Keeping Your Vision Clear

IMG_7793_2

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

IMG_1511_2

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?

 

Non-Creative Wednesdays

green door_1

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?

Investing To Know Yourself

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheap Living

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

Rerouting the Thinking

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

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

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

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

Investing In Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bought the chair for myself.

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

And that’s something, isn’t it?

– – –

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

What Happens After 30 Days?

IMG_7474_1

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

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

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

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

Or does it?

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

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

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

Why We Participate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Change Equals A Shock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does A 30-Day Life Cycle Get Us Anywhere?

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

Do they actually hinder us from getting there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The True Challenge

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

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

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

 

The Good And The Bad Of A 30-Day Writing Challenge

IMG_1332_2

It’s officially October which means that the National Novel Writing Month of 2018 is right around the corner. Usually this time of the year, if I’m participating in the 30-day writing challenge, I’m in the prepping phase of writing (also known as Preptober): thinking about my idea for the year, brainstorming the plot and the characters and wondering how I want to reward myself if and when I win the challenge.

However, this year I have decided not to participate in the crazy but awesome month of writing. There are a few reasons to it:

1) I already have an idea I’m working on, and it doesn’t require 50,000 words to finish (current word count being 56,675 words, and I’m aiming for approximately 75k).

2) I also work on two other writing projects in addition to my book which means I write about 1,000–1,500 words per day already. That amount of words, adding up to almost 40,000 words per month, is enough for me in my current life situation.

3) And, as I’m finally having the mindset of I’ll become a full-time writer, participating in a 30-day writing challenge doesn’t feel like the right alternative to me, not anymore. For me, it doesn’t feel like NaNoWriMo will help me become a full-time writer. Actually, quite the contrary: I think it will hinder me from becoming one.

And this is what I’ve been thinking about lately: do these 30-day challenges help us get to the place where we want to be?

The Good And The Bad

I wrote down some sort of a +/– list for participating in NaNoWriMo. This is how the list turned out:

The Good Things

+ The ’preptober’: prepping for the month, creating playlists for writing, brainstorming your ideas for the novel, hyping the upcoming month.
+ The first day(s) of writing: you’re energized, jazzed about your idea and about writing.
+ The days you’re flying: your plot is working out, you love your characters and enjoy the writing process – a great, awesome feeling.
+  The feeling of creating something that didn’t exist before (it’s magical).
+ The last week of November that consists of ferocious writing: finishing the last 12,000 words after you have already written forty-frigging-thousand!
+ And, of course: finishing your novel, hitting that 50k and feeling like a true champion.

The Less Good Things

– The second week of writing, almost always: you are finding out about your plot holes, everything isn’t working out as you thought it would, real life might get in the way of writing and so on.
– The deflating feeling you have after you finish your 50,000 words: you’ve given everything you have and have nothing more to give, not at least for a while.
– The continuing deflation when it comes to writing: after finishing something that big, what will you do next? Motivating oneself to get back to that keyboard is harder than one thinks, especially after you’ve finished a 50,000 word literary (master)piece.
– And, most of all: now what? What do you want to do with what you ended up with in the end of November? Should it collect dust on your hard drive or do you want to edit it and actually finish it?

Although the list shows more positive sides to the writing than negative (six to four), I’d like to make the statement that the negative sides weigh more than the positive ones. This is because the deflation, the empty feeling after finishing your novel is a more long-term feeling than the energetic feeling of flow during NaNoWriMo.

So my question to anyone who wishes to become an author or simply a better writer is this: do we actually get better at our writing if we enter (and win) the National Novel Writing Month?

Better Or Worse Off

As in most cases, there is no single correct answer to the question and I think it’s because the answer depends on why we in the first case decide to participate in NaNoWriMo. What does the writer wish to get out of the challenge? Is it because

… you just want to write?
… you want to try writing a lengthy novel of fiction?
… you want to become a better writer?
… you want to have fun?
… you want to make November go faster (because after November comes December which for many means getting ready for Christmas)?

Maybe it’s all five of the reasons, maybe it’s only one of them. For me, participating in NaNoWriMo was a way of trying to kick-off my writing again (because I lacked the almost-daily habits of writing that I have now). It was an opportunity to plan and bring to life an idea I had and thought could be turned into a novel. But for me, NaNoWriMo and the weeks prepping for it were also a way of surviving the dark, stormy and cold November, a way of making time go faster.

And yes, I did experience all the positive aspects of participating and writing that I listed above – but I also experienced the negative aspects. The deflation after finishing eventually led to that I didn’t write anything fictional before next year’s NaNoWriMo. I didn’t want to touch the novel I had written and I wasn’t motivated or inspired to start anything new. And this makes me think: am I better or worse off for participating in NaNoWriMo when it comes to becoming a better writer?

And again, I think the answer depends on how I look at it. If I just wanted to write, wanted to have some fun and give life to an idea I had, then yes – I am better off for participating. But from the perspective of becoming a full-time writer and a published author I really think I would be worse off for participating in the 30-day writing challenge.

Right now, I’m writing Yellow Tails approximately 3,000 to 5,000 words a week which is enough to make me feel like the story is progressing. Of course, NaNoWriMo would be a quick-fix, a way of finishing quicker than I will at the moment, but what will I end up with? I feel lucky for not having experienced the deflation NaNoWriMo usually leaves me with while writing Yellow Tails and I wish to keep it that way. It also feels like I have more time to think about my book, reflect over the development of the characters and the plot when I’m not writing 1,667 words per day.

So this year I won’t be participating in the month of writing. However, for you who do participate I wish the best of luck, no matter the reason why you’re participating! Enjoy the preptober, enjoy your writing, be kind to yourself but remember to have self-discipline as well when it comes to getting those words on your Word-document.

(And, by the way: if you are participating, what are you writing about?)

Instead of participating, I’ll keep on writing. And hopefully, in the end of November, I will have finished my first draft of Yellow Tails and will celebrate some sort of the end just as the winners of NaNoWriMo will.

I hope you are enjoying your Tuesday, I’ll see you on Thursday!

The Difficulty of Accepting Change

IMG_5796_1

It has become clear to me in a completely new way that we people aren’t really that good at accepting and adjusting to changes in our near environment. Sure, we are okay with brand new buildings and cafés popping up in the neighborhood or when new traffic lights are installed in one of the crossings – but when it comes to personal change… Boy, don’t we struggle.

We are usually fine with the changes happening in us, within ourselves – after all, it’s something we aim for: personal growth, self-development. But when it happens to other people, change suddenly becomes harder to accept. Why is that? And especially, why do we find it so challenging to be happy for someone else’s progress?

How We Define Each Other

We are defined by what we do. For many people, our profession defines who we are – a journalist, a teacher, a baker, a broker. It is probably one of the most asked questions when meeting a new person – what’s your name and what do you do.

In social situations, when we are finding out who the other person is by asking his or her profession, we are trying to categorize them in our internal system – is this person a maker, a thinker, a creative or a practical person? And when we have that person categorized, we can relax. We know now where we have this new person, in what category, with what kind of emotional tags. We know where we can place this person in our personal hierarchy.

But then something changes. The person we knew as a broker decides to become an entrepreneur, open a bakery and instead of having a normal nine-to-five job, he now works from 3AM to 3PM. The practical thinker becomes a creative maker. And suddenly you notice you have a hard time realizing that this person has (in what seems like an overnight) changed his place in your hierarchy and  doesn’t fit to any of the old categories anymore. That is when it becomes tough to accept the change. Questions arise: Is this a good change or a bad change – is this person completely nuts or actually a genius? Who is this person now compared to before? And where do I stand in relation to this now-changed person?

When we are forced to define our friends and family members anew, i.e. sort them into a different category and find a new place for them in our personal social hierarchy, it easily leads to a conflict. It can be a silent conflict in one’s mind or it can become a conflict talked out loud. Accepting and readjusting is always about dealing with a conflict – and some people handle it better or worse than others.

It’s About Comparisons

Why people most probably have difficulties in being happy for the changes that happen in their friends is that they quickly compare the efforts and results of this person to themselves. The fact that a friend has lost weight – where does it put me in the hierarchy of fitness and health? Or the fact that another friend seems to follow his or her career dreams bravely and actually succeeds in them – how am I doing with my own career plans? Am I doing what I want to do? Am I as happy as my friend seems to be?

Personal growth and self-development tends to lead to some sort of increased happiness in the person doing the changes. Sometimes the happiness lasts longer, sometimes a shorter period of time, but still, it’s extremely valuable. We all want to be happy with our lives. However, we aren’t, not at least all the time. And when a friend suddenly seems happier than usual, happier than we are – we find ourselves wanting the same thing, the same happiness.

Depending on how happy we are at the moment or how easy it is to reach that same state of happiness, we react to the changes in our friends in different ways.

What We Need Is Confrontation

There are so many questions that arise when a change occurs. The questions are about the change, about the person, the environment, about oneself, and they never seem to end. That’s part of the process of accepting and adjusting to a change in our social environment.

However, the process gets twisted if none of those questions are asked out loud. And it isn’t even enough that these questions are asked – they also need to be answered. That is  what I call a confrontation. And I know, confrontation sounds like something negative, even violent but it doesn’t have to be that. As Merriam-Webster defines it: a face-to-face meeting or the clashing of — ideas. In my opinion, that’s what confrontation is: an opportunity for a face-to-face conversation about the ideas of two persons that have clashed.

After I came back to the city where now I live, I hoped for a confrontation about the changes that had happened. About my weight, about my career plans and about my behavior. And there were questions asked out loud – but no one wanted to hear the answer, the questions being questions without actual question marks.

When this happens, the processing of the changes and the efforts to re-categorize the changed person becomes twisted. It’s as if having a trial for a suspect without asking the suspect or his/hers defenders any questions – sounds wrong, doesn’t it? By confronting and asking the questions one gives an opportunity for the changed person to tell and explain what has happened, what kind of process has taken place.

So, confrontation is needed but unfortunately only few of us have the guts to do it.

After The Change

If a change is never discussed, then processed and, in a way, accepted, it will have other consequences. Because, as I was left un-confronted and, therefore, without the support I had really hoped for, it left me thinking.

I haven’t really had the opportunity to show and tell who I am today because I’m still waiting for some sort of confrontation to happen. I am hoping that these people would ask me the questions that actually end with a question mark but instead, I keep on getting quizzically creased eyebrows or confused looks that go from the top of my head to my toes. I see the thought processes going through their heads but no questions are asked.

Of course, I need to be realistic and remember that even other people need time to adjust to the changes I’ve made because my changes have led to changes in them and in their personal hierarchies. But what I also know is that the longer we postpone asking those questions, the harder it’ll become to ask them.

The things is that after a change is made and Time goes by, one looks at life from a new perspective. And a question arises: in this new life, this post-change phase, what do I wish to hold on to – and to whom?

(P.S. I’m no saint when it comes to accepting changes in other people. However, I do feel that I reflect upon my own reactions more than many others do which, in the long run, makes it easier for me to accept the changes other people make in their lives.)