goals · mindfulness

Zero Input

I have an up-and-down and back-and-forth relationship with meditation. In theory, I love meditation and recommend it often. But I struggle to maintain an individual practice. There have been periods of my life when I maintained a daily or almost daily meditation routine easily, but right now is absolutely not one of those times.

Throughout 2020, I’ve tried to shift from beating myself up for not meditating to finding little moments throughout the day to be mindful. When I started to overthink or feel stressed, I bring awareness to my body and my thoughts and I try to consider them gently and without judgment. This has been a helpful practice for my mental health, and I hope to continue it.

Recently, I realized that what I really want to do is stop attempting meditation altogether for the moment, and shift my focus to something else: solitude.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, wrote this about solitude in a blog post; I am pretty sure he was paraphrasing from a book called Lead Yourself First:

Lesson #1: The right way to define “solitude” is as a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds.
When we think of solitude, we typically imagine physical isolation (a remote cabin or mountain top), making it a concept that we can easily push aside as romantic and impractical. But as this book makes clear, the real key to solitude is to step away from reacting to the output of other minds: be it listening to a podcast, scanning social media, reading a book, watching TV or holding an actual conversation. It’s time for your mind to be alone with your mind — regardless of what’s going on around you.

Lesson #2: Regular doses of solitude are crucial for the effective and resilient functioning of your brain. 
Spending time isolated from other minds is what allows you to process and regulate complex emotions. It’s the only time you can refine the principles on which you can build a life of character. It’s what allows you to crack hard problems, and is often necessary for creative insight. If you avoid time alone with your brain your mental life will be much more fragile and much less productive.

Between podcasts, audiobooks, TV, and reading, I have very little time in my day in solitude. When I am actually alone, away from the boys and Tamara, I usually play a podcast or audiobook on my phone. My writing times are probably my most frequent experiences of solitude, and even while writing, I sometimes have some form of media playing in the background. I read my book whenever I get the chance, and I’ve always thought of that as solitude – but according to Newport’s definition, it’s not, and I think he’s right. My brain needs time to process. I think solitude is really beneficial for my writing practice as well – time for ideas to percolate and creativity to have space to thrive.

So, I am trying to switch my goal – from daily meditation or daily mindfulness, to trying to find times for zero input. When I’m about to do dishes and I start to ask Alexa to play the latest episode of The Mom Hour, I stop myself and I try out just doing the dishes with nothing playing in the background. This may sound tiny, but this is huge for an input junkie like myself.

I think it’s going to be an easier habit to maintain, since it’s not about scheduling something to do (meditate) when I don’t have time. It’s just about adjusting something that I’m doing anyway to make it more reflective and productive.

This is already going pretty well for me. Hoping to keep it up as 2021 progress – so that I can connect and disconnect all year long.

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all the things

Currently: January 2021

Inspired by Kelsey Wharton’s blog Rising*Shining, I am trying out something new this year.

There are a few posts I like to write regularly. During 2020, I wrote a gratitude post at the end of each month – real simply, just 5 things I was grateful for that month. In the fall of 2020, I started writing a brief post with a monthly mantra as well – just a simple intention I set at the beginning of each month.

I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this new monthly post, but here’s what I’m trying out – basically, a monthly post summarizing all the things I’m currently up to. What I’m currently reading, listening to, and watching – maybe what the boys are up to or what household tasks are on my list.

Currently reading:

I finished Anxious People earlier this month and loved it. My Christmas Eve book was The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and I have been loving it oh-so-much.

Currently listening to:

So many episodes of The Mom Hour podcast, almost exclusively.

Currently watching:

Nothing really. Old episodes of Community when I’m falling asleep at night. Also watched Aladdin this week with the boys and they are newly obsessed with Abu!

Currently writing:

Just trying to get back in the routine of blogging regularly. Planning to dive into fiction a little more this month! A wisp of a fun idea has been floating in the back of my mind.

Currently the boys are:

Loving all their Christmas toys. Santa filled their stockings and brought them an electric train. Nana brought them a race track table, and Grandma and Papa sent some Toy Story toys and binoculars that they went crazy over.

Currently grateful for:

A trip to the bookstore (the Ivy in Baltimore) with Edgar! I had to pick up a birthday book I’d ordered, and I brought a masked Edgar with me. He’s been to school but pretty much nowhere else for the past nine months, and it was a lovely trip. He was allowed to buy one book, and he chose Construction Site, Mission: Demolition because he loves a series as much as I do.

Currently looking forward to:

Finishing this blog post so I can read a little more of Addie LaRue before the kids wake up!

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Monthly Mantra: Enjoy It All (Again)

I have a little apprehension coming into January 2021. I am fairly certain my school will return to in-person learning later this month. It’s what needs to happen for our students, for sure. But I have loved working remotely and I’ll miss it a lot.

That’s why my mantra for this month is going to be the same as my October mantra: enjoy it all.

I really want to remember how happy I am to be working remotely and getting so much time with my little ones. Whenever I have to return to the school building, I want to do it full of all the energy and joy I’ve stored up thanks to these months at home with my family.

I’m so grateful – for my slowly-building private telehealth practice, for the chance to go for a run in the middle of a busy day, for zero commute, for getting to pick Edgar up from school, for flexibility. And I’m going to enjoy all of it so that I can get back to school feeling refreshed and ready.

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2021 Goals

There are so many reasons why I love December. It’s holidays. It’s my birthday. There’s a beautifully lit Christmas tree makin’ the house all cozy and merry.

And with the approach of the new year, I start getting really motivated to set new goals.

This blog is always a tool I use for planning, goal-setting, and resolution-making, and 2020 was no exception. I had big plans for a 2020 happiness project, with a monthly theme, small resolutions made related to the theme, and blog posts associated with the theme as well. That project went off the rails in February, and you know what? That was just fine.

I also made two resolutions last December. My resolutions for 2020 were to improve my photography habits – taking, saving, deleting, storing, printing – and to plan ahead. I’d say I did well on the latter and completely abandoned the former.

I’m going to make resolutions again, even though I rarely think about them beyond February. I’m not going to write about them too much here; I’ll write about them more if and when I actually make progress toward these goals.

My two resolutions for 2021 could also be my Words Of The Year: connect and disconnect. Connect with family, friends, and community through gestures and service; disconnect from the outside world so that your mind, body, heart, and soul can get some much-needed rest.

It’s December 29 today, and after a lovely birthday and a wonderful Christmas, I feel rested and merry and oh-so-loved. Happy almost 2021, everyone!

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It’s 11 a.m. on my 38th birthday, and I am eating a leftover Christmas morning cinnamon roll in a quiet house. Tamara took the boys out for an extremely cold bike ride so I could have a little time to write.

Last year, I got into a little funk on my birthday. I felt plagued by dreams not yet pursued. And I am largely in the same place, related to my writing goals and my career. Not 100% satisfied with my day job. Not finished with my novel draft.

Maybe I’ll get into a funk about these things next week, but right now, I’m simply grateful and pumped. Grateful for all that I have. Grateful for everything 2020 has given me – connection to my community, education and opportunities for activism, and so much precious time with my little family. Pumped because my birthday comes at a great time of year for clean slates and intention setting.

I’ll write more about some of my resolutions for 2021 in other posts, but the things I am contemplating today as I reflect are:

  • How can I help my family and my friends to feel special all year long? How can I stay connected with family/friends/community?
  • How can I optimize my bedtime routine? (Still falling asleep in my clothes. LOL but also would love to change this up!)
  • How can I maintain writing as a priority, and adapt my routine when responsibilities and schedules shift like they did this year?
  • How can I be fully present and mindful in my day-to-day life?

These are always the questions; these are the best questions. The answers shift, but the intention behind the questions remains the same.

There’s a carrot cake being assembled by two boys (with assistance) in the kitchen. Tamara got me a Nespresso machine for my birthday (!!!) and she’s going to help me learn to use my sewing machine as a bonus gift during the boys’ naptime. It’s a pandemic birthday, hopefully the only one I ever have, and it’s pretty all right.

Happy birthday to me! Happy day of resolutions, commitments, family, and love.

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