Finding the Time

I’ve found myself “running out of time” to write a post for weeks (that have started to turn into months). But to be honest with you and with myself, I have plenty of time as a work-from-home woman without kids in a city where I have only a small handful of friends.

So, what’s the problem?

I’ve been in a major rut (or a minor depression) lately. But I haven’t been homesick or lonely. I’m not undercaffeinated. I get regular sunshine and my husband and rabbit are as handsome and awesome as ever. But still, I’m about as mentally stuck as a person can get.

Evening Coffee

Today’s post is an effort to combat that mental brick wall that I’ve built for myself and do something that, although I always push it to the bottom of my to-do list, actually makes me feel valuable and interesting: write it all down for lovely strangers on the internet. Leading me to the point:

How do you “find the time” when you’re stuck?

I know I’ve written about being stuck and the mind games that go along with it. But sometimes, you find yourself stuck and even though you know exactly what it takes to get unstuck, you’re stuck not doing those things. It’s a sticky mess.

So here I am, telling myself as much as I am telling you: if there’s something you’re trying to find the time for, you’ll never accomplish it. You have to make the time for it.

Make the Time

For me, that means forcing myself to do things I love (because when you’re stuck, these are sometimes that last things you really feel like doing) – writing, exercising, crocheting. It means writing anything for an hour. It doesn’t have to be good or correct or even halfway publishable, what matters is that I’m doing the thing I’ve been meaning to do.

Excuses and something worse than that

A lot of the delay comes from excuses that we so cleverly invent for ourselves. Mine? I woke up too late. I have to work. I haven’t had enough coffee. I’ve had too much coffee. The dishes aren’t clean. There’s always something.

What’s worse than excuses, though, are things I’ve heard many friends experience and I think it’s worth talking about. I call them, for lack of a better word, demons. The voices that tell us we’re not good enough, or that whatever we’re doing is not good work. Mine say things like: You’re not interesting. This isn’t valuable. You’re haircut is stupid. You’ll never do a handstand.

Yikes.

Making progress

So, how do you go from finding the time to making the time, and then actually bringing yourself to make progress? I believe I’m still in the “making the time” phase, but I’ve started doing some things to help myself visualize progress. Here’s what I have to share:

  1. Write out your ideal average day. Consider work, chores, meals, exercise and so on. Write it down. Acknowledge how it would make you feel. Be reasonable. Mine even includes the top three things that should be clean by the end of each day: the bed made, dishes put away, and flat surfaces free of clutter.
  2. Make gradual changes. Change or add things to your day slowly. Don’t try to have the ideal average day right now. Sustainable change comes in small increments.
  3. Be gentle on yourself. Above all, allow for mistakes. Forgive yourself quietly and peacefully and move forward. As I write this, a little something is welling up in my throat, because I am notoriously bad at being gentle on myself. These words come from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata and I remind myself of them often.

I know far too many people, myself included, who don’t allow themselves the time for doing the things they love. So, here it is again: learn to make time for these things.

Identify your excuses and your demons and acknowledge them when they’re in your way. Then, carve out space in your schedule and in your mind/heart/soul to do what moves you the most.

I’m back 🙂

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I Quit My Day Job

And just like that, the chaos that these past two weeks have felt like has come to an end – they were my last two weeks at the agency I’ve worked at for a year and a half.

If you felt rumblings of that in my recent post about my brother doing what he loves most, you were right to suspect I’d be making this change soon. And what a terrifying, difficult and yet incredible change it’s going to be.

I am once again leaving my comfort zone for something completely new!

CheersSo what’s next?

Good question. I’ve actually picked up some contract work as an editor for Quora and another gig as a data entry assistant. On top of that, I’ll be working as a marketing “consultant” of sorts for a couple of startups in the family (yes, those wooden sunglasses being one of them).

But right now, it’s less about what I’m going to do for money, and more about living the life I want to live. As Millennials, I think it’s hard for us to realize that it’s often more within our grasp than we might think. I could settle into an office job (and settle into saying “someday”), but why wait?

The someday trap

I was working myself into a continuous string of someday’s – I said someday I’d write more on this blog, someday I’d get out of Indiana (more on that in the next post…) and that someday I’d start doing what I love for a living.

The trouble is, I haven’t defined what it is that I most love, and I certainly haven’t run into that mythical day called “someday.”

When we put things off for the future, we’re not just procrastinating. We’re building a comfort zone, creating a bubble, making ourselves a safety blanket – whatever makes the most sense to us, we’re doing it because we don’t want to face any sort of fear, productive or otherwise. We’re becoming more risk averse and, while this isn’t necessarily true across the board, it makes me and many people I know less creative.

I become complacent in an apartment and in a city that doesn’t make me feel the magic of everyday life. I find my routines becoming more dull. I find myself sad, but unwilling to change.

So what is it that you’re putting off for someday? What little changes here and there can you make to bring you one step closer to what you really want to do?

For me, it’s getting onto the same schedule as my husband and introducing more flexibility into my work. And this isn’t the last leap we’re going to take…stay tuned for my next post about where we’re going to live next!

Hint: It’s a big change, and we can’t just coast through this one without some significant planning.

Palm trees

The Trouble with Storytelling

Storytelling is a huge trend right now in marketing and brand building. I hear about the importance of telling great stories with great content all the time – it’s what makes brands human, what makes them relatable and interesting.

But storytelling can get us into a lot of trouble.

I recently fell into the trap of telling myself a story that while my friend had all the time in the world for her other buddies, she had only one evening every few weeks for me. I told myself she had much better friends to associate with and I ended up feeling bitter and disinclined to meet up with her. When I finally did, it came up: was she really spending all her time hanging out with other people? No. In fact, I was one of the few people she even had time to visit with. Her wedding is close to mine, so she’s been in the throes of planning alongside a high-pressure (yet incredibly rewarding) job. My story was dead wrong.

I told myself a story that seemed to resolve the problem in my head, so I stuck with it. I let it simmer until it boiled over in a great big glob of wasted energy and self-pity.

We do it every day

A fine example of this is what many of us do every day: with every excuse, every complaint, every snarky comment – we’re convincing ourselves of something that we have little to no supporting proof of.

Most often, I notice it when people aren’t in a career that they see themselves doing for the rest of their lives (which is so many of us young vagabonds), or when they’re stuck in a creative rut. Excuses pop up; things like bosses that aren’t receptive, financial or personal situations that are just out of my control. We weave an intricate back story for people we don’t actually take the time to get to know, and situations we don’t actually take the time to control.

I recently read the book Crucial Conversations and found it extraordinarily helpful (especially when I read it alongside my colleagues with a safe space to discuss the issues). The main takeaway for me was identifying when I tell myself stories. It’s surprising – I recommend focusing on what stories you tell yourself daily, and you’ll see you do so more than you would like to. The principle, “master my stories” has been on my mind ever since reading the book:

Master My Stories—A principle that help us control the emotions that drive our actions. We do this by challenging the stories we tell ourselves—we ask questions. One such question is “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person act this way?” Posing the question is NOT making an assumption that all people are reasonable, rational, and decent; rather, posing the question IS an effort to consider other possibilities. This increases the probability of getting what we really want.

Effort is what matters: it’s easy to construct a whole world of would-be scenarios, but if we don’t make the effort to find out what’s really going on, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. If we can learn to control the emotions behind our behavior, we’ll be able to see more objectively what we want.

You’re not the victim, so stop it

These stories usually are sympathetic towards the teller – we make ourselves the victim or exaggerate the hopelessness of the situation. In the situation above, it turned out I was definitely not the victim. In fact, I was the more of the villain: I added to the stress my dear friend had about distributing her small pieces of spare time evenly and appropriately.

And once we start telling ourselves stories, we tell others those same stories – who wants to hear about how unsupported, unheard, mistreated and miserable I am? No one, and especially since those are all very untrue. These stories become a hindrance to our communications, our relationships and our professional lives.

Here’s my challenge to you this week: keep an eye out for stories you’re telling to yourself, your colleagues and your friends. If you find yourself having 24-straight hours of a pity party, then it’s time to reevaluate. Are you really being oppressed? Or, is it just your inability to assert and motivate yourself that’s holding you back?

I’m going to bet that more often than not, it’s the second. I know it is for me.

What stories are you telling yourself?

Getting Stuck in a Rut

I’ve been stuck in a rut lately. Wake, exercise, work, eat, sleep. I’ve been fairly removed from anything else. Occasionally I’ll read a chapter or so of a book that I’ve been meaning to read, and sometimes I’ll toss in a trip to the grocery store, but that’s pretty much my routine.

All work and no play...

All work and no play…

There’s nothing wrong with routines, in fact I think they have enormous potential to make us more productive and creative. Scheduling time to pursue our creative endeavors can allow us the freedom to truly express ourselves. But what happens when there’s not enough hours in a day to schedule our creative time? For me, writing this blog is something that I try to pencil in as often as I can, but other obligations override it: more work, trying to keep up with my exercise routine, playing with my rabbits, sleeping.

I’m working on getting out of this rut and getting back into a well-rounded schedule and these are the activities and exercises I’m going to try.

  • Taking ten minutes a day to truly do nothingThe idea of meditation intimidates me, but when it’s rephrased as simply “doing nothing” and observing my thoughts, I’m more inclined to try it. I haven’t yet sat down to do this, but I’m looking forward to seeing how well I handle sitting still for that long.
  • As soon as I find myself in a rut, I’ll get up and take a walk. This morning, I found myself completely unmotivated, so I put on one of my signature pump up songs and hopped on my stationary bike for five minutes. Last night, I was getting tired as I was chipping away at some work on my computer, so I dropped everything and went for a ten minute walk. My usually racing mind appreciates this time to just focus on physical activity instead of brain-draining tasks.
  • Accomplish something smaller. This morning, after attempting to motivate myself, I didn’t start right in to my to do list. I washed my dishes and then cut up a bunch of plastic bags and made them into a bouquet. I felt accomplished (and a bit ridiculous), and I was then able to make myself some coffee and jump in with this blog post. Starting off by accomplishing smaller tasks makes me feel more prepared to tackle larger ones.
  • Creating habits. This is something that I’ve been attempting to do by working out every morning. I’ve been horrible about talking myself out of this lately, so I need to get back to it. (I recently read The Power of Habit–a fascinating read if you’re interested in the science behind habits) Insert your desired habit after a certain trigger in your life–like waking, eating lunch, or after you brush your teeth at night. It doesn’t matter when you do it, but by giving your mind a trigger to complete your desired habit, you’ll be more likely to create a routine. (Hello , flossing!)
  • Create a real (or even imagine) community that depends upon your progress. My goal is to run a mini-marathon with my mother in the fall. Honestly, that might not happen, but she’s able to check in on me and encourage me to continue running. When I think about blogging, I find myself noting that I have a few followers, and that they may be looking forward to my next posts. I have friends who ask about my blog. Creating this sense of responsibility may be limiting to some, but I personally am motivated by being held accountable for things I say I’m going to do.

So what do you do when you’re stuck in a rut?

Today is a Good Day

I found myself saying this to myself jokingly one day. I laughed as I said “I had 2 cups of coffee today. Today is a good day.” (2 cups is a regular occurrence. There was nothing special about it.)

Then, I said it to myself the next day. And the next. Finally, I found myself saying it after truly meaningful, small things that I was grateful for. If everything else goes wrong today, I’d say to myself, at least this one thing went really, really well. 

Today is a good day.

Start by saying it right now. Don’t add qualifiers or exceptions. Find at least one happy instance to center it around, and be grateful for it. Too often we focus on the negatives and get caught up in a snowball of increasingly pitiful statements.

A positive frame of mind does wonders for your health, productivity, and longevity. It’s contagious. It’s invigorating. Reduce your complaints. Minimize negative thoughts. Try it–I think you’ll like it.

Today is a Good Day

Let’s Talk About Your Big But

One of my favorite moments from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is when he’s talking to Simone about the reasons why she hasn’t done what she most desires to do.

As funny as this moment is, it’s actually a question that we really all need to ask ourselves. What is my “big but”? Why haven’t I done what I want to do?

To identify your big but, start by listing all of your most ambitious dreams. Don’t hesitate. What would you do if you could do anything? If you could own anything you wanted, what would you most want? Write down your loftiest and most ridiculous goals or dreams–especially if you haven’t yet shared them with anyone. Leave a few lines in between each dream you write down.

Now, if you’re inspired by minimalism like I am, I encourage you to remove the objects that you most desire from that list. Ultimately, they’re just going to weigh you down and create mental and financial debt (more on mental debt in a future post). If you feel like minimalism is ludicrous and a waste of time, then you might want to reconsider if you should really be reading this blog…

Anyways. Once you have your list of dreams, go back and fill in the reasons why you have not yet accomplished them. Be honest, but don’t beat yourself up about it. If your dream is to run a marathon, and the reason you haven’t done it yet is because your lazy, please write it down. There’s no judgement in this exercise (pun absolutely intended).

Now to end this on a positive note, go back through again and write down 1-3 steps you need to take to accomplish this goal. For example, if you want to run a marathon, BUT you’ve been too lazy, your steps would be:

  1. Find some inspiration–connect with an old or new running buddy and talk it through
  2. Create a plan or download one from the internet. I guarantee you this is not hard.
  3. Run. Set daily reminders and checkpoints to hold yourself accountable.

Dissect the goal into bite-sized pieces that you can more easily take in. Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you must, prioritize your goals and set the most easily achieved at the beginning of the list. Take a good, rational look at how to accomplish these goals, and stop letting your big but get in the way. 

What’s my big but?

My big but has been writing this blog. I took action first by determining what I wanted to write about. This took months! I have so many interests, that it was difficult to pinpoint my priorities. Then, I set it up and let my first post go live to the world. Then (I did this a bit out of order), I created an outline of subjects I wanted to cover. I still need to develop a better “mission statement,” but the fact that I am indeed moving forward with this project makes me feel ultra-fulfilled and excited about where I can take this in the future.

What’s your big but?