Apr 26

Whatever You Can Manage is Enough

10 Comments / Personal Growth

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Almost on a daily basis, I beat myself up for not writing in this blog. Trust me, it’s not for a lack of ideas, a lack of motivation, or for any of the million other excuses that people use to convince themselves not to do something.

While I’d like to be updating here twice a week, life isn’t exactly ideal right now. Normally, I post about how I’m trying to carefully curate my life and relationships, but I suppose I am applying some of that essentialism to my projects – and Habitually Hopeful is sadly not making the short list at the moment.

So what am I doing? Basically, I’m being a devoted cheerleader for my significant other as he goes about a task that most anyone could agree is voluntary torture: finding a job out of state. While he puts in the necessary hours hunting for the right job in our dream city, I am playing the role of cheerleader and domestic engineer most evenings. Instead of sewing a fabulous dress, I’m tending to a sink overflowing with dirty dishes on a seemingly endless cycle; instead of racing to the keyboard with inspiration, I’m tearing up over a cutting board of diced onions – why do onions have to be so delicious and cruel? And why do all my delicious recipes have so many onions?

It’s difficult to keep things running for two with the hands of one, but I find relief knowing that the sacrifice of my usual activities is relieving a lot of stress on Brian, who is already up against one of the most stressful, confidence-shaking pursuits of adulthood.

I am still managing to squeeze in some things I’m proud of, like the use of a healthy meal planning service and a pretty massive purge of our possessions, and I hope to give these developments the proper attention soon.

In the meantime, the lesson I’m learning is that you can’t win at everything.

The perfectionist in me is constantly dissatisfied, and it’s a real nuisance, but I am choosing the battles I can win instead of constantly setting myself up for failure or dropping the ball when my partner needs support most. It’s difficult to let myself off the hook for things I would much rather do, but that’s the challenge at hand.

There are a very limited number of things a person can do to help with something as personal as a job hunt, so in my own way, the endless cycle of chores are my investment toward our collective dreams. So, in whatever absence I must take, I would love to remind you (and me) of this:

Everything can’t matter all the time. Whatever you can manage is enough.

 

Apr 10

7 Steps to Break the Chains of Social Media Addiction

1 Comment / Personal Growth

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Hello. My name is Ashley, and I’m a social media addict.

Don’t get me wrong, I get a lot done, but it makes me sad to think about how many times I have mindlessly clicked onto Facebook just because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Sometimes it feels like more of a reflex than a choice. It seems like such a waste of potential to spend my downtime glued to a screen.

Even if I am visiting with a specific purpose in mind, it’s easy to forget the task at hand when I see my news feed, full of the latest memes, quizzes, and inconsequential events of people I don’t even talk to. Fifteen minutes later, I’m knee-deep in photos, suddenly jarred by the depressing thought that I could tell you what my former coworker’s cat bed looks like in detail. Only after closing the tab do I remember there was a reason I got on in the first place. The cycle begins again.

And when I need to take a short break, I come back to social media — even though it isn’t a break at all. It’s actually draining and pointless for the most part, but I feel the strong pull to know what has happened within my network since I last checked an hour ago. I react like Pavlov’s dog when I hear the ding of a new email, the buzz of a new text message, or the distinguished sound effects of any number of instant messaging platforms. Through the course of a day, I switch between three computer screens, a cell phone, and a television for “relaxation.” I’m the first to admit that I have seemingly forgotten how to unplug and just be.

In the past, the most effective way to release the ties to my gadgets was to simply get away from them — I believe that a vacation from work should also be a vacation from these tempting distractions. But since I can’t always be on holiday, it’s probably far better to integrate a daily approach to preventing media overload. I don’t know about you, but I am so tired of spending my free moments trying to connect online while completely disconnecting myself from my surroundings. I’m not willing to give up the gift of being present in order to achieve some arbitrary status or perception online.

Realistically, I am not willing to completely reject these forms of communication, either. Online tools can help people grow and connect, but only if we are intentional about how we use them. I knew it would take more than mental dedication to pare down my usage, which is why I have taken seven little steps to reduce the amount of time I waste online:

  1. Turn off all phone notifications from social media apps and email.

    If you’re really dedicated, you could delete these apps altogether! However, since I do use them for work and other necessary functions, I have decided to turn off all notifications from these apps. I used to get an odd satisfaction with each notification from Instagram, but it’s really not worth missing a moment of movie night or conversation just to know that someone liked my photo. If you find yourself having a Pavlovian issue of your own, the best way to remedy it is to get rid of the stimulus! My phone buzzes less, so I check it less. It’s as simple as that.

  2. Turn off mobile data for these apps.

    For me, turning the data off for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and a handful of other apps meant that I was less tempted to access them outside my house. With data off, you can only connect when you’re on wifi. When I’m desperately seeking a phone number or address in my Facebook messages, I go back into settings and turn data on, but the rest of the time, my phone gives me a reminder that I can’t access these outlets, which usually isn’t worth it anyway. If you don’t have wifi, you’re probably not at home, and if you’re not at home, there’s probably a better way to utilize the moment than by shoving your face in your screen.

  3. Remove all easy access points on your browser.

    I don’t know why I thought it was a smart idea to put my favorite social media outlets in my bookmarks bar; all it did was serve as a reminder of the lazy way to remedy boredom. I could have gone anywhere on the Internet — or God forbid I step away from the computer — but instead I just clicked a convenient little button and wasted my time. Do yourself a favor and take these links out of your bookmarks, your favorites, your thumbnails or any other easy access point. Take the extra two seconds to make yourself type in the URL and evaluate if that’s really the best use of your time. It’s probably not.

  4. Improve your access to more gratifying content.

    I think of online content like food. For a generation so ingrained in social media, cutting it out completely might feel a lot like going on a fad diet, but for the most part, social media is just junk food. Reminding myself of the good, nourishing content that’s readily available prevents me from even thinking about my guilty pleasures. Find blogs, news outlets or video channels that are relevant to your interests and put those in the forefront. If you’re going to take a break by surfing the web, you’ll feel a lot better for at least increasing your knowledge about something that actually interests you.

  5. Stop reading your social media news feeds.

    If you want to read the news, go to a news site. If you want to know how someone is doing, message them directly. If you have a desire to visit a social media site, do it only to check notifications and contribute meaningful content. News feeds are a strange and slippery slope into your stream of consciousness, which always winds up somewhere weird. This will probably be the most difficult step for me, personally.

  6. Set up filters.

    This is most important in email. I love a good deal and subscribe to almost every newsletter ever, but seeing a bunch of emails about sales, events, and strategies is just too distracting to handle. By setting up filters that automatically move these non-essential emails, I get a clear inbox and organized content. With folders for writing newsletters, social notifications, and shopping sites, it’s a lot easier to find exactly what I want.

  7. Step away from the computer.

    Probably the best and most productive option for not getting on social media is just walking away from the computer all together when possible. In my typical Type A fashion, I keep a list of things to do when I feel bored or need a break. To name a few things, I like to turn on music and have mini dance parties in my living room, meditate or do yoga for five minutes, draw something, or read. When I take my breaks offline, I feel way more refreshed.

They may sound pretty obvious, but simple changes like this are the most likely to be implemented. Together, I’m hoping these easy tactics will help me pull the most productivity out of the time I do spend on my computer. If you have any other advice on using the Internet intentionally, feel free to share in the comments!

 

Apr 1

Are We Just a Bunch of April Fools?

No Comments / Personal Growth

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Most years, I forget that April Fools’ Day is coming – I’m usually the April Fool. Even if I had the foresight, I certainly don’t have the skill to pull off a prank. It’s unfortunate.

But I started thinking about what it means to be a fool, and how we fool ourselves.

The topic brings me back to my first big job after college. Vying for the first full-time job I could get my hands on, I wound up chasing a sales position. I squirmed nervously in the office of one of the company’s higher-ups during my second interview, answering philosophical questions that seemed largely unrelated to the job. To close the interview, the interviewer asked, “Why do people do things that are bad for them?” My answer was one that stuck with me ever since.

I told him that many bad decisions are made not because of a lack of understanding, but because of a deeper desire or fear that is strong enough to trigger our ability to justify that bad can be good and good can be bad.

On April Fools’ Day, other people prey on our naiveté and assumptions through pranks. It’s a holiday devoted to making a fool of others in silly, harmless ways for the most part. But the far more harmful prank comes from how we fool ourselves on a more constant basis.

How many times do we convince ourselves of something other than the truth? How many times do we justify the relationships and jobs that make us unhappy? How many times do we justify making purchases we can’t afford? How many times do we justify eating things that don’t fuel us to be our best?

When we justify, all we are doing is lying to ourselves to make life a little easier in this moment. We get the instant gratification instead of a truly rewarding life. We are so afraid to feel the intermittent pain of taking life’s most gratifying path that we settle for what feels good right now. We make fools of ourselves.

There are lies I tell myself to make me feel more comfortable about where I am now, and to mitigate the pain of what feels like inevitable failure when I go for what I want. These lies are the voice of my fear, and when I allow the voice of my fear to be the voice of reason, I make a fool of myself.

I don’t think there’s any quick cure for the way we make a fool of ourselves – these kinds of doubts and lies are just part of the obstacle course we have to traverse on the way to our goals. The challenge is deciding to confront the misguided logic that holds us in place – we can’t move forward while functioning under these delusions.

Whether it’s from a prank or a little introspection, I hope that April Fools’ Day can serve as a reminder that anyone can play the fool, even by their own doing.

 

Mar 13

Banishing Blind Ambition

No Comments / Career, Personal Growth

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Ambition can be a distraction from joy if we let it rob us of our potential to appreciate the smaller moments, the tiny grains of sand that fill the hourglass of life as we live it each day. Under the influence of unchecked ambition, we set goals and ignore “the noise” to conquer larger boulders, the more gargantuan landmarks that we think will lead us to happiness as a final destination.

Even when I know better, I find myself acting as if I could arrive at or own happiness. I have felt myself waste away as I tick tasks off an endless list of things that I claim will make me happy or will make life right. But there is always one more thing.

Over coffee, I listened to a friend talk about his goals. He figured out what his dream job was and made a concrete plan to make it his reality. He was so passionate that he turned every free moment into a regimented work session for acting out these steps. I was jealous.

Don’t we wish we had that kind of passion every day? I wished I had that knowledge of purpose; I thought I could be so driven and invigorated if I felt the way he did.

But he didn’t mention these things because he wanted to brag. In fact, he felt miserable, isolated and conflicted as a result of such a laser-focused approach. He felt guilty for enjoying himself since every moment of the day was budgeted for work. He was sacrificing everything, and even though it was to pursue his dreams, he wasn’t happy.

It made me wonder: Does the end justify the means?

For both of us, the honest answer was no. Living every day in such heavy sacrifice of our daily joys and small moments is a dangerous road. Even if it’s our big-boulder goals at the other end of our to-do lists, we shouldn’t squander the present in pursuit of them.

When I think about the most recent meaningful moments in my life, they had nothing to do with how much money I’d like to have in my savings account, what I’d like to be doing as a writer or completely digitizing my collection of sheet music. What I recall is conversations like that one in the coffee shop, moments when we can connect, be silly and recalibrate, building the excited energy that motivates us to press on toward whatever end.

If we give our ambitions precedent over everything, we are bound to look back on the time we spent achieving our goals and see a period where we missed out on all the little things that make life enjoyable. In extreme cases, we run the risk of isolating the people with whom we most want to share our happiness. We rob ourselves of the present and deplete the reservoir of our futures.

My advice to my friend (and certainly to myself) was to slow down and find joy in the journey. When we chase happiness, we essentially enslave ourselves to it until we learn that it is not a thing that can be caught. But we have the keys to the chains that bind us! If we chose to redefine our outlook, it’s easy to see that we can live in happiness each day. We have the chance to savor each step toward our dreams and goals, arriving at our destinations with a sense of appreciation and peace.

The meta-goal is this: The ends are as valuable as the means. Pursue your dreams wholeheartedly, but find joy in the pursuit and the process of them. Don’t try to resist the unpredictable forces of the universe that bring new and amazing things into your purview along the way. Even the greatest of aspirations can become a daunting chore with the wrong mindset.

Feb 27

Book Review: “The Circle” by Dave Eggers

No Comments / Featured, Personal Growth, Reviews

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Typically, my nightstand is cluttered with a pile of practical books about relationships, career, personal growth and a number of random topics from manners to the nature of infinity. Once in a while, I love to ditch the rotation and read something relevant but fun — something I can devour.

Most recently, I blew through “The Circle” by David Eggers, a speedy 504-page read that really helped me meditate on the nature of my relationship with the Internet. It’s the story of a young woman who gets hired at The Circle, essentially Google on steroids. In an effort to demystify, share and connect, Circlers cultivate a society based on complete transparency.

The book is clearly fictional, but also strikes a very honest chord. If you’ve ever felt the dread of “1984” or “Farenheight 451” potentially coming to fruition, you’ll feel a similar pull as The Circle redefines what it means to be social.

How the characters use Internet tools to share, connect and know more than ever is far from foreign, but there is also a darker narrative that already pervades our current reality. We demonize the unknown, using data or majority support to eliminate our fears.

“The Circle” shuns the notion that anything should be unknowable. I think it’s a natural human drive to discover, wanting to understand the mysteries of the universe and seek answers that tame the chaos of life.

But is it really possible for everything to be known? And if it is, what happens to that urge to explore?

Ultimately, it made me think of a quote I saw on Pinterest that read, “I miss my pre-Internet brain.” When we have Google to give us facts and social media to give us validation, we loose a little magic in exchange. Just as important as our ability to know is our ability to wonder. Just as important as it feels to wrap your mind around something is feeling that something is innately beyond our grasp, innately mysterious. There is a certain magic in life’s chaos that is essential to embrace.

In the end, “The Circle” made me appreciate what a unique time we live in, where we can access so much knowledge and still leave room for the magical parts of life. I know I’ll be making a concentrated effort to check my phone a little less and start living life a little more.

Feb 15

Put Your Macho Love in Check

No Comments / Building Relationships, Personal Growth

gratitude-quote-melody-beattie

If I were to tell you that I think Valentine’s Day is kind of a macho holiday, I’d expect you to raise an eyebrow.

Traditionally, the world is plastered with red and pink, lace, candy, promises of romance, a record number of love declarations. No, none of these things fit our societal definition of macho.

But Valentine’s Day is a holiday where we take something as intangible as love, and spend a ridiculous amount of time proving it’s there, quantifying it with tangible things, and expecting or wanting others to provide this proof. It’s kind of terrible when you think about it, because any effort to prove the intangible through the tangible will likely end up a disappointment. It’s why money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s why you don’t see a pile of stuff at the altar of a church and hear the priest shout, “LOOK HOW MUCH GOD THERE IS!” There are never enough words or things to express the seemingly infinite feelings of happiness, hope and faith…so why do we spend this holiday burdened by the task of proving love?

No, I’m not some high-minded exceptionalist. I’m completely susceptible to that burden, and it’s terrible! I feel the need to cater to someone’s (usually imagined) expectations to prove myself, to surprise and wow, to really blow them away with the grandness of love. And at the same time, that need is driven by my own misguided expectations for surprises, wowing, proof, and a moment I just can’t forget. How can we expect ourselves or anyone else to generate this kind of excitement over and over again? It’s exhausting! To me, it seems like such a macho thing to throw around the weight of your love with your chest out.

Since my first real date on Valentine’s Day my junior year of high school, I have spent almost every year in a serious relationship. It wasn’t until this year that something felt different. I bought the expensive gifts, spent a long time making a handmade card, made everything at home perfect and had begun the process of trashing my newly cleaned bedroom with a whirlwind of outfits that just weren’t good enough to demonstrate how my significant other made me feel. With each attempt, I became more frustrated with myself, with my body, with the mess I made, with how imperfect things felt like they were going to be. Sound familiar?

At the zenith of my macho struggle something just clicked. If Valentine’s Day is about love, I need to practice a little more self-love in the form of gratitude. I need to let go of that feeling that I or what I have to offer is not enough, that my love is not worthy if I can’t prove it well enough, that this day is about macho love. In stead of puffing out my chest, I reflected and practiced gratitude for the ways I have shown myself love this year — what I have accomplished, the steps I have taken towards accomplishing things, and the dreams I still have the courage to hold onto. I loved myself for nurturing the right relationships. I loved myself for continuing the journey of personal growth even when that journey felt terrible and useless and uncomfortable.

With that same grateful and grounded sense of love, I turned my thoughts to the important people in my life. Free of that strange feeling that anyone could prove how much they love me, I instead chose to practice gratitude for their love and support. These people have taken strides to make our relationships deeper and greater. They have not only endured, but supported me when I was less than my best. There is no bouquet, no box of chocolates, and no gesture of love large enough to fill the deep canyon of love that we have carved over the years.

It all reminds me of a quote by author David Thoreau:

“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”

It was suddenly so clear that the expectations and wants were robbing me of my ability to appreciate the love that was already in my life. So my advice to you, no matter how your Valentine’s Day went, and regardless of your relationship status, is to put your macho love and your macho expectations in check. There is love in your life, and you can make yourself so much richer in it by practicing gratitude instead of needing proof.

 

 

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