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7 Things I Took Away From Volunteering in a Developing Country

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7 Things I Took Away From Volunteering in a Developing Country

“Our lives are frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify.” – Thoreau

In January of 2014 I left my home in Seattle to travel to Peru to volunteer for four months with at risk children. I hopped on a plane with my rusty Spanish skills and expected smooth sailing from there. I was not prepared for what was to come, but that is why it worked out perfectly. Honestly, if I had known I would be speaking fully in Spanish, planning and managing a summer camp for 40 kids, teaching math and science in a foreign language and working ten hour days, I probably would not have gone.

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It was through being challenged everyday, and questioning if I would make it through my volunteer commitment that I was able to grow and take so much away from my time.

I was constantly humbled, frustrated, and exhausted, but full of joy. As I left Seattle, I was nervous about what my volunteering experience would be in Peru. And as I left Peru, I was full of excitement to be going home, but that same nervous feeling came back to me. I was going back to a familiar place, but I felt different. My life had not been changed in any drastic way, but there were small things I had taken away from my time in Peru that I wanted to incorporate into my life at home.

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In the big scheme of things, four months is a blink of an eye. It is nowhere near the over two-year commitment that Peace Corp volunteers make or what some other volunteer programs require. But those four months allowed me to step out of the life I had led for 22 years and gain important perspective.

The main theme that stood out to me was simplicity. We can get by with so little. This does not mean we need to deny ourselves what brings us joy, but it does mean that we are obligated to be conscious of what we consume and how the choices we make affect not only ourselves, but the world we share with other humans and other creatures.

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    The children that welcomed me into their lives. They challenged and inspired me- and also gave me about five hugs a day.

    Before I left Peru, I wrote seven things in my journal that I planned to hold myself accountable to as I jumped back into where I had left off in the USA.

    1. Do what you want!
      • Do not worry about other people because chances are they are too busy thinking about themselves to care
      • When you are happy you make others happy- so do what makes you happy!
      • Life is too short to do things out of guilt or feelings of obligation. Only do what is genuine and you can give yourself to 100%
    2. Nothing is easy, nothing is black and white.
    3. Celebrate the uniqueness of humanity.
    4. If you make yourself proud then NEVER apologize for who you are.
    5. A simply life is a happy life.
      • This one is important. Remember when you had a backpack full of clothes for four months? You never needed anything more. Remember when you are in Seattle that you do not need anything. Identify and organize your wants- what makes you truly happy?
    6. Be patient! Everything takes time.
    7. 3 month rule: almost all big adjustments take 3 months- before that it is unfair to make any adjustment or decisions.

    Two years later, I have sat down to revisit these observations. Have I held to them as much as I wish? Yes, surprisingly, I have. There was no overnight change when I returned to the USA, I still love shopping too much, but little by little simplicity has come into my life. This is the key, my friends. Nothing happens overnight. It is through time that a little becomes a lot.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

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    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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