Narrowing My Focus

Before coming to Spain this year I took a step outside my comfort zone and started a Youtube channel. I made about 40 videos in 7 months, and I really enjoyed it for the most part. However, my desire to create new videos has pretty much disappeared over the past two months. I thought it might just be a temporary motivational slump, and that maybe doing some filming during my recent trips to Prague and Bucharest would help renew my motivation. No such luck.

So after giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided to stop making videos for the moment and focus more on my writing.

Writing has been one of my biggest passions for as long as I can remember, but I’ve never devoted a serious amount of time to it. Trying to film and edit videos every week made that even more of a challenge, and I think this decision will allow me to really turn pro in the one area of my life that means the most to me, something I’ve avoided for most of my life. My hope is that I can now start putting out a few well-written blog posts each week. I also want to push myself to explore different types of writing, like travel articles and even short stories.

Of course, I do have some doubts about this decision. Will I regret not continuing on this path? Am I just giving up because it’s getting hard? I can’t say for sure that those doubts are unfounded, but there’s something inside telling me that this will be the best thing for me. And if I’ve learned anything during the past few years, it’s to have a little faith in my own intuition.

 

 

 

 

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Two Keys to Finding Motivation

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In my last post, I mentioned some of my doubts about being able to handle my workload this year. In the two days since writing that I picked up a third private English lesson and a fourth is in the works. This extra work hasn’t eased those doubts, but my determination to crush it this year remains strong.

If I’m being honest, my newfound motivation is a little shocking to me. This time last year I was doing my best to avoid hard work, and finding any kind of lasting motivation seemed like a battle I was destined to lose. Yet now I’m  filled with a burning desire to make the most out of my life.

How did I get to this point?

Starting this blog last April was the spark that lit the fuse. Since then, my motivation and ambitions have both grown exponentially. To get more specific, though, here are two different focuses that have fueled this change.

  1. A focus on doing
  2. A focus on giving

A Focus on Doing

“Personal power is the ability to take action.”

– Tony Robbins

I’ve been a thinker for most of my life. I like to think about all the things I want to accomplish and how I might accomplish them. I make plans and imagine different scenarios. I think, and I think, and I think.

For years I wondered why I could never create any lasting change in my life. I had so many great plans and even more theories on how to accomplish them. But the plans always seemed to stay plans, never coming to fruition.

It’s obvious now, but my problem was that I never acted on those plans.

Thinking about what I wanted to accomplish was easier than actually trying to accomplish it. There was no risk of discomfort or failure. Plus, indulging in all that mental masturbation was like a dopamine hit for my brain. I could take pleasure in my potential without having to work to fulfill it.

If taking action was so difficult for me, then how did I even start this blog?

I guess I had a momentary convergence of inspiration and motivation. I was also extremely dissatisfied with my life at the time, and taking action seemed to be the only way out of that negative space. Either way, I’m really grateful that I was able to take that initial step.

Since starting this blog I’ve experienced the rewards that taking action can offer. I’d like to write a more in-depth post about them, so I’ll just talk about the biggest one for now: momentum. The most amazing thing about taking action – even if it’s something small like choosing a WordPress theme for your new blog – is that it provides the fuel for even more action.

It’s a matter of inertia. An object at rest isn’t going to move unless something makes it. But when something is moving, it’s not going to stop unless something forces it too.  So now that I’m taking action on a daily basis, I can hardly imagine stopping. Each action fills me with inspiration and motivation to take even more action.

This doesn’t mean each day has to be filled to the brim with activity, though. Some days I only get one or two important things done. But just a little bit of action on a daily basis helps me maintain my forward momentum. Plus, as the momentum builds, the amount and intensity of my actions also increase.

P.s. – Watching this video also helps get me in the “doing” mindset.

A Focus On Giving

“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in your mind.”

– Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3, Verse 19)

For all my talk about doing, staying motivated can still be a struggle at times. I experience this most when it comes to teaching English, probably because I’m not as passionate about teaching as I am about writing and creating. Still, it’s something I’ve committed to doing (and it gives me a paycheck), so staying motivated in this area is really important to me.

This is where a focus on giving comes into play.

I first discovered this powerful idea when I read the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu spiritual text. The Bhagavad Gita talks about selfless service, which means acting for the benefit of others without the expectation of any reward.

It’s not so much about being the next Mother Teresa or even making sure all your actions directly help someone. What it’s really about is the mindset you have while taking action.

I’ll use teaching English as an example. There are two ways I could look at it:

  1. I’m teaching because I want the opportunity to live abroad and make money while doing it, or…
  2. I’m teaching because I want to help students learn and improve their English. I want to have a positive impact on as many students as possible.

Both of these statements contain some truth. Teaching is by no means my greatest passion, and I mainly decided to do because it was the easiest way to move my life abroad. At the same time, I do genuinely want to help my students, even if I don’t feel overly qualified to do so.

My natural tendency is to approach my work with the first mindset. This means viewing each day of work as a necessary duty so that I can live in Spain. As you can imagine, this makes work feel like a chore, which then makes me less likely to stay motivated.

Things become a lot easier when I approach my job with the second mindset. Instead of viewing work as a chore, I look at it as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students. This has been like finding a hidden stockpile of energy. I can now bring the same amount of passion to my teaching as I do to my more creative endeavors.

It takes discipline, but I’ve found there’s always a way to think about an activity in terms of benefiting others. Take working out consistently for example. By being in great physical shape you’ll have more energy to help others, you’ll be in a better mood which will rub off on others, and you can set a positive example for the people closest to you. This is a really basic example but you get the idea.

 

Note: I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve got this motivation thing all figured out. What I’ve written here is just what has helped me on my journey so far, and I hope it can help you with any motivational struggles you might be facing as well. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minding My Focus

Photo: Seville, Spain
Photo: Seville, Spain

This year’s grind has begun.

For the first time since college, my days are filled to the brim with stuff I want to accomplish. Among my many to-dos’s are English lessons to prepare, videos to film and edit, blog posts to write, and plenty of books to read. In addition to all of that, I decided to join a gym here in Seville, adding three workouts and tracking my diet to my weekly schedule. Oh, and I want to maintain an active social life as well.

I can already hear that little voice in my head saying, “you’re biting off way more than you can chew.” That voice may have a point. But I figure it’s better to aim too high than too low. Whether I manage it all or end up burning out before the year is up, I’ll be happy knowing I pushed myself harder than any year prior.

The Problem

As I hustle to get things done, I’ve started to notice a habit that really inhibits my productivity: I’m always focusing on too many things at once.

It’s not so much that I physically do multiple things at the same time; I long ago accepted that multitasking is not something I excel at. The real problem is my mind. Whenever I’m working on a specific task, my mind is constantly fixated on the future. It’s planning out the day and then re-planning it based on imaginary scenarios. It’s worrying about the result of my current actions and all the things I’ll need to work on when I finish.

I end up focusing on everything except what I’m working on at that moment.

But here’s the worst part:  the constant worrying and mental back-and-forth causes my stress levels to skyrocket. Even when my to-do list is manageable, my neck and shoulders end up tighter than vice grips, and I barely make it half-way through the day before feeling worn out.

If the sustainability of this year’s workload is a concern for me then something needs to change.

The Solution: Mindfulness

Though my interest in things like mindfulness and meditation continues to grow, I still sometimes question their practical value when it comes to achieving material success. Sure, it’s nice to have inner peace and live in the present moment, but getting shit done just seems more valuable a lot of the time.

However, I think my current struggle with focus is a testament to the value of mindfulness and meditation when it comes to achievement. Getting absorbed by thoughts and anxieties while working is just another form of unconsciousness. Instead of using my mind to enhance my life, I’m getting lost in it.

Fittingly enough, mindfulness is what brought me to this realization in the first place.

My struggle with focus isn’t some new development in my life. I’ve always had a problem in this area, but it was only through practicing mindfulness that I became aware of it. Now I want to use mindfulness and meditation to not only be aware of the problem but actually fix it.

Moving forward, I want to cultivate a laser-like focus when it comes to work. This means fully engaging with every task I work on, no matter how small.

I think my focus on abdominal breathing this month is a great way to start doing this. Whenever I notice my mind jumping towards past and future while working, I want to bring my attention back to my breath. From there I can refocus on the task at hand.

To end this post here’s a quote by Eckhart Tolle that really captures the mindset I’m trying to develop.

“Your outer journey may contain a million steps; you inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now.

– Eckhart Tolle

 

 

 

Developing My Morning Ritual

“Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.”

– Richard Whately

I am NOT a morning person. I usually wake up pissed off at the world, begrudging the alarm that jolted me awake and the fact that mornings exist in the first place. None of this is helped by the fact that I’ve always been a night owl. During my college years I rarely went to bed before 2 a.m., and my sleep schedule hasn’t improved much since.

Despite my harsh feelings towards mornings, I’ve started to recognize the value in rising early. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I’ve started feeling the consequences of getting up late.

My days often feel chaotic when I sleep in. There never seems to be enough time to get stuff done, and I usually end up going through the day on autopilot. But when I manage to get up early I feel a lot more grounded. It’s as if my mind has time to warm up, allowing it to perform optimally for the rest of the day. I can see clearly what I want to accomplish and take decisive action towards it.

In order to avoid the trappings of late starts, I’ve not only committed to rising earlier on a daily basis, but also to developing my own morning ritual.

Morning rituals are not a new concept. I’ve seen them promoted in religions, self-help books, and even autobiographies. It seems like most of the successful people I read about have some kind of ritual to start their days. I’ve even heard it said that all of us have morning rituals, even if we aren’t conscious of them. Since living consciously is one of my my most important values, intentionally crafting my own morning ritual seems like an important task.

An early morning in San Sebastian. I guess it wasn’t too bad…

While I’m writing about this now, creating my morning ritual has been an ongoing process for the past couple of years. I’m just finally at a point where I’ve found one that suits me.

So how did I go about developing my morning ritual?

To be honest, a lot of it was just trial and error. I looked at a lot of the advice given in self-help books and blogs, and started testing things out. This included everything from cold showers as soon as I woke up to performing goal visualization. A few things stuck; most of them didn’t.

I had to take into account what kind of person I am. Not being a natural morning person, would pushing myself to the edge with a cold shower each morning be sustainable? Probably not. I also considered how much time I needed to wake up, how much structure I wanted, and what parts of early mornings I struggle with the most. For example, I usually feel really groggy for the first 15-20 minutes after waking up. So doing anything that requires a lot of brain power during that time wouldn’t be the smartest strategy.

The ritual I’ve come up with takes about an hour. It changes a bit depending on my work schedule, but this is the core of it:

6:00 a.m. – Get up and splash some cold water on my face 

  • I’ve found this to be a much more relaxed alternative to cold showers.

6:05 a.m. – Put on an audiobook, make a glass of lemon water, and cook breakfast

  • Listening to an audiobook or some type of educational content helps put me in a focused state of mind.
  • The lemon water is just plain refreshing, though I’ve heard it has some added health benefits as well.

6:15 a.m. – Eat breakfast while listening to audiobook

  • Giving myself at least 15 minutes to eat, as opposed to rushing through my meal, helps set a less frazzled tone for my day. I like to be focused, but never rushed.

6:30 a.m. – Meditate for 15 minutes

  • This is probably the most critical part of my routine. Daily meditation keeps me grounded and present, no matter what challenges I face.

6:45 a.m. – Go over my long-term goals and mission statement

  • I’ll go into more detail on this in a different post, but connecting with my long-term goals and mission helps me focus on what really matters during the day.

6:55 a.m. – Look over priorities/goals for the day

  • I usually write these out the night before and quickly review them before I start my day.

7:00 a.m – Get ready for work

All in all, this is a pretty relaxed morning ritual compared some of the other ones I’ve tried. But it gives me just enough time to fully wake up, put some energy in my body, ground myself with meditation, and get focused for the day ahead of me.

 

Do you have a morning ritual? What are some of the strategies you use to get the most out your day?