Better parenting through hashtags



Recently I rediscovered Twitter (during a social media fast) and lost 2 kilograms in 2 weeks.

How are these facts related? And what has this got to do with parenting? Read on. All shall be revealed.

At the start of August I decided to quit sugar and start eating low-carb. (Short story: sugar = poison). To get some accountability going, I looked for an easy way to keep a food log. Twitter proved perfect.

For a couple of weeks now, all food that enters my mouth gets tweeted about. This approach helps me stay motivated and consistent. It happens to be educational as well. 

I learned a lot of nutritional wisdom on Twitter and a slew of English words. My native language is Dutch, so I had to look up the translation of things like peultjes, rucola, courgette, aubergine, kurkuma… (snow peas, arugula, zucchini, eggplant, turmeric…)

But this isn’t an article about food.

Because my new logging habit served me so well, I figured it might also help with other life areas, like parenting.

So besides keeping a #lowcarb #foodlog, I now also tweet about parenting habits and regulating emotions, with hashtags like #mbslog, #bcbqwin and #bcbqfail.

Let me explain those…


Short for: Mind, Body & Soul Time log.

Mind, Body, & Soul Time is time spent one-on-one with each of your children, consistently and individually with each parent, on an activity they choose. Not only will it give you a better bond with your kids, but the attention and power boosts will fuel better behavior.

— Amy McCready

Most days I work at home and spend a lot of time with wife and kids, but Amy McCready’s book made me review the quality of that time together.

I sure saw the importance of daily one-on-one time with each of my daughters, playing something of their choice. To be in “child mode” with them, instead of constantly parenting them around.

For a while Res and I stuck to this habit and reaped the benefits. But it proved challenging not to let it slip. And let it slip we did. Life can get pretty busy, right?

Starting an #mbslog rekindled my intention to give Mind, Body & Soul Time priority again and find new ways to make it happen.

As I write this, it’s not a daily habit yet, but at least it’s firmly back on my mind.

#bcbqwin #bcbqfail

Short for: Be Calm or Be Quiet Win (or Fail)

Our most important responsibility as parents is regulating our own emotions, which is essential for our children to learn to manage themselves.

– Dr. Laura Markham

Few people push my buttons like my kids do.

The thing is, children tend to pick up more from our behavior than our words. So if I get a little tantrum of my own when they’re disobedient once again, guess what will happen next time they don’t get what they want?

I’ve learned that anger has a lot to do with feeling powerless. Especially in stressful moments when you feel pressed to find a solution. When nothing seems to work, you can get emotionally overwhelmed and lose the ability to think logically. Result? Chaos!

Meditation has helped me to find a new baseline of calm in my life. And I’d like to say that I’m always equanimous because of it, but that would be a lie.

It’s not a cure all. It tends to work non-linear instead of providing a quick fix when difficult emotions suddenly arise.

That’s why I believe we need more tools in our toolbox, like a good parenting philosophy, better communication skills and a go-to method to calm down faster.

For the latter there are techniques like The Work, The Sedona Method, box breathing, tapping… (see links below)

Which one is best? Whichever works for you to “let go” of difficult emotions or negative thoughts so you can respond from a place of peace.

I have found it takes daily practice to make real progress. Publicly tweeting about my trial and errors sure keeps me on my toes.

Feel free to join in, if you dare. 😉

If you’re on Twitter and decide to give it a go, let me know. You can send me a direct message or an e-mail.

Take care,

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Don’t take yourself too personally

David Allen and David Demets
David Allen and David Demets

Grey is the new black

I’m 36. My first grey hairs have appeared. In my eyebrows! I didn’t expect them there. They just pop up when and where they please. I have no say in the matter.

I’m taking control! (Right?)

I read a lot about life-hacking, productivity, effectiveness … I adopt better habits and see how they lead to positive changes both at work and at home.

For example: years ago at the office, we just took work as it came. In between copywriting, audio editing, video editing, designing websites, brochures or posters (and occasionally serving as a substitute yoga instructor), I did whatever landed on my desk.

There was no clear focus. Things didn’t get done when they were due. Stuff piled up. I had little to say and felt like I was constantly putting out fires. Something had to change, and it most certainly did when I introduced GTD at work.

Now surprises still pop up and there are a lot of loose ends, but we deal with it in a more relaxed way. We’re better prepared, take more time for what matters and our service has improved a great deal. I even work from home a couple of days a week.

It feels like I’m proactively taking life into my own hands.

But am I really?

If I pause to take a better look, I notice how this body and mind do everything by themselves. The heart beats, lungs breathe, eyes blink, hairs turn grey … The body keeps on hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling and feeling while the hands move to type these words.

Where do the ideas come from that lead to this text? I don’t know what my next thought will be. Yet: suddenly there it is! Something approves of it or rejects it. All by itself.

Meanwhile a nineties song is on repeat in the back of my head, ever since I heard it yesterday. I’d prefer something by Jamie Lidell right now, but I can’t simply will Hole away.

It all happens automagically. And yet I take it all so personally. Without much thought I feel responsable for what this body and mind do. But if “they” do it all on their own, what is this “I” anyway? And what is this “you” then?

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Common questions about meditation

Image by limegreen367

Q: Why meditate?

A: What appeals to you?

Q: How should I meditate?

A: Observing the breath is a good start. Look for “Meditation basics” in my previous article.

Where you go after that, depends on your why. Try both guided and unguided meditation. Pick a method that makes sense and you enjoy doing. Otherwise it won’t stick long. For a bunch of high quality free resources, look for “The best things in life are free” in my previous article.

Q: Do I need a formal meditation practice? Isn’t it enough to be mindful or focused during daily activities?

A: I strongly recommend informal meditation during daily life. I also strongly recommend a formal daily session, because :

  • It’s a more reliable habit.
  • You make it clear to yourself that meditation is a priority.
  • There is far less distraction.
  • It can be a big contrast with informal meditation, which is insightful.
  • Even if your formal session is only 2 minutes, it’s a good foundation to build upon.

Combine formal and informal meditation. Give it time. It won’t disappoint you.

Q: When is the best time to meditate?

A: Whenever there is little or no distraction.

The usual recommendations are to meditate first thing in the morning (good start to the day), not to do it after lunch (the brain gets less blood supply), to pick the same time and place every day (habit formation 101) … That’s all great advice, but only if it works for you.

Because of my particular job and family life, every day looks different. Some days I work at our home office, other days I work in Bruges. Some days my wife takes the kids to school, other days I do … I have tried getting up even earlier than I already do, but that habit didn’t stick too well.

Arriving home is the most reliable trigger for me. I meditate right after. For you it might be an entirely different trigger.

Q: Where should I meditate?

A: Wherever there is little or no distraction.

Our home office is my sanctuary, but I also meditate in the bedroom, on the train, in the garden, in a field, on the bank of a river …

Q: For how long should I meditate?

A: However long you feel like. The only bad meditation is the one you didn’t do.

There’s also much to be said for increasing your formal meditation time. But do it gradually. Over the years I went from 10 to 30 to 60 minutes a day. Relaxation has deepened. I have learned a great deal about mind and body. My perspective on life has dramatically changed … Just try it for yourself and let me know how it goes.

Q: Should I close my eyes?

A: Do what helps you focus.

If you get too sleepy with eyes shut, leave them open or half closed. If you get too distracted with eyes open, close them. This need can change in the course of longer sits.

I used to be unable to meditate with eyes closed. I would drift off to La La Land right away. This slowly improved and nowadays it’s no longer a problem.

Q: How should I sit to meditate?

A: Check this Posture Pedia by Stephanie Nash.

As mentioned before I like the Burmese posture and seiza (see my YouTube at 6:45 and 35:08). When I use a chair, I often get sleepy, unless I don’t lean against the back.

Q: What if I lose motivation? What if I don’t find the time anymore?

A: Go back to basics. Pick a new trigger. Sit for shorter times again. Choose a different technique.

Q: Why does my favorite technique no longer work?

A: No worries!

Maybe you used to get very peaceful and focussed during meditation, but now you seem to have lost this skill?

Something might have changed in your life that brings new challenges, with a busy mind as a result. Nothing personal. This too shall pass.

Maybe relaxation is no longer the main reason to meditate and it’s time for insight practice, self-inquiry or contemplation?

You simply lost interest in the technique? Or it has run its course? That’s okay, but don’t just hop from one method to another. Stick to one at a time for at least a month.

Q: I have many doubts.

A: That’s great! Stay curious. Trust yourself. Go with the flow.

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This is why you don’t meditate daily

Above is the most boring YouTube you’ll ever discover. It’s an hour long recording of my daily meditation practice. Please don’t watch the whole thing. I’ll refer to parts of it in this article.

So you know about the scientifically proven benefits of meditation and the most inspiring teachers are just a mouseclick away … but still you’re not meditating daily. Why is that?

You think it’s more difficult than it is

All you really need is a minute to yourself and a simple technique. You don’t need an exotic method, incense, a guru, a perfectly peaceful place, or lots of time. You don’t have to spend an hour pondering “What am I?” while going through series of yoga postures. For now, you can just read “Meditation basics” below and get started right away.

You’re not sure if it’s for you

There are lots of techniques and theories out there. Teachers contradict each other. Info overflow. It might take a while before you find what really resonates with you. If you continue to feel drawn to meditation, just trust yourself, pick something that speaks to you and give it a go. In my experience you’ll only know if something is for you after you tried it for at least a month.

You haven’t made it a priority in your daily routine

It’s probably clear at what time you wash yourself in the morning, how late you arrive at work, when you have lunch, what you do after dinner … but have you made up your mind about when to meditate?

To make this habit part of your routine, start small, pick an existing daily trigger and do your meditation right after. Some examples:

  • First toilet visit in the morning: As Deepak Chopra would say: “Rise, Pee, Meditate”.
  • Daily commute: Not the most reliable solution because there can be a lot of distraction, but you can meditate while walking, on the bicycle, driving your car, waiting for public transport, on the bus or train …
  • Arriving at work Are you the first one in the office? You’re too nice! Rebel and spend a couple of minutes doing absolutely nothing (but breathe).
  • Lunch break: You figure it out.
  • Screen-time: Take a mini-retreat before watching your favorite TV-show or browsing your favorite website. Or skip the screens altogether and see how long you can be with yourself without getting bored.
  • Bedtime: This trigger is pointless if you fall asleep as quickly as I do, but many people meditate in bed last thing at night or first thing in the morning.

Meditation basics

Sit, stand or lie down. Notice that you’re breathing. Isn’t it amazing it’s happening all by itself? When distracted, gently bring your attention back to the breath. A 1000 times if necessary. There’s no need to get frustrated. Just be kind to yourself, the way you would train a cute playful puppy to stay in its basket. You gently bring it back again and again.

You might find it useful to count the breath. When you inhale, think “1”, when you exhale “2”, up to “10”. Then start over at “1” … repeat. When you lose count, start back at “1” as well. Remember that you don’t need to change anything about your breathing, just observe how it happens by itself.

Go a bit deeper

  1. Get interested in all the details of the breath. Are you breathing through the nose? How does it feel to breathe in? Can you follow the stream of air flowing from the nostrils to the lungs? Can you feel your chest expand? What about your belly? What tenses? What relaxes? Can you feel the pleasure of breathing fresh oxygen? It’s like quenching a thirst with every inhale. Bliss!
  2. Notice the pause when the lungs are full, right before the exhalation.
  3. When does the outbreath start? Can you feel the warmth of the air you exhale? Can you feel your chest, belly and shoulders relax? Savour the relaxation with every exhale. Bliss!
  4. Notice the pause when the lungs are empty, just before the inhalation.
  5. Go back to step 1.

In stead of focusing on the breath, you can also meditate with sound, music, a question, a mantra, while moving … but maybe I’ll write about that another time.

Helpful but optional

  • Use a timer. I like to use an old fashioned kitchen timer or Zazen Meditation Timer on Android.
  • Need some guidance? HeadSpace or Calm will do.
  • Keep a log. Lift is nice, but so is a paper notebook. The latter has helped me a great deal to make my formal meditation practice a daily habit. I just write down the date, time, place and technique after every meditation session, and maybe I’ll add some thoughts about my experience.
  • Sit properly. I like the Burmese posture and seiza (see the YouTube above at 6:45 and 35:08). When I use a chair, I often get sleepy, unless I don’t lean against the back.

The best things in life are free

… and so are these excellent resources:

Who am I?” by Ramana Maharshi
The Way of Liberation” by Adyashanti
Happiness Beyond Thought” by Gary Weber
Five Ways to Know Yourself” by Shinzen Young
The Work” of Byron Katie

But don’t forget to keep it simple

Remember, to meditate well all you really need is some minutes to yourself. Use a simple technique like observing the breath. Start with a minute or two a day and go from there. It’s better to meditate daily for just a minute than to meditate for 2 hours once a month.

Let me know (in the comments or via e-mail): what trigger will you use to add meditation to your daily routine? What technique or app will you try? How long do you plan to meditate every day? Will you use an analog or digital timer? Will you keep a log? Also let me know if you have any doubts or questions.

Up next

My next article will be a collection of answers to Frequently Asked Questions about meditation. For example: “What if I lose motivation?” or “Why does my favorite technique no longer work?”

Some more info about the YouTube at the top, featuring yours truly:

  • 4 x 15 minutes pondering “What am I?”
  • 1st quarter: Sitting, Burmese posture
  • 2nd quarter: Yoga asana flows
  • 3rd quarter: Sitting, Seiza posture
  • 4rd quarter: Yoga asana flows + corpse pose

Take care now! Bye bye then!

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I cannot succeed (or fail)

I cannot succeed (or fail)
So I’ve been ill all week. Fun times! For 5 days I did little more than cough, sweat and sleep. An awful lot of sleeping. Psychedelic fever dreams. Surprisingly empty mind during daily meditation. Probably because I was unable to do anything anyway, so why worry? Sweet!

Now as I get better, the mind is less concerned with sfinx cats being worshipped by trunks and whistles, and more with day to day business, voicing all kinds of importantness to tackle:

  • must improve immunity!
  • must eat healthier!
  • must restart vegetable garden!
  • must turn compost heap!
  • must cook more!
  • must write weekly blogpost!
  • must must must!

Apart from the cooking, not much has happened yet. Through sheer sluggishness the mind sabotages its own projects. It has no problem telling me what to do, but when I sit down to oblige and ask to help me write about the planned topic for today, it falters and turns all lazy and indecisive. Where did that big mouth go now?

So here’s a quote to comfort myself and you, my precious reader:

If you surrender your attachment to the results of your actions, that will purify your mind and provide a path to liberation.

Rather than performing actions focused on achieving something that you want, perform actions as they arise with no attachment to the outcome.

Remain open to whatever occurs instead of operating with the sense of you as a doer who will succeed or fail. This will loosen the grip of your mind and open the way to freedom.

– Ramana Maharshi & Gary Weber
(from the book Happiness Beyond Thought)

Now I’m going to turn that compost heap! (Or else I won’t.)

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How do you sleep at night?

Thinking is fatal

First a confession, then a tried and proven method to get back to sleep after being woken up.

Let’s face it: we all mess up now and then. I know I do.

Just one example. If you wake me up in the middle of the night, chances are you’ll meet Mr Hyde. Do it 3 times and I nearly self-combust. My kids will tell you. That’s probably part of the fun for them.

Perhaps you wouldn’t expect this from a guy who sits in meditation for an hour a day since 2009, who writes about slowing down and says his core value is peace?

Apparently ideals and reality are two different things.

Luckily Mr Hyde stays out of the picture most of the time. More than ever really. And I do find meditation plays a big part in this, not as a quick fix (do those even exist?) but by showing me time and again that I’m not in control and I shouldn’t take life personally. It’s slowly sinking in.

Get back to sleep

After getting my kids back to bed, they’ll be in dreamland after a couple of minutes. But I don’t get there so fast. My thoughts won’t let me get back to sleep. They run in circles about how things should be different, how I should have handled the situation better, what I’m going to do next time, judging myself for not being able to let go, blah blah blah … Until I rediscover the truth: thinking is fatal. It only keeps me awake and tenses up my body.

So here is what to do:

1. Tense up and relax
Laying on your back, deliberately tense up all muscles, from the feet up to the face (grimacing). Hold all this tension for couple of breaths. Make sure it’s not too intense (or you’ll risk a cramp) or too soft (defeating the purpose). On an out-breath, relax from head to toes, notice how different everything feels, including the breath. Feel the afterglow of the released tension now the body is at ease. Enjoy. Do this tensing and relaxing 3 times.

2. Do a body scan
Focus on one part of your body at a time. Think “left foot” and then notice what you feel there for a couple of seconds. Then think “big toe”, notice what you feel there, then “2nd toe”, “3rd toe” (Can you locate that one? Really?) and so on, until you’ve scanned the entire body, bottom to top, left to right, or whatever order makes sense to you.

3. Count exhales
Usually I won’t make it past the body scan. I’ll be drifting off before I reach my shoulder. But sometimes a 3rd step is needed: counting exhales.

Notice the breath, count 1 on the next inhale, then 2 on the exhale, 3 on the inhale … up to 10. When you get there, go back to 1. If you lose track, go back to 1.

Remember: thinking is fatal. Sweet dreams!

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Every breath is a new chance

Now and then I get the chance to lead a meditative yogaclass for a group of 30 people. Last Thursday I got such enthusiastic responses, I thought I’d share the 3 main points of the class below.

This is something I’ve practiced consistently last month, whenever possible, during my daily hour of formal meditation as well as daily activities. I found it to be quite insightful.

After a while it was the first thing on my mind when waking up. I find I’m still applying it, although I practice with a different self-inquiry this month.

1. Observe change

Everything is constantly changing. Even as we are sitting still, not doing anything, there are thoughts, emotions and sensations passing by all the time, completely by themselves. Our senses register the environment. We don’t have to do anything ourselves. The point is to keep recognizing this, that continuous change, happening by itself.

2. Think “Yes” on every inhale

When you notice a sensation, it can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. It’s easy to say “Yes” to the pleasant and neutral ones, but a lot harder to say “Yes” to the difficult ones. It’s not about agreeing with everything, but about acknowledging things as they are, including challenging experiences. This “Yes” means as much as “Yes, I see it.”

3. Think “Let go” on every outhale

This is not about pushing experiences away, more about giving them the chance to pass by themselves. If you can’t let go of something (un)pleasant right now, maybe you can on the next exhale? Or the one after that?

Every breath is a new chance.

If you want to give this a try for a while, you can use this Lift habit to help you remember.

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