Being present: put tomorrow on the back burner.

I am 30, going on 31, unmarried, without kids, traveling around the world with my entire life stuffed in a backpack that’s half my size. I don’t have a permanent address and my passport is my most valuable possession.

What the f*** am I doing with my life?

This is the broken record that likes to play sometimes in my head. Sometimes…frequently. It’s the voice of generations before me, the people that care about me.  It’s the foot-stomping temper tantrum between what is expected and what I feel called to do. It’s the battle between my head and my heart.

Simple questions like “where do you live?” or “what’s next?” can send me straight to the turntable. The record is ready and waiting to play.

So how do I turn it off? How do I block out the noise? And should I?

While it’s easier said than done, the answer to that last question is yes. What is the point of worrying about a future that won’t exist without today? Why should we allow ourselves to get anxious over a life we haven’t lived yet when we could live the life we have right now?

The first two questions are a little harder to answer. But I’m working on it. I have added a few new practices into the fold and so far, I think they’re working. I have added a few habits into the fold to make the present a more attractive place to be. So far, I think they’re working…

  1. Smile. When shit starts getting tough or you start feeling frustration swell up, try to touch your left cheek to your left ear. Then the right cheek to the right ear. You’ll find that your forced smiles quickly becomes genuine. My grandmother always smiled. No matter what. She said that it takes 26 muscles to frown and only 8 to smile. “Smilin’ is easier, darlin’, so take it easy.”
  2. Find gratitude. Before going to bed, write down three things you’re grateful for. Don’t just think them. Write them down. Take the time to reflect on it and make them meaningful. You can spare five extra minutes. Honestly, some days this might feel harder than others, but getting in the practice of articulating what we appreciate does wonders on how we approach what life puts in our path.
  3. Sweat. Exercising requires your full and immediate attention. You can’t have your head somewhere else when you’re trying not to fall off a steep running trail or lifting weights over your head. Give yourself this break from not thinking so you can focus on what you’re doing. Plus, no one ever regrets a workout.
  4. Put your phone down. This is probably the hardest one (and the most shameful to admit). The other night I went to dinner and I looked around to find that nearly everyone was either playing on their phone or had their eyes glued to the TV screen behind the bar. It made me sad. What was the point of even being there when we could all ignore each other from the comforts of our own home? Limit the distraction, put the screens away and engage with the people around you. Give them attention. Get their attention. Everyone wins when we connect #IRL.
  5. Find the magic. Something good happens every single day. Beauty manifests in some way every single day. You just might miss if it you’re not paying attention. Open up to it. Change the perspective. Find some magic in the mundane. In doing so, you’ll be practicing a few of these habits…multi-tasking for the win!

What is life for if not to enjoy it? There is no tomorrow without today. Focus on today. Give today everything you’ve got.

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Do the crazy thing.

If I there is a sentence I’ve heard more than any other in my life it would be: “You are totally crazy.” I used to think crazy was a bad thing. As it turns out, crazy is a courage thing.

After leaving university, and still sometimes now, I found myself battling against the stress of the unknown. School provided a safe and reliable way of measuring success, of measuring progress. Success had a formula to follow. In many ways, this programmed me to build a life that followed suit. If you stay on this track, you’ll get this job, make this money, get this car…you get the gist. It’s not really so abnormal, “everyone” is doing it. It’s not so crazy. What does seem to be crazy, to most people at least, is to stray off that track. To define success in a different way and to measure it according to new standards. To me, this doesn’t sound crazy at all. It sounds like courage.

We have countless opportunities to define the rules of the game. The game, after all, is yours and yours alone. It’s yours to play and it’s yours to live. Whether big steps off the track or small, these steps are your own and little by little, they will create a clear path to your success. Maybe this means getting the haircut you’ve been thinking of but were to scared to try. Perhaps it’s applying for that job you feel unqualified for. It could be buying that promo plane ticket, or even falling in love when you least expect it.

Take the step. Do the crazy thing. Have the courage to define your own success….and then look back to see how far you’ve come. 

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Knowing when to quit.

I am my biggest enemy. I’m guessing you might be yours, too? Since I can remember, I’ve always been competitive. I have always pushed myself to be the best I can be at whatever I’m doing. Dancer, student, ice cream sandwich maker…you name it. Some people miiiight call it perfectionism. I just always assumed perfect was the only right way.

I’m happy to announce I was wrong.

I’ve got a lot to say about giving your all, but that will come later. This post is about knowing when it’s okay to quit.

The ugly truth is, lots of things we do are hard. Lots of things we do are things we don’t actually want to be doing but we have to. But then, there are those things we do simply for pleasure…and those things don’t have to be so hard.

I have always wanted to surf. Watching surfers play in the waves, I always likened surfing to dancing on water. Last year, I took a hiatus from the boat to finally take the plunge and dive into surfing. I spent two months in Indonesia learning how to navigate my way around a wave in a completely different way. Along the way, a dear friend, knowing my perfectionist nature, gave me advice that has actually changed my life. “Gina, the second you start getting frustrated, get out of the water. Your only goal in surfing is to have fun. When you’re not, get out. Stop before you stop loving it.”

Simple, but true. It’s against my nature. All my life, I’ve followed the same pattern. Go hard or go home, sort of thing. If I failed, I got up again and again and again, pushing myself to my limits until I “got it.” I used to practically live in the library in college. Pillow and all. I just wanted to be the best, I just wanted to “get it.” Well, the end result was a beat-up, exhausted, ironically less confident and less happy version of myself. Yeah, I finally got it. But it didn’t FEEL GOOD getting there.

Have you been in my shoes? Aching for perfection until it actually kind of hurts? Do yourself a favor and take this advice: stop before you stop having fun. In whatever your thing is. Just enjoy the ride!

I’m far from being the surfer I dream of being. I get my ass handed to me regularly. But I love it. I smile until my face hurts. Sometimes I stay in the water for hours, sometimes I bail after 10 minutes. If I’m frustrated, I get out. I stop before it stops feeling good, because, after all, the only reason I’m doing it is to have fun. If it’s not fun, what’s the point?

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Lessons learned from two years at sea.

Have you ever time-traveled? Well, I have. This morning. I woke up to a notification on my phone that took me back to October 20th, 2015. Two years ago. On the dot. It was a photo of my sailboat, just after having sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. Two years ago today I cut the dock lines and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Seeing this photo, I was instantly pulled back into this very moment. I remembered perfectly the nervous excitement that filled the air, the slightly nauseous feeling of sea sickness and homesickness, wrapped into one big ball that nestled comfortably in my stomach. Without verbalizing our thoughts, we wore our feelings on our faces. “What the hell are we doing?” “Are we really doing this?” “I miss my mom already…”

The weather got heavy fast, some of the biggest seas we had seen to date, and there wasn’t anything we could do other than push aside our nagging nerves and sail. So that’s what we did. We sailed, and sailed and sailed. We went farther than we ever had, we spent our first night at sea, we dove head first into the rhythm of life at sea.

These past two years have moved slow and fast, usually at the same time. The lows have dug deeper than I ever imagined, but the highs have reached heights I didn’t know I could reach. Sure, I’ve learned to sail. I’ve learned to navigate. I’ve learned to weather the storms. But more than anything, I’ve learned about myself.

“For whatever we lose, like a you or a me, it’s always ourselves we find at sea.” -e.e. cummings

Lessons learned from two years off the dock:

1. Trust yourself. “Your gut knows more than you do.” I usually think of this when my lactose-intolerant stomach is angry because I’ve eaten ice cream, but it applies to more than food 😉 On the boat, I am not the strongest sailor. But I’ve spent so long preaching this narrative to myself that I started believing that I was, in fact, incapable of making a decision concerning sailing. That eventually seeped into everything else. It’s an ugly place to be. You are capable of more than you think you are. Have faith in your own abilities and strengths.

2. …and trust others. You don’t know everything. Period. The second you catch yourself thinking you do, take a long hard look in the mirror. You’re looking at a liar. There is something to be said about “grown ups”. Those salty sailors. Those gray hairs. They come from experience. Listen to them. Chances are, they do know more than you. This goes for sailors and non-sailors alike. As for those less salty – perhaps our peers, our kids – they come to the table with their own life experiences that are valuable, too. We all see things through a slightly different lens and bring new ideas to the table.

3. Perspective is everything. I can’t drive this lesson home enough. Everything, everything, is about perspective. Our first year at sea was, I’ll admit it, often times a complete disaster. We screamed, we cried, we yelled. Everything felt SO serious, so stressful, so dramatic. When something breaks, (and it always does – it’s a boat) it feels like the end of the world. Really. Ripping your hair out would honestly feel better. Going into year two, we spent a bit more time observing said “grown ups”. They got stressed, sure. But they also knew that the world wasn’t over. That shit happens and that’s just the nature of the game. Changing perspective allows you to let more things roll off your shoulders, it encourages you to laugh when you’d rather cry. Perspective has the power to change the entire mood…and in turn, an entire year at sea.

4. Your privilege does not make you entitled. To live a life that allows you to travel as we do is a privilege. Yes, I worked hard for it, yes, I made sacrifices for it, but it is still a privilege. I have spent much of the past two years in places without the same resources we are used to in the “western” world. These countries are without the same access to education, technology…electricity. The contrast can be enormous. This is where perspective also plays a role. This contrast provides an opportunity to feel gratitude, but instead, I often see fellow travelers behaving as if they are entitled because of their privileges. We are lucky to be accepted into worlds unlike our own, to get a glimpse of a different life. And that’s the key: different. People are people. Treat each other accordingly.

5. You are who you are…and not always who you think you are. Long-term travel, especially by boat, will present several, if not endless, challenging moments. Situations that put even the most even-keeled characters to the test. Things are breaking, you’re tired, your entire world is literally moving…your best and worst qualities come shining through like never before. That reality check can be hard to deal with. “What do you mean I’m not actually perfect?!” But even without the bad days, anyone who has spent time in an isolated environment (like crossing an ocean) will tell you: you have a LOT of time to reflect on who you are, who you have been and who you’d like to be.

Despite having sailed over 15,000 miles, I can safely say that sailing is not the hardest part of living the boat life. The human component is. Learning about yourself, how you navigate through life, how you weather the storms, how you ride the big waves and how quickly you get back up…that’s really what you learn at sea.

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Positive reinforcement: why you need a dream team

We have all heard it before, the sacred vow of self-acceptance: to find true love you must first learn to love yourself.

But what happens when you’re struggling to find that self-love? When you’ve had a no good, very bad day…or week…or month? When you’re feeling down on yourself and your self-esteem is low? The moment when you just don’t feel like you’re good enough or good at anything. I mean, we have all been there. I know I have. I am a professional beat-myself-upper, remember?

We’re told that our strength comes from within, that our value is something that only we can define. I believe wholeheartedly in both of these statements. But sometimes you need a quick shot of self-esteem and you can’t be your own cheerleader when you’re also being your own enemy. That’s where the dream team comes in.

As much as we work to accept and love ourselves, sometimes a little positive reinforcement from an external source goes a long way. Sometimes, that’s all we really need…and that’s okay. You’re no less of a person because you need to hear a little something encouraging. You’re human.

Be it your sister, your best friend, the girl from your yoga class, your dream team is a valuable asset on your path to self-love. They are the people that possess the power to remind you how awesome you are…and they do it. Your dream team, whoever they are, recognizes good in you when you can’t see it and they help you fill your self-love shot glass. Surround yourself with these people. Accept the shots they pour and pour them right back. I mean, who doesn’t want to get drunk in love?!

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The most beautiful day I have ever seen.

Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Then again, I’m not sure when nature has stumped me the way it did today….and I see a lot of nature.

So the superlative stays.

For now.

One of the perks, and points, of traveling by sailboat is that I get to find hidden gems…and try to keep them hidden. For that reason alone, I will not tell you where I am witnessing this magic, but I will tell you all about it and why it matters.

Somewhere on the eastern side of Fiji lies a little island, speckled with a few houses tucked deep into the hillside. A steep, blindingly white beach separates a dense palm tree forest from a turtle-packed colorful coral reef. There are gentle waves breaking off the reef, sharks chasing prey below the surface and tropical fish strolling around in a sort of blissful oblivion.

The silence is loud. Other than the occasional giggle slipping out of my snorkel – seeing fish poop never stops being funny – everything is silent. In and out of the water. I spend what felt like hours just floating along, watching the waves crash from below the surface, spying on turtles relaxing on the reef as sucker fish gave their shells a scrub down.

At sunset, I rest against a fallen palm tree and see the sun transform the water and sky into colors I’ve never seen before. Crabs poke their heads out of the sand to see if the coast is clear – nope, I’m still here – and mosquitos start singing warning songs. From my kayak, I’m not quite sure where to focus my attention. Do I look at the crystal clear water below me that is now reflecting an orange sunset? Do I look at the bright pink clouds overhead against a royal blue sky? Or at the palm trees that are now glowing the brightest green? I am 100%, absolutely, completely overwhelmed by how awesomely beautiful this day is.

Now, before I get carried away and risk sounding too “out there”, let me stop myself and share the first thought that crosses my mind: how on earth am I going to keep this moment with me when it’s over?

On this blog, I aim to share my adventures in pursuing a life that FEELS GOOD. For me, a large part of a feel good life is creating new experiences and reliving old ones that…well, felt good. I’ve talked about the sensation of travel happy before and in this moment, experiencing the most beautiful day of my life, I stop to reflect. How can I bring this travel happy home? How can I relive this?

This is the answer I came up with: allow yourself to be amazed by what you usually skip over. Take a moment in your day to sit back and just soak in what’s around you. Yeah, you’ve seen sunsets before. Yeah, you’ve seen baristas making your latte before. Yeah, you’ve taken the bus before. But in each of those moments, there is something you haven’t seen. Something you haven’t paid attention to. Something you didn’t notice.

Notice it. Pay attention to it. Be aware. If you’re saying to yourself, “Gina, watching passengers on the bus is so not the same as watching a Fijian turtle…” I say to you: you’re right. And you’re wrong. The experience isn’t in the thing you’re actually seeing, it’s in seeing what you didn’t see before. Does that make sense?

I want to relive this moment because this moment feels good. To date, it has been the most beautiful day I have ever seen because I allowed myself to be amazed my it. Holding on to this lesson, I can say with certainty that the best is yet to come.

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It’s not about you: how to stop taking it personally.

What other people do to you is their karma. How you react is yours.

Much to my own chagrin, I take things personally. When someone says something hurtful or acts aggressively, I take it to heart. I mull it over. I internalize it. I put my own value into question based on their sideways behavior.

This is not who I want to be.

Let me tell you a little story. My uncle shaves his head and, to my knowledge, always has. Years ago, we were standing in line at the supermarket and I asked him, with teenage curiosity, if he shaved his head because he liked the style or because he couldn’t grow hair. Overhearing the conversation, my aunt quickly shot me dagger eyes and scolded me on how inappropriate it was to question a man on the balding state of his scalp. She informed my 17-year-old self that this was a highly sensitive subject for men. Suddenly, at the realization that I might’ve hurt my uncles feelings, and in the middle of the grocery store no less, I burst into tears. Sobbing, I apologized profusely for having maybe, possibly hurt his feelings. Snot running down my face, vision compromised by the waterfall of tears, I hyperventilated “I….am…soooooo….sorrrrr…yyyy.” I didn’t want to be the insensitive person that made him feel bad. He burst into laughter. He didn’t give a shit about his balding head. But he thought it was funny that I cared so much.

I’d like to be more like him.

The fact is, unless you’re my uncle, we often rely on the opinions of others to create our opinions of ourselves. We define our beauty, our intelligence and our happiness based on what someone thinks about us. When someone compliments you, your mood goes up. When you feel judged, your mood goes down. But here’s the deal:

People speak out of turn, they are clumsy with their words, and sometimes they hurt your feelings without even realizing it. There are also people that do it on purpose. They feed on making others feel small, building their own securities on the insecurities of others. Those people exist, too. Regardless of which camp your wrong-doer falls into, there’s a really important thing to keep in mind: It’s. Not. About. You.

Everyone has their own shit and their shit is not your shit. You have enough of your own already. Don’t mix up the two. These are a few steps I am practicing to stop taking things so personally:

1. Take a deep breathe. The natural reaction to an attack is to, well, react. But don’t. You will find yourself on a path of most resistance. Take a moment to pause, breathe and prepare yourself to react…differently.

2. Listen between the lines. Sometimes you’re on fire for a reason. Maybe you did actually do something wrong and that’s why the heat is on you. Try to understand what is being communicated to you, not necessarily the words being said. Not sure? Ask.

3. Remember who you want to be. We are not always what we aspire to be. This is a moment to practice being our future self. How would the best version of you act in this moment?

4. Be kind. To them. To yourself. Everyone has their own shit, remember? Maybe you were the recipient of someone’s spazz attack because they’re going through something. Be kind. They needed to dump the energy somewhere…but also be kind to yourself. Understand why you might be feeling triggered, why you’re taking their words to heart. Understand why you’re inclined to take it personally without actually taking it personally. You have your own shit, too, remember?

You can’t control the shade that other people throw your way, but you can control how you react…and how you react is what defines you

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On food: you can learn to like anything.

American Pie told us that men think about sex every seven seconds. Well, I think about food at about the same frequency. It’s not only a need, but a genuine pleasure. I. Love. Food. I love eating it, I love reading about it, I love cooking it, I love talking about it.

So what if I told you that I used to like…next to nothing? Okay, that’s not true. I just didn’t like anything that was good for me. I come from a family of amazing cooks who managed to hide nutrition under a veil of deliciousness. “Don’t let her know that those are mushrooms, not beef” they would whisper in the kitchenHere’s the thing: it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be healthy or that I preferred junk food, I just simply didn’t like the way things tasted. Walking through a farmers market, my mouth drooled at the juicy, ripe heirloom tomatoes, the colorful cauliflower, the deep, dark bunches of kale…but when I tasted them, I (literally) spat them out. What con artists these veggies were! Using their beauty to distract from their absolutely disgusting taste!

At 21, being the only one of my friends eating a plain hamburger at Barney’s – hold the tomato, lettuce, onion and bun – I realized that maybe it was time for a change. I wanted to play for the other team. I wanted to know why on earth people paid extra for avocado. So, I gave up meat. For 40 days.

In my still developing little brain, I assumed that if you don’t eat meat, the only thing left on the planet to eat is vegetables, and I would therefore be forced to like them or I would in fact starve.

Let’s just take a moment to pause here and be very grateful for no longer being 21. Amen.  

And for three days, that’s basically what happened. I was living on rice and fruit. So much fruit. But then my senses kicked in and I walked my hungry ass to the market. I piled up on all the things I thought looked good and was determined to make them taste good. I grabbed a couple of cookbooks, tied my apron and put my game face on. It was time to cook.

For the next 37 days all I did was cook…and eat. At first, I still hated most things. I’ve never been much into salt, so the veggies had to stand all on their own. I learned to mix spices, the difference between eating a carrot raw, steamed, roasted and fried…what I preferred and what I didn’t. (Raw and roasted. Never steamed. That’s why I hated grandma’s carrots…) I slowly learned that I could in fact learn to like anything…I just had to find out how. 

Fast forward to the end of my forty days and I was a bonafide vegetable eater. My family couldn’t even believe that I was the one to prep a spinach salad and green beans for Easter brunch. Me! Gina! Girl transformed!

Fast forward nine years later and I am now mostly a plant-based eater. I say mostly because I simply don’t  want to give up steak tartare or crispy slices bacon. That is not to say that I now love everything, it’s just that I have had a shift in perspective. As with so many other things in life, we build a box and then we sit in it, sometimes wondering what life could be like on the outside (but not often ready to admit it). Stepping out of the box can be scary – like ordering something you’ve never heard of from the menu – and maybe when you do, you won’t like what you find. Or maybe you will. You just have to keep trying. Over and over and over again.

My current battle is with beets. Round, colorful, beautiful looking beets. I hate them. The smell. The texture. The aftertaste. But I will like them, damnit. So I order them every chance I get. One of these days, I’ll stumble on something outside of the box that makes me so glad I took the first step. 

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Funkbusters: 5 ways to get out of a bad mood

This morning I woke up with a huge cloud over my head. One of those bright-white, reflective, migraine-inducing clouds. I was in a funk. A real funky funk. The kind that like to stick around as if they have no one else to go and bother. You know the kind of mood I’m talking about?

I took to Instagram to get some new ideas on how to break free from this prison of blah and these are a few takeaways.

5 funkbusters to get you out of a bad mood:

1. Dig in. I do not mean dig into a bag of TJs sweet potato chips. Food hangovers suck. I mean dig into what you’re feeling. Grab a pen and paper and write down all the thoughts that come to mind. Don’t think before you write. Just write. Let the word vomit flow. When you’re all out of thoughts, read what you’ve jotted down and connect the dots. Get to the bottom of what is actually bothering you.

2. Sweat it out. On the other hand, give yourself the gift of not thinking. That’s what happens when I exercise. There simply isn’t time to think about anything else other than what I’m doing…or I’ll get hurt. Seriously. I mean, have you ever tried reformer pilates and dared thinking about anything else? Hell no. You’ll fly right off that carriage. Besides avoiding injury, having some time to not think gives your big bad brain a moment to chill out and take in the endorphins that are pumping through your system. In the wise words of Elle Woods, “Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t just shoot their husbands.”

3. Give a hug, get a hug. In a time where we spend more time in front of screens than real people, we lose out on the big wins of physical touch. Physical touch (and that doesn’t mean getting frisky) reduces cortisol (stress hormones) levels in the body. Real talk. Fight the funk with a hug. Don’t be afraid to ask for one if you need it. Everyone likes a good hug 🙂

4. Clean up. A cluttered life is a cluttered mind. I find serious stress relief in organizing, decluttering and a good old fashion clean up. In my house, I call them Power 20’s. Pick a spot in your room or home that you’re going to dedicate 20 minutes to and get after it. Pull out a few things you don’t need, rearrange the spices, dust under the TV. Whatever it might be, give your physical environment a visual boost. By the time you’re done, you’ll not only have cleaned house, you’ll have given your mood a boost, too.

5. Let it be. Sometimes the best way to funkbust is to just let it be. We don’t always need to fight the funk and there’s nothing wrong with sitting with whatever it is we’re feeling. Just remember that everything is temporary and even the worst of moods won’t stick around forever.

Do you have any funkbusting tips to add to the list? I’d love to know! Comment below!

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Tiny space, big moves: resistance bands workout.

Being active is essential in living a feel good life. Movement, in and of itself, is proof that we are indeed alive. But far beyond six packs and bikinis, there is great reward in testing the limits of our own bodies. We learn where our comfort zone is… and we build the confidence to break out of it. 

As a barre instructor, I am fueled by the dedication to self my students showed day after day. Despite bitchy bosses, projects gone wrong and inboxes that never seem to hit zero, these women come in the studio with a fierce attitude, ready to show themselves who really is boss. They push, pull and fight against the urge to make excuses. I thought of them this morning as I was ready to say “I can’t workout today because it’s really too windy outside.” Um, what?

A more reasonable excuse would have been: I don’t have enough space. I live on a boat, after all, and there really is not a lot of space. I mean, talk about tiny living. AND the ground under me is constantly moving. Do you workout in an earthquake?! Yet, even I know that space isn’t much of an excuse….and people do entire workouts on Bosu balls…sooooo as my mother always says: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

And when I have it my way, I always opt for a lower body workout. Today’s tiny space workout went something like this:

1 resistance band, 5 moves, 30 reps, 3 rounds through…and a lot of booty burn.

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