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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goals

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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goals

38

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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goals · mindfulness

My Intentions For Winter Break

FORGET NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR A SECOND.

This afternoon, my winter break officially begins, and I am pumped.

I have two intentions for winter break: zero guilt and zero input.

ZERO GUILT

Here’s the thing – I really love working from home. I love zero commute, and I love having my kids close by. I am comfortable and productive. I think that if I had the option, I could do this for a long time.

HOWEVER – I am a person very prone to guilt, and there’s a tricky guilt trap I can fall into while working from home. It’s the trap of I should be working.

I am disciplined and committed when it comes to leaving work at work. It’s something I had to train myself to do when I became a social worker, because I simply can’t do my job to the best of my ability if I don’t allow my brain, body, and heart some time to be at rest and recharge. But it is so much harder to leave work at work when you’re working from home. You don’t have the physical boundaries that you do when you commute to a job. Usually, I get in my car, I drive home, I stow my phone away someplace, and I am done – ready to be with my family and off duty from work responsibilities. Without that boundary, I sometimes feel like I am half-working 100% of the time, and that’s no good.

So this week, while I’m on break from work, I am excited to be present and enjoy my time with zero guilt about other things I “should” be doing.

ZERO INPUT

My other intention is just a variance on a goal I often set for myself. I’ve been working hard, for a long time, to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my routine. Occasionally, it works and I love it. Often, I stick with it for a while and then I drift away from it, and that’s okay too. I’ve been trying to remind myself that mindfulness does not have to happen in just one way. You don’t have to be sitting on a yoga mat with your eyes closed to be mindful. You can simply bring full awareness to the activities of your day – washing dishes, reading a bedtime story, taking a walk.

But, here’s the thing: I am an input junkie. I am rarely doing the dishes mindfully, completely focused on the task at hand. I listen to a podcast while I do dishes; I listen to audiobooks while I fold laundry; I have music or TV in the background while I clean my room. When I wake up in the morning, it’s a matter of minutes before I’m reading my book or listening to a podcast.

None of this is bad. But I do think my brain could benefit from opportunities to rest – to stop aborbing new information and just be. I’m pretty sure I got this idea from the book Digital Minimalism, where Cal Newport talking about solitude as a time with no input from the outside world. So, not just being by yourself – but allowing your brain time with no input from others, whether it’s live and in person or via a book or podcast.

So, my intention for winter break is: allow for time with zero input. It could be five minutes – it could be twenty. The point is to give my mind a break from the constant stream of information and noise. For me, the easiest ways to do this are having writing time with no background noise or doing household tasks (dishes, laundry) without an accompanying podcast or audiobook. Not all day every day – not even close to that! But just little pockets of time each day when I give my mind a little solitude.

Happy winter break to all who get it – and happy almost new year to everyone else!

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goals

New Year, New Phone, New Habits

After a cracked screen and a whole bunch of annoyingness, I ended up receiving a brand-new phone (and Otterbox case, no more cracked screens please and thank you) at the very beginning of the 2020/2021 school year.

Anytime there is a fresh start – a new move, a new school year, even a new day – I see it as an opportunity to reset and to change any habits that need changing. A new phone is no exception.

This summer, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my phone. During the time of COVID-19, my phone has been a lifeline – a chance to connect with friends and family at a time when it’s challenging to spend any time together. My phone has been my way of connecting with community service work, via text banking, calls and e-mails to government officials, SURJ tasks, etc. I use it to educate myself through articles, podcasts, and audiobooks.

I use it for freaking everything. And it gets to be way too much. I find myself getting annoyed when I see others obsessed with and absorbed by by their devices, and I realized that it’s because I know I do the exact same thing.

These are the ways I want to change my relationship with my phone:

  1. It is a tool; it is not the boss of me and it should not dictate what I do all day long.
  2. There are other devices that can be used for certain things. I can listen to podcasts on the Alexa in my kitchen. I can check e-mail on my computer. That’s still using technology – but it breaks the pattern of using my phone for anything and everything, which contributes to my feeling that I need to have my phone within arm’s reach at every second.
  3. Which brings me to – I do not want to have my phone within reach at every second. Too often, I find myself absorbed with something on my phone when I’d rather be fully present with my boys. And it’s often accidental – I glance down at my phone to check the time, and I see a text or an e-mail, something that has to be dealt with, and then before I know it I’m taking care of something that really could be dealt with later.
  4. There are better systems that I can implement for staying organized and getting things done. I tend to fall back on systems that DO NOT WORK – like setting alarms on my phone to remind me to do something. This system has never, ever worked for me, but my phone’s always close by, so when I think of something that needs to get done, I default to old methods. If I change my relationship with my phone, I believe new and more effective methods can be implemented.

The biggest reasons I want to change things up are actually my two biggest buzz words of late: intention and mindfulness. 

If I want to listen to a podcast while I unload the dishwasher and the boys play, that sounds lovely – as long as it’s done intentionally. The thing that bothers me most about my phone is that I often end up reading an article or going down a social media rabbit hole WITHOUT EVEN REALIZING IT’S HAPPENING. I can read an article on my phone. I can read an ebook on my phone. I can Face Time, or text, or WHATEVER – but it really bothers me when this all happens in a mindless and unintentional way, as if my phone is stealing away minutes and hours of my life without my even realizing it.

Which relates directly to the mindfulness aspect of it all. For years, I’ve been working on improving my ability to be mindful and present. When I am constantly checking my phone and multi-tasking, I’m not fully present in my day-to-day life.

It’s September 2020, and I have a new phone, an awesome new Otterbox Defender case, and the following new habits:

  • My phone will be plugged in on the kitchen counter while I’m in bed sleeping. No more checking social media as I’m falling asleep at night or immediately when I wake up in the morning.
  • My phone will be plugged in on my nightstand during the day. I’ll have the ringer on in case Tamara calls, and I’ll check it periodically when I decide to check it.
  • I’m going to try my best to diversify and use other devices (Alexa, laptop, iPad) for some of my entertainment or productivity needs. (My goal here is just to shift my total reliance on the phone for everything, so that it’s easier to set it aside and know that I can still get things done that need doing.)

It is going great so far, and it feels really good to be making this change. NEW YEAR – new phone – new habits! Happy September!

white smartphone
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