Optimism + New Calendar

Often one of the hopeful and optimistic things I’ve done in the Januarys of my life has been purchasing a new calendar.

I was sure I must have written a joyful post about this in the past, so I searched my past posts. But all I found was a draft of a post from December 2018 called Calendar. Because, if I remember correctly, I bought myself a calendar, and I was so excited to use it to organize my life.

It didn’t work.

THAT SAID – maybe this year, it will? Tamara and I often have things happening in the evenings lately – usually, some kind of Zoom meeting – and I’d love to have an always visual means for keeping track of that. Additionally, explaining the concept of time passing to my kids boggles my mind, so I need all the visual aids I can get!

The spot where the calendar hangs is a little organizational hub on my kitchen wall. I have a small pad with notes about activities to do with the boys, and their Melissa and Doug calendar hangs right beside our grown-up one. As of mid February, this system is working pretty well. Fingers crossed it continues to help us stay organized and remember what day of the week it is during these crazy COVID times!

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Goal-Setting During COVID Times

Recently, I started listening to a podcast about goal-setting, and it broke my brain.

How does one begin to set goals again in COVID times?

I’ll admit – in March 2020, I was one of the people who set big, huge goals for myself. I thought that working remotely would allow me the time and flexibility to finish a draft of my novel, and it just didn’t happen. It was partly due to the chaos of working from home with the kids here 24/7, and it was partly due to other valuable commitments I took on in 2020. I have a bit of a wistful feeling when I think back to March and April and my writing goals – but I did the best I could, and it is what it is.

Since the spring, I’ve set a few small goals, but nothing major. Life has felt too unpredictable to make big plans, and I’m not just talking COVID. Our boys have had some sleep struggles, so a good night’s sleep is not guaranteed – that really messes with my plans for early morning writing. Tamara’s work schedule has changed a few times. We’re moving forward with plans to adopt a new baby (!!!), and the adoption process is sometimes hard to plan around – there are times when there are a bunch of tasks that need to be completed IMMEDIATELY followed by long periods of continued waiting.

Now, it’s January 2021, and it does feel possible to make plans again. I made a tentative plan to meet a friend’s new baby in August 2021, and that felt radical, to even plan that far ahead. I started a blog post about a spring/summer bucket list. I started a (coming soon) 39 x 39 list. And now – I’m contemplating setting a goal.

I made a resolution, already – to connect and disconnect. It’s a good one. It covers things like sending birthday cards (connect), falling asleep without headphones in my ears (disconnect), attending AA meetings (connect), allowing time for zero input (disconnect), and texting photos of the boys to family and friends (connect).

When I contemplate goals, I mainly consider my three top priorities: family, service, and writing. If I can add one more – and I totally can, they’re my goals – I’d add health.

For me – a Rebel, according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz – it’s best if goals flow really naturally. For example: for service, my main focus right now is contributing to legislative work being done via SURJ Baltimore. There’s no need for me to make a schedule or set benchmarks for that goal – I can attend meetings that already on the calendar and part of my routine, and I can jot down tasks and to-do lists in my planner or on our wall calendar as they pop up.

For family, I have a good system in the works as well. My main goal is to keep our household peaceful, playful, and engaged through these tough winter months with limited outdoors time and infrequent socializing. And my main means for doing so is sprinkling little surprises and activities throughout our week. I hung up a small, simple days of the week to-do list pad on the wall, and whenever I think of something we can do – break out the tent and play campout, having an Easter egg hunt with a special snack inside the eggs, do a cool science experiment, make cloud dough – I jot it down on a day for that week. It’s fun for the kids, but more than that, it keeps me feeling creative and engaged as a parent. When I’m working from home, it’s hard to pivot quickly to something fun. But if I’ve done the planning ahead of time, it makes it much easier to execute my plan.

For health – I’ve been running every day, so that’s great. I’d like to add a seven-minute workout for after my runs (Google it), and I’d like to add a few minutes of yoga every day. I’ve actually been putting on Cosmic Kids Yoga videos for me and the kids, so that’s been really doable – it’s another activity for all of us on long winter days. So nothing needs to be scheduled – I just need to remember that this is a priority for me, which should work well. I tend to have better luck with exercise habits than I do in other categories.

And then – there’s writing.

I am slowly getting back on track with early morning writing, but I’ve set zero goals for working on any fiction – and I think I want to. But I also think I’m not quite ready yet. I’d like to get a solid few weeks of early morning writing under my belt, and then evaluate what kind of goal I can set. A strong first step might just be organizing the writing projects that are all whizzing around in my mind. Who knows? I drafted a blog post about writing goals for February 23, and we’ll see how I’m doing when that date arrives.

So, these are great COVID goals – natural, flexible, doable. And they’re really just about leaning into what I’m already doing. Cheers to surviving a cold winter by focusing on what really matters!

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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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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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