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 · 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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meditation · mindfulness

Getting Some Headspace

One of my 2020 Happiness Project tasks for January (my month focused on health and longevity) was to meditate every day. And it is actually going well!

I’ve been an aspiring and occasional meditator for years. I have often felt frustrated by my inability to make it a daily habit. Monthly, for sure. Weekly, I’ve had some success with sticking to it. Daily? Pretty much never. And I’m not meditating daily now, either. But since 2020 started, I’ve meditated 10 times. That’s approximately every other day, and that is success.

One of the tools that’s been helping me is the Headspace app. I’ve used it previously, and enjoyed it, but that was several years ago. Then, in December 2019, I found out that Headspace is free for educators. I’m a school social worker, so I was able to sign up for the full version of Headspace for free. Every time I sit down to meditate, I click on the next guided meditation in the app. The meditations were initially 3 to 5 minutes, and now I’ve worked my way up to 10 to 15 minutes. To be honest, that jump has been hard. There’s a big difference between sitting to meditate for 3 minutes and 10 minutes, and it’s been a challenge. But I’m working through it. I typically meditate in the mornings, and I’m enjoying it a lot.

Overall, my health and longevity goals are going okay. I’ve been meditating, and I’ve been exercising. Those two resolutions have been going great. But I’ve been having trouble keeping some of my other resolutions. It’s about halfway through the month as I write this, so I’m going to make an effort to either change up my resolutions or re-commit to making these ones happen.

But the meditating?  I am loving it, and I’m proud of myself for keeping that commitment. Onward.

Image result for headspace

goals · mindfulness

Mindfulness + Goals

I’ve been learning about mindfulness for years, and yet I still feel like a beginner.

These past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how little time I have when I’m just daydreaming and letting my thoughts wander. In the age of iPhones and Netflix, at any moment, I can have a TV show or a podcast playing while I do something else. And I do that a LOT. I rarely bring my full, mindful attention to the task at hand. And I am definitely less mindful when I’m feeling stressed or have a lot going on

In his work, the writer Cal Newport (author of Digital Minimalism and Deep Work) defines solitude as time when no input is being experienced – so, time when you’re not reading, listening to a podcast,  watching television, but are simply allowing your brain to either rest or to process all the other input you’ve had recently.

If that’s what solitude is, I currently have very little of it in my everyday life. I am constantly multi-tasking, and I often am listening to a podcast or a TV show while completing other tasks. There are worse habits, of course, and I don’t want to beat myself up for having a very human 21st century struggle. But also –

I don’t want to waste my time.

Since becoming a parent, I am very aware of my mortality. I’m not sure what it is exactly about having kids that causes this shift, but I know I’m not the only parent who has experienced it. The time to do everything I want to do in my life is not limitless.  And the time I spend listening to podcasts and watching TV is time I could be thinking about blogging or fiction writing. I read once that Toni Morrison used to scribble down paragraphs while she was in traffic, because she was a working mother with limited time to write. I want to be THAT kind of writer – the kind who uses every available moment.

And I know that I lose a lot of valuable time when I’m constantly playing on my phone or re-watching Jane The Virgin. 

So, mindfulness. I sometimes think it’s the secret to achieving ever single one of my dreams and goals. And while I have always struggled to form and keep this habit, I’ve been doing two things well lately:

  1. I’m using the Headspace app to refresh my mindfulness skills and meditate. I’ve completed a three minute meditation three days in a row. It’s only three days, but it’s something!
  2. I’ve been putting my phone away – usually in another room, charging – when I get home from work. It hasn’t been perfect, and sometimes I’m tempted to just go add something to my grocery list or see if I have any texts. But I’ve been doing this pretty consistently, and it’s making my time at home with my family SO much better.

There are so many goals that I have that mindfulness will help – cutting back on caffeine, writing a novel, eating healthier. I could be wrong, but I think mindfulness is the answer. And it’s a great time of year to focus on being more present – the time of year that is all about family and celebrating. Wish me luck!

variety of pumpkins
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mindfulness

Aggressively Mindful

Sometimes I get what Brené Brown would call a vulnerability hangover. I have one of those today. It’s an awful feeling of regret and self-consciousness that I get after I truly open up and am honest in front of other people.

I’m an introvert, and in general, I am an overthinker who is pretty cautious about what I say to others. But sometimes, when the stakes are high, my guard goes down and I speak my truth. I just lay it out on the table, without censoring.

Then, anytime from a few minutes later to a few hours later, I start to feel stressed and panicky. I worry that I said the wrong thing. I can feel my skin crawling because of my discomfort. This was my experience all night long this week, during the time when I was hoping to be sleeping.

Last night, when I couldn’t sleep yet again, I started to practice something I describe as aggressive mindfulness. To be honest, mindfulness hasn’t really been on my agenda this month. My daily morning and evening routines have been pretty off, and I’ve had so much on my mind that it’s been challenging to bring myself fully into the present moment.

But last night, when I couldn’t sleep, and my mind would wander – I would talk to myself sort of sharply and say, We are NOT thinking about that now; we’re sleeping. It worked – sort of, because I had to repeat this about 975 times.

It took a little while to realize that what I was practicing was an aggressive kind of mindfulness practice. But it totally was. I strive to utilize mindfulness in my daily life, and I often succeed – but I am also plagued by regrets about things I’ve said or done and anxieties related to the future, and those thoughts and feelings all stem from my struggle to stay in the present moment. I often forget that it’s my goal to stay in the present moment. Which is silly, because being fully present would help me to feel happier, more confident, and stronger in my day-to-day life.

But, that’s how self-care and self-improvement work for me. I am great at utilizing tools when things are really, really bad – but on a regular day, I forget all about it. So this week, when I really needed to pull myself away from regretful thoughts and into the present moment, I did it over and over again. But on a regular basis, I completely forget that practicing mindfulness is an important goal I have for myself.

This month, with work stress and a busy packing/moving schedule, I think utilizing aggressive mindfulness will be really valuable for me. But, once my vulnerability hangover is over, I really hope that I’m able to remember that staying in the present moment isn’t a strategy that’s only available to me in crisis. It’s a superpower that’s accessible every single day of my life, if I can only remember to use it

artistic blossom bright clouds
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