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.

uh, wait a minute, I forget…

Humans like to forget things. Drugs have been a part of our culture almost since the beginning of our species, partly because it takes away the past self to a certain extent. Every culture in every time has had some sort of entertainment to distract people. Our brains themselves are masters of creating and transforming the memories we’ve already made into whatever suits our desires. We can’t forget everything, but we can do a surprisingly good job of blocking out past events in the right circumstances.

The reason we like to forget things is that we reach a level where we become too much for ourselves. The life is hard. The more you look into something, the more complex it gets. It becomes difficult to deal with the truth of situations because the truth can seem to be unreachable. In the light of this multi-headed beast, we tend to settle for wherever we ended up when we got tired and stopped. Along the way, our minds tend to get caught up in a cycle that slowly gets us tangled up somewhere dark and alone. So we try to forget since dwelling on that psychological state is upsetting.

Our minds will always get caught up. We’re vulnerable and fragile creatures when it comes to overthinking. We are kites perpetually getting caught in trees. However, there is a difference in dealing with our problems and ignoring them. Of course, we should forget things, but only once we’ve dealt with them. Dealing with our problems isn’t fun. It’s exhausting, which is why we need things like entertainment. But we can easily overuse it to the point we miss out on our actual ‘living’ part of life. It’s a strange balance, and it requires constant readjusting, to know when you need to relax and when you need to charge at solving your problems. Either way, we will continue to forget. Our choice is in what we choose to remember.

the micro-culture and my math teacher

I had a math teacher who told me that How I Met Your Mother had a massive influence on the alcohol consumption of millennials because the characters on the show would casually buy a bottle of wine to consume in the evenings. Regardless of the truth of that information, shows do and truly impact how we percieve “normal”. Frankly, It’s amazing how linguistic quirks spread. From person to person, phrases and mannerisms spread like a disease, until entire regions share a style of communication. Through things like television shows and social media as well, habits can become ingrained in an entire nation.

Yet, think about language and culture on a smaller level. Then even smaller than that. Even families and friendships develop their own culture, which is why sometimes you visit someone’s house and its a culture shock. However we’ve gotten there, our individual micro-cultures have been developed by a massive amount of factors. Your mother might be the main cook in your because that’s the expectation of our society, but you might also give your siblings all of the stuff they’ve left in your room wrapped in a present on their birthday because of a youtube video you saw once. Or, there are times when you have strange games you and your family may play that you haven’t heard of anyone else playing.

Culture is something that’s created by humans, influenced by geography, biology, and history. But it’s also created by us and influenced by us. We may not be able to change what’s normal on our own, but we can start a trend, spread an idea or thought. People tend to think of culture as something stagnant and musty but it’s actually the mental backdrop of your life. You don’t know why you save plastic bags, or maybe you do, but you do it without thinking.

Everyone has a culture. We have cultures within our families, friend groups, schools, communities, cities, regions, nation– all on different levels and all special to help defining your world view and behaviors. This does not take away from those behaviors or justify them, just helps explain them. No matter how disconnected you may feel at times, you aren’t. Your actions and manners of expression are part of the fabric of a living culture.

the misfit of mind and grit

The thing about hard work is that it’s hard. No matter what motivational speech you listen to, no matter how large your desire, no matter how grand your goal– giving your all isn’t something that’s easy. If you have to stop and wonder, “Am I giving my best effort?”, you probably aren’t. Living to the fullest of your potential isn’t a passive activity. It’s a choice you make, over and over and over again. It’s a choice that will always be hard, but it is a choice that will always be the right one.

Hard work often seems like a good, but useless phrase. If someone is a ‘hard worker’ usually it gets translated to, “They aren’t smart, but they get the job done”. There’s a line of thought which follows, if you are smart enough, you will hardly work, so if you’re working hard, you might not be the brightest spoon in the silverware drawer. Hard work and perseverance are placed in contention with intelligence and natural brilliance. However, this line of reasoning can become easily convoluted in a manner of ways. For one, intelligence is partly innate, but can also be developed to a great degree through hard work. Second of all, you can be the most intelligent being on planet Earth, but if you can’t stick with something, that potential will never be realized. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who are both intelligent and hard working. It’s not a paradox, they are traits that help guide a person to the best of their ability.

The thing about intelligence is that it can only take you so far. There comes a point where one’s IQ can’t be raised much higher. Endurance and grit are far more helpful traits in the real world. Even if things don’t come easily to you, learning how to achieve goals through the hardships is far more practical than the person who never has to try. At some point, we all experience obstacles we can’t bluff through with innate intellectual guesses. The difference then lies between the person who will keep going, and those who will give up. Hard work is hard! It’s horrible! You have to be uncomfortable and be uncomfortable constantly! However, if you’re always feeling safe and well put together, how are you truly living? No matter what path you take, there will be difficulties. The difference is that by living to your full potential, by taking the risks and working hard, you are building your character to be better fit against any future calamity.

So just do the hard, right thing. Don’t live life making excuses, because that’s not really living life at all.

the spending habits of the soul

We exist in a world of cost. To get to the Olympics, for example, means a huge amount of cost. The participants and those around them sacrifice their time, their effort, their lives to this competition. The food we eat and the things we use every day all require something of us. That usually translates into money, which we receive from sacrificing time to engage in a task that pays us. While economics seems to be incredibly dull from the outset, it’s actually a surprising study of life itself. Economists question how, why, where we get the things we do, and how, why, and what we do with those things afterward. It’s amazingly connected to psychology in that they use how people think and have acted to predict how they will act. But how does this relate to us on a practical level?

Practically, economists are running the organization of our entire society. They help orchestrate the massive plan holding everything together. But in other ways, knowing about economists doesn’t do much to change our lives.  Knowing about the importance of people who study boring maps and graphs doesn’t inspire the ability to change oneself. What it does do, is highlight how important it is to life that we know what we are giving up. The real, tangible way to make use of the concept we live in a world of cost? Being reasonable.

“Being reasonable” is a phrase that tends to get a bad reputation from the most artistic people of the world. It gets translated into, “Don’t aim for lofty goals”. However, it can be better translated and used to mean, “Don’t aim for lofty goals all at once.” If you set achievable small goals, reasonable small goals, they can eventually build its way up to those big goals. Furthermore, “being reasonable” also makes us aware that we have limited quantities of time and effort. If all of our choices can be related to cost, then we can learn to find better ways to spend our time. It might be terrifying to isolate things down to cost, and surely not everything can, but why live prodigally and miss your best self by a lack of calculation?