Narrowing Focus to Broaden Success

There are many reasons that I’ve had a hard time picking a specific career to pursue. One of which, is the fact that there isn’t really one singular thing that I was ever able to imagine making me feel fulfilled and happy for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for all the many talents, interests, passions, and abilities that I have. The problem has always been that there isn’t enough time in a day to devote myself to all of them the way I’d like to.

Even this blog stands as an example of my difficulty sticking with one theme or niche and really remaining faithful to it. The name of this blog is Protect the Innocent because when I started it, my goal was to make a blog with vegan commentary and to give advice to new/rural vegans. I wanted this blog to be my little attempt at activism. However, despite my deep concern and interest in this important topic, it quickly becomes oppressive to me when I feel unable to write about anything else.

It seems like I always end up either doing nothing at all when I can’t decide where to put my focus and energy or I just do a little bit of everything. The problem with the latter is that then I am unable to really delve deep into any of the things I want to do. I’m not able to master anything or do any really big time consuming projects. My energy is always being scattered and worn thin trying to pursue all of my many interests at once.

I get anxious when I think about narrowing my efforts. It feels like I am sacrificing so many things when I center myself on just one. I know it doesn’t have to mean I never pick up my other hobbies again, but it’s still hard to reassure myself in that regard. I’d really like to try to structure my time more effectively. Perhaps I can focus on just one thing certain days of the week or set an entire month aside to really delve deep into a certain project or skill set.

I think setting up a more diverse, yet focused schedule for myself would be an excellent way for me to make more meaningful progress towards my various goals. I also believe this could solve my issues with burnout and lack of inspiration. This way I’d be able to give myself a break from one thing, while still feeling as though I’m doing something meaningful in the meantime. The most important step is going to be the first one. I need to set aside time to work out this schedule for myself so that I can move forward with a clear intention and reserve my mental energy for the task at hand.

Spill

My head is full of floating thoughts
that expand and break apart 
they cloud my heart and contract my lungs
endlessly vibrating in and out of awareness

My head is full, but more flows in
a constant stream of stressful flurries 
piling up inside my mind 
getting denser and heavier each day

It feels as though I will surely crack open
and spill this jumbled mess upon the pavement
or perhaps be flattened under the weight
of everything I've left undone

It's hard to focus while restitching seams in my skull
trying to keep it all together as I'm pulled forward
into a future waiting to pour even more
liquid lists through my shaking fingers

It's all too much, too fast, too busy
the urgency of each moment
tugging at me from all sides
knowing it cannot all be done

Impossible to decide the next step
I want my heart to open like a faucet
and release all this pressure inside 
to spill and spill until I am empty

Until I can hold that blissful space
and replace my lists with trust
a trust without form, just feeling
a brave surrender of the spirit
How Prayer Can Help Mend A Broken Marriage - Valerie Murray

Overwhelm

Feeling overwhelmed? | Condé Nast Traveller India

This week has been a busy, hectic, nightmare for me. Thankfully, I’ll have a few moments to collect myself this afternoon since our evening appointment at work canceled. At a certain point, it feels like my brain just completely checks out. There is no helping myself when I get to this point. Despite everything in your body telling you to keep going, that there is so much to do, the best thing to do is actually take a moment to rest.

It’s difficult to negotiate with a tired brain. It reminds me of a toddler throwing a tantrum, impossible to reason with. The overwhelming sense of urgency and dread that consumed me in these moments is nearly impossible to ignore. All of my bodily systems are screaming out for my attention. Telling me that the world is falling apart around me and that I need to fix it somehow. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with these types of brain states.

Given that our minds are the window through which we see and interpret the world around us, it’s not an easy task to override the messages our brains send us, even when logically we know they are false or exaggerated. I’ve only recently started to learn how to overcome my evening anxiety, for example.

For some reason, every evening, I have a huge spike in my anxiety levels. I start to ruminate and worry about what happened that day or what may happen the next. Problems that seemed minor in the morning, take on an eerie urgency in the evening hours. Even though this pattern has been apparent for a while now, it doesn’t make it any easier to dismiss. For some reason, when we find ourselves in these anxious states of overwhelm, it feels like life has always felt this way and it will always feel this way. Yet at the same time, there is a sense of unrest, like in some way we are supposed to address and “fix” whatever is causing this unpleasant state.

At times like these, the only thing I’ve found helpful is just reminding myself that even though I am feeling rushed and ruffled, the things I’m experiencing inside of my head are not an accurate representation of reality. We forget that our mental states aren’t solely effected by the world around us. Our moods and ability to cope with stressors are also effected by what we’ve eaten, how we slept, the time of day, hormone fluctuations, etc. Just because a situation seems overwhelming today, doesn’t mean that the same scenario won’t strike you in a completely different way tomorrow. I’m not telling you to completely disregard your feelings, but sometimes it’s enough to just notice and acknowledge them, without reacting. Perhaps try saying to yourself, “I am feeling overwhelmed right now, and that’s okay. This feeling will pass. I’m doing my best.”

Sometimes I also find it helps to make a list. There are days when it feels like I have so much to do and more tasks just keep accumulating. The fear that I may forget something important really adds to the stress. There is an immediate sense of relief once I’ve written down everything that is on my mind. Often it even seems silly how short the list looks compared to how long I imagined it would be. Getting this to-do list onto paper and out of your crowded mind makes a huge difference. It allows me to find some much needed space inside my own head.

It seems counterintuitive, but taking a moment to set aside the thoughts that are overwhelming us, is actually the kindest thing we can do for ourselves in these situations. Part of the reason the stressors seem so urgent is the false sense that things will only continue to get worse if we don’t address the issue immediately. Most of the time, this is simply an illusion. While slowing down seems like the worst possible option when you feel rushed and overwhelmed, it’s actually the most beneficial option. Taking a moment to just be, to just breathe, will allow you to step back and gain some perspective.

Dealing with chronic anxiety, I always notice myself searching for a “cause.” “I’m feeling anxious. There must be something wrong.” This is what I’m unconsciously telling myself. And in a normally functioning brain, that makes perfect sense. Our fight or flight response is there to keep us safe. Ideally it is only activated when we are in immediate danger that we need to either overcome or get away from as fast as possible. When this natural defense system is distorted however, it becomes a never-ending feedback loop. I feel anxious. I find a “cause” or something to blame my anxiety on. My anxiety is justified, reinforcing my brain’s idea that it was correct to feel anxious.

One of my favorite mantras recently is: It’s okay to feel anxious. Instinctually we try to escape from anxious states, but when you have an anxiety disorder, trying to escape only increases your anxiety. You become anxious about being anxious. The next time you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious, try simply allowing yourself to experience these feelings rather than running from them. Say to yourself: I am feeling anxious/overwhelmed right now. *deep breath* It is okay to feel anxious/overwhelmed sometimes. *deep breath* I am okay. *deep breath* I am safe. *deep breath*

Everything is going to be okay. I promise. You’re doing the best you can, even if that might look different from the way “doing your best” has looked in the past, or how you expect it to look. The state you’re in right now is temporary. It will pass all on it’s own. Just breathe.

Rest

Introduction to REST APIs — RESTful Web Services - DZone Integration

When was the last time you really allowed yourself to do nothing? Not planning for the day ahead, not going for a walk, not even doing yoga and meditating. Really and truly nothing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a day where every second wasn’t accounted for with some form of activity. I used to think that as long as I wasn’t at work, I was resting. Now I realize life isn’t that simple. Even on my days off, I have a rigorous schedule to follow by the minute. I am constantly checking the clock, checking my to-do list. Sometimes my relentless repetition from day to day has the effect of turning even fun, lighthearted activities into chores. Chores I nevertheless continue to perform, forgetting that my original intention was to enjoy myself.

I heard this phenomenon referred to the other day as “internalized capitalism” and I hated it. Is this really why I feel the need to always be productive? I may not be someone who obsesses over their actual job, but I tend to turn my own personal pursuits into a job. I am my own task master. But behind my own neuroticism, is capitalism really running the show? After all, why do I feel the need to be productive all the time? I’ve always thought working only as much as I absolutely have to and saving the rest of the time for myself was a rebellion against capitalist ideals. Now I’m beginning to wonder if that very system managed to seep into my mind somehow anyway. Why am I so afraid to rest? Why does “wasting time” feel so taboo?

Part of the conversation on “internalized capitalism” was really interesting to me. The hosts of the podcast mentioned that perhaps we tie our self worth to our productivity and usefulness to others because at the end of the day, none of us really know why we’re here. I thought that was a fascinating idea. Without inherent direction or purpose, we subconsciously decide that our purpose is production and selfless service. On paper it doesn’t sound like a bad purpose. It’s quite noble to dedicate your life to serving others. The problem only appears when we decide this is the only thing that matters.

The search for meaning is a perplexing one. Why do we humans long for a reason? Do other animals question their purpose? Do plants wonder why they exist? It seems self evident that we would want to find meaning in the chaos that is existence, but what makes us so sure there is a meaning in the first place? Furthermore, why is the idea that our purpose is to simply exist so unsatisfying? What is it inside of us that makes us desire a reason for being alive? Isn’t just being alive enough? Can’t we just be grateful and enjoy it? Then again, perhaps our innate need to understand this mystery implies that there is an explanation out there somewhere. Whether or not we’re meant to find it in this life is another story.

I’ve always liked the idea that we get to choose our own purpose. The meaning of life is for us each to interpret for ourselves. However, why is it so hard to fully commit to our own interpretation? For instance, I would say the purpose I’ve assigned to my life is to love and be loved, to learn, to experience, and to enjoy. When I break down my day to day existence though, does it really reflect that purpose? Not really, but how can that be? I get to choose the purpose, and I get to choose how I live, don’t I? Our actions are so often counterintuitive to our own wishes.

Given that none of us really know why we’re here, why is it so difficult for many of us to simply rest? I think part of me is afraid that if I allow myself to rest, I’ll never find the motivation to get back up again. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest right? Humans aren’t objects though. I shouldn’t fear slowing down every now and then. Objects are moved by external forces, momentum keeps them going, and once they stop, they never know when or if they’ll be propelled into motion again. Living beings are different. My energy, my movement comes from within. It’s important to rest so that I can refill my energy stores. There is an elegant dance at play, an eternal struggle to find balance between these two states.

I want to learn to trust my body, to listen more closely when it whispers what it needs, to stop denying it’s pleas for rest. I’ve been pushing myself for so long now, it seems like my body only ever asks for rest. I’ve tricked myself into believing this is all it has or will ever ask for. That it’s my job to overcome this desire for inertia each and every day. I’ve lost faith in my own resilient spirit. I’ve forgotten that it’s a joy to move, to create, to explore. Allowing myself moments of stillness won’t leave me trapped there. I’m sure that if I were to only give myself time to rest, once I was replenished, I’d be eager to get back to “work.” Maybe intervals of rest would keep me from feeling like my life is work at all.

I may be pleasantly surprised like I was after my stint of working from home. I had thought working from home would be ideal for me. I had always wished for that or even not having to work at all. Yet, after a few months I was actually dying to go back to the office. All that time alone had the opposite effect. I wasn’t happier. I was being consumed by my own self-destructive behaviors. I had worried that it’d be a huge burden to go back eventually, but I was surprised to find myself overjoyed when my time at home finally ended.

Try to give yourself at least a few minutes of true rest today. Sit in the grass and stare at the clouds. Listen to your favorite album start to finish. Have a long bubbly bath. Take a nap without guilt. It’s been so long since I’ve incorporated rest into my life, that I’m honestly struggling to come up with examples. What do you like to do to rest? I would love to hear your ideas. Maybe you’re an introvert and rest looks like spending time alone. Or maybe you’re an extrovert and to replenish yourself you like to spend quality time with loved ones. Whatever it is, you deserve it. Give yourself the gift of rest. Use it as an experiment if you like. How might rest give you the energy you need to more fully enjoy the busy moments?

Invest in rest (and live better. Seriously.)

FOMO

In case you don’t already know. FOMO is an acronym that means Fear of Missing Out. Until today, I never really thought of myself as someone who had this fear. I had only heard it in reference to more social situations. For example, being afraid of missing out on important milestones, dances, parties, etc. Today I realized that I do have my own slightly different FOMO. For me it’s more like I’m afraid of missing out on all of the different things I could do with my life. There are just so many options and choices to make in each moment. It’s usually impossible for me to decide. The anxiety I experience from contemplating all of the different options I have leaves me paralyzed, and I end up doing nothing.

What should I do with the very limited time I have each day? Should I clean out my fridge? Tend my garden? Decorate my yard? Paint my porch? Hangout with friends? Find new recipes and make a meal plan? Go shopping? Call my mom? Each and every one of these things is something that I want to do. It’s hard for me to prioritize one over another. I have a difficult time focusing my attention and ambition on just one thing at a time. But I worry that one day I’ll look back on my life and be full of regrets that I didn’t spend my time more wisely. I’d rather avoid thinking about it all together. It’s easier for me to just continue mindlessly going through the same motions that I went through the day before.

I keep trying to remind myself that ultimately it doesn’t matter what I choose to do with my free time. I could do all of these things and still be unhappy. I could do none of them and be perfectly happy. You’d think I would have learned this lesson last year when I cleaned and organized every inch of my house like I had been longing to do for ages. I felt quite accomplished and content at first. Since then that feeling of satisfaction has dwindled and disappeared. Despite my house being cleaner, I still feel like there are a million more things for me to do. But these external tasks have nothing to do with the quality of my life or my ability to be grateful for each day. I already do all the things I really need to do everyday. I don’t have to cause myself stress over deciding what more to do on top of that. Everything else is just extra. None of these things are necessary. I have to remember that all of these little things are insignificant in my life overall. Maybe one day I’ll get around to doing some of them, maybe not. Everything will be okay either way.

What matters isn’t that my backyard isn’t stylish enough, it’s that I am giving myself grief about it and overthinking it every day. It’s so tempting to externalize our discomfort and displeasure in life. It always feels like if we could just get every little detail in perfect order that THEN we could finally relax, THEN we could finally be comfortable and happy. The good news and the bad news is that this simply isn’t true. A much better way to achieve personal happiness and peace is to just be kinder to ourselves. Sometimes I think it’s not even the end result of these tasks that I truly desire, rather the peace and quite inside my head without that little voice constantly nagging me about it.

I’m the only one that can get that little voice to go away though. That is something that I have to resolve from within myself. Maybe the real thing I should be afraid of is living a life where I’m always so cruel and hard on myself. Wouldn’t I rather spend my time on this Earth showing myself unconditional love and support? Wouldn’t doing that be better than anything else I could possibly do? I would really like to find out.

Get Growing: If you're 'too busy,' start doing this - Bizwomen

Remember Why You Started

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly how I ended up so enmeshed in the repetitive behaviors I now perform daily. I thought back to the first time I remember giving myself a similar list of tasks. In the beginning, I remember it being so exciting. I had big plans about bettering myself and working towards becoming the person I wanted to be. I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve made a lot of progress towards those goals. However, sadly I seem to have lost the passion that drove me to start this journey in the first place.

It feels like in the last few years, I’ve started to stagnate. These efforts at self-improvement were supposed to be fun. I want to get back to that passion that I once had. I was energized by these activities rather than exasperated by them. I believed in myself, in my potential. I was excited at the idea of reaching my goals. Somewhere along the line I seem to have lost all that faith in myself. I lost sight of the self love that once spurred me onward.

Thankfully, spring always reawakens something inside of me. I feel filled with a new energy as the air begins to heat back up and the sun reemerges. And with the coming spring, I’ve also had an important realization. I’ve been scrambling around inside my head trying to figure out a way to make time to meet a new vegan friend I met online. I’ve been ridiculously stressed out by the effort of trying to cram yet another activity into my already busy schedule. Only after a few days of this psychotic planning did it suddenly dawn on me, it doesn’t even matter if I miss doing all of my usual things for ONE day. How obvious.

The whole point of the things I make myself do everyday is self-improvement. Doing them every day was just a way to get into the habit. It was just supposed to give me direction and a way to feel productive on days when I had nothing else to do. I don’t know at what point it started to dominate my life instead. It seems like for years now, I have been prioritizing these “hobbies” over everything else in my life. I don’t make plans with friends and family because I tell myself I don’t have time for it. I neglect other, more important things, in favor of completing my these rituals. Only very recently have I realized how absurd that is.

These activities were supposed to help me become a better person, not prevent me from living a normal life. The ultimate goal isn’t 365 consecutive days of checking off these arbitrary boxes, the goal was to use my time wisely and learn new things. It completely defeats the purpose if in the end these habits inhibit my life rather than compliment it.

This is why it is so important to have clear intentions for yourself. My intention somehow got lost along the way. Luckily I’m finding my way back to it. Maybe a few years ago, what I needed was to have a more structured routine, but needs change. It’s time I allow myself to change with them. These habits were meant to serve me, but instead they’ve consumed me. Now what I need is learn how to give myself a break. I need to remind myself that it’s okay to rest. I don’t want to look back on my life one day just to see hundreds of checked off to-do lists. I want to give myself the freedom to have spontaneous adventures and make meaningful memories as well.

Tomorrow I want to give myself a long over due gift. I want to have a day off, a day free from my own demands. I want to meet someone new, get to know them. I want to explore and be curious and flexible. I want to not worry about whether or not I’ll have time to read later or write in my gratitude journal. How silly that the act of writing down a list of things I’m grateful for everyday became more important than allowing myself the time to enjoy what I’m grateful for. It’s no wonder I’ve lost all of my drive and passion. I’ve burnt myself out a long time ago. I’ve been running on fumes. It’s time to stop and recharge. It’s time to take a day just to breathe, to reflect, to enjoy the progress I’ve made, and to share my new and improved self with new people and with the ones I love, the ones that have stuck with me through all of these years of being distant and uninvolved. It’s time for me to thank them for that. It’s time for my to thank myself and enjoy how far I’ve come, how strong I’ve been. Time to refocus on my intention and reignite that excitement, that passion for my life.

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What Sustains Us

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This week has felt like an eternity. It’s hard to believe it’s finally over. After working from home most days for months, having a full week at the office with a packed schedule was insanely exhausting. And it looks like I won’t have any less work to do next week either. I consider myself someone who is very easily overwhelmed. So it’s a miracle I’ve been able to keep it together so well this week. It’s been a struggle though.

I’ve been trying really hard to keep the promise to myself I made last week, to use whatever comes my way. Growth is always uncomfortable. And I’m trying to look at this week and the next as chances for growth. Even though it’s been stressful, I must admit there is something satisfying about making it though tough times. It seems like we are always somehow more capable than we think.

As I reflect back on the past few days I feel only gratitude. One of the things I’ve noticed is that when we find ourselves struggling just to keep our head above water, it gets easier to find gratitude for the smallest things. Things I’ve taken for granted for the last few months were the very things that meant everything to me this week. When you are home every day it can be easy to forget just how wonderful it is to be there. To light a candle, to burrow into soft, warm blankets while sharing the body heat of loved ones, to rest your head on a plump pillow at night once the time to rest has finally come, to lovingly prepare a hot meal, to enjoy a cup of tea. All of these things often blur into the background of life. But when it comes down to it, these are the moments that really matter. These are the experiences that sustain us, that make it all worth it.

If given the choice I imagine we’d all prefer for things to always be easy, but it’s actually the difficult times that provide the context that allows us to truly enjoy those easy moments. It always feels extra amazing to rest after you’ve been working hard, to shower after working up a sweat, to eat when you are really hungry, to drink ice cold water after a long run on a summer day. This week has reminded me of that. So as this week finally comes to a close, I am grateful. Not only for the chance to rest and recharge, but for the struggle that will make this time spent resting feel truly divine and well deserved.

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Mindful Rewards

By the time evening came around yesterday, I was utterly exhausted. Every day this month, I have been tackling a cleaning task around my house, systematically going through and deep cleaning/organizing every single room. And I’ve been making good progress. Yesterday I decided to finally clean out my fridge. Not just sort through and rearrange things, but actually clear it out entirely, wash all the shelves, the inside, and the outside. It ended up taking much longer than I thought it would, and by the time I was finished I was wiped out and ready to relax.

However, I am never able to relax. While my fridge does look immaculate now, giving me great pleasure every time I glance inside, I still don’t feel accomplished. There is an ever-present twinge of disappointment and anxiety at the end of the day. When I try to figure out why I am feeling that way, any rational explanation eludes me. The feeling is like those blurry little squiggles at the edge of your vision. When you try to look directly at them, they immediately move just out of sight.

I feel compelled to list everything I did yesterday, just to prove to myself it was a lot:

  • Write a blog post
  • Study Spanish
  • Read
  • Gratitude Journal
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • 60min. Cardio Workout
  • Draw
  • Reports for work
  • Wrap Christmas gift
  • Deep clean fridge

That seems like a lot right? Somehow even after listing it all, I still feel unsure. I still don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything at all. I feel like I could have done more, should have done more. But I feel like anyone else would be highly impressed. I do these things or the equivalent each and every day. I never give myself a day off. I never feel I deserve one.

One of the many things I’d like to start implementing in the coming year is setting aside some time each day or week to mindfully reward myself for all of my hard work. Even just scheduling an hour on a Friday to focus on myself and what I really would enjoy. Maybe I could take a relaxing bath with a book and some wine. Maybe I could give myself a few hours to just play video games in bed. I could buy myself something nice that I’ve been wanting. Just normal every day things that generally make me feel guilty on the rare occasions when I do them. I want to practice giving myself more credit for all that I accomplish every day. So that I may actually start to feel accomplished for once.

I’m pretty good at delaying gratification, my problem is actually giving myself the gratification at all. I think “oh, I’ll just put it off a little longer” or “I’ll do a few more things first.” I’ve finally realized that the reward at the end never comes. I continue to push it farther into the future. Well, not any longer. It is time for me to finally give myself the rewards I so richly deserve. I want 2021 to be a year of self-reflection, rest, and self-love. It’s time.

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