Don’t Look at the Wall

I recently read that one of the most important tips given to new race car drivers is, “whatever you do, don’t look at the wall.” When I heard this, it immediately reminded me of one of my very first practice driving sessions with my mom when I was a teenager. As I was driving 25mph down a street in my dinky little home town, my sister yells out from the back seat for us to look at a house to our right. Without thinking, I turn my head to look. In just that one split second, turning my attention away from the road and just to the side, I had swerved the car and nearly driven up onto the sidewalk. Whether you realize it or not, where you place your focus is the direction you are heading.

We say something similar when teaching arm balances in yoga. In teacher training when we practiced cues for bakasana (crow pose) we were told to always make sure to emphasize the importance of our gaze. If you look straight down between your hands as you try to lower your body’s weight forward onto the backs of the arms, you’re inevitably going to tumble forward and possibly hit your head on the floor. The trick is to look a few inches ahead of you. Looking forward, but not down. Our gaze is a reflection of our focus and intention and a reminder of how important these things are.

I think these physical examples are an excellent demonstration of how this same principle applies in more abstract matters. If you look at the wall, you’ll hit the wall. If you look at the floor below you, that’s where you’re going. If you focus on the potential problems or possible ways you might fail, that is where you’re going to find yourself in the future. It seems so obvious when I think about it in this context.

My anxiety is always directing me to the worse possible outcome. It would be great if I were able to print out a pie graph of my mental energy expenditure from day to day. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of my thoughts are about what I’m afraid of or what could go wrong. Even when things usually go pretty well for me, I always immediately find the next fear to latch onto as soon as one disappears. Somehow my brain convinces itself that it is doing this to keep me safe. And to a certain extent, it is smart to contemplate obstacles that may come up and how we can deal with them in the event that they do. However, this is not really what my anxiety is doing. It’s not coming up with calm, rational contingency plans. It’s telling me that the experience will be inherently stressful and traumatizing and trying to find a way to avoid it all together.

It’s really helpful for me to remember the real life examples of the way our focus determines our experience and even has an influence on future outcomes. Yoga gives us ample opportunities to practice these principles before putting them into action in other areas of our lives. Getting into an arm balance is scary. You’re quite likely to fall down the first few times you try. But if we focus on that fear or how it feels to fall and hurt ourselves, we’re never going to master bakasana! Focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on where you want to be or what you want to see happen. If you focus on falling you’re going to fall or perhaps never let yourself try in the first place.

Realizing and reminding myself that my focus on fear is not helping me to avoid it, but instead propelling me toward it, is exactly where I need to begin. Normally when I contemplate shifting my thoughts to the positives and letting go of my anxiety about any given situation, I become afraid that by not looking at the scary bits, they’ll sneak up on me or something. It’s like trying to keep your eyes on a spider at the corner of your room so that it won’t suddenly appear on your arm. But what if staring at that spider was an invitation for it to come over to you? You’d probably keep yourself busy with whatever you’re doing and leave it alone.

It’s time for me to start giving my energy to the good things in life that I want to create, not the parts that I want to avoid. If I focus on the good, I’ll naturally move past or through the obstacles in due time. When I let myself focus on only the scary parts of life, that is all I’m going to experience, whether my fears come to fruition or not. I’ll have already lived the worst of them out in my mind anyway. It’s okay to let myself think about the good things that might happen too or the things I hope will happen. It’s safe to let myself be happy. It’s safe to imagine a future full of positivity and light. In fact, that’s the first step towards manifesting that future.

Trusting in Lost Memories

silencing the inner chatter
to hear the soft hum of celestial wisdom
lifting myself above the tumultuous tides
of my own mistaken mind

finding stillness in the radio static of consciousness
to tune in to the salient source of everything
surrendering the obsession for contemplating complex patterns
in favor of opening to the energy trying to be channeled in

life's challenge is a sweet irony
a call to remember what we are
amidst the chaos of time and space
to pause long enough to transcend them

humbling ourselves to the unknowable truth
to trust in forces we cannot control
to be guided by an unseen hand
down a foggy, confused path

learning to mirror the beauty of faith
reflected back in the eyes of the innocent
by the joyous confidence of children and small beings
with blindly open hearts

our trust will not be betrayed
only the temptation to doubt will mislead us
even so we are never lost
only learning new lessons

An Open Heart Absorbs, A Closed Heart Rejects

The littlest inconveniences or imperfections that come before me in the evening hours are enough to bring me to my knees. I feel broken down, defeated, and exhausted. I have no emotional or mental strength left with which to help me cope with the most miniscule, commonplace hurdles in life. Last night, for instance, I was nearly brought to tears at the frustration of a home that cannot seem to remain clean for even an hour despite my seemingly constant maintenance. In my despair, the only thought that brought me any comfort was the idea of just burning the whole structure to the ground. If my home cannot be perfect, it cannot be.

Even though I realize in the moment how unreasonable I am being, even though I know the next morning all will seem manageable again, I can’t keep my heart above the swirling current of my despair. My saving grace these last few months has been my evening reading. As I’ve mentioned I’ve been quickly and hungrily devouring all the works of Charles Dickens. Currently I am near the end of David Copperfield. This one is definitely my favorite so far after A Tale of Two Cities. I don’t quite understand it, but the way this man writes is a balm for my soul.

With elegant simplicity he seems to reflect back to me my own suffering and at the same time help me find peace in it. Even more than that, his words help me pull my heart back into a state of openness and gratitude. There is such beauty and dignity in even the most unfortunate and wretched characters. Last night I came upon the phrase: “the fear of not being worthy to do what my torn and bleeding heart so longed to do, was the most frightening thing of all.” This touched me so deeply in exactly the most tender spot within my contorted heart that I burst into tears that did not stop flowing for the next several pages.

Somehow Dickens is able to cut to the quick of all my inner struggles and show me the beauty that resides even inside the most bitter of suffering. He reminds me that I am not alone in my feelings, that there are so many others throughout time that have felt what I feel. Not only that, but that these individuals have lived despite it all and found their place, their gratitude, and their peace.

But I am not only writing about my deep love of Dickens’ works, I am writing about the energetic shift that they are able to illicit in me. Nothing externally changes in the first few moments of quiet reading and self-reflection. My problems remain. Yet in an instant, the weight of the world is lifted and loving kindness towards myself and all of existence bursts forth and spills from my overflowing, open heart.

It’s a physical sensation, a true energetic metamorphosis. I literally feel my heart space grow warm and emanate good will, understanding, and true love. I’ve learned through this reoccurring, mesmerizing experience that the power to heal and persevere are mine to wield whenever I choose. It’s not always easy to make that choice, but the more often I am able to unclench my twisted heartstrings and let all the goodness I’ve been disregarding flow in, the more possible the choice seems to me.

Often I try to “logic” my way out of emotional states. But logic means nothing to emotion. We delude ourselves into thinking we must “fix” the problems we are despairing about before we can return to a sense of ease and wellbeing. The bad news is we will never be able to fix it. The external world’s problems are not what hold us down, it is our inclination to focus and obsess about those problems. Fix one, and surely we will find another. No, the true remedy is redirecting ourselves away from these ruminations and dissatisfactions. The good news is we don’t need to find a “reason” to do so. We just need to remember the feeling of our hearts opening. That’s enough to change everything.

Unknowable Energy & Raising Your Vibration

Have you ever encountered someone who you immediately felt at ease with? Someone who, without word or gesture, signals something within you that evokes a sense of safety and unspoken understanding? Every week when I do my grocery shopping after work, my eyes hopefully scan the self checkout for my favorite cashier. I’ve only “met” this person a handful of times. I don’t even know his name. But there is a palpable connection between us that I can’t help but imagine he feels just as clearly as I do. There is a certain magnetic quality or gravity in the air between us. Often it’s hard for me to get a read of people or what they’re thinking/feeling, but other times, I feel completely confident that they like me and enjoy my presence as much as I enjoy theirs, however inconsequential it may be.

What exactly is this indefinable quality I pick up in certain people, and how exactly am I sensing it, by what means, when on the surface, everything is so mundane and commonplace? Do other people feel this strange, instant connection? Are they drawn to the same people that I am? Is it something inherent in these particular people that sets others at ease and draws people in? Or do we all have our own brand of energy that captures the attention of specific, compatible people?

I’ve recently heard someone complain about the idea of such “energies.” They rightly proclaim that energy is a measurable quality that can be quantified. Still what would you have me call these more ethereal sensations? I agree they aren’t necessarily “energy” but then what are they? I’ve got to call them something. My education in psychology would lead me to believe that this is just an expression of unconscious biases that have formed from past experiences. Perhaps someone with a similar facial structure or tone of voice was once important to me. Maybe they remind me of my mother. Maybe I get “bad vibes” from someone who resembles in some slight way a school yard bully. This explanation does not satisfy the reciprocity of this experience though. Why should the other person feel similarly toward me? Perhaps I also subconsciously respond to them in a more agreeable, charismatic manner because they have set me at ease, but I genuinely don’t believe myself to behave very differently. After all, how differently could one respond within the span of a few pleasantries at a grocery store checkout?

In the same vain I can’t help but believe in the idea of “vibrations,” particularly “raising your vibration.” Even though I can’t explain it, I’ve felt it. I’ve felt the way that in certain states of mind, spiritual practices, an almost divine sense of awareness, moving realizations and impressions come easily to me. Yet the very same thoughts in a less positive state of mind seem ridiculous and leave a bitter taste in my mouth. This drastic shift can even occur within the span of a day, even a few hours! Physically though, what has changed? The only answer that somewhat satisfies this question in my mind is that I am in either a higher or lower energetic state. The words themselves may amount to utter nonsense, but nevertheless, the experience remains. I can see the effects of these different states in my self-talk, in my entire body.

All of these questions remain frustratingly unanswerable as far as I can tell. They are hard enough to verbalize, let alone understand empirically. New, more pressing questions naturally arise from them. How can I utilize this strange shapeless coexisting reality of vibrations and energies to my benefit? Are these energies destined to only be felt, never directed or created? There are many sources online that claim to offer advice for “raising your vibration” but despite my best efforts, they never seem to result in the desired change in me. One obstacle is the practical impossibility of performing some of the vibration raising activities when I find myself in that lower energetic level. I guess it could be said that it just takes persistent practice. After all, I seem completely capable and well versed in lowering my vibration. One thought or critical word is all it takes to destroy my good mood and positive mindset.

My impression at the moment is that these abstract, slippery sensations are not to be understood intellectually. The manipulation of such things (if even possible) is not a skill that can be taught to us. We must each learn to notice, accept, and respond to these inner mysteries in our own unique ways. While this is far from a satisfying answer, it’s all I’ve got for now.

Artwork | Alex Grey

Pushing Through Inspiration Stagnation

It feels like it’s been a long time now since I’ve felt passionate about my creative endeavors. Sitting down to write each morning used to be one of my favorite parts of the day. Now it feels as though I am just going through the motions. I’m not particularly proud or excited about any of the posts I’ve made this past month. I think that is partially due to the pressure I put on myself to perform. The longer this dry spell goes on, the harder it is to just relax and allow myself to enjoy the act itself rather than the product that’s produced.

Inspiration and the creative process are very amorphous things to me. I really don’t know what causes me to feel motivated and excited about my work one day and completely disinterested the next. Sometimes I’ll sit down with a great idea only to find myself unable to get my ideas out on the page. Other times I’ll sit down with absolutely no expectation of creating anything worthwhile and discover I’ve come up with some of my best work. The only thing that seems like a constant is that the more I force it, the more impossible it seems to find that flow state.

I was listening to a podcast the other day about this and I really liked the way the guest speaker described the creative process. Sitting down to create isn’t about productivity or expecting any particular outcome. It’s about making space. It’s about getting out of the way and allowing the universe and whatever else might be out there to flow through you. Many artistic geniuses throughout history have been hesitant to take credit for there most renowned works. When asked how they came up with them, they say that it was as if they had no control over it. Some unknown energy was simply moving through them.

In times when you don’t feel particularly inspired to make art in whatever form that may be, don’t get too discouraged. There is no need to try to force that creative energy to flow. It’s out there and it is within you. Time spent on creative endeavors even when you don’t feel motivated, still is not time wasted. In these moments our focus should not be on whether or not we produced an impressive or moving work. The point is to sit down and make yourself available to whatever force it may be that possesses us and causes us to create miraculous things. All we have to do is be there, go within, and wait. You inspiration, your muse, will surely find you again. Just have patience and allow.

Web Design Inspiration Sites 2022 (Tips from Designers) - UX studio

Charisma

All my life I’ve admired people that are seemingly comfortable in any situation, amongst any group of people. In my experience these individuals are extremely rare. I’ve never met more than a handful in my whole life. Yet these are the people I feel myself gravitate towards. There is an indescribable energy around them that soothes me, that makes me feel seen. My inner most character unfurls before them like a flower, that somehow I know they will appreciate and understand.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that these people possess. I’ve defaulted to describing them as charismatic and leaving it at that. My attraction to and preference for these individuals has come at a cost though. I seek them out to the exclusion of all others. I feel guarded and uncomfortable around most other people. Rather than pushing past that and making an effort to connect, I close myself off with the belief that they’ll just never “get me.” At times I even begin to judge and dislike others for lacking this charismatic quality that I so desperately need.

I’ve often confided to these charismatic friends and acquaintances of mine that I feel like there are not very many people with whom I am able to have a deep, meaningful, insightful conversation as I am with them. Occasionally they will agree, but just as often I’m met with a look I can’t quite place. It makes me wonder exactly what these people are capable of. Maybe there are not special souls that read one another’s energy and their innermost unspoken qualities in an instant. Maybe there are just special people that can open themselves to anyone, thereby receiving that transparency and comfortable vulnerability in return. Are the wonderful conversations I have with these select individuals the types of conversations they have with everyone they meet? What a life that must be.

This also makes me curious how I might learn from these special people how to improve my own ability to connect with others. How, if possible, I might become more like them. I think I’m pretty good at winning over a room. I can crack jokes and make pleasant conversation with just about anyone. However, the difference is the level of sincerity behind my words and actions. There is an undercurrent of energy betraying my strenuous effort. I’m working very hard when I do this little dance and I believe that bleeds through a bit. While I’m funny, I’m not exactly genuine. While I’m friendly, I’m never vulnerable. Therefore these encounters of mine never go far beyond the surface, nor am I able to transfer this act into one on one conversations where I feel even more pressure to perform rather than be present.

I think the secret ingredient in interacting with charismatic people is their unflinching sincerity and transparency about who they are. There is just something refreshing about dropping all the charades and really being fully in the moment with another person who isn’t pretending, who isn’t judging. Perhaps that’s one of the things holding me back from creating this energy on my own. I’m a pretty judgmental person. It can be hard for me to accept everyone just as they are. I can’t even accept myself most days. And while I would never express these critical, possibly hurtful thoughts, they still have an influence on the interactions I have undoubtedly. Yet when I perceive that someone else sees and accepts me for exactly who I am, I finally feel unafraid, and I can’t help but become endeared by even their faults.

Charisma has a quality of bravery and curiosity. I hope that with time and practice I might come to embody some of those qualities myself. In general, I’m not very fond of people, but when I see the way my charismatic friends bring out the best and most interesting aspects of everyone they meet, it inspires me to look deeper. I’ve gotten into the habit of forming opinions and writing people off fairly quickly. I want to learn to keep my heart open to people so that their true character may reveal itself to me. It saddens me to think how many fascinating, lovely, interesting people I may have carelessly overlooked.

How to Keep a Conversation Going in English

An Attitude of Abundance

The heart that gives, gathers.

Lao Tzu

From the first memories of having my own money as a child, I remember being anxious about spending it on anything. I was even praised by my parents for always saving nearly the entire amount of Christmas and birthday money I would get. Especially because my sister was the exact opposite and would spend all of hers almost immediately. Even as a child there was a sense of safety knowing that I had this money tucked away.

That mindset of prudence and frugal spending has stayed with me into adulthood. Any time I spend more than $20, I get extremely nervous about it. You can imagine how hard the holiday season is for me. I do prefer to spend money on other people more than myself, but still I get anxious about this annual splurge every year. For some reason, this financial anxiety has been particularly pronounced this past week. However, when I hear my friends and coworkers talk about money, it makes me realize just how fortunate of a position I am in.

Even though I am still straddling the poverty line, I am doing much better than the majority of the people in my area. Part of that is due to the fact that other than a recent car loan, I have absolutely no debt. I don’t even own a credit card. My education was completely covered by a full academic scholarship, while my other college expenses were taken out of investments my uncle made for my sister and I when we were born. I even have some left over that I seldom think about. Since graduating I have had steady work, although always at an extremely low wage. I only had to pay for housing for a year or two before being given the option to move into my grandmother’s old house after she passed. Besides utilities, I really don’t have many fixed expenses, so I have been able to save a good bit. I have also always been extremely fortunate to not have any major medical expenses.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, despite constant money worries, I am doing incredibly well for myself comparatively. Even my middle aged coworkers all seem to be living paycheck to paycheck. I’ll hear them joke about only have $50 left until payday, hoping they’ll have enough money to fill up their car, or having to pay overdraft fees at their bank when their account was empty. Not once have I ever had to worry about these things. Not only that, I haven’t had to pay much attention when it comes to finances. I’ve always had the privilege of spending far less than I’m bringing in. I have my bills set to autopay and never have to worry that they will overdraw my account. I’ve never had to check my balance before making a purchase. Whenever I say I “can’t afford to do or buy something” it’s usually just that I can’t justify spending the money on whatever it is, not that I literally don’t have enough money. I hadn’t realized that wasn’t the case when other people say that.

With all of this in mind, I am trying to hold onto the energy of abundance that has always been a part of my life. I want to treat the holidays as an opportunity to celebrate that abundance and good fortune. I want to share this gift of abundance with everyone else in my life, especially those that are struggling. I truly believe the way to hold on to it is to spread it around. Happiness and generosity are far more important to me than some abstract number in a checking account. Besides, what’s the point of having a thousand dollars more if it brings me no sense of peace or security anyway?

Instead of continuing to anxiously look over my shoulder at all the big purchases I’ve made, I want those purchases to be a symbol of my many blessings. What a joy it is to be able to give to those I love! What a beautiful way to thank the universe for all that I have been given! The smiles and tender moments I will share with my friends and family are worth far more than what I’ve spent. I may not be able to afford a new house, grad school, or expensive furniture, jewelry, etc., but I can afford all of the things I need, most of the things I want, and the ability to be extremely generous towards the people that make my life worth living. And that’s more than I could have asked for. The more you give, the more you receive, undoubtedly.

If You're Struggling with Abundance, Try This Instead | Jordan Harbinger

I Always Forget

From the abstraction of atoms
I emerge again
Electrical impulses, energy
Firing between neurons 
A new expression of me
contained within a temporary form

I look down at these hands
clenched fists, white knuckles
I cling desperately to this body
that I have become
this life that surrounds me
and I have already forgotten

I always forget
That this being is not me
I am not these thoughts
I am not these hands
I am not this body
or this mind

I am the energy
that animates it
I cannot be created
or destroyed
only transformed
again and again and again

Facing this cycle for infinity
I still never fail to forget
never fail to fear
I will remember again
when these eyes close 
once more

I will awake from this dream
to become new again
to be recycled and reborn
to melt away and reappear
to lose myself in a new dream 
all over again
The Seer | Alex Grey

Finding the Feeling

For years now, I have practiced yoga, meditation, and gratitude daily. While I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my mental health since implementing these practices, it still feels like the changes I’ve experienced have been underwhelming. I thought that after such diligent effort over so many years, that I would be further along in my spiritual journey by this point. I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc.

In the beginning, these daily practices were done very intentionally. It was easy to remain mindful because everything was so new to me. However, after solidifying these routines, they became just that, routines. Many days I find myself just going through the motions. That is the reason I haven’t been able to enjoy more of the benefits ever after so many years. I also think this may be a reason some people find themselves giving up on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all together.

We must always be careful not to allow these things to become just words, just routines. Going through the motions may be better than doing nothing at all, but it isn’t going to result in the profound changes we’re seeking in ourselves. Yoga isn’t about the shapes the body takes, it’s about where the mind goes, learning to watch our own thoughts, learning to let go, to make peace with our perceived flaws or shortcomings, and so much more. In the same way, a daily gratitude practice isn’t about how fast you can list things off, or being able to fill up a whole page. It’s about the energy, the emotion behind the things your listing.

It’s almost funny when I think about it. I don’t know why I would expect writing a list of things I’m grateful for to be any different than writing a grocery list considering the way I normally feel while doing so. I usually don’t feel anything at all. If anything, I feel annoyed. “Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I can’t think of anything to write. Why am I such an ungrateful person? Why is this so hard for me?” That’s usually the kinds of thoughts occupying my mind as I struggle to think of enough bullet points to fill the page in my gratitude journal. Saying the words, “I am grateful,” isn’t enough. You’ve got to feel it too.

Now for some people this may just be something that blossoms naturally from doing the practice. That’s how it is for all of us at the beginning I think. But for an emotionally blunted person like myself, after the initial novelty of the practices begins to wear off, it takes a bit more effort to uncover that emotional energy. Words and actions may help to illicit certain feelings, but we can’t allow ourselves to become to distracted by the words and actions alone. It’s the energy, the emotion, the sensation, that really matters. Having the emotion without the words, will still work wonders. Having the words without the feeling behind it, does nothing.

So the next time you embark on any mindfulness practice, try to focus on the energy behind your intention. What is your goal in doing this practice? What types of feelings and emotions are you trying to invite into your life? Are you trying to train your brain to quickly list things? Or are you trying to train your brain to actually experience a certain kind of energetic state? If you want to be able to more easily experience gratitude, you’ve got to actually practice feeling grateful, not just telling yourself you are.

This may be a lot more difficult of a practice, if you’re like me. I really struggle to get in touch with my emotions. If someone told me to imagine what love feels like, I’d feel confusion and maybe anxiety rather than love. If that sounds like you, try this short exercise:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take 5 slow, deep breaths in and out.
  3. Now, imagine someone or something that you love. At first, you might still struggle to feel anything. If that’s the case, keep concentrating on more and more details. You might try to remember and recreate in your mind a memory with this person/animal/object.
  4. Once you’ve got a clear image in your head, move back into your body. What types of sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel and where are you feeling it? Maybe you feel an opening in your heart space or a lightness in your stomach.
  5. Whatever you’re feeling, focus on those bodily sensations. That is love. Not the words, not the thoughts, but this, right here, this feeling.
  6. Stay with that feeling for awhile, breathe into it, explore it, try to savor the subtleties of it so that you may more easily call yourself back to this energetic state in the future. Try to memorize every aspect.
  7. When you’re ready, you may release the practice and open your eyes. You can come back to this practice as many times as you need to. Eventually it will become easier and easier to cultivate this feeling whenever you want to.

If you’ve been practicing for a long time like I have and are just now coming to this realization, no worries. Obviously it took me this long to realize too. No need to be harsh on yourself about it or feel like you’ve just been wasting time up until now. The foundation you laid by “going through the motions” has led you to a place where you’re now able to delve more deeply into your practice, to add a new layer to your daily routine. We all move through our spiritual practice at our own pace, with our own unique obstacles along the way. Honor where you are now and keep moving forward.

If you have a daily gratitude practice, maybe today try to list only 1-3 things. Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of emotion behind each listed item. Let me know how it goes! I’d also love to know: What does love feel like in your body? What does gratitude feel like to you?

Gratitude Journal for a positive mindset - The Happi Empire

Challenge

work-life balance: Men struggle as much as women to maintain work-life  balance - The Economic Times

I’ve never been a very competitive person. Growing up with an older sibling, you quickly realize that you’re more than likely always going to lose anything that isn’t purely chance. My odds were only slightly better even in those scenarios as I never seemed to be lucky either. I have always blamed this dynamic in my childhood for creating the largely apathetic attitude I have regarding any type of competition. I expect to lose. I don’t care much if I win. So what’s the point? I’ve always preferred to avoid any chance of failure.

Recently I’ve realized that my lack of a competitive drive has also bled into my relationship with my own personal challenges. I’m a huge quitter. I’ve never had any problem backing out or giving up if I believe I am going to finish short of my goal. In addition to that, academics have always come easily to me. I never had to struggle to understand or accomplish anything as far as my school work went. I got pretty used to being ahead of my peers. It felt good to always be the smartest person in class, even if intellectually I knew I didn’t attend a very good school. When I got to college and found myself actually having to study for my chemistry and biology classes, I was quick to change my major rather than put in the extra effort. Psychology came much more naturally to me than science, so I finished out my formal education at the top of my class, no studying required.

I still think back on those college science classes every now and then though. I take pride in the fact I still managed to get A’s even though it was hard. Whereas I don’t really care about the grades I got in my psychology courses, because in my mind, they were easy. I was more shocked that anyone managed to do badly. I’ve started to recognize this recurring theme in my life though. I’m so afraid of failure that I only allow myself to do things I know I’ll excel in. Yet, whenever it does happen that I find myself in a challenging situation, it seems I enjoy it more in some ways. I definitely take more pride in accomplishments that were difficult for me. Sadly, despite my many accomplishments, I only have a few that fall into this category.

I think in a certain way, society encourages this type of behavior. “Do what you’re good at” seems to be the message. There is this idea that we have natural gifts. Once we find out what those are, that is where we should focus our energy rather than wasting our time improving at something we may only ever be mediocre at. Only after learning about the 10,000 hour rule, did I really begin to question that idea. While it is still widely believed some people are simply born with special talents, the 10,000 hour rule explains that if someone devotes enough time to a certain art or discipline, they will surely master it, regardless of innate ability. This idea puts the locus of control back on the individual.

After spending the last few weeks absolutely obsessed and in love with my new electronic drawing tablet, I started to view this whole issue from a different perspective. At first, I was terribly intimidated by this new software I had no idea how to use. A large part of me wanted to quit and just go back to pen and paper which I already knew I was good at. However, knowing how much money I spent on this tablet, I pushed through the discomfort of being an amateur. In doing so, I ended up having so much fun learning something brand new.

Through this experience, I’ve begun to realize that I actually enjoy being challenged. Once I get past my initial fear of failure, once I overcome my massive ego telling me it will be the end of the world if I’m not the best at something, no matter how frivolous, I inevitably start to have fun. Sure there is frustration along the way as I struggle to do something new, but that makes it all the more satisfying when progress is made. Ultimately I don’t even care if I can eventually master whatever it is I’m doing. The enjoyment itself is all I’m after.

I remember hearing about how highly intelligent students may do poorly if their lessons don’t keep up with their ability. The smart kids get bored and lose interest while waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, causing them to lose focus and motivation, or even start to act out. This never made much sense to me growing up. I liked that school was easy. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want their lessons to be harder, even if they found them laughably easy. Now I think I’m finally starting to get it.

A happy mind is a busy mind. A bored mind will tear itself apart. In my opinion this is why we often see the most intelligent people also suffering with the most extreme mental illness. Being intelligent is simultaneously a gift and a curse. High intelligence demands high levels of intellectual stimulation. The brain was made to create, to investigate, to learn, and to solve problems. Without these healthy outlets for mental energy, the brain begins to make problems for itself.

When all I do is things that only require half-assed effort, my brain has plenty of extra energy to run amuck. Boredom breeds rumination. With nothing to occupy my mind, it begins to pick apart little details of the past or fret over the future. To me, this is the opposite of the “flow state.” When we are in that coveted flow state, our brains are fully engaged in what we are doing. The rest of the world falls away, and we are able to exist in the present moment. When nothing in the present requires our full attention, the mind is free to wander. With enough wandering, it’s only a matter of time until we find ourselves in the uncharted territory of our own mental illness.

The ego looms large over the mind with mental illness. The ego tries to keep us in our comfort zone, tells us challenge is too hard, that failure is painful. But if we can push past this flawed perception, if we can overcome our ego, we actually find that it’s fun to be challenged! Challenges are what help us to learn, to grow, to stay interested in our day to day lives. It’s new. It’s novel. It’s engaging. Challenges are true workouts for the brain. And just like physical exercise, it makes us happier.

Now my problem has become coming up with ways to challenge myself. My brain is quick to catch on to anything new I try. Therefore I’m constantly required to switch it up and try new things if I want to keep my mind engaged. However, just like with my workouts, it’s always hard to motivate myself to take things to the next level. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. It feels good to be good at something. I’m going to work harder from now on to remember that it also feels good to be challenged and practice facing difficulties with enthusiasm rather than dread.