Thursday, March 23, 2017

Three Ways To Combat Negative Thinking


I've struggled a lot with being a pessimist by nature. When I'm not careful to control for it, I turn into Debbie Downer and rain on everyone's parade. I used to think that I was just that way and expected people around me to accept it, but then I met someone just like me. Being friends with this person was an emotional drain and sucked joy out of my life every time I talked to them. A perfect day could be ruined by a ten-minute conversation. When I realized how much we were alike, I resolved to change so I wouldn't be that kind of drain on anyone else's emotional resources.

Obviously, changing these kinds of thought patterns is easier said than done. I struggled a lot to change at first. But over time, I developed the three strategies listed below that help me be a more positive person. Keep in mind I'm not any kind of mental health professional; these are just the strategies that I personally find helpful in my day to day life.

Practice Gratitude

What made the single biggest difference for me was learning to practice gratitude at all times. When I start to go into a negative thought spiral and begin descending into a bad mood, I force myself to take a deep breath and start mentally listing things I'm genuinely grateful for until I feel better. Even when I'm having what feels like the worst day in the history of days, I can always find a few small things to appreciate if I try hard enough.

I have plenty of food in the house. I have a roof over my head. I had a really great breakfast this morning. I have a pot of coffee in the kitchen. My room smells nice. I'm wearing my favorite pants today. My kids are healthy. I'm ahead of my work schedule this week.

After a minute or two of practicing gratitude, I almost always find myself in a better mood (even if it's still not a great one). On top of this, I also keep a 'gratitude journal' where I list three things I'm grateful for or looking forward to every single day.

One of the benefits of these two habits is that I've naturally become a more grateful person. When good things happen, I notice. I appreciate small, simple things more and sweat the small negative ones a lot less.

Brainstorm Solutions To The Things You're Stressed About

I have a bad habit of stressing out about something going on in my life, then going into a worry-spiral about it. It's counterproductive and makes my stress levels much higher. To combat this, I've started writing my worries down and then making a list of things I can do to improve the situations.

Here's an example of the process.

My worry: my financial situation. I have no emergency savings to speak of, and if I have any kind of emergency I'll most likely need to take out a loan to cover it.

A list of actions I can take to improve this situation, just off the top of my head:
  • I can devote more time to searching for freelance writing clients and apply to every opening I'm qualified for
  • I can get back on a content mill website and churn out a few things for pocket cash while I'm looking for clients, and save the extra I make
  • I can sell a few things on eBay that I don't have a use for anymore
  • I can commit to a month of not spending beyond necessities and put back what would have normally been spent
After coming up with this list, I already feel a lot better. I can work on implementing these actions to fix a situation I'm stressed about. Every time I start to stress out about my savings again, I can refer back to this list and remind myself that I have solutions to the problem and work on implementing them.

Practice Acceptance

Sometimes, there are things completely out of my control stressing me out. No amount of brainstorming can fix the situation, because I have no influence over the outcome whatsoever.

In these instances, I've implemented a mantra of sorts to cut off my worry-spiral:

Que sera sera. Whatever will be, will be.

Whenever I start to feel anxious about something I can't control, I cut those thoughts off at the root by taking a deep breath and saying this mantra to myself. It sounds silly, but it works wonders. Over time, it will become easier and more natural to accept that some things are beyond your control and you will deal with the outcome when it happens.

Hopefully, one or more of the above tips can help you combat negative thinking.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Tips for Maintaining Focus And Motivation When Working From Home

 
Motivation. It's this elusive commodity we could all use more of in our lives, right? (The pile of unfolded laundry onn my couch is silently agreeing with me...) When working from home, it can be especially difficult to maintain motivation when there are so many distractions near at hand to tempt you (and no physically present supervisor to be accountable to). Focus is hard to maintain as an extension of this; there are so many things around me I would RATHER be doing (like sleeping) than working sometimes that it's hard not to make excuses for letting my interest wander sometimes. Below, we'll explore a few strategies for staying on-task and focused when all you really want to do is stay in bed some days.

Write your to-do list down somewhere you can see it.
I have a small chalkboard set up on my desk that I write my to-do list out on every day when I first sit down to work. When I start to get distracted and look around instead of at the work in front of me, the first thing I see is my to-do list. It's a visual reminder of how much I've accomplished and how much I've yet to do for the day, and the ability to cross off items as I meet my goals motivates me to keep pushing forward rather than allowing myself to slip into distractions.

Keep your paid work and personal tasks separate.
When I first started working from home, I would work on my to-do list in whatever order I felt like. While this seems like a nice dose of flexibility, in reality it allowed me to dodge projects and tasks that I didn't enjoy in favor of personal stuff that made me feel productive but didn't advance my bottom line. Now, rather than using cleaning or answering email as a means to avoid my actual job, I schedule reasonable amounts of time into my day to handle those tasks and keep them entirely separate from my actual work. No more dodging boring projects in favor of catching up on laundry!

Have some kind of schedule.
One of the most attractive things about working from home is the flexibility, but it can also be a major pitfall. When you work with no schedule whatsoever, it's far too easy to procrastinate and fool yourself that you're working more than you are. You don't have to have a rigid 9-5 schedule like you would in a traditional workspace if you don't want to, but some kind of structure is important. I figured out recently that the best system for me is coming up with a generous estimate for how long a task will take me and then breaking up my day into blocks to make sure I can get everything done. So for example, let's say I have an article to write that will take me approximately two hours, I have roughly an hour's cleaning to do, and I need to put in about three hours of transcription work to meet my income goals for the day (a much shorter list than I normally have, but it'll work for the sake of simplicity); my rough schedule may look something like this:
  • Work on article -- 60 minutes
  • Clean -- 20 minutes
  • Coffee break -- 10 minutes
  • Transcription -- 90 minutes
  • Clean -- 20 minutes
  • Work on article -- 60 minutes
  • Coffee break -- 10 minutes
  • Transcription -- 90 minutes
  • Check email -- 10 minutes
  • Clean -- 20 minutes
In this way, I make sure that I'm not overextending myself and also that I am devoting adequate time to each thing on my list. This can also help you avoid getting so deeply sucked into one project that you neglect everything else on your list and/or run out of time for equally important tasks because you were too deeply focused. I use timers to block out my schedule since most things aren't set in stone as far as their exact start time for me, but if you wanted something a little more rigid, alarms may work for you.

Use timers to break up difficult or boring projects.
When I set my timers for how long I'll be working for, I also set sub-timers to break up those tasks and set mini-breaks into my schedule. This really helps me with the tasks I'm dreading, because breaking them up makes the work a little less intimidating. So for example, if I'm setting down to my transcription work and I'm really dreading it that day, I will set my 90 minute timer and then break up that 90 minutes into a 25 minute/5 minute/25 minute/5 minute/25 minute/5 minute split, where the five minute blocks are my chance to stretch/refresh my coffee/return text messages. This is known as the Pomodoro method, and it has made me noticeably more productive when I have a task I don't want to do on my list. You might think 'losing' that five minutes would hurt my productivity, but I've found it to be quite the opposite. A quick search of the App Store or Google Play will find several Pomodoro timers that you can use to streamline this process.

Set up short term and long term rewards for meeting your goals.
One thing that helps me a lot with motivation is setting up short term and long term rewards for myself that I only get if I meet my goals. Everyone is motivated by different things, so the below is just to give you ideas what that might look like for you, but here's my list of short term rewards:
  • Finish my to do list -- stream an episode of my favorite show
  • Meet daily income goal -- finish the night with a cup of sweetened tea (I normally stick to water and black coffee throughout the day, so this is something I really look forward to every day)
For my long term rewards, I use the following:
  • Get a 4.0 for my school term -- buy new clothing item (I'm addicted to clearance racks, so this serves two purposes; I stay motivated and I don't overspend)
  • Get a 3.67 for my school term -- $5 baloney money (this is what I spend on silly purchases like phone games or silly socks, two of my weaknesses)
  • Meet monthly income goal -- $15 manicure
  • Exceed monthly income goal by $50+ -- buy new clothing item
  • Exceed monthly income goal by $100+ -- $45 pedicure
  • Exceed monthly income goal by $200+ -- new pair of shoes
You can see that none of these rewards are exorbitantly expensive -- they're just small things that I really love and want, and I'll work harder to get them. This only works if you limit your access to these rewards outside of earning them, by the way -- my tea is on a high shelf and only gets brought down for my nightly reward, I don't buy new clothes outside of  'earning' them and my birthday, and I NEVER get a manicure or pedicure unless I've earned it.

Use instrumental music to improve your focus.
While this may not work for everyone, it helps me (and others) quite a bit. I find an instrumental focus playlist on a music streaming service and turn it on when I sit down to work. This helps me 'zone in' and tune out background noise. The reason I use instrumental music is because I find lyrics distracting, but this may not be the case for you.

While working from your home office is an attractive prospect, it comes with a unique set of challenges. By employing some of the tips above, I manage them and can meet the full potential my flexible work field provides me. :)

Friday, December 30, 2016

How To Get The Most Out Of Your SNAP Food Benefits

Vegetables 0006
By Biswarup Ganguly (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Popularly known as 'food stamps,' the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program services 21,372,935 households in the United States as of May 2016 (source). If you are a member of one of those households (as I am at the time of this writing), using these benefits in lieu of cash presents unique challenges. These benefits generally only apply to groceries that are not sold hot and don't come from the deli section of a grocer. Further limiting the usefulness of SNAP is the fact that not every grocery store accepts it. That said, food stamps are still a wonderful resource for low-income individuals and families and can be stretched nearly as far as cash with some smart planning. Below are some tips on how to make the most of your benefits.

  1. Make a tiered list of your grocery needs, and apply your benefits in order. First tier is staples to build meals around (starches like rice, pasta, potatoes, cereal, corn or cornmeal, oats, and flour; cheap protein like beans, lentils, eggs, chicken, and pork). Second tier is cheap vegetables and fruit to fill out meals with. (Often, frozen or canned vegetables are much cheaper than fresh, but this depends on the vegetable. Salsa provides a serving of vegetables and can be bought or made cheaply. Bananas, oranges, and apples are usually the cheapest fruits.) Third tier is cheap dairy (cheese and milk are great sources of calcium, and yogurt and cottage cheese are relatively cheap protein sources). Fourth tier is accents like spices/herbs and oil to make meals more palatable as well as 'meal accompaniments' like juice, sugar, and butter. Fifth tier is luxury foods like chips, soda, and desserts. The fifth tier could also be replaced with good pantry-building foods that will last long-term in case your household loses benefits. Fifth tier foods should ideally be purchased at the end of the month to make sure there are enough of the first four tiers to last all month.
  2. Eat simple, cheap meals until the end of the month. Generally, it is better to save special meals for the end of the month to make sure your money stretches throughout the month. When my family first entered a financial situation where applying for food assistance became necessary, a total mental shift was required. Rather than eating our favorite meals throughout the month, we tend to subsist mostly on cheap meals like beans and rice with vegetables and a small amount of shredded chicken. The last week of the month, we'll get the ingredients for 'special' meals like spaghetti and meatballs with parmesan or ravioli and pesto. Breakfast the first three weeks of the month is usually eggs and fruit or vegetables with a cheap starch (like fried potatoes or oatmeal), and the last week we'll have biscuits with jam or breakfast casseroles a couple of times.
  3. Even if you don't have time to cook entirely from scratch, try to make the things that are low-effort instead of buying them. A few examples of this are roast chicken if you have a crockpot (a whole chicken or chicken pieces can roast during the day or overnight with very little prep time), soda bread if you don't have a bread maker or sandwich bread if you do, and self-mixed spice blends instead of preblended (like taco or fajita seasoning). Cooking beans from dry in a crockpot is also very low in effort and prep time, and saves a bit of money over canned.
  4. Make larger portions than you need to have leftovers on hand instead of buying cold prepared food. When there's nothing in the fridge, the premade sandwiches, salads, and wraps available at most grocery stores are tempting. They're less so when there's food in the fridge that can quickly be warmed and eaten or packed along to work or on outings.
Although these tips may seem obvious, they're things that my family had to learn the hard way. Hopefully they can help another household get through their season of scarcity as they have helped me.

Cheapskate Gourmet: Eating Like Royalty On A Peasant's Budget

Chocolate Truffle Cake (5354498813)
By Dennis Wong from Hong Kong, Hong Kong (Chocolate Truffle Cake) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


A few years ago, I found myself facing a dilemma. I love good food... but I also love keeping money in my bank account where it belongs. I wanted to find a way to eat luxuriously on the cheap. After a period of trial and error, I've come up with a system that works for me (and hopefully it works for you, too!).

  • Plan ahead. It's possible to eat luxuriously on a limited budget, but it requires foresight. I have a monthly food budget ($300 or so per month for my family of four).To ensure that my money stretches all month, I plan my food purchases and menu carefully. I build my food budget around the meals I want, picking high quality ingredients and then filling in what I can afford around that. What works for me is shopping every two weeks, so I split my budget in half, pick my 'special' meals, fill in my staples, and check prices ahead of time to see where I can save money.
  • Build a well-stocked pantry. I set aside a certain amount every month (anywhere from $10-50) for building my pantry. I base my purchases around sales so that I have high quality ingredients on hand that I paid well below normal price for. If good olive oil or coconut oil is on sale one week, I pick up enough for 2-3 months. If there's a sale on expensive fish, I'll buy several servings and freeze a few of them. In this way, I don't have to shell out for all of the ingredients for a gourmet meal at once.
  • Be open to substitutions. Sometimes, subbing cheaper ingredients in for the more expensive ones is barely noticeable and will save you quite a bit of money. Many recipes that call for heavy cream would be just as good with half and half (which is quite a bit cheaper). If a recipe calls for salmon, I often substitute steelhead trout (which has a lighter flavor, is much cheaper, and carries similar flavor combinations very well). If you do a bit of research into food substitutions, you can find several excellent lists of substitutions to try that will save you cash.
  • Experiment with making your own gourmet ingredients. Roasted garlic, roasted red peppers, cooking wine, crema, infused oils, flavored vinegars, pickled vegetables, stocks and broths, nut butters, yogurt, fresh cheeses, and a multitude of other ingredients are surprisingly easy and cheap to manufacture at home. If there is an ingredient that seems too expensive to pay regular price for, do a quick internet search for ways to make it at home. You'd be surprised how many things you can create for a fraction of the price!
  • Moderation is key. Unfortunately, being a cheapskate means some amount of sacrifice is necessary. While you can enjoy the finer things in life on a budget, you may not be able to do so every day. I generally pick 4-8 'special' meals to make every month, and eat simple wholesome food the rest of the month. Honestly, I've found that giving my palette a break from rich and complex flavors makes me appreciate them more when I do have them.
  • Consider cutting down on meat consumption to afford better cuts. It's very possible to eat shrimp, lobster, and steak on a budget, but it requires careful planning and sacrifice. In order to afford the better meat and seafood that my family enjoys, we eat vegetarian 4-6 days every week. When we do eat animal protein, we have room in the budget for the high-quality cuts and varieties that we enjoy the most. I find we all enjoy it more this way, both because of the novelty and the higher quality ingredients.
I live by these tips, and it has allowed me to expose my kids to a huge variety of foods without breaking the bank. Do you have any tips of your own? Drop a comment below!

Signing off now -- the eggplant parmigiana is just about ready, and it smells divine.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Three Tips For Making Money On Clickworker When Work Is Slow


 
Dollar symbol
By Svilen.milev (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
 
Clickworker can be a great source of income from home. When work is good, it’s really good -- I’ve made around $25/hour some days. However, work can also slow down to a crawl -- especially at the end of the year and beginning of January! I thought I’d put together a few tips to help my fellow Clickworkers (or those thinking about joining!) keep profiting through the off-season.


Refresh often.
New jobs pop up every few minutes (even this time of year, there are new jobs available at least two or three times an hour). If there’s nothing available, refresh every few seconds until something is! It may feel like wasted time, but a little bit of piecework is better than nothing!


Don’t get hung up on UHRS.
If there’s nothing available on UHRS, check on the jobs available on the main workplace! No, they don’t always pay as well, but there’s usually something to do when you’ve exhausted your higher-paying options on UHRS.


Consider having Clickworker as your backup to other money-makers.
When work is extremely slow, it might be a good idea to switch back and forth between Clickworker and other survey or microwork sites. Work is often slow across ALL of these sites during this season, so leveraging a few at once will help make sure you’re not staring at a screen all day waiting for something to do.


At the end of the day, know that Clickworker will not always be able to provide you a liveable wage. During busy times, it’s possible to make well over minimum wage -- but when things are slow, I’m lucky to make $3/hour. While this is nowhere close to ideal, it can fill in the gaps when work is slow elsewhere online as well. Clickworker isn’t a site that can put a full-time income in your pocket year-round, but even in the offseason it can be worth your time if you don’t rely on it too heavily and you’re smart about finding work.

*This is an affiliate link. If you sign up for Clickworker through my link, I will be paid $5 after you make your first $10 through the site.

Monday, July 11, 2016

How Life With Marfan Syndrome Has Shaped Me As a Person


My biological mother had it, and passed it on to me. I passed it on to at least one of my sons. We have Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that can affect every major system in the body. I personally am legally blind (below the limit to drive), injure myself often, and have a lot of joint pain. As far as Marfan's goes, this is mild.

As a kid, I was bitter about it. Why me, you know? I couldn't take gym like all of the other kids. I couldn't play sports. I had to have these embarrassingly large textbooks that I got made fun of for. I hated it, and I was angry that there isn't a cure. I'll always be this way, and coming to terms with that at a young age was painful. No one wants to be limited.

I can't put my finger on the exact moment the transformation began. Marfan's slowly morphed from my enemy to a part of my identity. I stopped trying to hide my limitations and started educating people about it. Marfan Syndrome has affected every aspect of my life. Rather than hating it, I've come to accept it as a part of who I am.

I learned compassion through being treated differently.

I learned to give people the benefit of the doubt by being accused of faking my difficulties and my pain.

I learned strength through coping with my pain.

I learned about consequences and self-control from injuring myself when I pushed too hard.

I learned independence through people believing I was less capable or worthy because of my limitations.

I learned to be creative in overcoming my limitations.

I wouldn't be the person that I am today if it weren't for this disease. I never thought it would be possible, but I'm grateful for this thing that has taken so much away from me because it has given me more than I ever imagined.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Why Texarkana, AR Repealing M130 Was a Mistake

Texarkana April 2016 039 (State Line Avenue)
Michael Barera [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Texarkana, Arkansas recently repealed a city ordinance, commonly known as M130. I won't get into the travesty of a propaganda campaign that brought this campaign to a vote; that's in the past. What I want to discuss is why repealing it was a mistake.

First of all, what did M130 do? Well, Russell McDermott put it succinctly in the Texarkana Gazette:

"The Texarkana, Ark., antidiscrimination ordinance says the city will not discriminate in selecting vendors, employment or providing city services “because of race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, political opinions or affiliation.” (source)

That's it. Seems pretty harmless, right? Well, in light of the 'bathroom debate' that's become a national conversation, some residents thought not. But here's the thing: even if you think that transgender individuals shouldn't be able to use the facilities that match their gender identity (in which case I disagree with you, but that's a conversation for another time), M130 HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH BATHROOMS. The ordinance basically stated that the city would not discriminate in THEIR employment practices, or use vendors/contractors who do. IT DIDN'T EVEN PREVENT BUSINESS OWNERS IN TEXARKANA FROM DISCRIMINATING TO THEIR HEARTS' CONTENT.

Now, back to the point: why repealing this ordinance was an awful, shortsighted decision.

To put it bluntly, discrimination is bad for the economy. This decision is going to drive away businesses and individuals who may have been able to revitalize the economy on this side of town -- which is already suffering in comparison to Texas side.

In short, this decision that was heavily carried by the older, more conservative citizens of Texarkana will hurt the younger citizens by creating one more obstacle to growth.

If you voted to repeal, I've got only one thing to say to you.

Enjoy your ghost town.