focusing on living

I’m going to cleverly pretend I haven’t skipped a month’s worth of blogs and instead jump right into it: we need to focus.

I don’t mean focus on a task, although surely that’s a real possibility. Instead, what I mean is focusing on existence. Focusing on knowing who we are and what we can do. Focusing on living, on making the most out of every day.

The truth is, I love movies. I love TV shows, Youtube videos, and generally wasting my life watching ridiculous things that make me forget my worries. Media is a more successful numbing device than most drugs because it’s socially acceptable.

Media, however, is the sort of thing whose excess can drain us of all our will. It’s not just that though. Everyone has that thing that wastes time. They have that area of their life where it’s easier to just go along with it than force yourself to stop and do something that you’d enjoy better.

You know what makes an artist good? Practice. Creative talents may limit the where and what of an artists’ content, but some good ol’ practice is the primary thing that makes them good at what they do. Cooking is the same thing. Exercising is the same thing. The bottom line is if you want to do something, you need to start doing it.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t rest. Of course, we should! We need to be still more. We need to drink coffee or tea in the morning and just let time itself be. We need more sleep, more downtime with people we care about, and plenty of other things. Absolutely we need to relax. My chief argument is with the habit we have of using activities as escapism, rather than approaching life as something we are living.

Maybe we feel controlled and limited by the things around us. That’s because we are. We limit others, and others limit us. When we exist in a social world, our lives end up entangling with each other, and it becomes harder to separate the individual from the group. Having that social trust and interaction is precious, above the individual at times.

Yet we also need agency. Your life is your own. We can give out our love, our time, our being to other people, but the only person who experiences what this world has to offer is you.  Your actions, whatever they end up being, fall on you.

So focus! Focus on existing, on asking yourself why are you doing what you are doing, and if it’s the right thing to do. Check in with yourself, we only have so much life to live.

i will focus in 3.. 2… wait-

It is much more difficult to focus in this day and age because of technology. In short, we have more things to distract us, things literally designed to grab our attention away from our responsibilities and other tasks. Knowing this information however, doesn’t give us an ‘out’. What we need to do still needs to be done. Having access to the resources we do online means we also have the ability to make ourselves focus.

What I mean by this is using what we know about our brains for our own benefit. Multi-tasking drains us and leads to ineffective efforts in both. It doesn’t matter if you’re ‘good’ at multi-tasking, it’s still less than your best if you were focusing on one thing. There’s apps that help us close out everything until a set time. If technology itself is too distracting, we can usually do it by hand and upload it digitally later. We have entire genres of music designed to help us zone out into our effective work mind-sets. Planning is difficult, but the number of applications that can help us get our lives together are numerous and usually free. There’s meditation apps, writing idea apps, scheduling apps, just about anything to help you focus.

At the end of the day, it’s still on you to a large amount. If you allow yourself to open up youtube and surf cat videos whenever the urge strikes you, you’re going to be much more prone to giving in to those urges. You don’t have to be that person. If you want to be more productive and effective in your work habits, you can do so. Technology isn’t evil or good, simply a tool we use for whatever we were desiring in the first place. Procrastination is a society-wide phenomenon, but procrastinating work doesn’t make you better than anyone else, and it helps few matters. You are stronger than it, your self-control is your own, and you can do this! I believe in you.

the kinds of effort we put in

Work, at it’s core, isn’t very fun. It requires you to focus and pull away from what’s entertaining to accomplish some goal. Different parts of one’s work may be interesting, but for most everything, you have to be in the right mood for it. And no matter how amazing your job or school is, there will always be times when you just don’t feel like putting in the effort.

There is a strength required in being able to do what you don’t want to do. Its name is self-control, and it’s difficult to wrangle down at times. However, you can. We all have some amount of self-control, and you are no different. The trick is that thinking you have more of it helps you actually have more of it. If you tell yourself that you have little self-control, you make yourself feel less guilty for loosing control and giving in to your temptations. However, knowing you have high self-control keeps your expectations high, and helps you not give up. And you should want to be in charge of yourself!

Our emotions are not all of us, nor is our rationality. They are mixed together in order to help us live full lives.Giving in to whatever you want, whenever you want is fun, but it quickly makes you miserable. Our impulses are not always good, and not ever holding back tends to ruin our relationships. Your emotions shouldn’t always end up on top, just as logic is limited in circumstances. Denying your whims helps you get to your true desires, the ones that actually matter more to you. Work is hard and probably not that fun. That’s okay. Not every moment of life has to be fun or happy. Instead, we can be grateful and committed to our goals and relationships, because that is what’s important. Your effort matters, even when it doesn’t feel heroic or interesting.

when 17/18ths of the buttons of the control panel of life are closed off

Many things are out of our control, to the point where we may think everything is sometimes. It isn’t. We influence the world just as the world influences us. We are not static beings in our environment, but rather dynamic individuals.

Having faith that things be okay is difficult, because honestly, sometimes things won’t. We’re not going to be able to succeed every time, or get the answer we want, or fulfill our responsibilities. Still, as the world throws obstacles and situations of all sorts at us, it’s important to remain calm. Know there is a chance you’ll fail, but also know that there is a chance you’ll succeed. Try anyways, for the things you know you must do. Maybe the problem will be too big for us to handle alone, but that’s okay, because we are never alone.

Failure is always an option that might occur. That’s okay. It’s a part of the natural waves and crests and troughs of life that we won’t feel or do our best every day. But no situation is so straightforward that you can count it as a 100% failure in the first place. We can learn from anything, take the good parts of any situation, grow from our confusion and struggles! Yes, many things are out of our control, but that doesn’t mean our actions and choices are pointless.

preparation for something nervewracking

The person who is best prepared to live your life is you. Other people may be better swimmers or be smarter or whatever, but we have each adapted to our environment. The experiences we’ve had make it so that wherever we end up, there’s been a path of moments to lead up to it. For example, you don’t just end up on stage giving a speech. Somehow, somewhere, you have to have been good at something, even if that something is getting past security.

Think about the toughest people you’ve ever met. They are confident and know what they are doing and we think that there must be an incredible character behind it. However, having incredible character isn’t innate. It’s a matter of choice, consistently making decisions to take the higher and more difficult road.

When we find ourselves overwhelmed or ready to underestimate ourselves, stop for a moment. Think about what’s happened before. You have overcome every difficulty in the past. You never died (or if you did, you made it back). In your life, surely you’ve made decisions that were tough for you. Yet all of those efforts you have taken are now tied to You and your character. Today isn’t so bad because you’ve faced worse. And imagine, theoretically, that you are in a completely novel situation: by definition, you can’t have been prepared for it. There’s too much out there to learn and do, we can’t know everything.

And that’s okay. The “tough” person decision is deciding to try your best. Even if you don’t know what to do or how it’s supposed to go, you are never walking into a situation blind. Behind you, you have every moment of experience to lead you to it. You are meant to take hold of your life and live it. You can do this.

*photo creds to Cathy Barnard

a reminder to please sleep

Like batteries and every other animal on the planet, humans need to recharge and rest. The problem with it is that we often don’t rest enough or in the proper way. Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep, teenagers 8-9. That sleep should be bookended by an hour without technology right before we get up and right after.

However, that’s not all! We also need time away from our normal work hours doing something that’s not work. The human attention span is about 15 minutes, so work hard for 15 minute segments, with short breaks inbetween them. In the breaks, do something that’s different from your work. If you sit down at work, get up and get a cup of water, and try to move around. If you’re doing manual labor, sit down for a bit. Rest is so important but we ignore all the signs and try to push oursleves through it.

The bottom line is that running yourself ragged makes you far more unproductive, unhealthy, and miserable. It may seem counter intuitive that sleeping for 8 hours vs. 5 hours will give us more time, but being truly awake for 12 hours is far more meaningful than being a zombie for 18. Sleep the proper amount, give yourself time to relax when eating meals, relax afterward, and you’ll be able to do far more and far more productive work.

the known and unknown

Being positive means one of two things: (1) facing the known and trying to find something worthwhile in it, and (2) facing the unknown and trying to look ahead to the good possibilities instead of the bad ones. Both of these tend to be incredibly difficult because our fears like to overcome our hopes. In terms of strength, negative emotions just stick around better! It makes sense to be prepared for the worst outcome, after all. The problem is that, as humans, we tend to ruminate on those negative emotions and it can paralyze us.

So what can we do to find the good in both the known and the unknown? The first step is to look at what we know. “Looking at what we know” may sound a little silly, but we don’t do it that often. We look at what we want to, and ignore other relevant information. So, make an effort to look at that relevant information! Things might go wrong, but you have things. One aspect of your life may be tremendously difficult, but that doesn’t make the rest of it unimportant. Acknowledging these parts of your life doesn’t mean that suddenly everything is easy or that you don’t have a right to complain, it just reminds you that this one problem isn’t the full picture. We are not the center of the universe, and that’s a good thing.

The second part of being positive is looking into the unknown with hope. This becomes more and more difficult depending on the life you’ve had to this point. Someone who has had their trust betrayed multiple times is likely going to have trust issues with their partners in the future because their experience is telling them their hope will not be rewarded. However, while experience impacts us significantly, there is still that unknown factor. That factor could be both positive or negative, but we want to focus on the negative because we’re not sure if we can handle it.

However, we can handle a lot more than we think. Mentally, we want to hold back because of all of those negative emotions. But we shouldn’t! We have situations that likely will turn out poorly, but we also have situations that will likely turn out amazing! Knowing or not knowing, the future is still something we haven’t experienced yet. All we can do is the best we can in our present, so leave the future to its own devices. You can do this.

is it me you’re looking for?

Being forgetful can be amazing. Not forgetful of responsibility or items, but forgetting the self. When we are faced with duty and desire, we can become obsessed with how much we are or are not getting done. When we are perfectionistic, we become so caught up in our own negative emotions, we forget to check on others who might also be suffering. When we stop focusing so much on ourselves, it’s much easier to be ourselves, a kinder version of ourselves.

Often times, we think that in order to be humble and selfless, we somehow should hate the self. If selfish people think they are great, after all, mustn’t that mean that selfless people think they are horrible? Yet selfishness doesn’t necessarily mean that one loves themselves. It is very possible and very common for someone to seemingly hate themselves and still be incredibly self-centered. Hate takes a lot of energy. It takes effort to exert that sort of emotional force. Strictly in terms of physical endurance, it takes a lot out of you, and with other dimensions upon that, it’s safe to say that hate is an expensive habit. That great cost makes it so that limited cognitive resources just don’t have time to think about something else. Even if that hatred is a self-loathing!

Of course, all of this operates on a premise: selfishness is bad, selflessness is good. If people argue against this, it’s usually because their idea of selflessness is letting someone walk all over you, or overworking yourself without a decent level of care for our own well being. When I say “forgetting yourself”, I mean forgetting all the extra stuff. We all do basic things to care for ourselves. We also have things we desire and work for. Forgetting means all that icing on top of that, the overthinking, the dwelling too long, etc. So how do we do that? How do we become selfless?

Simply? We focus on something else. We focus outward instead of in. When we want to complain and think about our own state, we first consider others. We don’t take things lying down, but we don’t fight everyone who crosses our path either. It’s a long term sort of project, and a long term sort of goal that we have to learn how to do on our own, but it’s worth it.

A vague reminder

If you’ve ever read a book that has too many details, you know it’s overwhelming. If you need an index to keep all the characters straight, maybe there are too many characters. Knowing the setup and tiny features of every single room doesn’t really matter unless it’s important to the plot. Sometimes we focus on all the insignificant details of our own life, and lose sight of the big picture. 

Don’t get me wrong, details matter. Paying attention to our small actions can reveal some important things about our beliefs. However, those details shouldn’t be like walking through a swamp. We need to get an accurate picture, not a cluttered one.

So make a list of what you need to get done, but remember why you want to get it done. Write clearly and legibly so you can read it later, but know it’s okay if it’s not the professional caligraphy you want. It’s hard to find a balance between caring about the little moments and getting lost in them, but it is important. It’s different for every person, but try to zoom out or zoom in as you need, focusing on what matters.

Make your life your novel

 

Almost everyone has tried to write a book at some point in their life. It might be three pages long and half developed or it might be a full three page novel they can’t stop editing. If you ask someone what they would like to write a book about, practically every single person can think of something they’ve secretly been working on mentally. However, there obviously isn’t a book on the shelves for every person who wants to write one because they usually don’t even find their way onto paper.

There’s lots of reasons why a book doesn’t come into fruition. The person forgets the idea, they discard it, life gets in the way and they don’t work on it, they complete it and never get it published, they try to get it published and no one wants it; there’s so many things that can sway a book from publication. The big factor, though, is the individual who wants to write it. We don’t write books because we usually don’t have the self-control to do so. It’s not that the idea isn’t big enough, or that the plot isn’t developed enough. It’s the fact that we have to put our heads in the game on a daily basis and work on it until we make the idea big enough and the plot developed enough.

Not everyone is a writer, and not all writers are good at what they do. Writing is an incredibly difficult task, trying to get at the barest bones of communication. You don’t have to work on a book in order to feel successful in life, but we could all improve our self-discipline. It doesn’t matter what you want if you don’t do anything to get it. In some areas, writing a book is easier than other tasks because you can measure how much you’ve done through page number, word count, or chapters completed. So give yourself a measure! Make a checklist and fill out your goals. Don’t let your ambitions be unrealized, but seek them out every day, because every day is a gift.