A People-Pleaser’s Autopilot

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Question: Do you know what a people-pleaser’s biggest fear is?

(Hint: it’s only one word)

The answer: No.

The biggest fear of a people-pleaser is saying ’no’ when someone asks for something, may that be a favor or a meeting. It’s the fear of creating a conflict, of provoking the person who is asking, by saying the simple but oh-so-dramatic ’no’.

I haven’t written about people-pleasing in a while. That is mostly because my life has been pretty calm and there haven’t been that many requests or favors asked of me. And it’s been nice. I’ve been able to focus on more important things, on myself, on my writing.

However, now I have something to say, something to update you on. Progress, so to say.

The Autopilot

After I decided upon quitting my people-pleasing behavior (progress that has been going on for a year or so, but the active, conscious decision was made this Summer), I’ve done pretty well saying ’no’ to many things. If I haven’t felt like doing something or meeting someone, I’ve simply declined and moved on with my life. Of course, everyone hasn’t been quite okay with me saying no to them, but I’ve tried my best to accepted that.

Instead, I’ve focused on myself, prioritized my school work, my own interests, my own time and energy. They have come in the first place while favors and other things have come second.

However, there is a thing here: all the favors and meetings have been asked by friends and acquaintances. When the people asking for favors are part of my family, it’s a whole different story.

When they call and ask for something, it feels like I turn on an autopilot mode. I don’t even consider saying ’no’ to them because I’m already thinking how I can say ’yes’ to the thing they are asking. It’s insane – and still it happens.

Let me give you an example.

Last week, I was extremely focused on finishing the theory part of my thesis before the deadline on Friday. I invested huge chunks of time writing it in the library and prioritized the thesis over everything else (except my creative writing and habits). On Monday, my mother called. She asked if I could to do her a favor on Wednesday, two days before the deadline. It was something that would probably take a few hours of my afternoon. It would help her a good deal, she said.

While holding the phone to my ear, I already knew what my answer should be. I knew I should say ’no’ to her. I knew that I needed all the time I had scheduled for my thesis-writing that week and if I’d spend ”a few hours of my afternoon” executing that favor, it would definitely put me behind my work. I’d probably even miss my deadline. In addition to that, I knew the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours. I would put down energy and time before that favor (whether I wanted to or not), waiting for it to happen, and I would probably need a good deal of time for the after-effects of that favor, processing the experience and my thoughts about it.

In other words, the favor wouldn’t take only a few hours of my time. Instead of two hours, it would probably take five or six hours of my day, most likely the whole day.

While on the phone, I was aware of all this. I knew I was supposed to say ’no’ because it would have been the right thing to do for myself. It was my deadline, my biggest and most important essay for school, I needed to make that deadline in order to get onward in my life.

But here’s the thing: a people-pleaser never puts herself first. She always thinks of others before she thinks of herself. And this is why, while my mother explained something on the phone, my brain started going through these thoughts:

”Maybe I’d be able to get everything done before the deadline if I just re-scheduled my creative writing or postponed it altogether, prioritizing my thesis instead of Yellow Tails. After all, Yellow Tails doesn’t have to get done as soon as possible, even though I’d like to finish the first draft as soon as possible.”

”Even if I don’t make it to the deadline, it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. I could probably ask for more time, say I only need a few days more if it were okay. I could finish the theory during the weekend. Yellow Tails could wait.”

In retrospect, what amazes me is that I had a one hundred percent valid excuse to say no to my mother’s request and I knew it. I knew it – and still I was doing some serious B-planning in that moment! I was actually considering putting a favor in the first place, and letting my thesis, my novel, my personal well-being take the second place.

Now, a week after that phone call, I wonder how could I even consider it. But I did. It was so close that I would have said ’yes’. However, I managed to say that I needed to check my calendar first. I’d call her later that evening.

So, hello. I’m H.E.R., a recovering people-pleaser who almost relapsed last week.

Two Realizations

That phone call last week made me realize that my family truly is the weak point of the people-pleasing side of me. The members of my family are the people who trigger that people-pleasing behavior in me and even take it to the next level, the insane level.

It isn’t any wonder that it’s my parents and my sisters who trigger the behavior in me. The people-pleasing habits of an individual are often created in one’s childhood. As children, we want to please the people we love in order to avoid conflicts and not add to the burden. I recognize myself there – I never wanted to add to my parents burden. Therefore, I was always the kind, trouble-free, helpful, well-behaving child. The one, who always had the time and energy to help others out.

And now I’m paying for that.

The happenings last week helped me realize another thing as well: my role in the family has always been to be that person who gives her time and attention to the other members of the family. I have always been that person who helps out, listens and does favors. I never ask anything for myself, in order to not add to the burden. I manage everything myself, but when someone needs my help, needs to lend my ears, my attention – count me in, I’ll be there.

Until now.

Saying ’No’

It’s a tough boggart to fight. It’s tough saying ’no’ to one’s family – after all, haven’t they done so much for you? Haven’t they always taken care of you, helped out when needed? Wouldn’t saying ’no’ be ungrateful?

The answer: no.

It’s tough to say ’no’ because you know it will provoke a conflict, questions about your attitude, your behavior. Your family will remember that you said ’no’ – and they will remind you of it later.

It’s even tougher to decline when I know my family doesn’t understand that me saying ’no’ is actually completely normal – they’re not just used to it.

Despite all this, the answer is: no.

Saying ’no’ is the only option I have if I wish to quit this kind of behavior once and for all. It was my family that brought up that behavior in me when I was a child and they are the people who trigger the behavior in me today. Saying ’no’ to my parents and my sisters, when it feels like I’m doing wrong towards myself in order to please them, is the only right thing to do if I want to stop pleasing other people.

It’s a battle I must take on. I want to be the kind of person who holds on to her own values and uses her time and energy on her own terms. A person who respects herself and who doesn’t recognize an autopilot mode when it comes to doing favors.

And that is why I told my mother I couldn’t do her the favor she asked for. I didn’t say it in the moment, on the phone, but later that evening as I had promised I would tell her when I got home. It was already late when I got home so I sent her a text message, explaining about my deadline and how important it was for me to use every hour I had to be able to meet it.

If she understood what I tried to say and if she respected my effort, I don’t know. She only informed me the next day that she had managed to get someone else to do the favor. I was left with mixed feelings, but in retrospect, I’m proud I said no. Because now I know it’ll be easier to do the same next time.

(And yes: there will be a next time.)

Still Life Sunday: A Goodbye Said in Silence

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19 A Goodbye Said in Silence

When he closes his eyes, he can see it.

He can see the grey rock he is standing on and the small guest harbor on the other side of the silent bay. He remembers how he and his friend rowed on a small boat to the other side one summer to pick up two girls who were curious to attend their Midsummer Night Party. It had been a good night: the other girl was a good kisser who hadn’t been afraid to use her tongue.

Now, he can feel the late August warmth on his skin, the setting sun coloring the view into pastels. He hears a bird – the crow of the island. The old grump keeps an eye on everything that happens, sitting on a branch high up in a pine tree.

Taking a few steps forward, he is now standing in the exact place where the five-year-old he fell into the water. It was his father’s favorite story to tell how he had jumped in the water to save his son, and chuckled at how only a few minutes later he had been drying his banknotes on the rock. The son lived and so did the banknotes after a moment in the sun, he’d say.

This island is filled with memories. Everywhere he looks he sees something that reminds him of a project long gone, a day or a social happening from a few years ago. He has spent thirty summers on this island with his family and friends.

He loves that island, the trees that sway in the wind, the fish that jump in the water, the smell of the wood-burning sauna. But he will no longer visit this place – the summers here have come to an end.

Not because his family is selling it or because he is moving away, but because it is time for him to set himself free from his past.

In his mind, he turns around to look at the red cottage they repainted the previous summer. He wonders if the credit cards cut in half and the keys to his childhood home, that he put in an envelope and sent to his parents, have arrived. He left no note, letting the contents of the envelope speak for themselves.

However, he isn’t curious to know how his family will react to his actions. He won’t answer any of the phone calls he knows they will try to make. He has set himself free from the traditions, the norms, the expectations and the people he used to call family.

He is letting go of something to gain something. What his family represents is keeping him in place, holding him from getting onward, keeping him from developing into something else that could be better and more fulfilling.

It isn’t exactly easy to do what he is doing. Sometimes he thinks it would be easier to live his life as expected, without too many surprises or plot twists. Then there would be no conflicts, not too many questions. Only silent and satisfied approval. But that isn’t a way of life he can accept. How can he ever learn how he wants to live his life if he is constantly hindered from trying to live it?

And that is why he opens his eyes and says goodbye to the island quietly in his mind. Life is revealing itself to him in a new way and he is ready to welcome it with open arms.

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?

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?