Amanda Stuermer

Why You Should Be Inspired Every Day

February 16, 2015

“Sustainable change is driven by inspiration, not shame.
—Jena La Flamme

Have you ever wanted to make a change in your life, or accomplish a significant goal? In what ways did you motivate yourself to do what you needed to do? Did you seek out inspiration and encouragement—or did you use shame and anxiety to prod yourself into action?

In the last two days, I’ve come across two different references to the importance of inspiration versus shame and/or anxiety in making change and accomplishing goals. The first instance is quoted above. How many times do we use shaming tactics to try to effect change? And how has that been workin’ for us? Not well, in my case. Browbeating myself about what I haven’t accomplished saps my will to do pretty much anything except surf Pinterest and eat M & Ms right out of the bag. It gets me nowhere on the road to my big dreams. 

I found the second reference in this piece, written by Amanda Stuermer, on Jennifer Louden’s blog (emphasis hers): “I believe we choose the direction of our days, and that choice begins with our first waking thoughts. If I wake up worrying how I will ever get my to-do list done, I will feel rushed and pressured the whole day through. My words, actions, and habits will reflect that sense of anxiety. If instead, I wake up grateful for the opportunity to pursue my passions, I will feel inspired and my words, actions, and habits will reflect that. I would so much rather that my character and my destiny be guided by inspiration than anxiety.”  

It seems that inspiration can help us both with lasting change and with how we go about our daily tasks. I want to be guided by inspiration, not anxiety or shame, and I’m guessing you do, too. So how do we make this shift? We can start by getting rid of comparisons and blame (of ourselves and others).  Instead of stewing about lost opportunities or mistakes, we can turn to words of inspiration or stories of people who have done the things we want to do. Instead of being frustrated by others’ perceived success (or our own perceived lack thereof), we can choose to be inspired by them, rather than depressed. I know from personal experience that this is not always easy. I can’t control who gets the breaks, but I can at least try to control my emotions if it’s not me.

We can also use the rhythms of the day to infuse inspiration into our lives. Rather than check email or social media (or, even worse, the news), begin the day with something that lifts us up, such as music, inspirational reading, meditation, a walk, or a few yoga poses. When we take a break during the day (and you are taking breaks, right?), use that time for further inspiration—flip through a magazine with beautiful images, get out in nature if possible. Even five minutes away from “to do” will help. At bedtime, we can turn off all our screens and end the day with the practice of writing down good things that have happened or what we are grateful for. Keeping our minds constantly tuned to what inspires us will help us through times of stress, struggle and change.

Inspiration looks different for everyone. Some of my sources of inspiration include the “Acoustic New Age” radio station on Pandora; my Pinterest boards Truth, Beautiful, and Isn’t That Cool?; blogs like Zen Habits , and inspirational speakers like Brendon Burchard.

What inspires you? Compile your own list of people, places, quotes, etc., you can use to inspire yourself every day—and please share in the comments section!

Inspired by paralympian Lauren Barwick


Mistakes Are Opportunities

February 11, 2015

“For those who fear making mistakes (and who doesn’t?) the first step may be to start practicing a more patient and kinder attitude toward the self. Making mistakes is a necessary part of learning, not only in art, but in life. (This can’t be emphasized enough.) They actually lead to new possibilities and new perceptions. We want to nurture a more positive attitude toward whatever occurs on the page beyond our control. If we begin to consider mistakes as opportunities for adventure and invention, then we will discover the value of seeing something in a new way.”
—Barbara Diane Barry, Painting Your Way Out of a Corner


Which Do You Say More Often: "I Can Hardly Wait" or "I Can Hardly Stand It"?

February 09, 2015

Crocus, anticipating spring!
I just came across the following idea in Chellie Campbell’s The Wealthy Spirit: Children have “I can hardly waits” while adults mostly have “I can hardly stand its.” Children are usually looking forward to something—school being out, a birthday, an exciting milestone. While adults, well, we are more often NOT looking forward to something—often those same somethings the kids are looking forward to!

I don’t know about you, but I thought being an adult would be more fun. Instead, I’m having my roof replaced, having the leaky dishwasher fixed and fighting the traffic while the county repaves the road that runs just outside my subdivision.  Fortunately, I’ve just remembered that I am the boss of me—and it’s time to follow Campbell’s advice to those of us with “I can’t stand its”: “Find something to look forward to with joy and focus on that.” 

But what if there’s nothing we especially look forward to? It’s time to schedule something! Maybe plan a summer trip, or buy tickets to a show or sporting event we want to see. If that’s not possible (and even when it is), schedule something smaller in the meantime. Plan to rent a movie and eat popcorn on Friday night with your spouse. Make a lunch date with a friend. Decide that at 8:30 tonight, you’ll curl up in bed with a good book. Just choose something you’ll enjoy and look forward to. Write these anticipated pleasures down in your calendar or on your to-do list.

I’m willing to bet you’re all fine, upstanding, law-abiding, tax-paying individuals. You give to those around you—now give to yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to. Simple pleasures and everyday adventures don’t plan themselves, you know. As for me, I’m looking forward to a visit from my two sisters-in-law, a Field Trip Friday involving a flea market, and a production of Annie at the local performing arts center. 

Now your turn. Fill in the blank: I can hardly wait until _________.

Children's books

The Story of Ferdinand the Bull

February 04, 2015

Introduction by Ted Kooser: Stories read to us as children can stay with us all our lives. Robert McCloskey’s Lentil was especially influential for me, and other books have helped to shape you. Here’s Matt Mason, who lives in Omaha, with a book that many of you will remember.

The Story of Ferdinand the Bull

Dad would come home after too long at work
and I’d sit on his lap to hear
the story of Ferdinand the Bull; every night,
me handing him the red book until I knew
every word, couldn’t read,
just recite along with drawings
of a gentle bull, frustrated matadors,
the all-important bee, and flowers—
flowers in meadows and flowers
thrown by the Spanish ladies.
Its lesson, really,
about not being what you’re born into
but what you’re born to be,
even if that means
not caring about the capes they wave in your face
or the spears they cut into your shoulders.
And Dad, wonderful Dad, came home
after too long at work
and read to me
the same story every night
until I knew every word, couldn’t read,
                                                                                                  just recite.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Matt Mason from his most recent book of poems, The Baby That Ate Cincinnati, Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Matt Mason and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


Sketching Challenge Completed--Next!

February 02, 2015

Saturday I completed my 31 Days of Sketching challenge—and I’m proud to say I didn’t miss a day! On most days I spent at least 15 minutes sketching and/or painting, and there were only a couple of days that I scraped together a few minutes and a few pencil strokes just so I could say I’d sketched. Winter Interrupted came at a good time and helped me add watercolor sketches to my sketchbook. I posted all my sketches on Flickr. (Belle of Belle, Book, and Candle took up the challenge as well, and you can see her sketches here.)

Watercolor pencil
I wanted to become more comfortable sketching, and to make it more a part of my life instead of just done every now and then. I’m still not as comfortable as I’d like, and I did find that I didn’t experiment as much as I would have if I weren’t posting my sketches publicly.  Of course, I could have chosen not to post, but that felt like cheating. This tells me that I still care too much what others think. I don’t like to share my mistakes or what I think will be perceived as not very good. I will continue sketching, though probably not every day. I have several ideas for more sketchbook pages from Winter Interrupted, as well as (ahem) pages I want to complete from our New England trip a year and a half ago.

My favorite page from Winter Interrupted
The month-long challenge seems to work well for me. It’s both finite and concrete; long enough to see progress, but short enough not to be overwhelming or boring. These challenges keep me focused when my natural tendency is to be easily distracted by new and shiny ideas or projects. So what’s next? I’m leaning towards a horsemanship challenge for the month of February. I’m off to a poor start because I did nothing horse-related yesterday—but I could still pick it up today. Do I need that concrete, I-will-do-this-every-day structure? I suspect yes. I could easily do a horsey thing every day, whether it’s play with Tank, finally watch the horsemanship DVDs gathering dust in my bedroom, or delve into the books, articles and internet research on horse topics that I seldom seem to have time to get into. There is tack to clean, or ground work exercises to try, and, of course, February is a lovely month for riding. I’d love to see my riding and horsemanship skills take a big leap forward.

Right now I’m taking delight in these monthly challenges. Will they continue? I’m not sure. In the meantime, I have some riding boots to clean…