Do The Work

Of course I’m writing a “get ready for 2018” post. For those of you who didn’t already guess this was going to happen…hi, my name is Jessica, and thank you for reading my stuff for the very first time.

This past year, my main mantra was “be present”. I’m approaching the two year mark of when I first started practicing meditation, and focusing on the present is one of the main skills you are encouraged to work on in your practice. And during a year that was so unpredictable, I found it much more rewarding to devote my attention to the present moment and take things one day at a time rather than try to guess what would be happening in the future.

The first step in starting this new practice was recognizing the difference between a goal and an intention. While a goal is more likely to be something you can cross off your list, an intention is the manner in which you get these things done. Someone once described an intention to me as the compass you use on your way toward your goal. This doesn’t necessarily mean there are foolproof methods to getting where you want to be, but intentions can be reminders of how we want to show up in every moment that gets us closer to our goal, or even more simply, whenever we need some guidance.

So I made small changes over the past year to allow myself to place my mind in the present more regularly. I tried not to live through the screen of my phone to capture every moment so I could share in on my Instagram story. (Although, I often have really great Instagram stories. Do you follow me on Instagram? You should follow me on Instagram.) I didn’t completely shut out social media, but I made a conscious effort to remove any expectations from my mind and rather look at the moments of my life for what they truly were, and finding enjoyment in that. It was, and still is, a super difficult task. It’s something I’m going to be working on my entire life.

For 2018, I’m still very focused on the importance of pausing to recenter myself and experience the truth of the moment. But after the year we’ve all just endured, it’s safe to say we might not always want to accept the truth of the moment, because it’s likely to be some sort of garbage. And while you don’t necessarily need to equate being present with being happy, it sure would be great for those two things to line up, right?

So I’m shifting my focus a bit for the upcoming year. In the meditation class I took on New Year’s Eve, we took some time to contemplate the intention of discipline. This has been one of my go-to intentions when I’m frustrated about not getting something accomplished, but it has also been difficult to digest because of the harsh connotation that comes with the word discipline. There’s an association with punishment and being hard on yourself, which definitely isn’t something any of us want to do voluntarily. I’ve often tried to soften the idea of this intention by reframing it as “gentle discipline”, but more often than not, that just leads to an easier way out when facing potentially uncomfortable limits.

In class that day, our meditation instructor made an important distinction about the intention of discipline that struck me, and I had one of those great moments when things all came together like pieces of a puzzle that I didn’t even know I needed to assemble.

Discipline doesn’t necessarily have to be something that is met with discomfort. It doesn’t have to mean that you’re doing something wrong that needs to be fixed. Instead, we can consider discipline as a means to getting closer to your goal, or closer to something that makes you happy, that makes you both satisfied and accomplished. For example, not all of us may enjoy going to the gym, but when we finally get there and finish a workout, we’re likely to delight in our ability to have done the thing, despite the struggle. So rather than saying “I need to go to the gym or else I will fail at completing this goal I set for myself,” you can shift that thinking to say “I need to go to the gym because I want to feel the satisfaction of following through with my plan and come out on the other side successful. Plus, endorphins make you happy and hell yeah, I want to be happy.” It’s easier said than done, but it’s a practice. It’s an intention. It might not always work the way you want it to, but making the effort is half the battle. Some might even argue making the effort is the entire battle. I’ll leave that up to you.

Last year I saw the show Prince of Broadway, a revue that showcased the work of Broadway producer Hal Prince. (This is relevant, I promise). After sharing highlights from Prince’s career and all he has accomplished, there was a final song called “Do The Work” about reminding yourself that while there is definitely a great deal of luck associated with success, in order to get to that point, you have to – you guessed it – do the work. I still think about that song when I want to be inspired, and when presented with this new perspective on the intention of discipline, everything seemed to click together. Now if they would just release that cast recording…

So without further ado, let’s gear up for another year that is bound to be difficult and unpredictable at times. But if we do the work, perhaps we can make it something worth celebrating. I’m rooting for you.

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My First NaNoWriMo!

The concept of National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo – has also terrified me. Every November, writers embark on the task of writing a 50,000 novel in the span of 30 days…like I said, terrifying. But over the years, as I watched others take on this incredible project, I realized the true goal of NaNoWriMo was never to finish writing a book in a month and then immediately submit it to get published. Because that is quite impossible. However, there are a lot of great skills writers work on during NaNoWriMo, one of the main practices being discipline. That’s what I decided to focus on.

Some of you may not know this, but I have been working on a novel for a few years now. Between being a busy college student and not having any sort of deadline, it has been difficult to find the time and motivation to finish. However, after graduating and developing a more reliable schedule, I wanted to making writing a priority again; specifically, getting this novel done.

At the end of October, my friend Katieprofessional journalist, nbd – asked if I would join her in doing NaNoWriMo this year. I was hesitant at first for a lot of reasons, but mainly I was worried about failing. I didn’t know if this goal was something that I was ready for, mentally and practically. My worried thoughts included What if I miss a day and fall behind? and I’ll be so disappointed in myself if I don’t finish. So rather than completely dismissing the opportunity because of the fear of failure, I decided I’d make NaNoWriMo my own. I told myself that, if nothing else, I would use the month of November to focus on getting back into the habit of writing. This meant writing every single day, setting a timer or word count, and keeping myself on track to figuring out an ending for this story I’d been working on for so long. I knew I didn’t need to “win”, I just needed to try.

So for the month of November, I wrote a lot. I wrote stuff that was completely irrelevant to my story and I wrote horrible scenes and basically typed out any nonsense floating around in my mind, hoping that somewhere in the mess I would find some progress. Thankfully, I did.

I didn’t track my daily word count to reach 50,000, as most NaNoWriMo participants do. I simply promised myself that I would write for at least one hour every day. While some days were more and some days were less, I finished up the month much closer to finishing than I had ever been before. I fixed a lot of errors I’d been frustrated about and I cleared up some questions and I was finally able to conceptualize an ending.

So even though my NaNoWriMo experience wasn’t as traditional as most, I’m so happy I did it. Maybe one year I’ll attempt the word count and start from scratch, but this experience was exactly what I needed as a final push toward the finish line. I have had the same New Year’s resolution for almost two years now: to finish this book. And while I didn’t finish within the month of November, there’s still a few weeks left of 2016. And I gotta say, I’m feeling pretty good about it…

Be Impressive

It’s the second week of February. How are those New Year’s resolutions going?

I’ll be the first to say that I’m not a big fan of making New Year’s resolutions. I know I’m not alone in the belief that you can make a change in your life any time during the year, but I do recognize that there is a heightened motivation to do so when you have a “fresh start” in January, so this year I decided to give it a try. My three resolutions include: starting a blog (and consistently updating it), eventually be able to run 5 miles, and finish the book I am writing. So far so good… but then again, it’s only been five weeks.

I often think about the many pros and cons of making New Year’s resolutions… as I tend to do in most situations, considering my specialty in life is being a Master of Over Analysis. Something I love about resolutions is the ability to work toward a goal. Especially if you have them written down (which of course I do- my second speciality in life is being a Master of Writing Lists). As most of you know from, you know, life, working toward a goal is motivating, inspiring, and gives you a plan of action for the times you’re scrambling for some order. Accomplishing new things and making strides toward a goal is extremely rewarding. For example, I’ll take a second to brag about the THREE AND A HALF MILES I ran yesterday!!!! I am so happy about it. But of course, this can potentially lead to all of things I hate about resolutions…

Expectations. Unrealistic deadlines. Disappointment.

Here’s another example for you. One of my resolutions for 2015 was to finish the book I’m writing. Sound familiar? As you can probably guess from the recycled goal, I did not achieve this last year. Once December rolled around and I realized I still needed to write several chapters to wrap up my story and basically zero time to do it on top of final exams, I was pretty bummed. I started 2015 with the confidence that I could finish the project I had been working on for so long, only to come to the conclusion that a year later, I hadn’t made the progress I had expected to make. Sure, I made some minor edits. Wrote some new chapters. But as I sit right now in the second week of February writing this blog post, I am still nowhere near the end of my book. And to be completely honest, I’m pretty mad about it.

So does this mean I failed? Technically, yes. I failed at finishing my book within the arbitrary time limit I gave myself. But does recycling an old resolution technically count if it was something I set out to do last year? I’m gonna go ahead and say yes.

Like I mentioned before, setting out to do something new or trying to achieve a new goal isn’t something that needs to begin the first day of January. It’s not something that needs to happen the second week of February. While guidelines definitely give you some motivation, I also think they have the potential to add unnecessary pressure to what I’m sure is already a stressful time for anyone. A start to the new year probably also means you just spent a ton of money on Christmas presents, or maybe you’re mad at the world because it won’t stop snowing. (If you know me at all these are both real life scenarios I can personally attest to). Why give yourself the added pressure of doing something for the sake of saying “I completed my New Year’s resolution!” And as someone who loves nothing more than crossing things off lists, this was a frustrating conclusion for me to come to terms with.

I don’t think the concept of resolutions are completely arbitrary, but I do think we need to shift our thinking about them.

(Wait… a blog post where I try to get you to shift your thinking about something? HOW SHOCKING!!!!!)

One way I have started to change my thinking about resolutions is rather than seeing them as solid, concrete goals, I’ve given myself the freedom to let them change. At first I told myself I was going to update my blog every Monday. So far so good, but I expect to be upset in the upcoming weeks if I miss this deadline, even if I have good reasons, like I was too busy with schoolwork or I needed to pet my dog. Instead, I can say that I gave it a try and change my goal just slightly. Maybe I will update every 2 weeks instead. Maybe I’ll take some time to focus on a different resolution. Because when it comes down to it, you’re trying something new, and I think that’s worth celebrating.

Don’t get me wrong, I know pressure is sometimes a good thing. Pressure and fear and stress all motivate action. But just like vegetables, pressure is only good in moderation. (Yes, vegetables. Who really wants to eat them AM I RIGHT????)

So I wish all of you luck on the resolutions you made last month. If you’ve already decided it’s not going to happen, take some time to make some new goals and maybe start again tomorrow. Or in March. Or in the summer. Because let’s be real, we’ll all have more motivation to go to the gym when all the snow is gone and you don’t have to wear a jacket.