Searching for Balance

sls_header_2

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

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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!

A People-Pleaser’s Autopilot

IMG_7821_2

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

(Hint: it’s only one word)

The answer: No.

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

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

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

The Autopilot

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

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

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

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

Let me give you an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Realizations

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

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

And now I’m paying for that.

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

Until now.

Saying ’No’

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

The answer: no.

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

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

Despite all this, the answer is: no.

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

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

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

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

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

Still Life Sunday: A Goodbye Said in Silence

IMG_1190_2

19 A Goodbye Said in Silence

When he closes his eyes, he can see it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefits of Writing a Journal

IMG_7863_2

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

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

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

An On/Off Habit

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Depth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retrospective Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Keeping Your Vision Clear

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?