A Writerly Update

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Some ten months ago, I remember writing how sad it was not to be able to be a full-time writer after being one during the summer months. The reason for it was simple: in September, I was forced to start dedicating my afternoons for research on digital volunteerism and crisis communication instead of writing more of Yellow Tails or blog posts.

Of course, I did switch those writing hours in the afternoon for the big thesis project, so it was for ’my own good’ – but still, it didn’t feel right.

Fast-forward to ten months later and this Thursday, I can now declare myself a full-time writer again. Hooray! As the thesis has been accepted and the university has confirmed that I will be graduating, I can dedicate my days to writing again.

And I can assure you that is precisely what I have been doing.

A Writer’s Day

I start my day with clearing my head from the thoughts that swirl around in my mind by writing my journal. In that way, I have a clean slate and can dedicate my energy to my character’s ideas, thoughts and feelings, and write those on the page instead of getting influenced by my own personal thoughts.

After writing my journal entry, I eat breakfast, make some coffee and open my computer. Mondays are usually the day when I write the blog post of the week. On other mornings from Tuesday to Friday or, in best case scenario, Saturday, I focus on one of my creative fiction projects. One of them is my dear Yellow Tails (which I’ve finally started re-writing, super excited to share you some details later!) and the other one is a lengthy fan fiction story I’ve been working on for the past month.

In the afternoon, I try to keep on writing but this time on the one I didn’t work on in the morning. Usually, in the afternoons, it’s the fan fiction project I work on because I tend to choose to give my mornings, i.e. my best writing time, to Yellow Tails.

And, as the evening comes, I tend to dedicate some time to reading other writers’ fan fiction stories and comment on them, giving them some feedback on their writing. This way, I’m taking in some new stories, other styles of writing and at the same time, improving my own writing skills by looking at what makes writing good.

Love for Every Moment

As you can see, most of my daily hours go to writing. I don’t know how many words I manage to write per day, maybe everything between 1,500 and 3,000 which isn’t that much – but still, it keeps me busy all day long.

And I love every single minute of it. I just don’t get tired of it! When I’m not writing the fan fiction project, my mind is going back to the story, wanting to keep on plotting, and when I’m not writing Yellow Tails I’m almost longing to return to my own, self-created characters and wanting to tell their story (again, yes, but only this time better).

My writerly days and the love and the continuing thirst I have for them make me feel two things: one is this weird feeling of knowing that for so many years, I was willing to consider writing as only a hobby or even something I used to do when I was little but not any more.

How wrong was I? Because the other feeling I have is pure happiness and some kind of serenity for the fact that, in a way, I have returned to my childhood dream and my roots by becoming a full-time writer.

And that is something not just any job can give.

14 Hours Of More Clarity

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Thirty days ago, I decided to delete the app for Instagram from my phone and to log out from my Facebook account. For a month now, I haven’t really been up to date with my friends and family or with the newest writing updates or recipe revolutions posted on social media.

And you know what? I’ve been just fine.

The first few days were the oddest. My fingers automatically found their way to the place where the app for Instagram on my phone was. It was also extremely easy to start writing facebook.com on the address bar while surfing the Internet.

But as I was determined about creating a successful change and didn’t experience any abstinence from staying away from the platforms, in a few days, I was completely okay with dedicating my time for something else.

How I Spent My Hours

So, where did my time go? How did I spend those 14–28 hours I counted I would save by quitting scrolling on Instagram and Facebook?

I might have to disappoint you here because I can’t tell you what I did. I honestly don’t know, at least not hour-by-hour. But I can tell you what I think I spent it on:

  • Watching videos on Youtube. And I don’t mean funny animals or home videos –  I’m not an active cat-video person so I didn’t spend hours on watching cute animals fall off shelves or getting their faces caught in Kleenex-boxes. Instead, I spent time watching some interesting, though-provoking videos on self-development and when I was feeling a bit down because of the weather or life in general, I watched videos about van life and sailing (because those videos are most often very sunny and positive).
  • Reading books. I had more brain energy to focus on the content of several different works of fact and fiction. For instance, I finished What I Talk About When I Talk About Running which I reflected on in a blog post. I continued listening to Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and read the first 600 pages (and continuing) of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I also read and summarized a book about writing called Paper Hearts by Beth Ravis.
  • Thinking. It might sound odd but I actually found more time and especially energy for deeper thinking. As I wasn’t constantly getting distracted by some food photo or book recommendation I had seen or read about on social media, my thoughts were more focused on me and what I am surrounded with. Things I’ve been thinking about have been, for instance, what I want in life, what I think has meaning in my life and how I am as a person.
  • Getting things done. I hope to be able to talk about this more in another post, but as I didn’t have Instagram or Facebook to direct my procrastination needs to, I actually got many such things done that usually would have waited completing for hours: everything from cleaning the coffee maker (and I mean properly) to responding to e-mails directly as they drop into my inbox. Finishing these small things that I tend to leave hanging gave me a sense of achievement (just like making one’s bed in the morning can give).

Doing More By Doing Less

The thing with Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter among many other platforms is that they take your time in small, unnoticeable amounts: a few minutes here, ten minutes there. But put together, they result in a specific amount minutes and hours every day. Therefore, I can’t show you exactly how I spent those minutes I’d otherwise have spent on my phone because there wasn’t really anything I did that took only a few minutes from one moment and a few minutes from the other.

In a way, maybe one of the absolute benefits of staying away from active scrolling is this: I was able to put those small snippets of time together and instead, spend an hour or so doing some deeper work. Instead of spending a few minutes of time here and there on some random chores or a few book pages, I put all those snippets together and did something more efficient with those minutes that were turned into a whole hour.

For instance, I spent an hour reading about writing or listening to a book, or took twenty minutes to watch a lengthy video about how to keep an eye on your expenses and create a budget, and so on.

I was able to do more by doing less – if it makes sense?

What About Staying Updated?

But hey – if I’m not that much on the Internet, how do I keep up with the world when I’m not connected to it? How do I know what my friends and family are up to if I can’t check their updates on Facebook or Instagram? And what if I miss out on something important, like an interesting event or a revolutionary food recipe because I’m not on those platforms they are announced or published in?

After being AWOL for a month now, I have to say that I have been completely okay with not being connected or updated. I’ve felt peaceful despite the risk that I might have missed out on something. In a sense, I haven’t experienced any feelings of fear of missing out.

One of the drawbacks of social media is that it creates this need of constantly being present – we need to be there where everyone else is to not miss out on anything. But I have a question: did this same fear exist before we started hanging out on social media? If it did exist, how strong was that fear?

What makes me question this is that although I haven’t watched my sister’s Instagram Stories for a month now or I’m unaware of what my friends have been up to, I haven’t experienced that fear. And why I haven’t is because I know the fear is not real. I know for a fact I’m not worse off because I haven’t been following the news or my friends’ latest adventures. My life hasn’t become worse because of me being offline.

The fear many people experience from not being connected is almost completely made up from thin air. We create that fear ourselves by thinking that we miss out on something if we’re not actively online – although we aren’t.

Or, well, it depends, of course, what you define as something. If you want to be a part of different social media phenomena or want to know what videos have gone viral, then yes, you are missing out if you’re not active on social media. However, if you are afraid of missing out on friends and family updates or the daily news – your fear is probably artificially constructed.

You don’t need social media to know what your friends are doing because you can ask them. And it’s so much more fun to hear from themselves what they’ve been up to instead of not asking because you already know because you saw a short video or a photo of it.

What It Gives and Takes

The decision to ignore the fear of missing out on things and make that fear entirely non-existent comes from finding balance and peace within yourself. You need to be okay with not following the 24/7 news posted on Facebook or find peace with letting those Instagram Stories vanish into thin air without watching them. And the way to find the balance is to ask yourself:

1) What does knowing these things give you? And

2) What does knowing all that information take away from you?

For some people, being on social media actually gives them more than it takes. But for many, constantly updating and being updated is actually taking more time, energy and memory space compared with how much high-quality information one gains in return. If you are able to see the off-balance and acknowledge it, you won’t have a problem finding peace with yourself with not being active on social media.

This is, at least, how I’ve experienced the whole thing.

Final Thoughts

Keeping my mind free from all the information on social media has helped me focus on things. I’ve been putting my concentration to work: my projects are progressing, I’m thinking about more complex issues and have been generating new ideas and thoughts. It’s been relaxing to not stress about Instagram content or being updated with book recommendations, food recipes and writing advice.

Instead, I’ve been able to figure out what I want to know, what I want to read or see and when I want to do it. I’m more in control over my own resources (time, energy, brain power and memory space) when I’m not accidentally giving them to the social media platforms. The hours I have when I’m not scrolling are being invested into my hobbies,  into writing, self-development and spending more time with loved ones.

But what happens after a 30-day detox? What I can tell you is that I’ve made two decisions: 1) I’m not calling it a detox anymore, because 2) I’ll continue being absent from social media for an undetermined period of time.

Maybe there will be a time when I wish to get back in but for now – I’m staying offline.

The Additional 30

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What would you do if you were given thirty to sixty minutes extra to your day? First of all, would you need them? And second, how would you spend those minutes?

On Monday, like a fairy godmother, I gifted myself those extra minutes.

You see, after a few days of thinking, I decided to take a break from social media. Facebook but especially Instagram, to be specific.

For a few years now, I’ve lived my life consuming a minimal amount of time on social media and without sitting down to catch up on the daily news. Of course, in the society we live in today it’s almost impossible to live without some news coming in one’s attention or altogether without any information related to social media, but in my opinion, I’ve done pretty well.

However, when I started writing this blog in July last year, I decided to create an Instagram account to go with it. After all, many bloggers use Instagram as an additional media to share more details about their lives through photos and short captions, and it seemed to be a part of the whole thing.

Also, many writers are active on Instagram, sharing their writing related tips and experiences and in that way creating a community for writers, something I had been longing for. As I was on my own with the hushed mission to write my very first real novel, Instagram seemed like the perfect place to share and care about writing without having to keep the first draft as a complete secret.

Help, Tips and Inspiration

Being a writer on Instagram has many positive aspects. The community of writers on this platform is huge and many of the writers share actively their writing journey, describing the ups and downs, the achievements and the setbacks. In this way, I got support and perspective to the whole writing process. There is also a number of writing experts who are there to help you, answer your writing-related questions and cheer you on – for free!

In addition to this, Instagram has worked as a place for inspiration and especially motivation to keep on writing every day. It has also been a place where I’ve found many tips for fictional books, books about writing and helpful Youtube and Instagram accounts to follow.

In addition to that, I’ve used Instagram to get ideas for different meals and ways to do self-care. The platform really is great. I spent a good deal of time posting my own photos, writing captions, liking and commenting the photos of other users – and getting that warm and cozy feeling of a community.

But still, something with Instagram made me doubt if my efforts there were worth my time, thoughts and energy.

Time, Action, Trouble

When it comes to following people on social media, I’m quite picky. Especially on Instagram, I didn’t want to follow anyone whose content didn’t feel natural or similar to my own style and preferences. Therefore, I only followed approximately 90 different people on Instagram.

Although this isn’t that much (as many tend to follow up to 500 people), for me the feed very often felt like an information overload. There was so much to see, so much to reflect upon and maybe comment upon that after my morning scroll through Instagram, my brain felt fuzzy. And this was right before I was supposed to dive into writing a new blog post or continue writing Yellow Tails.

Also the amount of inspirational and motivations quotes, writing tips, book recommendations and thought-provoking questions became too much. Almost daily I took several screenshots of things I wanted to check up on later but that I always forgot until I every few days scrolled through my photos and wondered what all the screenshots were about. There was too much information, too many ideas that eventually led to more passive consuming rather than active creating of new thoughts and ideas. And stress because when was I supposed to find the time to go through all those books to read and videos to watch and skills to learn?

Instagram counts the minutes you spend on the app and tells you how much time on average you spend on scrolling, liking and commenting photos. For me, that number was somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes every day. On days when I published something the minutes ticked away quickly and especially after the New Year when I decided to put some effort into my Instagram Stories, I really started to spend time on the platform.

However, I saw few if any returns for the additional time I invested on spending on Instagram. Only a few more clicks to the blog, only one-tenth of my followers actually saw those Stories and I got no more followers, no matter how I tweaked and turned the content.

In addition to this, many of the principles behind creating a successful Instagram account don’t fall into my personal and beliefs which made it hard for me to get motivated to ”do the right things to get more successful”.

It felt as if I was wasting my time when I could have invested those minutes into doing something off-screen or learning new things. And this made me think if it was time to quit Instagram.

Peaceful and Productive

With these gut feelings and thoughts (what did I give to the platform – and what did I receive?), I decided to dig a little deeper into the social media detox and what the talk around it was about. I watched two videos, this and this, and read this post by Seth Godin. And in a nutshell, this is what I ended up with:

Social media is one form of entertainment but the platforms are made as addictive as possible, making them into some sort of personal slot machines you carry with you in your back pocket or your bag. The platforms invite you to check them every now and then, as often as possible, which leads to your attention becoming fragmented. And this attention fragmenting aspect of social media can permanently reduce your capacity to concentrate.

These facts sounded convincing to me. My attention span is one of the most important things to me as a writer and I certainly didn’t want to have it fragmented. And I wasn’t too excited about the thought of personal slot machines, either.

However, one of the reasons I got on Instagram as a writer (and a future author) was to create a platform through which I could market my book and share my journey. And I thought this: if I quit Instagram, will it have a negative effect on my future success? If I quit, will anyone find my book? After all, word of mouth is one of the most effective ways for a book to find its readers.

After a few days of thinking, I would like to answer my own question:

1) If I put my time and attention to post things on Instagram instead of investing that time in working on my book, I won’t have a book to talk about, and

2) I already have this blog which is month after month showing me that you people are interested in what I talk about (hi every 58 of you!) so why not invest more time on writing these entries instead of putting my energy in writing short captions few seem to read and react to anyway?

In other words: if you chase two rabbits at the same time, you’ll probably end up with nothing.

So, my worries of not having a Instagram account when I become an author are completely irrational and unnecessary. At the moment, at least.

Instead of spending time on these energy and time-consuming platforms, I can focus on doing things that I like and love (and get deeper into something called deep work which I hope to be able to get back into later on) and let the other things follow. Living without tiny but constant interruptions can help me be more productive and more peaceful. I have fewer things to divide my focus between, to check, to keep up with.

The additional 30 to 60 minutes per day I gain to my day when I’m not on Instagram or Facebook can be invested into learning new things, writing, learning to meditate… anything I can think of!

I mean, those minutes add up to 3,5–7 hours a week and 14–28 hours a month – that’s a good deal of time. It’s a huge amount of time. And I just gave those minutes, those hours to myself, like a true fairy godmother.

What would you do with those additional hours in your week or month?

The Benefits of Writing a Journal

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I’ve adopted a new habit: writing an almost daily journal. Almost, because I try to write it every day but Sundays tend to become the exception to the rule. However, I still call it a habit because it’s ingrained in my system: from Monday to Friday I wake up at 6 AM and after showering but before breakfast, I write my journal.

I keep my thoughts to two pages per day – I’m afraid that in the modern world the hand muscles aren’t what they used to be. But it’s a 30-minute exercise in concentration and a great way to start one’s day. Let me tell you why.

(But first, I’ll shed some light on my history as a journal writer)

An On/Off Habit

Ever since I was little, writing a journal has been some kind of on/off habit for me. I can’t remember why I began writing in the first place – I was probably inspired by some character in a book that kept a diary and I wanted to be like him/her. The first journals I’ve kept are from elementary school when I was in second grade. The cute, pastel yellow Winnie the Pooh notebook has lost many of its pages and is barely holding together. But the important things, the diary entries about my dance practices and who of my class mates I liked the most, are still there.

After that, I’ve written a journal of some sort through the years up until this day. I’d like to declare I have something from every year from my life written down, with a date and a few thoughts about life, but I’m not quite sure. Some years might be missing. But in that case, it’ll only be a few.

For this post, I perused my old journals. There are three different time periods when I’ve written actively, i.e. on a daily basis:

  • In 2010: I wrote three pages every day for six months or so. I have no idea where the idea came from – maybe I wanted to prove something to myself or be able to tell everyone I wrote every day. But I did, and held on to the habit for an impressive amount of time, considering I was a teenager filled with angst and confusion.
  • In the Fall of 2016: one to eight pages daily. This was the time I spent in Ireland. Writing about my exchange period kept me sane and also had the function of making the time there more memorable.
  • Now, in Fall 2018 (which I guess we can start calling Winter as we just got our first snow in Southern Finland and it’s less than four weeks until Christmas): two pages on a daily basis. It is an effort to try to document my thoughts and feelings, trying to dig deeper into what I know and feel, what I want and how I want it.

Analyzing my more sporadic journal entries from previous years, I seem to have picked up my pen and put black on white when I’ve been 1) overwhelmed by feelings, may that be love, hate, sadness or confusion; 2) feeling guilty about not exercising enough and only eating candy and chocolate, or 3) when I felt like I needed to get out all those thoughts about people, school work and life in general, and didn’t feel like telling about them to anyone else (or writing about them on my LiveJournal blog that has been gone for a long time).

Focus on Depth

Today, however, I have a different approach on writing a journal. Actually, I only recently realized that I haven’t actually been writing a journal all these years. I’ve been writing a diary – a book where I’ve recorded events as they happen and that have included feelings and moods. That I have done, for sure – all that foul language, teenage hate towards others and myself, crushes on cute guys… And a play-by-play descriptions about my plans and what I intend to do later that day or the next.

But now it feels like I have become a grown up – I’m writing a journal. A book where I record, not events or what other people say and do, but ideas and thoughts. I try to focus on depth instead of just telling what I did that day or how I felt. I’m actually digging deeper into those emotions, trying to concentrate on what’s on my mind and find out why it’s on my mind.

Writing for me has always been something I’ve had to force myself to do. It’s not a natural daily yearning for me to write down my thoughts and pick on them with a stick to find out what these thoughts really are about. Sometimes, I also find the process somewhat frustrating: it takes time to write by hand compared with writing on a computer which means the process is slow, while at the same time my thoughts are running around like the crazy dodos in Ice Age. It feels like I lose the track of thought before I’ve managed to write everything down.

(And let’s not forget about the hand – it does get tired which means the writing won’t be as pretty. A thing that tends to matter to me.)

But never have I regretted sitting down to write my daily two pages. Some days, I know exactly what I want to write about. Last week such clear thoughts were about self-care, thoughts on why I’m writing my thesis, and how I deal with anxiety that comes from school work. And on those days when I have no clue what I’m thinking about – I write about that and try to figure out why I don’t have anything to say.

During this new in-depth writing habit of mine, I’ve experienced some of the benefits of daily journal writing:

  • I realize new things about myself and my though processes that I might not have realized if I hadn’t written them down.
  • I take a moment to focus on what feels important in my mind at the moment: what thoughts are constantly there?
  • I listen to myself: how do I feel today? Am I anxious, motivated, tired, stressed or energized?
  • I improve my concentration by focusing on a single, manual task for thirty minutes or so. It helps me focus on projects at hand during the rest on the day.

Retrospective Reading

And one of the huge benefits of writing a diary or a journal, when regarded in the long run, is the retrospect one gets when reading old diaries and journals. As I’ve been reading those old entries, especially from 2009 onward, I’ve understood myself in a different way than I did before.

Of course, I remember many of the big things I wrote about (and forgotten many of those that felt so big at the time but that lost their meaning in a few weeks or months). But the events and the people aren’t that important – it’s more about how I wrote about them. I’ve realized how much built-in anger I had when I was a teenager, and how I had no way of letting it out. So I wrote these awful things in my diary, and yelled at everything and everyone on paper – instead of confronting them in person.

Reading old entries gave me a refreshed view of my younger self – what was I insecure about, what events and happenings did I consider being important enough to write about, and what did that mean, on a deeper level? My findings have been thought-provoking.

What I’ve thought about is this: what if I had never written a diary? What would I know about myself today, what kind of image would I have about my childhood and being a teenager? In his book Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari speaks about the experiencing self and the narrating self.

The experiencing self is the person experiencing the emotions, thoughts and feelings in the moment. The experiencing self is able to tell exactly how one feels, giving a realistic, although subjective, description of the current state of life.

The narrating self takes over when the experiencing self is taking a break – and builds up a narrative, a story, that tells how the situation was. The narrative self tends to bend the curves, put a filter on what the experiencing self just told and transform the memories into something else, something nice and less complex.

In one way or the other, the narrative self distorts the real experience and creates, in the long run, a not-so-truthful perception of oneself and the happenings that occurred.

This doesn’t help us understand why we have become the people we are today. What events formed us, who had a great effect on our thoughts and opinions? Here, the diaries and journals come to our help. They are the reality check we need every once in a while – how was the experience really, was it as good or as bad as I remembered? What did I think of this thing previously, has my thinking shifted?

Writing a daily journal helps to understand our own progress and who we are. This, however, requires patience and self-discipline: in order to have something to analyze, you need to take the time to write down those entries. But it pays off in the end, I’d say. What do you think? Is it worth your time?

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Why do you write a journal, if you do? Or what is keeping you from it? Can you relate to any of the benefits I mentioned in this blog post?

Things Will Change For A While

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It’s Tuesday and it’s time for a new blog post. However, this will be the last Tuesday post for a while. Let me tell you why.

For the past 16 weeks, ever since the beginning of H.E.R. (that’s more than three months!), I’ve been writing three blog posts every week. One on Tuesday, one on Thursday and one on Sunday. They all have their own theme: on Tuesday I share something more personal, on Thursday I connect that personal to something more abstract or theoretical – to things seen from a wider perspective. And the short-stories I publish on Sundays conclude the week, or prepare for the beginning of the coming week: the day of Still Life Sundays.

Until now, I’ve been able to put down the time and energy to write three posts a week. But things have been somewhat different lately.

  1. As you know, I’m juggling with three different writing projects at the moment: the blog, the thesis and Yellow Tails. That means I’m glued to my computer from Sunday to Friday, writing on or researching for something. Two of these projects, i.e. the thesis and Yellow Tails, have a more strict deadline (one dictated by the university and the other one by me) and require therefore more time and energy to get done in time. The deadlines are also closing in on me which means I need to invest more time and effort in these projects to be able to finish everything in time.
  2. In addition to that, there has been many social situations (and they’ll keep on coming) that have required a good deal afterward-processing. As a part of quitting my people-pleasing behavior but also practicing better communication, social awareness and analyzing the body language and words that are spoken, these social situations are filled with data. Processing that data takes huge amounts of energy and time. It might sound weird, being tired because of being social, but I’m not all that used to these situations, and especially not analyzing them as I am today. It is also something I hope to become better at, reading and analyzing people on the go.
  3. As a third thing, the Winter. Here in Finland the amount of light changes from 22 hours a day in the Summer to whopping 4 hours per day in the middle of Winter. We have been entering the darker time of the year for some time now, the daylight lasting for 8 hours and 54 minutes at the moment. The darkness in the evenings (as the sun goes down at 4:41 PM) and the shortness of the days make me feel tired and like there’s nothing I’d really like to do. It takes time and energy to get used to the darkness – and when you get used to it, the days will start to get lighter again (but it’s going to take a while before that period comes again – sometime in March maybe).

This is why I have decided to do the following: at least during November I will cut down the amount of blog posts from three to two posts a week. This means the Tuesday posts will fall off and the Thursday posts will become a sort of mix of Tuesday and Thursday posts, starting on this Thursday.

This way I will hopefully be able to keep things more realistic and not drown myself in my self-made to-do lists. One post less to write each week will hopefully also help me 1) finish my first draft by or in early December, and 2) finish the theory part of my thesis in the end of November.

In theory, cutting down one blog post a week doesn’t sound like anything major. But for me it feels like a huge weight being dropped off. It feels like I can focus on other things for a while. I’ll stay active on WordPress, still publishing twice a week, and will keep on updating Instagram – but I’m also allowing myself to refocus and steer my energy and time to things that need it the most.

So, this will be the last Tuesday post for a while. But as you know, I’ll see you again on Thursday. Have a good one!

 

Non-Creative Wednesdays

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Why is it that some days nothing seems to feel right? That you feel like doing absolutely nothing? Has it something to do with the balance in the universe, one’s hormonal cycle, or what kind of mood everybody else in the society are?

A few Wednesdays back I woke up, did my morning routine, took a shower and ate my typical muesli-with-milk breakfast. The usual drill, the things I do every morning from Monday to Friday. But as I was drinking my morning coffee and watching a Youtube video (also a morning habit of mine), I just felt as if I could sit in that armchair the whole day doing nothing but consuming things. Never getting up (except for food or water or because I would need to go for the toilet), and just read, watch and scroll.

I felt the yearning for simply consuming things the whole day, letting someone or something else consume my time and not the other way around. Instead of creating, writing and thinking, I wanted to take a break from every single project I was working on.

The feeling of restlessness was there in me right from the beginning of my morning. It was a familiar feeling from before, for sure, having had these lazy days every once in a while, but this time I actually questioned it. Why does that feeling of I don’t feel like doing anything come to me? Where does it come from?

Most days, when I see the bottom of my coffee mug in the mornings, it means that the work for the day is beginning. I start by writing my journal. After that I continue with my writing projects that are either this blog or Yellow Tails (most often writing 1,000 to 1,500 words on one project per day). But lately I’ve noticed some sort of feeling of fatigue if I write and create like this from Monday to Friday every morning from ten to twelve. As if I drain all my energy by writing these different projects as much as I do.

So, two weeks ago, in order to keep my creative flow and qualitative writing in order, I decided to try shortening my to do -list for Wednesdays. The day in the middle of the week that kind of divides the seven days into the beginning of the week (when I write blog posts) and the end of the week (when I focus on Yellow Tails). And for me, that day is now a day for not really doing that much. I proofread the blog post for the next day and then focus on my thesis, but otherwise, the Wednesdays are now free from creative writing.

And I have to tell you this: it’s been working out great. I haven’t had the same negative I don’t want to do anything feeling in the same way as before – because now I have a day dedicated specifically for not doing that much!

For some reason, I seem to need a non-creative day once a week (at least in my current situation of life). It’s a day when I let myself consume a little bit more Youtube, scroll a few minutes longer on Instagram, read a book or even watch an episode of something. I let myself, I let my time be consumed by these things – by the photos and videos, and by the people who have created them. It feels like I let my mind rest a little bit before I get back to my projects the next day.

However, as great as I think it has been working out for me, I can’t help getting a somewhat bad conscience about my non-creative Wednesdays. I notice this constant feeling of I should be doing more, that I’m wasting my time on these consumable things like social media, and should instead be working, creating, writing and thinking more. It’s as if I’m lazy – although I know I’m not. As if the two sides of my brain are in conflict with each other on Wednesdays.

I’m trying to work with the feeling, as I’m recognizing it to be a symptom of a HSP, and tell myself that it really is okay to take a break from creative writing in the middle of the week. But being a high-achiever and an efficient worker makes it difficult.

Finding the balance between consuming and creating is a tough one – it tends to become a thing of what one should do or what one shouldn’t do but I guess the right path can be found somewhere without the word should. There’s a need for both consuming and creating in life but finding the right amount of both is the thing that I obviously would benefit from the most.

It seems to be, once again, about self-development. Who knew? Or rather – was someone surprised by this information?

What Happens After 30 Days?

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This Monday was the 1st of October which means that for four days now challenges such as #inktober (thirty-one days and thirty-one ink drawings) and #preptober (thirty-one days of prepping for the thirty-day writing challenge in November) have begun.

It seems to be a pattern: new challenges kick in as a new month begins.

September was spent doing the #whole30 (resetting your nutrition for thirty days) or challenging oneself to live free from waste for the whole month. And in November one gets to challenge his or her writing habits with NaNoWriMo or let their body hair grow as a way of participating in Movember.

The monthly challenges give a rhythm to our year in the same way as Church Holidays did especially in the times before industrialization. Months fly by so quickly if we don’t pay attention to them, and by challenging ourselves with something new each month, the year gets twelve new meanings and time becomes more memorable.

Or does it?

For me it feels like there’s almost a compulsive need in the society to give a different meaning, a new theme for every month. We humans seem to have a need to find something to do with our time, with our energy, and the best way to do it is to challenge ourselves in a new way every thirty days.

(Or, actually, we have gone so far that almost every day of the week needs a theme: Taco Tuesdays, Throwback Thursdays, Pizza Fridays, Screenless Saturdays and so on, but let’s not go there, not now.)

As I’ve been observing this thirty-day life cycle of the society, I’ve asked myself: what is the main reason behind all these challenges? And maybe most of all: when it comes to 30-day challenges, what are we trying to achieve?

Why We Participate

I wrote about the pros and cons about participating in NaNoWrimo on Tuesday and came to the conclusion that depending on the reason you’re participating, you are aiming for different things. The same logic goes for the monthly challenges as well.

I see two main paths that could explain why people take part in the 30-day challenges:

  1. The challenges are a way of discovering new things about yourself: you learn new things or skills, you create new habits and try things that help you find your path, your conviction in life.or
  2. The challenges are a way of making your life more interesting: every new month brings a new challenge which makes your life more challenging and exciting. The time goes by and you get to try the same things that others are doing at the same time (this way you get the inspiration, motivation and support while doing the challenge, you get to be a part of a community).

So, you try new things to learn something new and spice up your life. But why do you do it? Why do you put your time and energy into these challenges?

Are the thirty-day challenges a way for us to become better persons? Do the challenges lead to some kind of progress, development? Or are we just trying to spice up our lives, pass the time so that we get from one weekend to the other, this vacation to the next, from birthday to birthday or Christmas to Christmas, whatever it is that gets you going?

Because: what happens after those thirty days of zero waste/ink drawings/writing/squat challenges are over? What’s the outcome? And what happens next?

Big Change Equals A Shock

Matt Cutts gave a short but highly informative and entertaining Ted-talk in 2011 about how anyone can do anything for thirty days. In his presentation he talked about all the different things he had tried for thirty days – from participating in NaNoWriMo and ’becoming a novelist’ to biking to work and eating sugar-free foods for a month.

His message is clear: you can do anything for a time period of thirty days. You can do small things, such as drink more water every day for thirty days, or big things, like climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But he also said this:

”I learned that when I made small, sustainable changes, things I could keep doing, they were more likely to stick. There’s nothing wrong with big, crazy challenges. In fact, they’re a ton of fun. But they’re less likely to stick.”

And this made me think about the nature of the monthly thirty-day challenges: most of them are pretty big challenges, especially those that require a great deal of time and energy in order to make them happen.

Living a life of zero waste for a month can be a big shock for someone who isn’t used to thinking about his or her consumption. Suddenly you have to plan your grocery shopping and how you spend your time.

Aiming to write 1,667 words per day will get exhausting in the long run if you’re not used to dedicating an hour or two every day for writing (because it’s a good deal of time away from other things).

And going cold-turkey on meat for a month probably leaves you hungry for meat until October is over and you are, once again, ’allowed’ to be a carnivore (fun fact: in Finland the challenge for October is Meatless October, and in January the challenge is to eat only vegan food for a month).

These big, crazy challenges – as Matt Cutts put it – can be fun, and even make you a more confident person. But if what you managed to accomplish during that 30-day challenge vanishes into thin air when the month changes – what was the point in doing the challenge in the first place?

And this comes back to the two paths I presented earlier. Why do people participate in these monthly challenges? Are they aiming for self-development, trying to find out what they enjoy in life or could consider doing for the rest of their lives? Or are they just having fun while trying different things, simply trying to make their every-day life more exciting?

Does A 30-Day Life Cycle Get Us Anywhere?

Once again, it comes down to the ’why’. Why do we decide to try something for thirty days? Is our aim to find long-term habits that help us get where we want to be in one, five or ten years? Do these thirty-day challenges help us get to that thing we consider being the meaning of life? Or – –

Do they actually hinder us from getting there?

I feel strongly that many of the big thirty-day challenges actually distract us from what’s really important in our lives. Especially if you try out every single on of them, and if you enter them just for fun, instead of wanting to find out something about yourself (I mean – isn’t it the reason why we do these challenges, to learn more about ourselves?).

These challenges require a whole lot of energy, time and thinking capacity – and that’s time away from something else. Is your investment in these challenges worth your personal resources?

However, if you participate in these challenges with the aim of actually improving your life – living healthier or environment-friendlier, lowering the threshold for drawing and publishing them online – then I think the thirty-day challenges can actually be helpful. Then all those minutes and hours you put to the challenge can be useful and help you develop and get where you want to be in one to ten years.

Seen in this light, participating in a challenge for thirty days is a great way of trying out something, then cherry-picking the best parts of it and hopefully making them a part of your life.

(And, of course, it’s also good to remember that you are allowed to fail. You are allowed to try something and after thirty days decide that it wasn’t your thing. The thought was presented well in the Ground Up Show, a podcast hosted by Matt D’avella, where he had T.K. Coleman as his guest. Coleman said this:

”Conduct experiments instead of life-long commitments. Try something for thirty days – it’s not marriage, it’s not a new religion. It’s just thirty days.”)

The True Challenge

But as I wrote on Tuesday, simply because you try something for thirty days doesn’t automatically mean you become a pro at it or manage to create a habit that sticks. Challenges like NaNoWriMo can make one exhausted. Meatless October can make you more hungry for meat than you’ve ever been before. And a squat challenge works out as long as you have that thirty-day schedule to follow.

But the true challenge comes when the month dedicated to that challenge is over. Only then you’ll be able to see if the changes you made during that month were small enough to stick or if they vanish into thin air when the next month begins. So – the next time think about participating in a challenge that sounds exciting, I’d say this: ask yourself why do you participate, what do you wish to be the outcome at the end of the month?

Have you participated in any thirty-day challenges? Why did you participate and how did you feel about them in the end, did any of the habits created during the challenge stick? In your opinion, did the thirty-day challenge make your life better?