Moving Away from Self-Reflection

Ever since I started this blog my writing has been primarily focused on analyzing the contents and workings of my mind, all with the end goal of becoming a happier and more fulfilled human being. I tried to explore all manner of concepts related to self-improvement, both in an attempt to share ideas that had helped me along my journey and to increase my own understanding of those concepts.

There has been a shift inside of me recently. For the first time since I started my journey of self-improvement 4 years ago, I’m no longer preoccupied with “fixing” myself. It’s not that I’ve all of sudden become the happy and fulfilled person I want to be. I still have plenty of things I want to change about myself, but spending my time thinking and writing about those things no longer feels useful. The truth of the matter is that I spent more time during the past four years talking about different ways to become a happier person than actually doing the things that would have made me happy.

Now I find myself motivated to simply do more of the things I love. I love to read. I love to write. I love to take and edit photos. I love to travel. So those are the things I’m going to start focusing on in this blog. Those are the things I’m going to document and describe. Sure, there will still be some self-reflection in my writing, but I want that reflection to be based on my actions and experiences, not just ideas I read in a book.

My Anchor

We all have a routine in our lives that helps us find peace and clarity, especially when the pressures of life start to bear down on us. For some, it’s a long shower, a walk in the park, a yoga session, or a little meditation. For others, it could be something more social like going to church or a support group. I discovered my own sacred routine about four years ago.

I got my first journal when I was 13 – a gift from my mom – and it mostly collected dust for the next few years. I saw very little use in self-reflection as a teenager, even if I desperately needed it at the time. And while I always had a knack for writing, putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) was usually reserved for school essays and the occasional failed attempt at writing fiction.

It wasn’t until seven years later, after returning home from a semester abroad in Madrid, that I started to see the value in journaling. I was going through a lot of mental and emotional changes at the time, and I increasingly felt like I had no one to talk to about it all. The blank pages of a Moleskin notebook I had bought months earlier started to look like the only place I could express all of the noise going on inside my head. So I grabbed the notebook and my favorite pen, found myself a quiet place, and sat down to write.

It felt quite awkward at first. How was one supposed to start a journal entry? Were all my thoughts even worth putting down on paper? Who was I even supposed to write to? What if someone saw my writing and thought I was crazy? Eventually, I was able to push past all of those doubts and just start writing.

I don’t remember at what point journaling went from a desperate experiment to a consistent routine. All I know is that writing in that notebook quickly started to feel as natural as eating or drinking. It was the first time I could express all of the thoughts in my head without the fear of being judged. I could rave and rant and contradict myself, all with the knowledge that my words were for me and me alone.

My journaling sessions are usually accompanied by some kind of caffeinated beverage.

I soon found that journaling was more than just a way for me to get things off my chest in a judgment-free environment. It became a way for me to truly understand myself. For years I had felt like a victim of my constantly fluctuating thoughts and emotions, with no way of understanding what was going on in my head. Journaling allowed me to put all of the confusion on paper, and from there I could start to make sense out it.

Fast-forward almost four years and you would be hard-pressed to find me anywhere without my journal close by. Journaling is so many things to me. It’s one of my greatest sources of comfort in times of distress. It’s the janitor for my mind, helping me get rid of all the clutter and put things in their correct place. It’s the place I get to feel fancy by practicing my cursive. It’s a running record of all the changes I experience over time. Most of all, though, it’s the ritual that keeps me grounded on a daily basis, and I don’t know what I would do without it.

Lessons from a Common Cold

“There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.”

Henry David Thoreau

After going full speed for the first three weeks of January, a nasty cold forced me to step on the brakes this weekend. This might have been a blessing in disguise.

I was more productive in the past few weeks than any period I can remember. However, my frantic pace left a lot to be desired in terms of rest and conscious reflection. Getting sick forced me to take it easy for a few days. It also made me take a step back and examine why I got sick in the first place. Am I getting enough sleep? Is my diet conducive to good health? Am I pushing myself too hard, too suddenly?

The answers to those questions: No. No. And…probably.

Sleep is Key

A common cliché about success is that it should often come at the cost of sleep. Whenever I read about the great entrepreneurs of past and present, it seems they were all willing to endure weeks or months or even years of low sleep in order to achieve their goals. Then there are motivational speakers such as Eric Thomas, who give quotes like:

“You can’t sleep. Broke people sleep. You got to be willing to sacrifice sleep, if you sleep you may miss the opportunity to be successful.”

Everyone is different. I’m sure there are plenty of people who can operate on four to five hours of sleep per night and be ok. I’m just not one of them. Anytime I go more than a week with less than seven hours of sleep per night, I seem to get sick.

Does this mean I should take on less in order to get more sleep? Not necessarily. I just need to be more proactive in managing my time.

The past few weeks were somewhat of a scheduling experiment. I knew that fitting in all of my obligations would be a process of trial and error. One of the major errors I made was failing to sufficiently plan out my weeks.

Things were easy when I was only teaching 12 hours per week and posting on here once or twice per week. I had a lot of flexibility in my schedule, and my to-do list was often just as flexible. That flexibility has all but disappeared now, and if I want to have a decent sleep schedule I need to manage my time more carefully.

Eat Your Veggies

Along with a busier work schedule this year, I also committed to putting on some muscle in the gym. This means eating a lot more than what I’m used to. In order to accomplish this, I’ve been pounding calorie-rich carbohydrates (cereal, pasta, rice, etc.) but basically ignoring fruits and vegetables. Combined with low sleep, that kind of diet is a recipe for disaster (pun intended).

I need to find a way to be more disciplined with my diet. More fruits, more greens, and more water as well.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The best time management book I’ve ever read is Stephen Covey’s “First Things First.” One of its core ideas is deciding on and prioritizing the “first things” in your life. He uses the analogy of filling a bucket with a combination of big and small rocks. The only way to fit them all is to put the big rocks in first and then fill the gaps with the smaller rocks. This means that certain tasks will take a backseat to others depending on what your “big rocks” are.

In taking on so much so fast, I never chose my big rocks.

This was mainly due to impatience. I came into this year with a ton of ambitions and my initial instinct was to try to accomplish them all at once. I treated all of my ambitions like big rocks. But just like my poor diet and lack of sleep, this won’t be sustainable. In fact, not prioritizing my ambitions will probably lead to me accomplishing less in every area.

I’m going to have to sit down and really think about what my top priorities are for this year, and not feel guilty if I can’t devote equal time to everything I want to accomplish. Off the top of my head, developing this blog and my youtube channel are my two biggest rocks. Teaching, traveling, and personal growth (reading, meditating, etc.) are integral parts of those goals so they would be big rocks as well.

What smaller rocks does that leave?  Goals such as gaining muscle and having an active social life.

That doesn’t mean I can’t pursue these goals, but maybe I should be a little less eager with them at the moment. Instead of trying to gain muscle right away, I can simply make going to the gym a habit. Instead of being the most social person ever, I can make sure I go out and socialize at least one night per week.

Starting small in some areas is better than trying to do too much and getting overwhelmed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindful Reflections: Abdominal Breathing

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A little over two weeks ago I designated mindfulness as my main focus for 2017. In order to make it easier on myself, I decided to choose a “mindfulness method” for each month. My method for January has been abdominal breathing.

Here are a few things I’ve observed so far.

  1. Even with a “method” to rely on, remembering to stay mindful takes a ton of discipline. However….
  2. Having a designated place to focus my attention has been helpful. Bringing my attention back to my breath – when I notice myself living unconsciously, at least – is starting to become automatic.
  3. Abdominal breathing is a very effective way to engage with the present moment. It quickly takes me out of my head and into my body.
  4. My focus and productivity seem to increase whenever I’m conscious of my breath.

I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard for the past two weeks, which has resulted in a pretty sporadic mindfulness practice. That’s why I think that last observation is the most important one. It shows me that there doesn’t have to be a dichotomy between my focus on mindfulness and hustling towards my goals. In fact, mindfulness seems to make my efforts much more effective.

The key for me now is making sure my mindfulness practice doesn’t get overshadowed by other concerns in my life. I want to learn how to stay mindful even when my external life is chaotic. Maybe I’ll have to start setting mindfulness reminders on my phone or invest in one of those mindfulness apps. Anything to make mindfulness a habitual part of my life.

How do you remember to stay mindful throughout the day?