Practice at Bringing Things Back into Focus

I think there three kinds of people in this world: reporters, people to report about, and those that haven’t learned to accept who they are. I’m one of the ones that haven’t yet learned.

I don’t want to be a reporter. I’m uncomfortable there, looking into things, finding out what’s going on, jumping into what everyone else is doing, but I’m also afraid to walk away from the crowd. I’m afraid of being alone. I’m afraid that if I’m not out there watching and reporting, I’ll miss out on something important.

I believe that I want to be alone and creating, alone and thinking, alone and at peace with myself. What stops me? Why do I allow the other voices, the ones outside my own head, tell me what it is I SHOULD be doing, what it is I SHOULD be caring about?

I read the book “Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown last year and it began to change my outlook in positive ways. I just added it to my “re-read in 2020” list. Through it, I learned that I can pare down, not just my stuff, but my thinking and my obligations so that I can focus and do my best on what is most important to me specifically.

Everyone is different. Some people need the community, the feeling of being busy, the camaraderie, to be happy. It has only brought me anxiety and confusion. I want to be more outgoing, but it doesn’t serve me. It drains me and leaves little energy for me to create with. From the outside, it may look like I have plenty of time to help you with your project, but I don’t, not without sacrificing my own.

I need more quiet, reflective time, away from outside obligations. I can start by curbing my social media habit. I can’t sit among three hundred conversations and have a clear thought of my own. I’m reacting 90% of my week. It doesn’t feel conducive to creativity.

Funny…I know I’ve complained about this before, very recently. I’m not complaining this time. I’m making observations and (hopefully) adjusting a course. To start, I took the social media buttons off my phone’s main screen. I had to go find the button to open it, remember that I was looking out of habit, and it gave me the space to stop myself. It didn’t last long though. I noticed they were still at the bottom of my “recently used” screen and my brain rerouted the habit through there.

Over the weekend, I took a complete social media fast. That worked well. I just did not look until Sunday evening when I wanted to share something cool. I put the phone away and focused on working in the yard all day on Saturday until I was exhausted. And then Sunday was spent going out to breakfast and then shopping at Costco with my husband. Yes, that is considered one of our favorite dates! We go up and down every aisle just looking at things, laughing, and wondering if we need that or if it’s a good deal. I think we were there for three hours. We’re easily entertained, and we came out with a month’s supply of our favorite foods, a new whiskey to try (they don’t give samples of alcohol, whatever), and some new sheets.

I was feeling overwhelmed and addicted but I willfully chose to do something else than my habit. I didn’t have to make an announcement. I didn’t have to find a way to stop the app from working on my phone. I didn’t have to call in reinforcements to make me stop. I simply chose not to open the apps. I gave myself a goal and I achieved it. One day without any social media turned into two. It was the start of a new habit.

On Monday, I kept the ball rolling by making the choice to only post my article and spend thirty minutes over lunch replying and checking in with friends. Then I put it away. By Wednesday, I was scrolling here and there to occupy myself while I waited and then it snowballed. My time total on Wednesday was over an hour and a half, far less than in the past but still too much. On Thursday, I started first thing in the morning and before noon I was grumpily tapping away responses to people (in my journal, not online) instead of writing anything productive.

It’s Monday now and I’ve refocused once again. I’m looking for a reminder, like a bell when I meditate, that pulls me out of my unconscious habit and brings me back to what I choose to focus on. Like learning to meditate longer and longer, instead of getting angry or frustrated that my mind has wandered, I notice it and bring it back to my peaceful focus. Each time I do, the focus is sustained longer and longer. It’s practice. And practice makes progress.

Why Consume So Much Information?

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Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

I get discouraged when I spend a lot of time reading, listening, and experiencing but rarely creating. I feel like I’m consuming life instead of adding to it when the scale tips more to the input than the output side of creativity.

And then I heard the analogy of “a block of clay.”

The artist is in all of us, born within us. What we spend most of our life doing is gathering a block of clay to sculpt in the future.

I gather clay by reading, watching, and experiencing life. I stay curious. I research and study. I travel and listen. And each experience adds to my block, making it bigger and bigger.

When I make time for myself to reflect, I look at the block of clay and start peeling away pieces, chiseling out parts and sculpting it into a piece of artwork that is unique from my hands, from my perspective. My story, my article, my social media post is the result of that creative time.

The time we spend consciously gathering input from any source added to the time we take to reflect and process it, equals our creative output. That output can be anything, from poetry, painting, music, and storytelling, to our children, our businesses, and our homes.

What are you gathering these days? Do you know what that creative output will be or are you still searching for it?

Attempting to Slow Down the Input Rate

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Photo by Dinh Pham on Unsplash

“Input!”

“Johnny 5 is alive!”

That’s the scene that runs through my head as I listen to a podcast on the drive to my dentist appointment. I can’t just waste time driving, must have more input!

I want to do something with all the information that is thrown at me but I honestly can’t organize what I’m getting well enough for daily use. I can’t maintain forty strong daily relationships. I can’t read ALL the books. I can’t comment on all the posts I find interesting. I can’t read all the articles or see and laugh at all the memes. There are other things that need to be done. Groceries to buy, laundry to do, meals to be made. Not to mention words to write, creating more input for others!

But my words have to relate to something, don’t they? I do need some input to process. I can’t just cut myself off from the world and think that I’ll still have something to write about. One has to have the brushes and paint, the clay or metal, the seeds and mulch, the fabric to quilt!

Quilting. Now there’s an interesting train of thought. I know a lot of quilters and something they all have in common is the problem of collecting fabric. It becomes a habit and an obsession to some. They go back to the fabric store to get thread or a piece they need to finish a quilt and while they are there they notice a nice new pattern, a sale on pretty solids, or an eye-catching collection of fat quarters and they pick them up thinking they’ll use it someday on something. Time goes by and their sewing room becomes piled high with fabric for future use. When they go to make a new quilt, they look at that wall of fabric and are overwhelmed by it. None of it seems useful. None of it catches their eye for this piece. The best pieces are bunched up and hidden behind less appealing pieces and then end up forgetting what they have. So they go to the store and buy all new fabrics, ones more easily accessible and organized by color and pattern.

I’m starting to think information overload is the same thing. I have a project in mind on one hand and a huge pile of information on the other. The whole time I’m trying to sift through the information I’ve already collected, there’s more input every moment. A text from a friend, an email from a blog, a new book is coming out, Facebook and Instagram feeds, not to mention family members wanting to call and share their lives with me. It’s all good stuff. It’s all positive (or can be, I tend to block out the ugly as much as possible). How do I filter and organize it so that I know what I have and where to use it?

There are a couple of things I’m going to start doing. My phone is my gateway and I’ll admit I do have an issue about being unreachable for any amount of time. Maybe it’s a Mom thing that I’ve latched on to, but if my phone is off or out of reach, I can’t relax. What if one of the kids needs me? The truth is that no one really NEEDS me that badly. My kids are grown and while they may want to talk to their mom in the middle of the night, it can probably wait until morning. And they know if it were an emergency, they could call their Dad because his work phone is always on. My phone will stay on at night just in case, but when I get up in the morning, all notifications will be off until I’m ready to communicate with the outside world. I’m not an emergency room doctor. I’m just not that important and that’s not self-deprecation. It’s reality.

Social media is another big input I have and I’m so addicted to it in the best ways. I’ve found so much joy there, so much connection with the big wide world. It inspires me to see all the awesome stuff, all the wise words, all the wonderful people that make up this planet. The trouble is, like a wonderfully written book that I can’t put down, I keep going back to it every chance I get. And unlike a book, I don’t need silence and focus to just pop in and have a look around, so I tend to spend quite a bit of time there.

At first, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the trouble is that it adds to my stash of information in big ways. I save clips from articles, memes, comments, all to use in the future. Maybe I’ll write about that. I could add this to my story. This looks like a good place to visit. Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed by it all and nothing else gets done. I look like a zombie slobbering “input” instead of “brains.”

So I need to limit my time there and save my energy. I’ll try to check in only while I eat breakfast and lunch for now. Sounds pretty wishy-washy, I know, but it’s the best I can do. I’ve never been one for hard and fast rules. Sometimes an afternoon of mindless scrolling and laughing at people’s antics is what I need. I’m not going to deny myself, but I will promise to be more mindful of what I’m doing.

And last, but certainly not least, my newest habit of “going to my trailer” to write. My phone doesn’t come with me. I make sure my husband knows where I am, not that he would worry and come looking for me if I went missing for a couple hours, he is working too after all, but I would sit with anxiety thinking he might. Every day, whether or not it is quiet in the house, I’m going to be there for at least an hour and half. There are no dishes to do, no pet antics, no bookshelves to peruse, out here. It’s just me, the laptop, my notebook, and a cup of coffee. I’m training my brain to see the trailer and think “work time.” And so far it’s working nicely…except when I look around me and think, “We need to go on a road trip in this baby!”

The plan: Write one hour. Edit up to one hour. Post after lunch.

That’s how I’m going to make this writing shit work. I’m not aiming for complete solitude or hermitage. My goal is to slow down the input to the point where my poor brain can process and use the information or at least store it in a way that makes it more easily accessible.

I’m also not aiming for perfect or beautiful. My goal is consistency and focus. The more often I can sit down and create with focus, the more likely something beautiful will be discovered.

Here’s to some new habit building! Let’s see what happens!