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How To Be Present

At the most recent Making Things Happen Conference this spring, as I sat in the back listening to each of our attendees share over their two days at The Carolina Inn, I noticed something...

Over and over, a theme emerged: women want to be present in their lives. They want to be present for their spouses, present for their kids, perhaps present in their time with the Lord, or even simply present with the task at hand as they move throughout their day.

This sounds like such a twenty-first century problem, doesn't it? And there's shame there, like why can't we just do this thing that sounds so simple?? While I'm sure this has always been a challenge to some degree, the fact is that it is uniquely a "right now" problem: there are more distractions, and more powerful distractions, tempting us than ever before in history. (Can you tell I'm reading The Tech-Wise Family and LOVING IT? :))

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Photo by Rachel Coffey

But back to the MTH Conference: this deeply-seated desire to be present was so universal and so keenly felt, but by the same measure, attendees seemed at a loss for how they could create change in this area in their lives. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I wanted to share a few things that have worked for me and for other Cultivate team members. The catch? Very few of these will be surprises to you. We all know these things. The true challenge is doing them. I'm here to encourage you on that, too, as you'll see below! :) Let's go!

One final note: when we talk about being present, I don't think most of us are talking about achieving a blissed-out state of zen. What we want is to live deeply in important moments, giving the people we care about the gift of our attention, and maximizing (in the most heart-centered sense) each moment we have. We want to live and remember each day as distinct and praiseworthy instead of just one more in an undifferentiated slog. Okay, now let's go :)

1. Define what's truly important to you and remind yourself of it often. We will never stop talking about the importance of a "why" at Cultivate - it is central to everything we do, and to the message of the PowerSheets! Without a strong and personally meaningful why, we'll never stick with something that's challenging or requires something of us. So why does being present matter to you? Define it, write it down, and perhaps picture it visually (I have a simple inspiration board on my fridge that reminds me of the kind of life I want to live -- one that is very present).

As an example, part of my why was articulated beautifully in this opinion piece from the New York Times. The author writes that the quantity of "quality" (present) time is almost as important as the quality, that we delude ourselves when we think we can "plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, and engineer intimacy in an appointed hour." The truth is that we never know when those moments will show up, so I want to be present and ready for them as often as I possibly can be. "People tend not to operate on cue... We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them."

2. Set a hard boundary. This is perhaps contradictory to my first point, but if being present is something you struggle with, start by setting a discrete time period when you commit to being fully present. It might be in the hour after your kiddos arrive home from school, the thirty minutes when you sit down to dinner or breakfast, or the ten minutes with your spouse before you go to bed. Making a commitment is the first step in keeping it.

3. Don't just hope things will work out - make a plan. Identify your biggest barrier to being present and make a plan to defeat it. For most of us, I would venture to say it's our phones. I have found that the very simple practice of putting my phone in the same place on the kitchen counter when I get home from work stops me from having to make a decision every day about whether I'll have my phone in my pocket, in the bedroom, etc. When I place that phone down, it's a physical reminder that I'm switching over into uninterrupted time with my daughter.

4. Find a way to quiet your mind. By definition, if we're not "in the present," our minds are in the past or future, right? Once my phone is put away, I focus on soaking in as much of the moment as I possibly can -- the sights, the sounds, the smells -- instead of focusing on what happened earlier that day or what's to come. It can also be helpful to focus on your breath, especially if you feel a pull to grab that phone!

5. Learn how to be together. Sure, perhaps the best way to be present with someone is to sit by their side and simply listen to them. But, I think we can also be present with each other in ways where our whole world doesn't need to come to a screeching halt. Some of my favorite moments each day are in the mornings when I'm getting ready for work and my two-year-old is sitting next to me in her high chair eating breakfast. Washing my face, doing my hair, and putting on makeup don't require much brain power, but since my hands are busy, it's easy to focus on her and whatever she'd like to talk to me about. If she's playing independently in the afternoon, I also like to sit on the sofa nearby and read my own book - giving her the gift of my available, present self, even though we aren't interacting constantly.

6. Make a system for capturing info. Aside from my phone, one of my biggest barriers to being present is all of the stuff constantly swirling in my head. You, too? To dos, worries, reminders, appointments to make, ideas to remember, birthday messages to send... the list goes on. Simply keeping a scratch pad out in our kitchen so I can jot those things down instead of juggling them in my mind goes a long way toward freeing me up mentally to remain "in the moment."

7. Acknowledge the tension. Like I mentioned at the beginning, just the fact that we struggle with being present can be a source of guilt or shame. Shouldn't being with our kids be the easiest thing in the world? Shouldn't sitting with our spouses bring us the most joy? They very well might - but that doesn't mean the pull of long-held habits is easy to break. You are learning a new way of being, so simply acknowledge the little by little steps you're taking as well as the set-backs, and keep moving forward!

8. Listen to older people instead of resenting them. We've all heard about the frazzled mom at the grocery store who wants to strangle the grandma who says "you're going to miss these days!" as she tries to wrangle her three screaming kids out the door. Well, my own grandma's best parenting advice when I asked her was "I just tried to enjoy them." What a simple, poignant, true thought. To me, that is what being present is about: simply enjoying the people and time I have been given. Keeping that as my focus instead of resenting it, even in the difficult moments of parenting or life, has been a game-changer for me.

Friends, I'd love to hear: is being present something you struggle with? What tactics have helped you be more present in your life?

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10 Things We Love About the Cultivate Family

One of our greatest joys is serving the women in our community, and we thought there was no better time to share 10 things we love about the Cultivate family than the eve of Valentine's Day!

1. You don't give up. This is my favorite thing about our Cultivate family, and it's on display this week. When the rest of the world decides their goals aren't worth it and jump ship, you buck the statistic and keep moving forward. And you do it with excitement and energy!

2. You are wise! When we create our PowerSheets each year, we work extra hard to make the best product for your lives, but you continue to blow us away with how creative you are with using PowerSheets in your lives. I've adopted many of your  PowerSheets hacks and tips for using Tending Tape, and it's helped my goal-setting process so much!

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3. You are willing to step out of your comfort zone and be vulnerable for the sake of encouraging others. We've witnessed and heard of countless stories of connection in the PowerSheets Facebook group and on social media. When someone is sharing a struggle, you're willing to speak up and say, "me too" so that others don't feel alone.

4. You celebrate the little by little progress. The number of you celebrating Cultivate What Matters week with us is proof! When the end of the month rolls around, you don't look at the empty boxes on your Tending List with a sense of shame or defeat. Instead, you look at the progress you DID make on your goals with an excited vigor to keep moving forward.

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So many friends showed up to Lara's Cultivate book launch party to celebrate! We love you LaShawn and Maggie!

5. You have fun! There's never any shortage of emojis, GIFS, high fives, and exclamation points from you ladies, and we wholehearted approve of that :)

6. Your story of cultivating what matters is uniquely important, and it has the potential to impact others in a profound way when you choose to share it. Whether it's on a blog or in an email to a single individual (including myself), taking the time to share your story takes bravery, and it pushes others to step out and do the same.

7. You make us look forward to Monday. We love our weekends with our loved ones, especially when they're social media-free, but knowing we get to start our Monday mornings dreaming up content and products for our Cultivate community!

8. You know where you're headed. In a world where distractions are calling out for us from all sides, your unwavering commitment to your purpose and big picture inspires us to stay on the forward path. It's one thing to ask yourself the question, "Where do I want to be when I'm 80?" It's another thing to have a clear vision, and our Cultivate family does!

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Real-life PowerSheets users from our 2018 PowerSheets photo shoot: Brooke, Bailey, Deah, Elisa, and Kaylee!

9. You're everywhere! There are PowerSheets friends meeting in all states, in countries across the world. This is amazing!

10. You are leading the way. Whether you realize it not, every single time you take a step forward on your goals or encourage someone else, you are the start of a ripple effect that changes lives.

And because we love you so much, we couldn't narrow the list down to only 10!

11. You appreciate color just as much as we do, as evidenced by the support of our sold out PowerSheets Goal Planners and Write the Word journals! Because of that, we're extra giddy to release the new products we have in the queue. 

Use the code LETSCULTIVATE for 25% off your entire order this week in the shop! Now's a great time to stock up on gifts for yourself or loves ones!

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Goal Action Ideas for Relationship Goals

If we rounded up all the goals set by all the PowerSheets users, I'd venture to guess that cultivating stronger relationships, and specifically stronger relationships with our significant others, would be in the top three. It comes back to that question Lara so wisely steers us toward again and again: where do you want to be when you're 80? Who do you want to be? Who do you want beside you?

Today we're continuing our Goal Action Ideas series with a Relationships edition, supplying you with a bank of ideas for your Tending Lists on that topic. Like all overwhelming things, cultivating a stronger, more joyful marriage or dating relationship is done through embracing little by little progress, and digging in even when things seem messy. I'd love to hear YOUR ideas, so please drop them in the comments!

P.S. We know not everyone is in a relationship right now (and some who aren't might really want to be!). We see you. Happily, many of these goals work for non-romantic relationships, too!

Monthly:

  • Brainstorm TV-free activities to do together
  • Research marriage counseling (not just for "rocky marriages" -- listen to our friend Katelyn!)
  • Get out of the house for a date night
  • Read the same book or article and discuss it together (doesn't have to be marriage-related!)
  • Work through our Goal Guide for Couples
  • Order a yearly photo album or a wedding album, if you haven't done it yet (oops!)
  • Review your finances and set a goal to work toward together
  • Have another couple over for dinner (watching how other couples interact can be so inspiring!)
  • Write out your wedding and marriage story
  • Read one new-to-you book on marriage
  • Create a family mission statement (our goal guide can help you with that!)
  • Look ahead and make a plan for your anniversary
  • Print favorite photos from your life together and display them in your home
  • Write your wills

Weekly:

  • Ask "what's one way I can help you this week?"
  • Set aside one night for an at-home date night
  • Consult your calendars together and make a plan for the week
  • Get outside and do something active together

Daily:

  • Connect phone-free on a walk
  • Pray with each other
  • Sit down for a meal together
  • Laugh!
  • Show gratitude to each other
  • Pray for each other
  • Act on each other's love language

These are just a few suggestions for items to add to your Tending List each month to make progress on your relationship goals for the year!

We'd love to hear from you: what else would you add to this list?

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Goal Action Ideas for Parenting Goals

We're back today with the next edition of our Goal Guide series! Many of us are striving toward the same things: deeper relationships, a growing faith, and a healthy lifestyle, to name a few. We created this series to spotlight one of those topics at a time and create a bank of ideas for your Tending List! Now, when you want to make progress on your fitness, faith, or nutrition goals, for instance, you can use these posts for inspiration!

This week's topic is parenting! I'm very new to this (10 weeks to be exact), but being the best mama I can be shot right to the top of my PowerSheets priorities the moment I found out I was expecting. As moms, we want to be more present, patient, and nurturing with our children. One thing that helps me make imperfect progress? Coming up with meaningful and practical ways I can love on my baby well. Thankfully I got some help from the Moms Cultivating What Matters with PowerSheets Facebook group. Veteran mamas, please share your ideas in the comments below as well!

Monthly Goals 

  • Read one new-to-you parenting book (We love the idea of inviting your husband to join you for this goal!)
  • Tackle an age-appropriate milestone goal such as sleep training, solid foods, weaning, or potty training
  • Do a seasonal craft, outing, or activity
  • Create a family mission statement
  • Get up-to-date in each child's baby book or scrapbook
  • Plan a family trip
  • Get involved in children's school activities
  • Join a moms' group or play group
  • Learn 2-3 new age-appropriate games
  • Create a chore chart or family values chart to track progress
  • Work through the Parents Goal Companion Guide
  • Pick a topic to learn about and check out several books on that topic from the library
  • Take an infant or child CPR class
  • Frame and hang photos of and artwork by your children

Weekly Goals

  • Have 3-5 sit-down family dinners together
  • Attend church and discuss what you learned
  • Write a letter, email, or diary entry to children to read when they're older
  • Take child to 1-2 activities such as play group, story time, or music class
  • Plan a special one-on-one date for each child
  • Call a mom friend to seek advice
  • Host a play date for each of your children to invite friends over
  • Memorize a weekly Bible verse together
  • Teach your child to cook a new dish with you
  • FaceTime a faraway family member
  • Make artwork together (Don't stress about making a mess!)

Daily Goals

  • Spend an hour of uninterrupted technology-free time with each child
  • Pray for and with each child
  • Read 2-3 books before bedtime
  • Keep your phone in another room during play time or conversations
  • Pack homemade lunch for each child (Adding an encouraging note while you're at it!)
  • Laugh together!
  • Talk about ways your children modeled your family values
  • Show gratitude for good behavior
  • Ask each child to list five things they are grateful for from the day
  • Get outside and active together: ride bikes or take an afternoon walk and talk about what you see
  • Practice patience: respond with grace and say yes whenever possible
  • Tell your children how much you love them!

These are just a few suggestions for items to add to your Tending List each month to make progress on your parenting goals for the year!

We'd love to hear from you: what else would you add to this list?

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How To Create a Cultivated Calendar with Emily Ley

Feeling overwhelmed? Like you don't have time for the good stuff in your life because your days are full of the to-do's on your list? Are you exchanging celebrating the people you love and adventures with the things that don't fill you up? If that's you, you're not alone! And we want to encourage you to do something about it!

Join Lara Casey and Emily Ley, creator of the Simplified Planner, for a free class on Thursday, September 28th at 3pm EST on How To Create a Cultivated Calendar. 

We've often asked why we don't include a day planner in our PowerSheets, and it's simple: they are two entirely different products that work together. In order to know what to put in your planner, you must first know your priorities and goals. Lara and Emily will share how to uncover good goals and what matters most, and then teach you how to use your PowerSheets and Simplified Planner (or any planner!) together to get the most out of your time.

We're even planning a special treat for all you sticker lovers out there :)

If you are not able join us live at 3pm EST, there's no need to fret! A replay will be available for all those that have registered, so be sure to sign upto receive access to the broadcast afterwards!

We can't wait to spend some time with you next week!

Leave us a comment to let us know you're coming! We can't wait to spend the afternoon with you!

PS. Our 2018 #PowerSheetsAreComing on October 25th! Sign up to stay updated over the next few weeks and to be the first to see the new collection next month before it goes live!

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