June & July
A few months ago I wrote a post about sharing my music choices all the way back to 2019. I meant to keep up with it on a monthly basis but as a project, it’s pretty low stakes, so it went on the back-burner when everything else needed my attention. I still listened to music though, and still made two new playlists (and started my third today!).
June was a month in which I really let my friends’ music tastes guide me. I listened to a bunch of Scouting for Girls, was introduced to Constantines and The Weakerthans, fell in love with Majik, and then soaked in a bunch of songs I hadn’t heard from bigger names in music like Ellie Goulding or Halsey. Surrounding it all was my usual blend of pop-punk and pop-rock, or whatever I’m supposed to call it, in the form of Angels & Airwaves, The Band CAMINO, and Go Radio, along with some others.
It took me a long time, like half a month, to find the energy to start this playlist, and my last song was actually added to this mix only a week before the end of the month. I leaned heavily on bands I know and love, including an album I had just rediscovered from NEEDTOBREATHE. I remember listening to the album on repeat as a teenager, so I’m unsure how I completely forgot it existed, but I added in two of my favorite songs from the album to bring back some good memories. There were some new song thrown in, for which I can thank Spotify’s The Band CAMINO mix that came out of one of their fun little “here’s what your music says about you” events.
August Awake - August 2021: Preview
I just started this playlist today, so I’m not going to share it yet, but I did want to give a peek into my thoughts going into the month–I’m feeling more alive again, more awake. I listened to my Discover Weekly playlist for the first time in a long time, and saved quite a few songs–those appear in this mix. I also saved a few new songs from artists I love, like All Time Low and Taylor Swift. There are some throwbacks that caught me when I just shuffled my saved library, and who knows what the rest of the month will bring! Can’t wait to share it later this month!
P.S. Did you know I got the idea for the cover art from my friend Justin? He sometimes uses his photo-editing powers for good and is also building a really awesome app, you should check his website out.
August 3, 2021
Introspection Travel Log: 1
A few days ago, I posted about zooming my focus out to get the lay of the land, so to speak, by going on an introspection journey. After discussing this need with some friends, one introduced me to two exercises that have really influenced my thinking: David Allen’s Horizon’s of Focus (via Dandy with a Lens) and a Learn OmniFocus post about mind-mapping my responsibilities.
Despite being immersed in the productivity space, I’d never much paid attention to David Allen’s Horizons of Focus, but I immediately thought that the idea of thinking about my Values, Principles, and Purpose was something worthwhile. I’ve mused on my values plenty of times, but my principles? Not consciously, and my purpose… not on paper.
First, if like me, you look at values versus principles as rather similar, let me elaborate on how I thought of them. Values are traits and aspects of life you hold dear–things like athleticism or creativity, family or success (or both!). Principles are the rules you live by; they are probably influenced by your values, but they tend to look more like rules than qualities.
I went through this exercise from the bottom up, so to speak, building from the base of my values. I recently looked at my values, so this was more of a review to make sure none of my thoughts had changed. They had not, so I kept them, only elaborating on what exactly my values meant to me.
Found or otherwise, family is important to me, especially the little family my partner & I make together. I’d like to have a good relationship with my nuclear family, and with my partner’s family, as well as remaining great friends with my found family.
Becoming a better person, by learning and helping others, by reflecting on myself and on the world—these are things I want to focus on. I want to be challenged to be my best self.
Expressing myself through whatever means necessary is very important to me. Fabric, paint, development work, writing, I need to have my creative self to feel whole, to feel real.
It’s important to me to be self-sufficient. I want to run my own life (with my partner alongside me) and be beholden only to things I care for, and the rest can be secondary. This does not mean I am self-sufficient to the point of harming relationships or myself.
I do not define success as the equivalent of wealth. All I want is to be well off in my careers, I want to have a happy, healthy relationship with my partner and our family, and I want to know that I’m living my best life.
The world is the only one we have, and I’d like to really put effort into having as little of an impact as possible, and work as hard as I can to help reverse the existing impact on the world.
From these values, which still resonate with me, and make me feel as though I recognize my true self, I began ruminating on rules by which I already live my life–I just wanted to put them into words. I came up with six, and while they mostly relate to my values, some of them came out of left field.
I cannot do anything if I do not take care of myself. That is of the utmost importance. If I am not healthy, who can depend on me?
We Only Get One Earth.
This one is self-explainable. There is only one planet on which we currently live; we cannot replace it. Every action should be weighed against that.
Everyone Is Creative and Intelligent.
Creativity and intelligence showcase themselves in myriad ways–it is society that does not choose to see it. I want to appreciate creativity and intelligence in all its forms.
People, and Time, Change.
Everything changes, including people. It’s important to recognize that and to get comfortable with it. I don’t usually handle change well, even though I know it’s coming–even though I want to change.
Success Can Only Be Defined by the Person Aiming for It.
My definition of success does not match anyone else’s. I cannot judge other people by my yard stick, and they cannot judge me by their own–or they can try. What I am aiming for now may change as well, and that’s perfectly acceptable.
Family, Found or Otherwise, Is Everything.
I have a close nuclear family, and I have my own partner. But that is not all of my family. I cannot count on two hands the extent of my found family, but I love them all, and I want to always be there for them, no matter what.
I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t believe they have a purpose in life. I’ve always believe this myself, but I’ve never tried to articulate it. I think I’ve managed it, at least for now! It may change (and that’s okay).
Heal Myself, Heal My Family, Heal My World.
Stick with me–a few months ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of “healing the world” and that obviously resonated with me. We should start at the beginning, however, and talk about “heal myself.”
I do not think I’m broken, but I used to. I thought my inability to focus on only one thing was a problem. I do not anymore. My journey from thinking I was broken to the present has been a really long one, and I’m still on it; I expect I will always be on that journey. What I mean by “heal myself” is being there for myself as I discover myself and who I am meant to be in this moment.
“Heal my family” is not about healing wounds or broken bonds, but rather being the support I know I can be for my family and friends, giving them a port of call when they need one, and encouraging us to see each other more, and close the distances that life-changes have brought between us all.
Finally, “heal my world.” My little world, my little universe around me is an area I can influence, and I want to exercise that power. I want to enact change in my local area, to help others in my city, my neighborhood, and to make a difference in a way that I can see. I can influence the wider world, but the ripple effects are only so large from one person–if I can help the earth and the people around me, maybe the rest of the world will take notice.
All in all, this was an enlightening exercise, and it’s been influencing me already as I continue on this introspection journey.
Be well, talk soon!
July 20, 2021
I Hate Goals
You read that right–I hate goals. More specifically, I hate SMART Goals. For those who have never encountered this, SMART is a template for goal making that has spread through schools and workplaces like wildfire, becoming “the only way to set goals.” SMART stands for, in it’s original incarnation:
- Specific: goals should be narrow and defined for easy planning.
- Measurable: you should be able to track your progress.
- Attainable: your goal should be doable within a reasonable time-frame.
- Relevant: your goal should be linked to your values and vision of the future.
- Time-based: set an end-date for your goal as motivation.
Now, on the surface, this seems great! You want to know your goal, that it’s achievable, that you’re making progress, and when you’ll be done. But there’s an underlying problem. SMART goals just give you fail-states.
I’m a big believer in setting yourself up for success. I don’t mean dressing for the job you want, or making sure you’ve sharpened all your pencils. I mean, you should feel good about your progress and how you’re doing. Most people don’t do well when they feel bad about themselves. So, why set up an entire framework that gives you more ways to fail?
Let me give an example. Say you want to write a book. Under the SMART system, you’d fill out the rubric like so:
Goal: I Want to Write a Book.
- Specific: I want to write a book about three dragons that go on an adventure and find a fallen star.
- Measurable: I will track my progress by word count.
- Attainable: A book can be written in a year. (According to NaNoWriMo, it can be written in a month, but we’re being generous here).
- Relevant: My values are creativity and my vision is of myself as an author.
- Time-based: I want to write the book before December 31 of this year.
Seems good on the surface. But let me throw some scenarios at you: what if halfway through writing your dragon book, you lose interest in the subject and have a better ideas? Based on your SMART goal–you’ve failed. What if you realize you write better when you take your time, and at your current pace, it’ll take you two years, not one? I mean, George R. R. Martin takes 5-10 years to write a book, right? What if, after a long bout of introspection, you realize your vision of being an author doesn’t fit you anymore? Failed. And these are just the simplest of examples.
I expressed my frustration with this framework to some friends, and one suggested I come up with an alternative. REAL Goals, he said. I chuckled to myself, but my brain started spinning. It took me less than an hour to come up with some ideas that represented, to me, reasonable goals, goals that were not fail-states. REAL stands for, as of right now:
- Right for you: is it actually your goal? Or is someone else/society speaking for you?
- Exciting: does it make you excited? Can you not wait to get started?
- Adjustable: things change, people change! Don’t limit yourself!
- Lined-up: you have a trail to follow, at least to get started. If you only know steps 1-3, you may learn steps 4+ on the way!
Now, in our example, a goal looks like this:
Goal: I Want to Write a Book.
- Right for you: I want to write a book because it’s something on my bucket list. No one has told me to do it, it just strikes me as something fun.
- Exciting: So exciting! I’m doing something you’ve always wanted to do.
- Adjustable: If I don’t like my idea, I can change it. If my pace is slower than I thought, no problem, I’m still taking steps, and every writing session is practice.
- Lined-up: I know I need an idea, and maybe an outline of a plot, and then a manuscript, but past that I’m not sure! Do I need an agent? Am I just doing this for fun? Who knows! No problem. I’ve got enough to get started.
These are the types of goals I can get behind.
July 18, 2021
We’re Going on a Journey!
The last post I put up was about my new theme–The Chapter of Dots–and I wanted to first say, it’s going well. I am learning so much about myself, about how I think, and how I can appreciate the work I do.
But that structure I built up starting in January? It came crashing down in April. Maybe not crashing, maybe it slipped into the mire like an abandoned farmhouse or something, but it definitely came down. My depression and anxiety just could not cope with the structure I’d made, and piece by piece I lost it.
I was okay with that for a while–I just needed to wake up and get through the day, after all–but lately, I’ve been feeling itchy. I know there are things I’m forgetting, roles I’m neglecting, and progress I’m leaving behind. Add in a surprise puppy entering my life when I found her on the side of the road and the fact that every month remaining in this year feels packed full, and I need some of that structure back.
Knowing what I’m dealing with mentally will help me build that structure in a way it can recover from periods where the only goal is get through the day while also not feeling like I’m drowning when I try to resurface.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been focused on just getting the urgent things done. That means focusing on the little things, on the little dots. But, I need to zoom out, I need to see the whole picture. In order to zoom back in to add more dots, I need to zoom out to see what I can’t see at the macro level.
That said, I’ve started doing some introspection. I think this might be a bit of a series, maybe 2-3 posts, but we’ll see, where I walk you through my thoughts on how to zoom my perspective out, get the lay of the land, see where I need more dots.
Talk soon, be well!
July 15, 2021
Accepts: An Anxiety Exercise
I’m really struggling today. Let’s be honest and put it all out there. I have unspecified anxiety and, sometimes, it really affects me. Today is one of those days. It didn’t take much, just a bad interaction in a meeting yesterday, and today I’m having a hard time focusing, I can feel my heart trembling, and I keep making anxious motions with my hands and body. If you’ve experienced this before, you know it can consume you. Today, though, I want to try to break out of it, so I’m going to share a technique I learned a few years ago.
It’s called “Wise Mind ACCEPTS,” and it’s a technique from Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT. A wise mind, in DBT, is the intersection of your logical mind and your emotional mind. This technique is all about Distraction–distracting your mind from the things that are causing you anxiety or stress so you can calm down and center yourself. ACCEPTS is an acronym, where the letters stand for Activities, Contributing, Comparisons, Emotions, Pushing Away, Thoughts, and Sensations. The idea is that when you’re feeling calm, you write down things you can do in each of these categories, and, later, look at the list when you need a distraction, pick one, and see if it helps. I thought I’d share portions of my list so that others may have a jumping off point or use this technique themselves when they need it!
- Color a picture while listening to music, a podcast, or an audiobook
- Tend my houseplants, giving each of them some love and attention.
- Bake something, preferably cookies
- Walk my dog and give her belly rubs
- Throw an ultimate disc around the backyard, or setup backyard disc golf
- Sew something quick and easy, listening to only the machine whirring
- Clean the kitchen, or the office, tidy a drawer or two.
- Do a puzzle, or play a game on my phone
- Paint something with watercolors
- Crochet or knit a quick project
- Walk around the local pond and pick up trash
- Find something to donate, or buy something for a charity
- Surprise my partner with something he loves
- Volunteer at the Humane Society
- Collect items for the food bank
- Fund a few micro loans
Note that this section does not work for everyone.
- Look back at myself a year ago, or five years ago. How am I doing?
- Investigate an injustice elsewhere in the world.
- Find someone who is doing well to emulate.
- Watch The Wedding Crashers or New Girl to laugh
- Watch The Decoy Bride to cry happy tears
- Read A Desperate Fortune for the quiet joy in that book
- Read The Collector for escapism fun
- Listen to the Stephen Fry version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to burst out laughing
- Listen to my Bliss playlist
- Visualize building a wall between me and the problem.
- Put the problem in a box and hide it on a shelf.
- Visualize the problem melting away like a spring snow.
- Count to 10 in French, Spanish, or Ancient Greek
- Count the number of stars, or tiles or slats on my blinds.
- Count the number of leaves on my plants
- Try to count the birds based only on their song.
- Hold an ice cube in my hand
- Wrap my fingers around a cup of warm tea
- Take a hot shower
- Snap a hair tie against my wrist
- Chew some bubble gum
- Braid my hair
These are just examples, of course, but they’re things I do to distract myself from my anxiety until I can find the space to take a deep breath and face the problem. I hope this can be helpful to someone out there, too. Have a good day, friends.
June 29, 2021
A Theme in Review
At the end of 2020, I was feeling adrift. I’d been having a good start to the year, even with the pandemic; I was lucky enough to stay healthy, my family did too, and I had plenty to keep my hands and mind occupied.
Around August, things changed. Some personal tragedies and circumstances cast me adrift, making me feel listless and unfocused. I searched about for a theme, and–with help from some kind friends–settled on something around January that I felt could guide me: The Year of (Just Enough) Structure.
In short, this theme was about moving forward on projects while streamlining my routines to give every single day a good foundation with room to improvise and experiment. I had learned that if I tried to enforce too much structure on myself, I would feel claustrophobic, and, conversely, if I didn’t have enough structure, I would feel lost. So the goal was to find the best middle ground.
It worked. I put systems in place, wrote more than I had in years, learned new things, created, read, grew. Then… well.
The thing most people don’t seem to realize about depression, about anxiety, is that you can be okay, you can be great, and then one day, you’re not. It’s not even something I realized until I was facing it. I thought I was fine, thought I was okay, until I looked back a couple weeks and realized “Oh, something’s gone wrong.”
I will be the first person to say, “You need to talk to someone.” I have that someone, as well as a good support structure made up of my partner, friends, and family. I’m okay. But something had gone wrong, and my theme was acting more like a guilt machine than a guiding light.
I floundered with that for a while. My theme had been going so well and suddenly it wasn’t. Did that mean I abandoned ship? Did I try to get back on track? I want to say I had a blinding flash of insight and everything turned around, that I went back to normal–whatever that is–but I can’t. That’s not my story, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s truth. Instead, I had to live with myself, to explore what I felt and why I felt this way.
I’m still doing that. My theme, The Year of (Just Enough) Structure, was cast aside. I learned a lot about myself during the four months I worked within it, and it still guides me right now, but I realized I needed a new theme.
A friend advised me not to focus on a whole year; it’s just too long of a period of time. Instead they suggested a “Chapter,” as this next step, this next theme, is just turning the page, exploring a new scene, a new phase of my life. I love that sentiment. I thought about what felt off, what I felt I needed in this next phase, and yet another friend encouraged me to remember something I’d once adapted from Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist and Mike Schmitz’s review of that book:
“Creativity is connecting dots in ways only you can. If you don’t have enough dots, find more.”
That sparked something within me. It was something I needed to hear, but it also triggered a lot of thoughts within me about the smallest pieces, the little things, the steps that add up. I had visions of impressionist paintings and wildly colorful mosaics, where each individual dot or tile looks inconsequential but adds up to the bigger picture. I even thought back to Atomic Habits, one of the books that changed my life, and about how each tiny habit added up to a bigger day, a bigger identity.
So, I settled on a new theme, and it fits so well. I’ve entered The Chapter of Dots, the chapter of my life in which I’m focused on doing the little things that add up to the bigger picture, like the dots in Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Giverny. I also want to take this time to remind myself, too, that it’s okay to spend time collecting dots–inspiration–to bring back my creative spirit. It’s already helping.
June 18, 2021