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.

Allow Yourself to Be a Beginner

Have you ever had a great idea for a project or personal goal, that seems super inspiring and exciting at first only to devolve into another disappointment as soon as you start taking real steps toward it? This happens to me ALL the time. Everything feels so much easier and more seamless when it’s just an idea. Unfortunately, our minds forget to factor in that embarking on new endeavors is challenging and often not immediately rewarding in the way we imagined it would be. This disparity between imagination and reality can cause us to give up on the idea too quickly.

For example, I just bought myself a spontaneous gift, a Wacom Intuos drawing tablet. For those who haven’t heard of this before, it’s a tablet that allows you to create digital art on your computer. It even came with access to a couple different softwares for making said art. I’ve been giddy about getting this tablet for days. I kept checking all day yesterday to see if it had arrived yet. I couldn’t wait to get home and start creating. I even told my coworkers about it and promised to show them all the cool things I would draw with it over the weekend.

Once I got home and got everything set up and ready to go, I was immediately filled with self doubt. I had hoped the software might be more simple and intuitive than Photoshop. However, the two seem nearly identical to me. There are just SO many options. I don’t even know where to begin. I figured I’d at least be able to do a simple drawing as well as I could with pen and paper, but I was dead wrong. So far I haven’t been able to make a single thing. Instead of drawing, I spent the better part of my evening doing research and watching tutorials.

Now this is normally the part in the process where I give up. I feel crushed not only that I can’t do what I thought I’d be able to do, but also that I “wasted” so much time and money believing I could. Thankfully, I am no longer the self-defeating person I once was. When I started to feel frustrated and like I wanted to quit yesterday, I just repeated my new mantra: It’s okay to be a beginner. The progress I’ve seen in my drawing over the last few years just from doodling every day has bolstered my self-confidence. I KNOW I can do this. I’ve done it before. I won’t let my ego stop me, just because it feels insulted we aren’t already the best at something we’ve literally never tried before. Sure, it feels good to be the best, but it feels even better to learn new skills and watch yourself get better and better.

My mindset is totally different this time around. I am more determined than I’ve felt in years. I’ve fucking GOT THIS. I know that determination is all that I need. That alone is a guarantee that I’ll master this new art form one day. It sure as hell won’t be tomorrow or even next week. Maybe not even next year. But I will be better than I am today by the time I reach each of those future dates. And eventually I’ll be better than I ever believed I could be. Instead of letting my total lack of ability right now discourage me, I’m using it to inspiring me. Won’t it be so freaking cool and impressive once I figure this out?! How proud I’ll feel. How fascinating it will be to watch my amazing sponge-like mind absorb this new knowledge and build a new talent. Right now, I don’t even know what this new software is capable of. The possibilities are endless.

Rather than running from our sense of inadequacy or feeling so embarrassed by being a beginner that we quit, we can choose to savor where we are right now. I want to remember what it feels like to be this know-nothing novice. I want to remember so that I can feel all the more joy in a few years when I look back on how far I have come. Every single expert was a beginner at some point. Would being an expert even hold any satisfaction if that weren’t the case?

Being a beginner is exciting! You are learning a new skill. What a wonderful way to exercise this incredible muscle we call the mind. That is part of the reason we are here on this earth, to learn new things, to explore, to experience. We won’t be able to do any of those things if we only allow ourselves to do what we’re already good at. Being a beginner is a beautiful thing to be. Choose to enjoy it.

Mantras to Practice:

  1. It’s okay to be a beginner.
  2. I am making progress toward my goals each day.
  3. It’s fun to learn new things.
  4. I enjoy challenging myself and building new skills.
  5. Practice makes progress.
Embracing a Beginner's Mind | Harlem Yoga Studio

Reframing Our Goals

The Science-Backed Reasons You Shouldn't Share Your Goals

I have a lot of big plans to start working on tomorrow. I’m really trying to get myself excited about these changes rather than feel overwhelmed by them. There is a thin line between eagerness and anxiety. It’s important for me to stay focused on the process rather than the end result. The process is where I’m going to be living, after all. I have to keep reminding myself that there really is no pressure. I’m only doing this for myself. I’m free to adjust and readjust as many times as I need to find the framework that best serves me moving forward. The most important part of all of this is making sure I practice loving kindness toward myself along the way.

1. Give Yourself Credit:

One of the ways I’m doing this is by taking the time to reflect on all the progress I’ve already made. I finally stopped smoking cigarettes again a few weeks ago. My inner voice wants to minimize this accomplishment by telling me things like: You shouldn’t have been smoking in the first place. You don’t deserve a pat on the back just because you stopped actively poisoning yourself. But that isn’t fair, and I know it. I deserve to feel proud of myself. It was a really difficult step for me to take. I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it. Now not only have I switched back to vaping, but I have absolutely no desire to smoke cigarettes.

In addition to that, I’ve also managed to pull myself out of a serious eating disorder after only a year. I know that might not sound like much of an accomplishment, but just listening to other people discuss struggling with similar issues for over a decade made me really appreciate myself more. I loved myself enough even in that toxic headspace to make steps in the right direction even if it meant gaining all the weight I lost back again. This time my inner voice says: You still have an eating disorder. You’re just eating abnormally instead of not eating, binging, or purging. Now you’re still fucked up and you’re fat. But once again, that’s not a fair assessment. My eating habits may still be far from perfect, but they are definitely better. This isn’t the end of my journey. I’m even ready to start taking the next step forward.

I often find myself falling into the trap of never-ending self-improvement. I am always looking for the next thing I can do to be a better version of myself. The problem is I never take a moment to appreciate the accomplishments and victories I have along the way. I am a strong, resilient person. I’ve done so much more than I ever thought I could. What’s the point of even having these goals if I never take a step back to enjoy my progress and assess how far I’ve come?

2. Get Excited

Part of the struggle of working towards new goals is just that, viewing it as a struggle. This is where the reframing comes in. Somehow even when we are the ones setting the goals, it can feel like something we have to do rather than something we simply want to do. Keep reminding yourself of all the reasons that you want to be working toward your goals. For me, my intention is to start living in a way that is more loving and compassionate toward myself. I want to live in alignment with my ideals and treat my body and mind with the care and respect that they deserve.

Even more than the words themselves, try to get in touch with the feelings behind those words. Logic alone may be enough to help us act, but it’s the emotion that first inspired us to change that is going to keep us energized and excited about the journey. I like to visualize how good I am going to feel once I’m living in a way that is more true to my values. I’m curious to find out how my body will feel, how my mind might change. This is an adventure that I cannot wait to embark on.

3. No Pressure

Often when I set new goals, I get caught up in putting far too much pressure on myself to achieve them. Instead of visualizing how good I’m going to feel or remembering why I started in the first place, I imagine how shitty I’ll feel if I fail. This is where it’s important for me to remember that no one is there to hold me accountable except myself. There is no reason to fear failure unless I give myself a reason to. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or if I ever even get to where I’m trying to be. Would it even be worth it if I got there by being cruel and hard on myself? There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting off track or making mistakes along the way. That’s all part of learning what works best for me. I’ve just got to stay curious. Why didn’t that work? Why might that have worked better? Is there a way I can make this easier or more fun for myself? No matter the end result, I’m guaranteed to learn a lot about myself along the way. And that is its own form of success.

Setting goals for ourselves shouldn’t be this scary, daunting task. It’s fun to try new things. It’s fun to have something to work towards. It’s fun to learn about ourselves, what motivates us, what sets us off track, what makes us happy. Let your goals be a game. The best part is, as long as you’re trying, you can’t lose.

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Why I Write

I feel like I’ve been struggling to come up with anything to write about for quite a long time now. When I first started writing every day, it was something I looked forward to. Now it’s nearly become something to dread. I can’t think of anything that I want to say. Even looking up writing prompts hasn’t been much help. Today I’ve finally decided to just write about the reason I write in the first place.

I let myself get too caught up in the details. It doesn’t really matter what I decide to write about. It’s the process itself that I enjoy. Sure often a certain topic I’m passionate about in the moment makes it easier to get into that flow state, but it isn’t necessary. More than anything, I just like spending some quiet time alone with my thoughts. Writing gives my brain something specific to focus on. It’s a chance to let the rest of the world fade away for an hour or so.

I love the way it feels rapidly hitting the keys on my laptop. I love the sound they make. I love watching the words magically appear on my screen. It doesn’t matter what those words are or whether anyone will read them. There doesn’t always need to be a lofty purpose for everything that I do. Sometimes it’s nice just to do something anything, with focused attention. This is the real reason that I write. It doesn’t make a difference if I have nothing to say.

Living with anxiety for so long has taught me that most of the time those anxious feelings come from trying to live in the future. Anything that can consume your attention and ground you in the here and now is wonderfully calming. The hard part is getting yourself to sit down and focus when you’re worrying about something. I’ll often find myself desperately trying not to worry about something in the future. What would be more helpful is finding something in the present to give my full attention. I don’t spend time trying to find the most productive or important thing to focus on. I just have to pick something.

This is why intentions can be so helpful. It’s easy to lose your center as your move through your day. Today my intention is to be present and enjoy myself. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t always have to take life so seriously. It’s okay to just be happy about the little silly things like seeing those baby geese by the pond on my way to work or snuggling with my dog for a few minutes on the couch this morning. Everything is just fine. Life is beautiful and I’m grateful to be here.

You Should Be Writing Every Day. Here's Why (and How to Do It)

Happy Hall-om-ween!

Even though I’m now 26 years old, I still love having an excuse to dress up for Halloween. This year I was lucky enough to have my weekly yoga class fall on the exact day! Some of my students may have found it corny or silly, but I had such fun adding spooky twists to the traditional poses this morning. (Spooked cat, alien abducted cow, spider fingers, haunted boat/bridge, thriller arms, etc.)

I am often someone who takes life a little too seriously. So it is important for me to remind myself to be goofy every once in awhile. I hope that my class today helped my students reconnect with their inner child and their imagination. No matter how old we get, we are all still sweet, playful, bright-eyed children somewhere inside. Make sure you take advantage of any chance you have to let that child out.