listen to Paul McCartney’s mother and let it be

There are loves we forget about. When we are young, we often feel a deep attachment to an idea or an object, such as the idea that we will find out that we can shapeshift into a unicorn at age twelve. Often American children have comfort toys, little fuzzy stuffed elephants or lambs that they were trained to use as a substitute for their mother. When we develop into adults, we may have other loves, such as a guitar hobby we pick up because we think it’s our destiny to become the next rock musician of the century. What we love can be small or large, human or non-human, but at some point in time, we felt an incredible connection to it. Then it fades, and we might regret that we weren’t able to hold onto it.

The nature of love is something people dispute about. In this day and age, we most often associate love with romantic love, but the concept of romantic love didn’t really take off until the industrial period when the number of potential suitors rose significantly for individuals, and they could be more picky about who they paired off with. For most of human history, our concept of love wasn’t defined as a particular feeling, but rather a social obligation and connection that mandated action. It doesn’t sound as fantastical as being proposed to in the rain, but there is a strong case for love in this light because it means the people we are close to aren’t there because they always admire or like us. Instead, the people we love and who love us stick around because they value the connection itself (Granted,  one of the basic premises for that definition of love is the assurance that both people are working at the connection value and respect each other; sticking to an abusive partner out of ‘obligation’ isn’t something I think anyone should deal with).

However, the fact remains that connections still go out. We have all had people that were fantastically important to us at a point in our lives. Sometimes we have to let those people go, and it can feel wrong even when we know the connection isn’t the same as it was. It’s the same story with the little loves we have, such as an obsession with a certain musician or book. Even when we’re “over it”, it still feels like we are letting a part of ourselves go. Or, when we look back and are reminded of something we used to value highly, it can hurt, as a sign of time passing.

What I want to say here is, “Be grateful for all the love you’ve been given and had, even as it passed away, because it meant something.” However, on its face, that seems to be a sort of ambiguous opt-out, a meaningless hippie saying you might hear a barista in an indie coffee shop say to their poet friend with dreads. Still, I mean it.

It’s hard to be grateful, and moving past something can hurt in a way that’s indescribable. Both of those things are feeling-based, and how can you make yourself feel something you don’t? Most people can’t just summon gratitude on a whim. Instead, what we often need to do is do something physical. For example, forcing ourselves to write down three things we are grateful for. You might not feel grateful in that moment generally, but if you remind yourself about specific things, it can revise your mood on the whole. When it comes to moving on, people often find it helpful to get rid of the things attached to the memories, such as giving away the guitar you haven’t touched in decades in a garage sale. Other times we may feel like we can’t give something away because it matters too much. In those instances, we might be able to transform our feelings. Instead of keeping all of your childhood shirts in your drawer, turning it into a memory quilt blanket.

At the heart of it, our experiences are something to appreciate. It’s something we didn’t have before that we were given and now can learn from. By moving on, we are allowing ourselves to experience something new, giving ourselves the chance to find something else to love, and that’s really amazing.

dear person who doesn’t know what they’re doing with their life,

No one knows what they’re doing. Through experience, asking around a lot, failing repeatedly, and being lucky, some people learn how to do some things. Maybe people get to the point where they can develop an achievable grand goal. For the most part, we’re guessing. We’re taking risks and hoping that our past experience is enough to base the future off of. Perhaps there are individuals out there, hiding under rocks and behind fake plants who genuinely know what they want to do, love it when they get there, and keep doing it for their whole life. What’s important to realize is that most people don’t fall into that category.

Consider how many atoms there are. Now consider how many electrons there now. Now think about quarks, leptons, antiquarks, antileptons, and realize that we are incapable of grasping how many atoms there were; how could you physically grasp how many quarks there are? It’s beyond us, we have no frame of reference to understand how tiny and numerous elementary particles of atoms are. Here’s the important question: does it matter? Functionally, no. It didn’t matter that Anaximander and rest of the ancient Greek philosophers didn’t know what elementary particles were, they still were made of them. They still lived full lives, had a great impact on the world, and got the chance to share some really interesting perspectives with those around them. We don’t need to understand every facet of the world to live a good life in it. We couldn’t physically do it, and it would be a waste of time even if we did.

Why don’t we see our lives in this way? There are so many factors milling about, forming our existence. We can’t know what is ahead of us. The unknown will never go away. Being afraid of the unknown is irrational because we can’t know the nature of it. Living in fear will make us less effective at everything else, and that’s still assuming fear makes us more prepared. Maybe it makes sense if you’re wandering around in neolithic times, worried about a tiger pouncing on you. In the modern world, it’s largely a stumbling block. If you’re afraid of getting fired, you being afraid won’t make being fired any less difficult to find another job after. There’s a potential that the fear might make the failure more easy to deal with at the moment, but dealing with problems effectively doesn’t require it. We will always be unprepared for something, and that’s part of life, not necessarily a stamp of shame.

At the same time, even if we know our fears are irrational, it doesn’t mean we stop feeling them. Getting angry at ourselves because it’s irrational or pretending like it doesn’t matter doesn’t address the problem. We get angry. We become anxious and stressed. We can be incredible balls of negative energy when we feel like it. The trick is to ask ourselves why we feel the way we do, to understand why we’ve gotten ourselves worked up. If it’s something we can fix, then we should try to fix it. If it’s something we can’t, we have to learn to let go. Neither of those things is easy. Learning to deal with our emotions is something that will take a long while because they are integral to who we are. It’s something we work on, little by little, doing what we can where we can.

We don’t know what we’re doing, but what is easier to answer is, what are we doing right now? We can start with realizing that we are breathing. Then we can realize what position our body is in. Then slowly, we can work our way out to the room we’re in, the time of day, and start to consider things that are broader. What are your typical activities? What are you currently accomplishing where you are, in your job or education or in whatever your present situation is? Those are practical things, graspable things. That is what you are doing with your life, regardless of your past and your future plans. When it comes to the future, it’s a matter of looking for opportunities to the best of your ability, to try and take them when they come your way. Maybe you’ll eventually be able to start planning for a big goal, but the priority is in the present. Do what you can. Focus on what you can accomplish right now. If you take opportunities that you end up hating, then learn from it and try something else. We are limited in many ways, but if you assume the doors are locked, you’ll never find the one that isn’t.

Dear person reading this, I don’t know what you will do with your life, and you don’t either. However, what you do is up to you. The unknown is scary, but it could also be wonderful, and at the very least, parts of it will be boring. Focus on now, and keep going, because the other options are miserable and frankly, dull.

October :)

October is here, even if the weather disagrees with the idea and decides to be summer-warm, but it is here and it is lovely! People love October for different reasons. The turning leaves, the cooler temperatures, the color themes, the flavors, Halloween! It’s not one piece of it per se, but the whole vibe made up from those pieces.

In a similar way, we aren’t so simple to condense down. Autumn is who we are, but our traits are harder to pin down specifically. Like fall changes from year to year and place to place, we may become different sorts of people throughout the span of our life. That’s okay! You are still you, even at the times you’re not sure of what defines you. Furthermore, it’s okay if you don’t like parts of yourself. Fall also means a lot of work, and darker weather can make people feel depressed. It doesn’t mean that everything is horrible, it just means those particular parts of it aren’t what you want them to be.

There is always a good side and a bad side to things. Even something as amazing as pumpkin pie can become disgusting in excess, and even something as horrible at the cold can be relaxing in moderation. Whatever our traits are, whoever we are, we are always in a balance to express them in the best way possible. Life is hard, and we’re all learning. That’s okay! Have a wonderful October.

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.

the bogeyman commitment

There is such a power in routine. Doing something every day takes will power, takes focus, takes a commitment to your values. When we do go out of our way every single day to accomplish some task, that’s meaningful. Even if we don’t view that thing as important or relevant to us, our consistent actions make us a lot of who we are.

The best time to carry out a habit is in the morning because that’s when your will power is strongest. Then habits are easier when we carry them out in the same way. For example, at the same time, in the same order of events, and in the same place. Finally, the best way to continually stick to a habit is if you do it. We can overthink ourselves into giving up anything. By dreading and displaying contempt for a task, we make carrying out that task 1000% more difficult. Another bonus of forming a habit in the morning is that you are so mentally groggy, you don’t have to mental capacity to talk yourself out of it after that first initial phase of deciding to do it.

My advice is to form a good habit. It doesn’t have to be massive or incredibly important, just this task you carry out every day. And by forcing yourself to do this every day, we train our pysche to better handle consistency and sticking to our promises. It grows our will power. Then eventually, we can train ourselves to do bigger, harder things in the evening. Commitment is something that a lot of people struggle with. That’s okay. But making efforts to try and turn that around can change how we view ourselves and how we view our goals.

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

how to accomplish something in an ambiguous world

There are two basic steps to accomplishing anything: 1. Figure out the problem. 2. Solve the problem. The difficulties lie in doing just that.

The problem with the two steps is, what is my problem and how do I solve it? It would be lovely to have only clear answers to those, but it’s rare to get a single clear answer to anything. We then become stagnant because we are unsure. We face the world and feel overwhelmed; life can be similar to having to fill-in-the-blanks and not being sure if it’s a Mad Libs or a tax form. But what do we do? Even if we know we should do something, how can we know what to do?

There are few people in this world who genuinely know what they’re doing. A vast majority of us are just doing what we can. If you don’t know the problem, you ask around until you figure it out. If you’ve gathered all the information you can and it’s still unclear, take your best guess. It could be wrong, but it’s that first step, and that first step is important to take. Then you have no idea how to solve it. Look around, ask people, get all the input you can! If you’re still not sure, take your best guess. Even if it all turns out horribly, you’ll know for next time to not do that.

Life is ambiguous. There’s so many different scenarios and contexts that the “right answer” isn’t clear cut and it may not exist. However, don’t let that scare you off! Everyone is doing their best in their own way. It’s okay to be unsure. But keep going. Take those two steps and get something done! If you’re unsure, get more information until you’re more sure. If you’re still unsure, they take your best shot. We are all learning, it’s okay to make mistakes, just put yourself out there and make something! You are braver than you know.

shivering in me timbers

Out of our raw emotions, fear is one of the most potent feelings to deal with. It’s easy to be afraid, and even the smallest things can make us shake in our boots. We can be afraid of irrational, rational, abstract, or physical possibilities. There really is no limit on how many different things that can terrify us.

We have fear because it makes sense. If there’s a bear, we should not bother it or aggravate it. Our fear in that instance makes sense and helps us survive. Even the more abstract things like losing our job make sense. We fear it because it’s our safety net, its what we do every day, and losing it means we’ll be at risk of not being able to support ourselves. Not all fears are rational, but a good many of them are, and there is reason to be afraid.

That concept might not seem too inspiring, but think about this: you realize there is risk in a dangerous situation and are afraid. If you’re afraid, that means you’re alert and wary. If you are on your toes, it can help you focus on solving that situation. If the fear is irrational, acknowledging our fear is still an important step to getting over it. No matter the state of the cause of our terror, if we know the cause, we can do something about it.

Fear is natural. Fear may even be good in some instances. Being afraid doesn’t mean that that’s our only option, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that we have to stay that way. It may be difficult to move on from such a powerful emotion, but we can do it. We always can.

the magic of doing something

Typically if you don’t sleep well one night, it doesn’t hit you until the day after. When it does hit, you feel it in your whole body. You experience how tired you are in every inch of yourself. When we’re awake and everything’s fine, our awareness of our bodies usually is zero or around that. It’s only when we’ve put our body through some level of stress that we are aware of it. It’s similar to how losing something makes us finally realize how grateful we were for it.

Telling someone to “Be thankful” seems to belong around some holiday table, or come from an angry parental figure. At different times, we may see the little positivity posts with the fancy script that talks about being grateful, but what’s the point? It’s easy to blow off the advice because it seems like something only yogi vegans genuinely aspire to. Being grateful however, is a habit. It’s a habit that improves your life, no matter what kind of person you are.

So how does one “become” a grateful person? How do you magically become peaceful minded from it?

There’s likely no one correct way to be thankful for what you have, but the key is to actually be thankful, and that can be difficult to achieve. Especially if it’s a new thing to you, make being thankful a task. Don’t just say you’re grateful. Write a long letter expressing how much you appreciate someone in your life. Go out of your way to buy a cup of coffee for someone you know needs it. Be nice to your cashiers, even when they have an attitude. All of this things may not seem like activities we associate with gratitude. However, if we are thankful, by definition we need to thank them. It can be through a gift, extra patience, time spent with them, or whatever you know they’d appreciate themselves. Yet, try to not take the easy route out and just say it. Words mean nothing if they aren’t backed up by action.