Keeping Your Vision Clear

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After the move, life has been busy.

It’s been busy with writing, having long conversations with friends at school cafeterias and establishing old routines at the new place. Life has been busy with thinking, reading books and finding peace with many different issues.

Time has simply flown by.

Many (but especially self-employed creatives) say that October and November are the busiest months of the year. It’s the time of the year that’s filled with work projects, deadlines, keeping up with hobbies and being social. Maybe it’s the darkness, the cold and a way to pass the time while waiting for Christmas and a new year to begin. But it sure is true.

Even for me, October and November have been filled with so many things that require my time. Especially November. However, I can only blame myself for setting a deadline for my first draft at the same time I have a deadline for the theory part of my thesis and, in addition to that I decided to plan and execute a surprise advent calendar as a Christmas gift to my partner. Oh, and then I also had a deadline for a couple of articles I’ve written for a magazine I’m the chief editor for.

In other words, I’m swamped.

Two Personal Reminders

It feels like these last remaining months of the year tend to fly by and become months dedicated to completing the eon-long to-do lists. They are also the months where experiencing and trying new things (fun things especially) get less time than they’d deserve. We are putting off what seems to be everything to complete the list in time – before Christmas and the new year. That’s at least how it has felt like for me.

However, two things happened last Saturday that were great reminders of why it’s extremely important to lift one’s head up from the messy soup of to-dos, to take a break from what one is doing, or even to break free from it:

  1. I met the team behind an association’s member magazine that I’ve been the chief editor of for the past couple of years.
  2. Me and my partner got a plant, an Euphorbia leuconeura, that is, the Madagascar jewel, as a house-warming gift.

What’s so special about these two things, you ask? Let me tell you.

Being a chief editor for an association member magazine doesn’t require that much face-to-face contact with the editorial team. It can be done from the distance full-time, if necessary, like I did when I lived in Ireland. This, can be liberating, of course, but it comes with a dark side (as many other things in life): the job can become very lonely and, most of all, uninspiring. After all, sitting alone at your computer in the middle of winter with only Whatsapp or Facebook as your social contact to the team, you are almost bound to lose focus, your interest in and motivation for the job.

And this was how I had experienced the job for the last six months or so. I hadn’t been inspired to create a truly good and enjoyable magazine – I had only worked enough to get the magazine done and published. Quite clearly I had lost my interest, and finally decided that being the chief editor for the magazine wasn’t worth of my time anymore. So, I resigned.

However, after meeting the team again after a long pause and getting to know some new faces, I felt a change in my motivation. Suddenly, the negative feelings I had had about the paper and producing material for it, disappeared. Instead, I was energized and somewhat motivated to ’start anew’ and put some effort into the work again. I felt that the team is nice, the atmosphere at the brunch/meeting was good, and that I did enjoy writing those articles when I finally decided to write them. Suddenly I saw no reason to quit the magazine – I was happy to stay on board as a part of the editorial team.

And the plant then! I’ve mentioned before that me and my partner are frequent movers. That means I’ve given up on investing in plants or in an impressive collection of spices since they tend to become problematic when the next move is around the corner. But now we were given a Madagascar jewel. But instead of being stressed about the future of the plant, I was quite thrilled.

Later that day, I sat down to observe the plant at close. There’s something about these green organisms. They bring different kind of life to the household, they bring color to the grey and dark landscape that we see from the window. This plant needs to be talked to in order to get its dosage of carbon dioxide (that’s the instruction we got from the gift-giver: ”It needs to hear some conversations!”).

The Madagascar jewel shows that one can survive in this part of the world where the sun hasn’t made any appearance in oh-so-many-days.

Nurture the Conviction

These two things made me realize the importance of taking care of oneself instead of getting swamped with a massive to-do list without an ending, instead of just living one day after the other without something fun that interrupts the day-to-day life.

It’s important to take care of your mental and physical well-being. But it’s equally important to take care of your conviction and your creativity.

I know my conviction, my passion. But what I’ve realized is that it’s not enough to know what you want to do and do it. Habits only get you so far – they automate the process or the technical aspects of creating. But what’s your fuel, what’s the oil in your system that helps the creativity to reach a state of flow? Anyone can do anything if they have the habit of doing it – but is what you’re doing fun? Is it energizing, fulfilling, exhilarating?

So, maybe you know what you want to do and have down the habit of taking the time to do it. But in addition to this, you need to take care of your conviction. It’s like the windscreen of a car – you need to keep it clean in order to see clearly, even if you know where you’re going. Because if you can’t see where you’re going – you’re likely to end up in a ditch in the middle of somewhere.

So, instead of keeping the eyes on the goal only – may that be finishing your first draft or your edits, completing editing a new video or learning to master Adobe Illustrator – one needs to enjoy the process as well. It could be meeting up with people who share your passion for the craft who remind you that working on your conviction and doing the thing you love is fun. Or getting a plant just because they’re colorful and full of life and remind you of the curious process of growth (even if you might need to give it away or throw it away in six months or so).

To keep you convinced of your own conviction, you need to do things that might not get you closer to your goal technically (for instance, sitting in a cafe with friends doesn’t automatically create new words to your Word-document), but give you new energy, new thoughts and a refreshed belief in what you do instead.

We people have a tendency to get blinded by what we should be doing, our lengthy to-do lists and our stressful deadlines. We forget that feeding our passion often happens outside of the physical in-the-making process. People-watching or meeting with friends give you new thoughts and ideas for you novel, but in order to do that you need to leave your computer at home and get out to see the world. Taking the time to enjoy a nice piece of cake or going to the art galleries is a way of taking care of your energy and motivation – taking a break once in a while in order to bring back the motivation, the conviction in what you’re doing. Because if you’re not motivated, your habit cannot be utilized properly.

So, last Saturday worked as a friendly reminder for two things: 1) living a minimalist life doesn’t mean one cannot invest in something that will only last for a while. If it brings you joy, it’s worth the trouble it causes, and 2) I already do things that I enjoy but every once in a while I need to refresh my memory of why I enjoy doing them.

After realizing this, I’ve been wondering how I might implement this on my creative writing and my blogging. Lately, I’ve been feeling somewhat unmotivated although I keep on writing six days a week. Would it be a cup of coffee and a croissant in a café that would get me going, that would energize and motivate me? Or meeting other people who share my passion for writing (in real life as well in addition to the Internet)?

What’s that something that would feed my creativity and my motivation for writing?

***

How do you do it? How do you feed you conviction, your passion?

 

A Writer’s Curse and Blessing

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As the finish line of completing my first draft is coming closer, I’ve found myself conjuring up different scenarios considering my future book.

For instance, I’ve imagined how my mother would pick the book from her bookshelf to show it to her friends, saying ”This is the book my daughter wrote!” with pride in her voice (because especially my Mom likes to share our achievements with her friends). And then I imagine how she would describe the book, how it came as a surprise that I had written and published a real book.

I’ve also imagined the publisher calling me up and telling me that the draft is great, that he or she really enjoyed reading it but they had some issues with the names of the characters (which, of course, would be heart-breaking). I can imagine myself torn with the conflict of ’yay, getting published’ and ’do I want this so bad that I’m willing to change the name of my characters?’

And after being published, I imagine a colleague or a fellow student, attending the same lecture or meeting as I am, pull out the book from his or her bag and show it to me, asking in an excited voice: ”Did you write this? I loved it!” And I would try to keep the pride in my voice on a tolerable level and answer calmly: ”Yes, in fact, I did. How did you like it?”

Silly fantasies, I know. But during the past couple of months I’ve come to realize that it’s just how I am and how my mind works. I’m a writer. Therefore, I have a tendency to speculate different things. As a writer, it’s even part of my job to speculate, to imagine how different situations could turn out, what someone would say, how they’d feel, what childhood memory makes them act like they do.

Speculating on things can be fun most of the time. I’d say I put down a good deal of time speculating on other people’s lives, and how different situations and conversations could turn out. It’s like daydreaming. It comes naturally to me and even without me noticing it. Yesterday, for instance, I was having lunch with friends and caught myself in the act, speculating a situation where me and my partner would get robbed on the street, who would kick whom in the groin, what street would be the best one to run along and so on. When I caught myself speculating this, I snapped back to the real life conversation we were having. Oops. But that’s just how I am!

However, this speculative, imaginary mind of a writer (or any creative person for that matter) has a dark side as well.

The Deep-Analysis Pit

In my experience, constant speculation of what happens, analyzing why someone said something and drawing conclusions from social situations has a tendency to lead to deflation, social insecurity and even depression.

Only a few years back, this sort of analyzing and speculating was a real problem for me. I had a tendency to ’read between the lines’, feel the vibes of other people, analyze what was said to me, in what way, and with what tone. The same went for posts on social media and private chats – what words and emojis were used. My analyses were probably more often a bit over the edge than right which often led to feelings of insecurity and depression, affecting my overall mood.

I know now that being sensitive for people and social situations is part of being a highly sensitive person. Hard-core analyzing was also a part of my people-pleasing behavior, a way of avoiding possible conflicts and being liked by everyone. But at the time, the speculating and analyzing just took over everything. And I had no control over it.

As you can guess, it ended up restricting my life. I withdrew myself from social situations, and didn’t for instance attend to any parties at the university because I had the feeling that I was being judged or somehow not wanted in the group. I was nervous for meeting up with people, and spent a good deal of time ahead imagining how things would work out, how the dialogue would be, would it be good to prepare some questions beforehand?

As a result of constant speculating came the need for balance: I wanted to be prepared for everything. Which, of course, didn’t happen because it couldn’t. The lack of control over what felt like everything made me feel even worse.

However, as I’ve gained confidence and been able to rationalize most of the speculations and analyses inside my head, the hard-core speculating has calmed down a good deal. Also, as I’ve become better at analyzing people and conversations – what words they use, how their body language is – I’ve become better to understand that other people’s’ crappy mood seldom depends on me. Thanks to this, I’ve been able to cut down on the negative effects on constant speculating.

Of course, on some days I still end up in the deep-analysis pit and make things worse for myself but I’ve become better at picking myself up again. It’s like I have a ladder in that pit and I know where it is these days, and it’s easier to come up again.

Creating Magic

However, as a writer, speculating and imagining things is a vital part of the writing. Despite it’s deflating nature when gone too far, speculating can be extremely fascinating and energizing. It’s amazing what the mind can come up with – characters that don’t exist in the real world, dialogues that have never happened, worlds that no one else could come up with. Many creatives have an endless well of ideas and stories they want to tell to the world. And I seem to be one of them.

As long as I keep on reality-checking my analyses and speculations, I’ll be able to use this speculative nature of mine to conjure up different scenes for my novels and short-stories. Although much of what I write has to do with personal experience and memories, speculating (i.e. imagining) other outcomes and different reactions turn the stories into fiction. What I experience, witness around me and what I think about it work as raw material, that then becomes something completely new as I write it down.

And that feels like some kind of magic to me.

***

Are you a speculator, someone who puts down time and energy to think out different outcomes from different situations? How do you feel about it – does it give you more energy or rather, does it leave you feeling deflated?

 

The Right Kind of Ratio

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What is consuming?

What is creating?

Do we need to do one in attempt to do the other? Or can we stop consuming altogether and only create – or vice versa?

I contemplated this already on Tuesday – how to balance between the right amount of consuming and creating. To me it seems like both are required if one wishes to hold on to the qualitative creative flow and be able to generate new ideas. But it also seems that maintaining a balance between the two can be more difficult than thought. This, because I believe we humans tend to draw us to the easy, almost lazy alternatives instead of pursuing the tougher path. Or then we get too fired up about some project we have and keep on working until we are completely deflated, having burned all that creative energy.

But there has to be a balance somewhere in between those two extremes. A place where the right kind and amount of consuming gives you new ideas and helps you keep the creative work going strong. And where you are able to create the right amount in order to be happy about what you are doing and make real progress instead of getting burned out.

My question is this: what is the right kind of balance between consuming and creating?

Finding the Golden Ratio

I remember a conversation about the ratio between consuming and creating I had with my partner a few years back. We are both creatives which means we consume a good deal of information in order to get inspired to create something of our own. I wasn’t creating nearly as much then as I do today but still, it was a relevant topic to discuss already at the time.

We ended up in some sort of conclusion that to be able to create one needs to consume a great deal of information. I proposed a ratio of 80 to 20 – 80 percent time spent consuming in order to spend 20 percent creating. It felt like a balance at the time: consuming and gathering as much information as possible in order to create one small thing. Like going through one hundred photographs to take one photograph yourself. Read one hundred books to write one novel, three hundred paintings to create one painting. Spend hours and hours thinking to create one new original thought.

But today, as a great amount of my day goes to creating, I’ve been thinking this ratio again. Is it really necessary to consume that much to create so little? Does it have to be 80/20 or could it be 50/50 – or even less? If I put it like this: every day I’m awake for about sixteen hours. Eighty percent of sixteen hours is 12,8 hours. This means that according to my 80/20 rule I would be consuming information almost thirteen hours every day and create for the four hours that remain of the day.

That feels like a lot of time put down to consuming.

Maybe the 80/20 rule isn’t as applicable as I thought it was two years ago. But what is the golden ratio between consuming and creating?

Too much consumption leads to deflation and numbness where nothing gets created. It’s like being a painter with a blank canvas and all the colors in the world to use but no clue, no object to paint. Or everything that the painter tries to put on that canvas turns out wrong.

The same with creativity: too much creating leads to deflation and numbness as well. As if you’ve given everything you have, the towel is dry, the grapes have no juice left to press out of them, the battery is out.

If you don’t recharge your creative batteries often enough (by consuming), you’re making your creative flow suffer.

A Symbiosis of Two

I believe that for overall wellbeing both are required. We humans are curious to our nature and want to figure things out. How does this thing work or why does it do like that? What if I tried doing it like this? In order to figure out things and by that quench our thirst of curiosity, we need to create.

But to be able to do all of this we also need to consume. New things, innovations and creations are born from knowledge that was acquired before. Creativity comes from what we see, hear, feel and smell. Creativity feeds on information and knowledge, even on memories. It’s like research one needs to do to be able to create something new.

A new food recipe is developed from a mix of different flavors snapped up from foods that already exist. A musician gets inspired by songs and melodies that already exist, and in the book world every plot is already out there – you just pick your favorite, come up with a new story with own characters and there you go – you are creating something new. Nothing we consume is really unique anymore – everything exists already. We just come up with new versions of these things and it never seems to grow old.

So – we need to consume in order to create. But what about the other way around? Do we need to create to be able to consume? I guess the answer here is quite simple: if we wouldn’t create anything we wouldn’t have anything to consume. Therefore: yes, we need to create to be able to consume.

Consuming and creating go hand in hand in this universe. A balanced life is a symbiosis of these two, where they create a mutually beneficial relationship and feed on each other, creating balance.

Because if you think about it – what would the world be like without the one or the other? A world of only consumption or creativity would lead to some sort of dystopia, an alternative universe where contact between nothing exists. Where no one would be in contact with anyone and everyone would live their own individual life in solitude, in isolation, in an empty environment free from stimuli.

Creating One’s World

Consuming for entertainment, inspiration and information is okay as long as one balances it out by creating. But lets get some clarity on this thing: what is creating, really?

I’ve always thought that creating for me is writing, creating new things to read. Whether it is about writing a journal, blog posts for this blog or Yellow Tails, I’m creating. But today I think creativity is so much more than just writing – it can be seen as things that help to create one’s career, build on one’s own social environment, one’s world. So even the small things, like updating Instagram and commenting and liking other people’s photos, can be seen as creating. Or sending an email, putting down a few hours to improve the blog, meet up with friends or have a date night with one’s partner. Everything listed here is a part of the creativity process, it helps you develop your creativity, your career.

In contrast to the conversation I had with my partner a few years back, I’d like to propose a ratio of not quite 80/20 but maybe 70/30, and this ratio reversed – seventy percent put down to creating and thirty percent to consuming. From day-to-day this probably shifts according to mood and energy (as my non-creative Wednesdays show) but the overall ratio could be seventy to thirty.

We are allowed to both consume and create. But to boost our self-confidence and happiness, I’d say we actually need to create a lot more than we consume.

Beating the Resistance

The last question I have for this particular blog post is this: when do we know when a break from creativity is actually needed, and when we are yearning to consume because we are procrastinating?

I’ve learned that procrastination is a part of Resistance, the imaginary but real thing that keeps you from doing what you really want to do. In order to learn more or less everything about Resistance, I would recommend you to read the too-good-to-be-true The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. After reading this book on Resistance and creating, you’ll know when you are procrastinating. But I’ll give you this quote:

The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work. (p. 82)

 

So, okay, check on beating that Resistance. But how do you know when you need a break from creating?

I guess the knowledge will come to us through practice. Keep on creating (and beating that Resistance/procrastination) until you start to notice the pattern. When do you feel depleted, when do you need to recharge those creative batteries? When do you notice a lack of ideas or inspiration? That’s when you might need a break from creating.

But the ratio, the balance – it’s personal. Only you will know when you’ve created enough, when you have consumed too much, when it’s about procrastination and when it’s about creative fatigue.

Do you know your balance?

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?

Still Life Sunday: An Unknown Demand

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13 An Unknown Demand

She sits in her armchair and closes all the apps on her phone that have been opened during the previous hour. Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. She’s checked them all. Nothing too exciting happening on the planet this day.

She looks out from the window, letting her gaze search through the view for something abnormal, something that would awaken her curiosity. But no – not even the nature or the human-constructed streets of this city offer her anything special to witness.

Her eyes jump from item to item inside the one-bedroom apartment she lives in. Everything she sees, she owns. She can do anything she wants! This is her kingdom, her own little authoritarian country where her word reigns over everything and everyone. Except that she’s the only living thing in here (if you don’t count the tiny lonely olive tree on the windowsill). She could as well be a poor beggar or the richest person in the apartment and it wouldn’t make a difference. But although her wish is also the command, she doesn’t know what to do with all her power.

Boredom, the numbing and frustrating feeling that creeps along her legs, up her spine, all the way to the top of her head, makes her jump up from the chair and search for something to do. Anything will do, she thinks and goes to the walk-in closet. There she opens a white box filled with crafts equipment. Her hands feel their way through the colorful construction paper and finally, finds the watercolors and right kind of paper for painting.

She fills up a glass of clear water, sits down at the table and dips the paint brush in the water. Yearning for something colorful to brighten up the otherwise moody day, she picks the color pink to paint with and draws the first line.

But it comes out wrong. It doesn’t feel right, it is not straight or even quite the right color. First determined to not give up too easily, she draws a few more lines. But none of them feel right. Sighing, she gets up from her craft, leaving it to dry and empties the light pink water in the glass to the sink. Then she walks to the book shelf.

She picks up a book she’s been thinking about reading for a while. Returning to the armchair, she opens the first chapter and reads the first lines. But already after a few pages her mind starts to wonder, her thoughts go from the lunch she’s planning on preparing today to all the chores she has waiting for her on a to do –list. Finally, she gives up on the work of fiction and lets the book rest face down on the armrest. She can continue reading it later if she feels like it.

*

An hour later and she’s tried what seems to be everything: painting, reading, cleaning, listening to a podcast, watching more videos on Youtube and even doing yoga – but nothing feels right. She cannot focus, she cannot get rid of her thoughts that seem to require more of her attention today than usually. Actually, she doesn’t feel like doing anything today at all.

“What is it about gloomy days like this”, she wonders, looking out from the window.

She could be doing anything she wants! Be the beggar, be the queen for the day. Why not be both! But no. Her body and her mind both demand something else, something she hasn’t even thought of.

But what?

She returns to the armchair and sits down. But she doesn’t pick up the book that is waiting for her on the armrest. Instead, she lets her arms rest on the sides.

“I guess I just have to wait for the answer to come to me”, she says out loud to the empty apartment. No one is there to hear her, in her small authoritarian kingdom. No one will provide an answer to the question the queen has just asked out loud.

(Or maybe the olive tree hears her, but even if it does, it’s not very probable it will have an answer to her. After all, it’s only a tree.)

Instead, she lets the frustrating numbness take over her body and tries to learn to wallow in it until an answer comes to her. It might come in a minute or in an hour, it might come tomorrow. She even knows that there might not be any answer at all.

In that case, she’s on her own.

Investing To Know Yourself

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It was Friday, the sun was setting and we had just finished the typical Ikea-meal: meatballs and mashed potatoes with brown sauce and lingonberry jam. We decided to check the outlet-corner (or the Corner of Findings as it’s called) before hitting the rest of the store, curious to see what they had there.

We have never actually found anything we wanted in the outlet, the furniture being either too expensive or unnecessary for us, but this time my partner spotted a grey armchair on the staff-side of the outlet, kept behind a red-white line that separated the customers from the staff space. We walked to the red-white line to take a closer look at the chair (both curious because we planned on getting armchairs for the new apartment instead of a sofa) when a staff member asked if we wanted to step over the line and try sitting in the chair. Yes, please!

We stepped over the line to the staff-only-space, and I got to test-sit the chair first.

Let me tell you – it was  the  p e r f e c t  chair.

It wasn’t too soft, it wasn’t too hard, it was just perfect (and yes, it was a total Goldilocks moment). And apparently I looked so comfortable sitting in that chair that the staff member reminded me friendly not to fall asleep there. He had a point – the chair felt so comfortable I could have taken a nap in it right then and there.

However, we left Ikea without the perfect armchair. Why? Because 1) the price was not exactly student-friendly, and 2) we aren’t staying in the next apartment too long which made me think it was unnecessary to invest in that kind of armchair for such a short amount of time. It wasn’t an easy decision because I really wanted the chair, but the facts spoke against buying it so we left the grey armchair to the outlet.

Yet, in the evening (after we had returned from the 2,5 hour-long trip to Ikea) my partner asked me this: although the chair was expensive and even though I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it for a very long time – wasn’t I worth that perfect chair? Why wouldn’t I enjoy the perfect chair as long as I could, and invest not in the chair but in myself?

And that was an excellent question. What was I actually doing when I decided not to buy that chair that was so comfortable, so perfect? What kind of logic is it, and is it a sensible logic in the long run?

Cheap Living

I’ve been a student now for five years. I’ve lived on my own, handled my own money and been responsible for many adult-life-things, including my finances. Being a student with a very limited monthly income means that I’ve also lived as cheaply as possible for the past years. It has become a routine of some sort: comparing prices at the food store, making detailed grocery lists, avoiding spontaneous shopping and so on.

Especially after I returned from Ireland in the Fall of 2016, having studied there for one semester as an exchange student, I started paying more attention to my finances. That had most probably to do with the fact that when I came back I had less than 20 euros on my bank accounts (not my most glorious days, to be honest). Before Ireland I hadn’t really considered how I consumed my money – but now I decided to take action, never wanting to be in a similar economic situation again.

Today and two years later, after returning from The Green Island, the situation is quite different. I’ve become more conscious about my incomes and expenses. Together with my partner, we’ve managed to minimize our expenses, and I’m doing my best to update an Excel-file every week to keep an eye on our money.

During these last couple of years, I’ve managed to build an economic buffer for myself for emergency cases, for a rainy day or simply to be able to invest that money someday in something. But as I’ve reached this state of economic ”welfare”, it has made me think: I’ve been saving and saving and saving, 10–15 percent of every payment I’ve received on my bank account from subsidies to study loans to salary. That has been a plan that has worked better than I expected. But when have I saved enough? Or, rather: when can I put my savings into good use? I mean, the money isn’t just supposed to sit there on that bank account until the day I leave this world, right?

Right?

Because, as I wondered about the armchair I had left in Ikea, I asked myself this: how do I know when to skimp and save the money, and when to invest in myself and in my own life? After living the life of a student for so long, do I even know what investing in myself is anymore?

Rerouting the Thinking

As I’ve been living cheaply/economic-consciously for the past couple of years it has become almost like a lifestyle. The economical thinking is rooted into my thought-system and turns on automatically when I’m making choices. In one way, this is extremely helpful, giving me the continuity in cheap living – but when seen from another perspective, it gets a bit tricky.

I feel that this kind of autonomous cheap thinking twists the way I see myself and what I’m worthy of. Often I find myself thinking ”I cannot afford this” and opting for the cheaper alternative instead. Or I leave the object in the store, thinking that ”maybe I don’t need it anyway”. And in one way, again, this is helpful – but then again, I wonder this: do I hinder myself from buying something that could give me great joy simply because I think I can’t afford it?

As the amount of money on my savings account has been increasing slowly but surely, I’ve become more aware of the fact that there are actually quite a lot I could afford. But it’s amazingly difficult to try to switch from that cheap thinking to investment thinking – mostly because when I find something that feels worthy to invest in, those items tend to be the more expensive ones. But if I really want those things and think they will help me do the things I love to do – aren’t they worth the investment?

(By the way – although I’m talking about having money on my savings account and being able to afford things, it doesn’t mean I’m in any way wealthy. I do okay, mostly thanks to government subsidies and a study loan, but I rarely eat out or buy new clothes.)

Investing In Yourself

There is a thing I’ve thought about a good deal after that Friday night in Ikea:

I need to invest in myself to know who I am and what I enjoy.

If that money stays on that savings account from here to eternity, simply growing in amount, why have I been saving it in the first place? Isn’t saving money supposed to be about saving for things you enjoy or want to try out?

If you never invest that money you’ve so patiently been saving, how will you ever learn to know yourself and what kind of things you enjoy? If you only leave cheap, always skimping and thinking ”I can’t afford this” although you do, have you actually lived life to the fullest at all?

During this move we’ve made oh-so-many choices from carpets to chairs to lamps, and it’s been a constant balancing between what to invest in and where to save the money. And the conclusion we have come to in this decision-making process is that if the item you are thinking about helps you get closer to where you want to be or helps you to do what you enjoy, then it’s worth the more expensive one (that also tends to be better quality).

(For instance, the carpet we picked for our livingroom is an investment in our creativity. We call it the jungle mat as it’s a crazy jungle-themed dark-colored carpet with birds and other jungle-like things, and it’s thought-provoking to look at.)

So, after this lengthy thought process on Friday night, we woke up a bit earlier the next morning, drove the car to Ikea five minutes before they opened the doors, raced to the Outlet of Findings, and I bought the chair.

I bought the chair for myself.

I bought the chair because 1) it is comfortable, 2) it doesn’t make my butt hurt, 3) I can see myself drinking my morning coffee in it, reading books and sometimes even writing while sitting in it. In a way, investing in this chair is also an investment in my creative process and my well-being.

And that’s something, isn’t it?

– – –

How much effort do you put into your choice-making when you’re buying something new? What do you think about when making that choice?

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?