harder. Failure for him, is terrifying. It is almost as if failure doesn’t exist for him. When things are going wrong, he says “good”. So even in the midst of some struggle that some might see as failure, he is constantly leveraging that stress as an opportunity.

All in all, this is a book that had a lot of direct, aggressive advice. I found it inspiring and definitely have had his rhythmic words bouncing around in my head since I stopped reading. Give it a try and let me know what you learn!

Additionally, if you have a book group that would like to discuss Discipline Equals Freedom, I wrote down some discussion notes that I think would help guide your conversation.

Change is not magic.

There is no magic number of times that you have to do something to make that new habit stick. 21 days, 90 days, all of these little maxims are misleading and honestly almost seem like some kind of scheme.

The truth is, every day you have a choice. A choice to do what you know makes you feel clean, healthy, satisfied, and supported. Or to not do that. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t, but don’t find solace in some arbitrary number of times you have to do something before you have to stop trying. That’s just not how it works.

How to make your habits about making intentional change in the present.

  1. Don’t establish an end date for your goals

    This is I think the most dangerous piece of the philosophy that there is a magic number of days you need to repeat some habit to make it last. It implies that there is a date when this habit will stop being a priority. If this habit is only worth 21 days of effort on your part, then it may not be something you truly want to be a part of your life in the long-term.

  2. Avoid the opportunity for failure.

    If your habit is that you want to stop eating ice cream at home, don’t buy ice cream! Don’t even walk down the freezer aisle at the store. Willpower is a fickle friend, and why create the need to use it?

  3. Don’t worry about doing everything, do what you can and be generous with yourself when things don’t happen in order.

    If your routine you’re wanting to implement feels like a checklist that you have to do in order at a specific time of day, you’re setting up little limiting factors to you day. Your routines are not an in order process, they’re a list of ways you can be better, at this moment. Do what you can in the moment and focus on the action and not the perfect process you may have laid out originally.
  4. Make your routines granular and approachable.

    In that same vein, don’t set yourself up for an overwhelming experience of your goals. Look carefully at the habits you want to form and make sure there are small pieces (actions you can take in 5 minutes or less) so you have specific actions you can take without it meaning a 3 hour diversion from you day. Small, quick wins will keep you on track.

  5. Identify mental loops that help you avoid the work

    I don’t know about you, but my brain has a specific language it starts to use that alerts me that I’m on a path towards procrastination and avoidance. Be aware of your thoughts around the work that needs to be done, and when you start to feel an internal dialogue that is helping avoid your healthy habits, literally stop yourself and identify what is making you feel that way, and take some small action to stop the loop.

These are steps I take every day to lead me incrementally towards my goals. How do you find ways to keep your goals and routines top of mind an manageable?

Habits You Love are Habits that Last

After reading a bunch on what makes routines stick – one of the things I’ve found to be too, too true in my own life is that I stick with routines that I actually like far more often than ones that are a pain. That may sound super obvious but it’s also a little counterintuitive to the whole “change your life live different” industry. I feel that most people seek to reach goals via brute force – This is where the seeds of failure are planted. Eventually you just get tired of feeling deprived and limited and quit.

I read this article the other day and was knocked over by how much sense it made. The key to this discussion is the difference between having self-control, and having to exercise willpower.

“In these rigorous tests, people who say they’re great at self-control aren’t much better at controlling themselves than the rest of us.”

These studies showed that what actually proves to be more useful to those individuals with higher levels of success in their lives, wasn’t their ability to exercise self-control through willpower, but the avoidance of temptation in the first place.

Habits that Linger

That may sound discouraging. How are we to build healthy habits from scratch if willpower is not going to help us, and may actual hurt? I’d implore you to think of this in a different way. Let’s start with the best news: you’re trying too hard.

Okay, maybe “too hard” isn’t the issue, but this information tells us we need to try smarter

“The people who exercised more effortful self-control also reported feeling more depleted. So not only were they not meeting their goals, they were also exhausted from trying.”

Find steps in your routine that make you feel grateful and satisfied.

Your habits, your journey in life is not going to look like someone else’s. Invest some time in identifying what healthy things feel gratifying to you. What routines or activities not only make you feel like you’re on the right path, but also just make you happy and satisfied. Lean towards those activities and let them support you

Avoid the Unnecessary

Additionally, take concrete steps to avoid things you know will knock you off course. Building the habits of saying no to the unnecessary and building a supportive environment as you go will prevent fewer opportunities to step away from your routines.

Take Time for Self-Care

Lastly, the most important thing that came to my mind reading this article and others, is that the key you’re going to benefit the most from is a self-care mindset. Shaming yourself for missteps, injecting guilt into your day because you’re a normal human can be an accelerating force for a wayward spiral. Be generous with yourself, be willing to experiment with your routines and your personal path. 

What are some healthy habits have you tried that you don’t stick to out of willpower but out of real enjoyment? Let me know in the comments!

Summer Reading List Update

This summer I’ve reading quite a bit and have loved all the new thoughts and ideas I’ve gotten to work through with my book club group. Stay tuned for posts and book club templates for each of these, but for now here’s a rundown of the books I’ve read recently and a short list of what’s on deck.

Straight-forward and inspiring.

I loved this book even though I don’t necessarily want to live quite the extreme lifestyle that retired US Navy SEAL Jocko Willink does. The big takeaway for me is affirming that the only way to get hard work done is to do hard work. The commitment mindset this man has is inspiring and definitely put some new words in play for the motivational voice in my head. If you’re a workout-minded individual it also has some good workout templates at the end. Find it here.

A look at the crazy early days of tech

Ben Horowitz is one of the more famous tech entrepreneurs out there, and in this book shares his experiences of the ups-and-downs of being an executive. This book made me think, as the audience he’s speaking to is probably a little higher level than where I am in my career at the moment, but definitely resonated with me as I work to communicate and manage my teams each day. Highly recommend if you’re looking for war stories from the early days in technology and how some of those companies weathered the storm through the tech crash in the early 2000s. Get it here.

Re-reading a classic

I have an affinity for dystopian novels, and a book club brought this one back to my list – it has aged very well. I hadn’t read 1984 since college, and I’d forgotten how much this book affected me the first time. If you’ve never read it or haven’t in while, this is a good lightweight read that will get your gears turning. Nice break from all the non-fiction I’ve had on my plate recently. Find it here.

If I could give this more stars I would.

I don’t say this often, but this book really did change my mind and my thought processes. It does not skimp on content, and the stories and supported research contained in this book make it hands down the best self-help-esque book I’ve read. Get it here.

Looking ahead to Fall

My list for Fall is starting to take some shape, excited for a new book club book, as well as some other read list items thrown in for fun. Will post on how the books go and provide book club templates for each as well. 

If you have read any of these books or have recommendations as well please let me know in the comments!

** This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Using these links for purchases helps support this blog**

This App Tracks Your Anxiety

Pacifica app screen shots

The other week I was having a really hard time. I was as low as I’d ever been and was struggling to get back to my system for breaking the cycle of negative spiraling. This usually leads to a lot of desperate googling trying to find something to help. This time, it led me to the app store.

Pacifica is a self-help app, that is  “Based on cognitive behavioral therapy combined with relaxation and wellness techniques, we believe in holistic daily tools aimed at breaking the anxiety cycle.”

So I love apps and finding new little routines that are easy to incorporate into my day, that don’t require a lot of effort that my depression/anxiety brain just can’t handle. This app is exactly that!


The Mood Tracker

This is the part I found the most useful. I would set a time two or three times per day to take a moment, try to get out of my head and analyze how I felt, and intentionally try to think about why I felt that way. This truly helped me to see where my low points in the day were, which helped me try to have something prepared to get me through those moments easier.


The goals section of the app also was a huge help. Gamification only gets you so far, but when starting a new habit or experimenting with routines, this can be a huge help! Completing goals helps you level up in the app, giving you a small incentive to go outside or meditate to check those goal boxes.

Thought Trap

Since I am not a paid Pacifica user, I only have access to the “thought trap” section of the Thoughts area in the app. However, I feel that even this small part is hugely helpful! It basically asks you to write out whatever negative thought pattern is going through your head, and then helps you highlight the areas of negativity and try to change it to a more positive thought. This intentional cycle analysis and improvement can help break you out of a current cycle, and also leave little markers in your mind when that cycle comes around again.


There are some preloaded meditations available in the app, which for the first couple weeks I would do when I got home from work, one of my daily low points. Meditating can make a huge difference in mindset, and in this case it can be one of your daily goals! This is another area that is limited unless you are a paid member, but I still found a lot of value in it with the free ones.

As far as free solutions go, I think this app is a great way to get started down a path to a more mindful, healthy life! Give it a try, let me know what you think!

Change is Uncomfortable

One of the hardest parts of committing to a new routine is that, no matter how small the change, it will cause you at least some amount of discomfort. Whether it’s merely setting aside the extra time or something harder like changing your self image and letting yourself make big-jump changes, your body is probably going to give you some uncomfortable, scary feedback.

That’s okay. And actually, that is your sign to go ahead and lean in harder.

I think about this lizard brain aversion theory a lot, and while reading this week I came across a reference to Virginia Satir’s Change Model. She was a family therapist, and developed her model based on her study and research of families and the impact of change in their lives. Her model looks like so:

Chart of Satir Change Model

As you can see, this model shows us the valley that inevitably occurs when a new routine or life change gets hard. And the risk we inevitably run during this chaotic, difficult part of the journey, is getting so overwhelmed by our body’s resistance to change that we quit, never knowing whether the changes we made were actually going to work or not.

Author Scott Berkun recently discussed the Satir model on his blog, and did an excellent job of summing up why aborting a new routine mission is often a dire mistake:

“Inexperienced people often confuse the chaos phase as a failure in their choice. And if they quit early, assuming “chaos” means they made a mistake, and revert back to the old ways of doing things, they likely will never have the confidence to try something that bold again. They now confuse the chaos phase with failure. This is a kind of self inflicted learned helplessness, where the necessary cost to improve and grow is now too psychologically expensive.”

So – that sounds pretty scary. But, look at what he’s saying! Just keep going. The chaos is natural! Not knowing if you’re doing it right, is natural! It’s just a part of changing your status quo. When fear or inertia starts to hold you back, lean in. That’s just a sign that you’re moving forward.


Don’t be embarrassed by trying hard

Some of the very greatest success stories on earth, were beset by failure. It is so natural to fail and is honestly the most natural sign of progress there could be. Don’t be embarrassed to be seen trying your hardest, whether  you fail or succeed. Find joy in the work, find education in work that takes you down the wrong path.

5 Reasons You Never Have Any Money

One of the most important aspects of a lasting routine, is not only the addition of new habits, but also the exclusion of old ones. Finding ways to reduce the habits or stress triggers in your life will open up space in your mind and allow you to be more generous when trying new things

1. You have a gym membership you never use 

Let’s face it – we’ve all signed up for the gym on January 1, ready to face reality and do the work. But around February 15th the motivation fades and your schedule picks up, leaving less time to plan and get to the club. Gym membership fees can run you anywhere from $20 to $80 dollars per month, and unless you’re really working that space into your daily or weekly routine, you’re probably not getting the value out of it that buying a good pair of running shoes or some bar bells for home would give you.

2. You are constantly buying trendy or limited use clothing

If you’re a shopaholic, you need to give it a break, or get more committed to window shopping. If you’re trying to save money, a change of mindset towards buying investment pieces that are going to last a while and go with a lot of different outfits is imperative. There are two specific problems to look out for here:

  • You spend too much on things you don’t need – don’t spend money on frivolous items that you’ll only wear to one party once. Make sure your purchases focus on classic, stylish pieces that dress up and dress down, and that will fit the trend for years to come.
  • You spend too little on things you do needthere are some items a good wardrobe just can’t do without. Make sure you’re investing in the items you’ll where daily and need to last a while!

Check out this article on Refinery29 for the story of one woman finding ways to keep up her wardrobe after going broke in New York.

3. You don’t have automated savings

As with a lot of things on this blog, in order to have enough money on hand when you need it, you need to plan ahead. Automate your savings so you’re saving a little bit from each paycheck into a savings account. I’ve been using SmartyPig, now powered by SallieMae, for about seven years now and I love it! High interest rate for savings and I can set it and forget it – it’s how I saved up for a car down payment and someday will have enough to look at buying a home!

Whether you’re saving for a house or a fantastic pair of jeans, finding more ways to save without thinking about it will get you there faster.

4. You buy too much in one trip at the grocery store

It’s easy to do, but not having a plan when you go to the grocery store can make a huge difference in your monthly bottom line.  [Link to article on tips for spending less on food] Take a moment before you head into the store to think through what you need for the next few days. Pick up an ad sheet and check what’s on sale. Try to go to the store a couple times a week and don’t buy anything perishable that’s not on the menu. Select a couple days a week to be your shopping days to take advantage of deals as they change throughout the week. Most importantly, don’t buy anything just to “have around”. If you don’t need it, leave it at the store.

5. You go out to eat or drink too often

This is one I have struggled with a lot. I love good food and a nice drink now and then, and sometimes now and then ends up getting me into a $60 dollar meal a few times a month. Having an idea of what I’ll be eating for the week, having a plan for emergencies when I can’t make myself cook and don’t have a ton of great options on hand has made a huge difference in my budget in the past year. Try limiting high dollar meals to special occasions and finding some new ways to spice up your menu at home.


Main take away: What each of these points addresses is that if you want to have more money around for saving or travel, you’ve got to make it a priority. Assess what you spend money on and whether it’s essential – get rid of what you don’t need and make intentional decisions to grow that savings balance.