Facing a Fear in Neoprene Slippers

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If life was a game, then fear would be the Great Hand controlling the direction of that game. Therefore, if one is interested in winning the game, using that fear is the best way to get closer to the finish line.

For many years now, I’ve been curious about fear and how it directs our lives. It’s the constant villain that color thousands of years of history, it’s the shadow steering today’s politics, it’s that voice sitting on our left shoulder, whispering instructions on what choices to make and what not.

Wondering what I’m talking about? Hang on for a little while longer.

Fear is our greatest enemy – but also our best friend. It’s the feeling that both keeps us from progressing and helps us get onward… depending on how you face the fear. They who are courageous enough (and even a bit crazy) to listen to Fear’s voice and, most of all, challenge everything it says – these people can find their way to many great things.

By following our fears we find the roots to our anxiety and are able to deal with them first hand – and we might end up with a more fulfilling, self-confident life. But if you do the opposite and avoid those fears, if you opt for closing your eyes from them and distract yourself into thinking something else, something nicer… Life will definitely be more dully colored.

Are you still there, still reading? Good. Now, let me tell you why fear is the topic for this Thursday.

Facing One’s Fears

For the past few years, I’ve been curious about my comfort zone and what lies outside it. What are the fears I need to face so that I will grow as a person? What am I afraid of and why? How do these fears limit my life and the choices I make?

I am certain of the fact that facing one fear’s is a good thing. But the challenging thing is to know when it’s valuable to face that fear and diminish it, and when it’s better to leave it alone because, in the end, it only limits your life very little.

For instance, I’m quite afraid of snakes. However, as long as I’m not living a life where I have to deal with snakes on a daily or even weekly basis, I can’t see the point of getting rid of my fear for snakes. Working on diminishing one’s fears takes an incredible amount of time and energy, two of our most valuable resources, which means we have to make a choice. Instead of focusing on some more seldom activated fears, I’m more interested in facing other fears – those that limit my life on an almost-daily basis.

One of these fears is calling up people I’m not familiar with. I wrote about it last week because it’s an active fear at the moment, something I have to do for my Master’s thesis if I wish to graduate. But I faced that fear, called those people, and although it was a daunting task and made me extremely stressed, I survived. With a smile!

And last Friday, I faced another fear.

(This year has clearly been a good year for facing fears so far – it’s only the beginning of March and two fears diminished already!)

Neoprene Slippers and a Cotton Overall

For years now, there has been a course I’ve been avoiding as some cats avoid wet grass – a course called Survival Course for Boaters. For years, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in that course and even been encouraged to do so, but I never considered twice if I wanted to participate – because I didn’t.

The Survival Course for Boaters is a course organized by the Maritime Safety Training Centre a few-hour-drive away from my home city. The exercises take place indoors in a huge 43×27 meter swimming pool with a sail boat, life rafts, authentic evacuation equipment for cruisers and, coolest of all, a helicopter.

The course is aimed for sailors and boaters who want to practice surviving in the water. The exercises include, for instance, pulling oneself into a life raft, a sailboat or a rowing boat, climbing up the side of a cruiser ship, and getting evacuated into a ”flying” helicopter. In addition to this, the exercises can be made pretty authentic because the place has a storm simulator which means that they are able to create one-meter-high waves, heavy 10–15 m/s wind, rain and darkness.

It sounds cool, right? And I can tell you that the place is extremely cool – but participating in all those exercises… as I said, I have been avoiding this course for years. Why? Because I was so incredibly afraid: I was certain I would panic during the simulated storms and that my physical condition wasn’t good enough to accomplish all those exercises.

I didn’t want to go because I was 100 % sure I would fail.

And still, somewhere inside me, I was curious to know how I would survive this one-day course filled with physical challenges in water.

So finally, after all these years, I decided to face my fear and found myself beside that pool wearing my swim suit, a red cotton overall, an orange life jacket and neoprene slippers. I had no idea what to expect, how many bruises I would get, or how I would get through all those exercises. But I was there and I was ready to get comfortable on the outside of my comfort zone.

Feelings of Horror… and Surprise

Well, I had the most awesome day in a long time.

In the end of that day, I felt tired but exhilarated. I had had a wonderful, super awesome and cool day filled with climbing, paddling, swimming, jumping and getting pulled up into a sailboat and a helicopter. I was cold and shivered like crazy after having finished the last exercise (two minutes in a 5°C cold-water pool), but as I got into the sauna and my body began to warm up, I felt relaxed and happy, almost as if I had been on a vacation. I even felt somewhat surprised that the day hadn’t been tougher than that.

During the course, I accomplished all the exercises without any problems. I had the energy and courage needed to take action in different situations, and most of all, I could keep myself calm even during the more adrenaline-boosting exercises.

Only once did I experience a clean sense of horror: we had just climbed up the side of the (fake) cruise ship when we found out we were going to go back down the next second… by jumping back into the water from a height of 4.5 meters. To someone, this might sound like nothing. To me, it sounded horrifying. I’m not afraid of heights but I’m not comfortable with them either. I was never that kid who wanted to jump from ten meters to the swimming pool – 1.5 meters was quite enough for me. So when the instructor told us to jump and it was my turn, I almost turned around to say I wouldn’t do it. The sense of horror was extreme, the feeling of panic when I saw the distance to the water – but I only hesitated for a second or two before I jumped.

I was able to face a fear by (quite literally) taking a leap to the unknown.

Fear of the Unknown

My fears that had been built up during years and years of avoidance were proven wrong that day. Of course, good physical condition helps one finish the exercises, especially in the end of the day, but in the end, surviving in the water is much more about your mental strength and knowing the right techniques of surviving.

The thing with this fear, as with many others, is that it was built upon something I didn’t understand or have enough knowledge of. In my case, my fear was built upon the belief that I’m not fit enough to succeed and I’ll panic although I didn’t even know what the exercises of that course entailed.

I built my own fear on the basis of my own speculations, beliefs and horrifying visions, and realized last Friday how twisted they were when compared to reality.

In addition to all those magnificent bruises I now have in my legs and armpits, I have a better understanding of myself and my fear. The course gave me a boost of self-confidence but it also made me realize how wrong my fear has been all these years. And if this fear was wrong, what are the odds that some other fears of mine are twisted as well?

Because, even those phone calls I was so afraid of making… they all turned out really good – another fear diminished.

So, facing one’s fears is a way of winning in this game we call life, because it takes you closer to yourself. Facing those fears helps you get onward with your life because when you’re not afraid of things that aren’t actually frightening, you are able to focus on other things, throw the dice one more time and see where the number takes you. Maybe to another fear, and, extended, to another win?

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What are the fears you would like to deal with? And if you consider them in the light of this post, how real do you think those fears are?

Choosing What’s Important

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I had been hoping I would be able to write a nice update on how my editing process is going. A month ago, I had just read my manuscript of Yellow Tails from beginning to end and was excited to share some facts about the plot and the main character, Jello.

I thought that the notes I took while reading the manuscript for the first time would be enough to start editing the story, but I decided to go a different way. Instead, I chose to focus on planning a more detailed storyline before diving into the editing process of the actual manuscript.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past month: working through every scene, creating an external, plot-focused arc and combined it with an internal, emotion-focused one – trying to create a well-flowing, interesting story.

However, I haven’t come very far. This past month hasn’t been a glorious month of progress when it comes to editing Yellow Tails. Why? Because I’ve been focusing on my Master’s thesis. And that hasn’t been a completely conflict-free decision.

Work Before Passion

I’ve been beating myself up many times for not focusing more on my book project. For many weeks now, on my list of to-dos for the week, I’ve had a box waiting to be ticked off, saying Plan Act 2, Part 2 and the next day, Plan Act 3, Part 1 and so on – but none of those boxes have been ticked off. There hasn’t been any progress, which makes me incredibly disappointed, even a bit sad.

Instead of editing, I’ve been focusing on my thesis (and this blog, in order to allow myself to think about something else than qualitative research methods). One could say that I’ve been prioritizing work over my passion for fiction-writing for the past month – and that does not sound nice to my ears.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who puts obligatory to-dos first instead of things I’m passionate about. But as the deadline for my thesis is closing in on me… so are the thesis-related thoughts. I just have to make a choice and that choice is, this time, to work.

So, instead of an update on Yellow Tails, how about some facts about my thesis?

I’m doing qualitative research about a relatively unknown phenomena called digital volunteers. To find out what is known about the phenomena in my country, I will be doing semi-structured interviews with local authorities and then try to find some patterns in their thinking that describes their awareness.

The deadline for my thesis is in the end of April (or, if I don’t make it then, a month later), after which I will graduate.

(At the moment, I’m in the part of the process that is, for me, the most daunting one: I have to call people and try to find authorities who would like to participate in my study and give an interview. For some people, calling up unknown folks isn’t a problem but for me it’s something I always try to postpone as long as possible.)

After I’ve found enough participants, what’s left for me to do is to interview them (which I’m not that nervous about because of my background in journalism), transcribe and analyze their answers and write write write until my thesis is done.

So… Any wonder the thesis has taken over almost everything else?

Reminder of Balance

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with myself because the editing process of Yellow Tails has been standing still. Last week, I even noticed some thoughts on giving up on the whole thing. The questions of Is this still worth it? Many first books don’t get published (although this isn’t my first book but third), should I just move on to the next and forget about editing this one? where actively bouncing around in my mind.

I couldn’t believe myself.

I’ve been working on this manuscript for a year now – and so quickly, so easily, I was thinking of giving up? That’s so not me! I’m no quitter and most of all, I have belief in my own story! I think Yellow Tails has something great in it and I can’t simply give up on the story because of an academic, obligatory paper. Giving up would be an incredibly shortsighted thing to do. But still, I was having these thoughts. It made me realize that somehow, my balance was off.

And that forced me to reason with myself.

In the beginning of the year, I wrote about finding balance during the year of 2019 (and onward). It’s a journey of finding the right ratio of everything, between accomplishing things and taking it easy, in understanding when you need to give your best and when it’s enough with the nearly best. But I’d like to say that finding balance is also about prioritizing.

Until now, I’ve been pushing myself to work on three projects at the same time: writing this blog, writing and editing Yellow Tails and working on my thesis. The blog-writing process has been an uncomplicated one, something I have in the system, but balancing between the other two has been tough. When I am working on Yellow Tails, my mind is constantly reminding me of the to-dos with my thesis and I feel bad. And when I am working on my thesis, my mind keeps going back to Yellow Tails and wondering how much I am dragging behind those self-imposed deadlines I have decided upon earlier this year.

I am constantly feeling bad about not working on the one while working on the other.

Therefore, I have decided to prioritize. From now on, as my thesis has an actual deadline created by other people than myself, I will give more attention to writing (and finishing) the thesis. I will continue prioritizing it as long as needed, probably for the following two months. Hopefully, this will help me lower my stress-levels, keep me from beating myself up for not doing everything I’d like to do and also, focus my energy on one thing at a time because multitasking never did any good.

However, I’m also aiming to maintain my balance. Working on Yellow Tails makes me happy and calm, and that’s why I’ve decided to dedicate one hour every day to edit the manuscript. But instead of having amount-of-work goals, I am opting for amount-of-time goals. Hopefully, this will give me the best of both projects during these up-coming months.

Keeping it Positive

Although I don’t have a passion for doing academic research or writing only things that are based on something someone else has written before and not what I think about things, I’m trying to keep a positive attitude to the whole thesis writing project.

For instance, the thing I mentioned earlier about calling: I was extremely stressed out, nervous, even horrified about calling up those authorities and talking to them about a topic they probably didn’t know about. Trying to get them say yes to an interview about something even I don’t know if it exists in Finland, was like trying to sell a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t exist yet. Talk about taking a walk outside one’s comfort zone… However, everything went fine! I begun making those calls last Friday and although I’m definitely no sales woman, I managed to find four (4) authorities that were interested to participate! That sudden gush of hope and motivation was really rewarding.

And, if nothing else, writing my thesis and being forced to stay away from my true passion for fiction writing, has helped me see what I really love to do and what I’m passionate about. We get blind so quickly, we humans. We seem to need a reminder of things we love and respect, as often as possible.

I wish you an energetic Thursday!

14 Hours Of More Clarity

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

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

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

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

How I Spent My Hours

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

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

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

Doing More By Doing Less

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

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

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

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

What About Staying Updated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What It Gives and Takes

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

1) What does knowing these things give you? And

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

The Time of Self-Diagnosis

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Some time ago a friend of mine was happy to tell me that she had finally been diagnosed – she was suffering from dyscalculia, which explains why she was always struggling with math, or remembering important dates.

And last Summer, I listened to the radio while driving a car. The host of that radio station was excited to tell about this new diagnosis called dysmorphophobia, or body dysmorphic disorder – a mental disorder where a person believes one or several of his or her body parts are severely flawed which hinders the person from living a normal life.

In one way, my feelings towards these diagnoses were neutral. It’s a good thing to find explanations to one’s behavior and know that I’m not alone with these thoughts and feelings. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder: is it really necessary for us humans to diagnose every flaw, weakness and imperfection in human nature? Are we coming up all these names and diagnoses just because we have the need to have an explanation for everything we do, instead of just accepting that these traits are a part of who we are as people?

Instead of being called shy, we prefer the word introvert.

Instead of saying that you don’t like your nose, you say you suffer from dysmophophobia.

Instead of saying that you prefer quiet evenings in the company of a few, you describe yourself as a highly sensitive person.

Don’t take this the wrong way: I myself use these diagnoses to describe and understand myself (as you will see later in this post). But I’m critical to how much we should rely on and adapt to these diagnoses.

Should we take them as granted and make them an integrated part of our personality – or should we critically observe them and take in the knowledge without becoming the diagnosis itself?

An Intertwined Mix

During the past year, I’ve learned some things about myself. For instance, I’m a people-pleaser, which means I tend to put other people’s needs before my own. I’m also a highly sensitive person, a HSP, which is difficult to describe in a sentence but basically it means that I’m more sensitive to people and social events than many others are. Recently, I’ve also concluded that I’m an introvert.

And some weeks ago, my partner came across a book about who we fall in love with and why. It describes four different personality types according to what hormone your body releases the most, and there is a test anyone can do that will show you what two personality types dominate your body and mind. I did the test and got some more definitions to add to my ’personality diagnosis closet’. Now I’m also a builder and a negotiator.

So, let me introduce myself: My name is H.E.R. and I am a People-Pleaser, an Introvert, a Highly Sensitive Person, a Builder and a Negotiator. My horoscope sign is Cancer and my Chinese Zodiac Sign is Dog.

According to these definitions I’m clever and courageous but emotional and stubborn (definition of Dog), attentive and thoughtful (HSP), tend to prioritize other people’s needs before my own (people-pleaser), enjoy spending time alone and in that way recharge my batteries (introvert), and am imaginative, sensitive (negotiator), loyal and good at making lists (builder).

This. Is. Me.

Or is it?

Does It Really Matter?

As the science of biology and psychology develop further, the scientists come to understand us humans better and better. Today, our behavior can be explained through not only psychology, but also biology.

For instance, according to the Four Personalities Test, a Negotiator releases more estrogen than the other four personality types, while a Builder releases more serotonin than others. Highly sensitive people aren’t necessary people who are shy but because they have a more sensitive central nervous system than many others, it may seem like they are. And science shows that introverts react to dopamine in a different way than extroverts do.

The more we know, the better we get at giving biological explanations to why we are the way we are. In the olden days, our behavior was explained by words such as shyness, courage or being in love. But today, we have a biological explanation for these things. We can name these characteristics anew and call them diagnoses, explanations for why and who you are.

For scientists, this is a good thing because it helps them move on to the next human-related challenge and de-mystify many mysteries about us humans. But for us others who don’t do scientific research – does knowing about hormone balances really change a thing? Knowing what hormones we release or how our bodies receive those hormones – how much of it do we really understand? Just because affection is actually your body releasing oxytocin, does it change how we see it in real life?

Just because we have a different, more scientific description of something, changing the way we see and think about things takes a lot more time. So, why are we putting down all this effort to self-diagnose ourselves?

(In addition, isn’t it nicer to talk about our affection for someone rather than saying ”by the way, last night my body was releasing oxytocin like crazy, if you know what I’m saying?”)

Living Up To Expectations

In the age of self-diagnosis, these biological / psychological explanations of human behavior may give you reassurance and validation – but it isn’t said that they’re one hundred percent true.

Understanding yourself, how your body and mind functions, can be extremely helpful because you 1) get to know your strengths and weaknesses, 2) understand why you behave in a certain way in certain situations, and 3) have a better understanding of what you need and want in order to live a balanced life.

For instance, learning about my high-sensitivity helped me realize why I didn’t enjoy working as a local news journalist and why I often seemed to react more strongly to conflicts than other members of my family did. The definitions of introversion helped me realized that I need time alone – not because I’m weird and anti-social but because that’s one of the few ways to find the time and space to focus only on myself and my needs for a while.

Sometimes we need to see things from another point of view to understand who we are and what we want. These tests and descriptions can help open one’s eyes, help to see one’s personality traits from a different perspective.

Another reason for self-diagnosing is also the fact that life, in general, is pretty messy and complicated. There are so many challenges to face, problems to solve, complex things to understand. So, if we can make our own personality easier to understand by making tests about it (instead of asking ourselves those questions and seeking answers to them), why not do it? It’s like a weather app: instead of learning to read the clouds, the winds and the color of the morning sky, you can take a look at the app and it will tell you how many layers of clothes you need that day.

It might sound like an easy way out. You do a test and read what it says about your strengths and weaknesses. You take the information to your heart and start living your life according to those strengths and weaknesses.

But there’s a catch here: we humans have a tendency to ”live up to expectations”, whether we want to or not, and that can have dire consequences.

Read about how highly sensitive people easily get exhausted, overwhelmed and burned out, and you find yourself noticing those traits especially often, either in yourself or in people around you. Suddenly, the descriptions become self-fulfilling prophecies because we are quite likely to buy in everything the descriptions say about us or others. We see those traits around us because we want to believe that they actually exist.

We take these instructions in because we want to fit in, find our place in the society.

But in that case, can we still say that we are being true to ourselves, true to who we are?

Diagnosis as a Tool

For me, reading and doing these tests has been a way to help me understand myself. I’d say they have been extremely useful. But I’d also like to point out this: when doing these tests and processing all the information, it’s essential to remember that these tests don’t tell you who you are – they tell you some aspects that can be true with you. Just because something says this is a part of you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are.

So, instead of taking these theories into your heart and making them a grounded part of your identity, you’ll benefit more if you see them as tools that help you 1) clarify to yourself why you react or behave in a certain way, and 2) understand how you can deal with these reactions in relation to yourself and other people.

Don’t see the test results as a set script for you to follow. Don’t choose the seemingly easy way out because it isn’t – if you wish to stay true to yourself.

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How do you feel about all the tests and books that aim to help us understand ourselves? Has some specific book or website had an impact on how you see yourself? I’d like to continue the conversation in the comments.

The Additional 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help, Tips and Inspiration

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

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

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

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

Time, Action, Trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peaceful and Productive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searching for Balance

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Hello, reader! As of this Thursday, we are ten days into the new year. How are you doing? Are you working towards your goals energetically, feeling motivated and positive about what the new year will bring to you?

I hope you are.

I’ve had a slow start, myself. I do have my goals, yes, and my mini-goals to mark the path. I have a timetable, an estimated deadline for every mini-goal I’ve decided upon. But I have found it troublesome to get back to my routines again after the holidays.

Therefore, as thoughts about coming back to my routines and rediscovering that efficient, energetic work flow from Fall have been active in my mind, I thought it could be a good opportunity to shed some light upon my goals for this year. Or actually, my main goal: finding balance. Finding equanimity, to be precise.

Calming the Surface

How often do you pause to think about the meaning of life, of what it is we are supposed to do on this Earth with the years we are given by nature?

How do you find that question? Is it threatening, terrifying, even a little bit scary to think about why we people have evolved into the beings we are today?

Does the question feel irrelevant to you, a waste of your time? Or is it maybe one of the most important questions to ask in this life?

For me, thinking about the meaning behind our existence is something I get back to regularly. I believe it is essential to us humans to think about why we exist in the first place because, in the end, it will be our ’why’ for life. I’ve talked about a writer’s why before, but there’s even an individual’s ’why’ that plays a role throughout life.

So, as a human being, what is your ’why’? Why do you live, what is the purpose with your life?

***

I know, I know – we are getting into deep waters here. Let me pull us back to the surface.

Sometime in the Fall of 2018, the thought about my meaning of life came to me. For every person the meaning of life is different, and for me it’s about finding balance. It’s about finding the right ratio in everything, the right amount of this and that, the yin and the yang. It’s about finding balance to keep me in good health, keep me happy and satisfied and with a balanced mind.

For me, the meaning of life is about finding calm in the storm, evenness on the ever-changing surface. For me, the meaning of life is about finding balance, finding equanimity even in stressful situations.

The Fault in the Existing System

As a person, I tend to be an overachiever, someone who pushes herself to the limits to finish or accomplish something. My barrier for what I think is good enough is pretty high which means I tend to work more than many others do and still find myself ending up somewhere in the neighborhood of ’quite good’ instead of awesome.

As an effect, this over-achieving nature of mine tends to come in the way of my physical and mental well-being. And that is something I’d like to change.

I feel like I need to find a balance between the need for successfully accomplishing things and taking it easy. There is a fault in my system: I don’t relax as much as I’d like to, as much as I believe I need to. I don’t know if I’ve ever really learned how to do so after I started working during the Summers and studying during the rest of the year (long gone are the days of youth when the vacation began and one had three months of freedom in front of her).

Instead of relaxing, I tend to have a feeling that I should continuously be doing something, like working on a project or researching or writing, anything that gets me onward, helps me to develop.

However, we humans need to take it easy. I need to take it easy, find time for myself and my brain to relax. Sharpen the saw. Enjoy a good book just for fun and not because it will help me become a better writer. Do yoga for its meditative effect and not because it helps me build and develop my core muscles. Enjoy a cappuccino in a café because it gives me a cozy, warm feeling.

But I don’t do those things. Not enough. My mind doesn’t seem to want to give me a break and simply let me enjoy the doing-of-nothingness.

(Oh man, I keep hearing the overachiever here as well. How does one quiet that voice?)

To come back to my goal: as this thought about equanimity hit me, I knew it would be the key word for the year of 2019 and onward.

For me, from this year onward, finding balance is what I will be doing with my life.

But how to find equanimity? For me, it has to do with following things: 1) perspective, 2) trying different things, and 3) being selfish. I’ll provide an example for all three things.

Changing My Perspective

Coming back to regular writing and exercise routines last week was tough. After Christmas (which for us lasted for more than a week – in the end of that week, we were exhausted) and New Year, I was tired and far away from having recharged my creative batteries – or any batteries for that matter.

One day after New Year, we had decided upon going to the gym in the evening. It’s something me and my partner did regularly last year when we lived in another city, so it is a routine familiar from before. However, that same day I was asked to do a favour (a favor with only one right answer, something I’ve talked about before) which took a few hours of my day and left me tired in the late afternoon. When the time to start packing gym clothes came, I was in no way feeling motivated and energetic about going to the gym. Instead, going to the gym felt like something I had to do, like only another thing off my to-do list. It felt like an obligatory job, not like fun.

Instead, I thought about staying at home. I thought about enjoying a piece of chocolate, listening to a good book or a podcast, maybe doing a yoga sequence. I wanted to relax, take it easy. Balance out the work and exhaustion of the day with some deep breaths and calm. Not go to the gym where I had to push myself to accomplish something.

However, my partner said to me this: how about looking at the workout as a different way of relaxing? Why see it as an obligatory thing, something I have to do, when I could look at it as a way of sweating away the thoughts running in my head?

And like that, my perspective changed. With this thought in mind, I packed my things and went to the gym with my partner. And afterwards, having cycled for 30 minutes, I did feel relaxed. Now, my brain felt tired in a good way, and so did my body.

I realized that if I wish to find balance, I need to learn to change my perspective about some things. I don’t have to see a workout as work, per se, but as a way to relax: to sweat out the day, reward my body with endorphins and a great feeling.

Re-Routing the Routines

I believe in having routines. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I do.

For the past six months, I’ve had a morning routine of the following: I get up, brush my teeth and then do a 10-minute yoga routine and a short muscle workout. After that, I shower, journal for two pages or so and eat breakfast. Then I drink coffee, scroll through Instagram and get to work.

This is how my mornings have been since last Summer, almost every morning from Monday to Friday.

However, for the past month or so, I’ve been feeling a bit stressed about my morning routine. It’s probably because my sleeping has been off and instead of waking up at 6 or 7 AM, like I usually do, I wake up at 9 AM. And as my best writing time is in the morning, this late sleeping routine of mine is affecting my writing and therefore, making me feel stressed.

The routine described above worked for me as long as my sleeping routines were the same. But now, as they’ve changed and I know getting them back to the regular routine will take some time, I’ve realized that my morning routine isn’t working for me anymore. It’s almost working against me by making me feel stressed.

Therefore, I’ve been playing with the idea of changing things around for a while. Maybe postponing the yoga routine to the late morning or writing the journal while I drink my morning coffee. I like all the routines I do in the morning – but maybe I could re-route them, change the order of things in order to make them work for me?

Because, as much as I talk about the importance of having routines, it doesn’t mean one has to stick to those same routines for the rest of ones life. A different every-day life needs a different set of routines which means that re-routing your routines may be in your favor, the best thing you will do to keep yourself free from stress and in that way, balanced.

Listening to Oneself

This third aspect of finding balance is a very personal one. By now, you probably know about my challenges with people-pleasing behavior and that I prefer living a conflict-free life – but it seems to come with the price of my own well-being.

Therefore, if I wish to find a way to balance this year, it means I need to be a bit more selfish than I usually am. It might sound wrong because selfishness comes with a negative emotional tag and tends to be viewed as a disadvantageous trait. But for me, being selfish means that I listen to myself more than I do to others. If someone wants my time and my energy, I ask myself if I want to give my time and energy to this person for this cause, instead of agreeing to what the other person ask without hesitating in order to avoid the conflict.

But being selfish doesn’t only include other people. The same goes for the different projects I do and the goals that I have. For instance, I need to ask myself how much time I’m willing to put into writing my thesis (do I need the best possible grade or can I settle for something more average?) or to my novels (how quickly do I want to have a publishing-ready novel?). I also need to ask myself how much time I want to have for myself, to relax and recharge.

Of course, this kind of egoistic thinking inevitably leads to conflicts, both inside and outside of my mind. But I believe it’s simply something I have to learn how to live with: if I wish to live a life that feels fulfilling to me, I need to be selfish and therefore, I need to deal with the conflicts my selfishness might lead to. I see it as a great practice to learn away from my people-pleasing behavior.

In Conclusion

Okay, so, I want to find balance in life. Most of all balance between things I have to do for others and things I have to do for myself.

But as long as I choose to live in a society instead of complete solitude, finding balance in life comes with oh-so-many choices and conflicts because of the environment and people around me. Therefore, finding balance is tough and requires a good deal of perseverance.

Balance is nothing I will find in only a year. It takes a lifetime to find evenness, calm even in the most stressful or unfamiliar situations.

But the fact that I’ve figured out what my meaning in life is (at the moment, at least), gives me an advantage already. I have the greatest end-goal not in sight but in mind, and that will help me make choices along the way.

***

How do you find balance in your every-day life? How do you choose between what you need to do for others and what you need to do for yourself?

 

 

Choosing a Direction For 2019

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Happy New Year, reader! May your 2019 be energetic, motivated and filled with fulfilling things!

But here’s the thing: I wish you all that but we both know it’s not up to me if your year turns out that way. It’s up to you, my friend.

Now, you might think: ”Alright then, I shall make some New Year Resolutions!

I, however, advice you to do something different.

False Hopes and Aspirations

This Tuesday, when the new year began, I wondered what I thought about one year ago. The human memory isn’t that powerful that I’d remember what I did and thought about that day, and unfortunately I have no journal entries from that day.

(Oddly enough, I didn’t write anything personal at that time and had no idea I would be writing more than 140,000 words that year. Life is a funny thing.)

So, there is no way of knowing how I felt one year ago, on the 1st of January 2018. However, I would like to believe I felt all those typical New Year Feelings: happiness, energy, motivation. Because, that’s the way we are supposed to feel, right? Isn’t that the way we usually feel at the brink of something new?

When a new year begins, we feel motivated. We have all these hopes and aspirations about the new beginning that is starting right now, in the beginning of January. I guess we’ve all been there: we have these great plans about new challenges, the improvements we will make in our lives. The bad habits we will get rid of, the new good habits we will adopt. But there lies a challenge: despite how lovely and wonderful this feeling is, despite how much we believe in the changes we plan to make, it can all be false if these feelings and thoughts are grounded on something outside our own control.

Because of the society, because of the social norms of the world we live in, because of our environment, the people around us, we are programmed into feeling great in the beginning of the new year – because every one else is feeling that as well. It’s contagious! And that makes it oh-so-powerful.

However, the contagious energy of the new beginning fades as quickly as it comes – if we don’t embrace that feeling when it’s on our doorstep and make it our own.

And this is what I’d like to write about today: how to embrace that energy and gain as much control as possible over your upcoming year.

Resolution vs. Direction

As I wrote, I have no memory of 01/01/2018. We had just come back from our two-week escape to Spain and Portugal over the winter holidays, and I had a week or so before my classes would start again. I probably had some thoughts about the new year, what was on its way. I would finish my journalism studies, work for some newspaper or radio station that Summer and in the Fall, begin writing my thesis.

But all these things were already prescribed, planned by someone else than me. They were a part of my Master’s Degree curriculum – and therefore, not entirely my own plans. And as I reflect back to the beginning of 2018, I wonder: did I have any other plans? Any of my own that I had control over?

I honestly don’t think I did.

In January 2018, I didn’t write anything else except Instagram captions, chat messages and school assignments. I was in the beginning of my weight-loss project and troubled about what my future would bring. I had no goals for the year, no idea of what I wanted to accomplish (except for weight loss). Last year ended up being awesome thanks to my self-discipline and an amount of habits I adopted, all without any specific plans. But as in everything, the beginning is always easy.

For instance, the first hours of learning a new language are usually easy: learning to present yourself, numbers from 1 to 10 and how to order a coffee in a café. But the more pro you want to become the tougher the lessons get. Suddenly, you need to put in hours of dedicated, focused work to actually learn the more difficult words to be able to make proper conversation or learn the small details of grammatical rules.

To be able to go pro, one needs a plan.

Last year, I managed to write my first draft. It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, nothing all too planned and something I managed to do by setting myself a rule to write 30 minutes every day from Monday to Friday (which turned into 1,000 words per day later on). But this year, I’m more dedicated to go pro and that requires more than one thirty-minutes-per-day rule.

However, instead of making a bunch of resolutions I’ve done something differently this year.

As you probably know, a resolution seldom sticks. It’s because they tend to be too abstract or too high-hopes. The resolutions tend to be set in the dream land, the utopia of your own making, instead of finding a place for those promises in the realistic environment called life (if you want to read a post about intentional goal-setting, check out this post by Ashwini CN).

I realized this a few years ago and decided to start my New Year without any resolutions.

However, I’ve noticed that a resolution-less life seems to resemble a life without direction.

A life without direction can be wonderful for a while – the freedom of moment, of choice, of life. But that also means that your direction-less life can be steered by the environment, the people around you, by the society and social norms. And suddenly, you might realize that you are no longer in control of your own life. Suddenly, you are heading for a career you didn’t really choose or invest your time and energy in a project you never had an interest in.

To me, it sounds like some sort of nightmare.

So – to avoid this kind of uncontrolled direction of life, I did the following:

On Monday, the last day of 2018, I walked to a café, ordered a cappuccino and sat down for an hour or so to write down a plan for 2019. I chose on a direction.

A Tangible Plan

What I did that afternoon was that I categorized my life according to these different goals I want and think I can reach as this year goes by.

One was for education (goal: finish my thesis and graduate),

one for writing projects, divided into two (goal: 1. Edit Yellow Tails and get it published, 2. Write the second novel and get it as publishing-ready as possible),

one for this blog (goal: post twice a week + be active on Instagram 3–3 times a week),

one for self-care (goal: learn more about HSP, take care of your physical fitness, keep on journaling) and,

one for self-development (goals: reading books, both fictional and fact-based, listening to podcasts about self-care, writing and creativity).

But in addition to this, I also added micro-goals and attached a specific deadline to them. For instance, I now have an editing – beta reading – editing – final edits and off-sending timetable for Yellow Tails. I have micro-goals for developing my physical fitness (gym 2–3 and yoga 1–2 times a week) and for finishing my thesis.

What I’m trying to do is make my goal as approachable and tangible as possible. If sometime during this year, for instance, I feel like I’m slipping from my goals to have an honestly finished version of Yellow Tails ready to be sent to publishers, I can take a look back on my micro-goals and the deadlines attached to them and get back on track.

In this way, my goals and the attached micro-goals are giving me my direction. They mark the path I have decided to walk upon this year, and as I’ve invested a good deal of energy into planning them, I hope they also help me stay on the path.

(Throughout January I will probably make the micro-goals even more detailed to make them even more tangible than they are now: write down ideas for this blog, put in Youtube-links for yoga videos for me to do, find resources that help me get on with the research for my second novel and so on. I don’t think the goals can ever be too approachable.)

I’d say the clue here is to 1) decide on a goal for the year (for instance: in the end of 2019 I will be an author with two ready-to-be-read novels), 2) attach micro-goals with deadlines to them, 3) break down the micro-goals into detailed resources, ideas and thoughts so that you won’t have trouble finishing them.

So, hear this: instead of resolutions, choose your direction and follow the road – but instead of opting to walk the whole road in one try, try walking from one rest stop to the other, from one park bench to the other. When the next park bench is in your view, aim for that and maybe, by the end of the year, you’ve reached your goal.

And in the end, I think the goal will come to you suddenly, unexpected, and might not even feel like one big victory because you’ve had so many micro-victories along the way. That’s what happened with Yellow Tails, at least. It was one long row of micro-goals reached so that when I wrote the last sentence, it didn’t feel like I had finished a novel. It was as if I had reached the end of the road and started looking for the next one to walk on.

***

I would love to hear your thoughts on resolutions vs. deciding on a direction! Share in the comments one goal, one direction of yours, and some micro-goals that will help you reach your goal. Let’s make this year into a year with a direction, friends.

Thank you for reading!