Sometimes when I'm trying something new with something I do a lot of (writing!), it becomes a real struggle. My brain doesn't want to take in the new information because it says, "But I already know all sorts of stuff about this topic!" Even though I know the information I'm trying to take in is new or might give me a new perspective, I run up against all the things I already know, and I think I know enough and don't need the new stuff.
The thing is, new stuff is pretty much always good. A new perspective, a new way of approaching something, all of that can lead to creative growth. But you (I!) have to bring yourself to a place where you can let in the new stuff. You have to get back to beginner mind.
When I'm in that place I return to Natalie Goldberg's writings about beginner mind to help me open up to new things and look at new things the way I would have as an absolute beginner. This article shares some of her thoughts on that. I'd like to also add a few ideas of my own.
You can't unlearn what you already know to get to beginner mind. I find that it's not a forgetting of what has come before. It's more a quieting of the voices telling you what you already know. Self-talk helps a lot with this for me. "Yes, but I don't know this thing from this person's perspective." Or, in the case of things like writing exercises and things to do, "Just do it and see what happens even if I already know how to do this a different way. See if the two ways go together." Things like that, acknowledging that I do know things but am trying new things anyhow really helps me get past the resistance and into more of a beginner mindset.
Talking back to the judgemental voice helps me, too. My brain sometimes has a fit about the new thing being different from what I already know and likes to throw out "this is dumb!" or "this is wrong!" messages. I tell myself, "It's just new. Just try it and see what happens." (That "try it and see what happens" is my favorite!)
As I work through new techniques and ideas, I do a comparison to see how they are like what I already know. Then I find where the differences are. My brain likes to analyze things, so doing this opens me up to moving forward with the new stuff.
Finally, sometimes I fall back on a favorite KaizenMuse saying. "So what? I'll do it anyway!" I just add a bunch of attitude and plow forward.
I'll admit, I am mostly writing this to remind myself that trying new things is good and useful. I'm butting up against my "but I already know stuff!" voice a lot as I work on The 90-Day Novel, I need the reminders to keep going anyhow. I hope some of this is useful for you if you're trying something new in an area you're already knowledgeable in, too.
As an aside, I always feel weird ending blog posts. I feel like there should be something that says, "the end," but not just a wrap-up paragraph as if it's an essay. So I'm going to try a sign-off.
Just a little wrap-up after my daily blogging with Effy Wild during April.
I love doing blog challenges! I had forgotten how much fun they are, and I'm so glad I did this and connected with a bunch of other creatives and stretched my blogging muscles.
Daily blogging is way too much for me, at least long term. But I like the push of "blogging must happen today," so I'm trying out a set schedule of blogging on Wednesdays and Sundays. We'll see how that goes.
Back on April 1 at the start of the blog-along I wrote about these cute habit trackers I found. I loved them! They were adorable! I completely forgot to use them after two days. It turns out having them glued into my planner does not remind me to fill them in. I did do some of the things on that list (blogging for the challenge which I did each day in April, story writing which I did very little of, and cleaning something which I also did very little of). I do great with my monthly exercise calendar which has my goals for the month and squares to put cute stickers in every time I exercise. And it also hangs on a board in my bedroom where I see it several times a day, and I'm wondering if that visibility is a much more crucial element than I realized. I'm going to rearrange a few things and make space for hanging up more trackers, and I will try again in June (or maybe a half-month thing starting mid-May).
I'm working through a 90-day novel writing book with a couple of writer friends. We started May 1, and so far it's different from what I imagined and seems pretty useful. More about that in another post, maybe on Sunday.
That's about it in my corner of the world. Looking at what's been working. Making plans for how to use that going forward. How are things in your corner?
I had a few different topics rolling around in my head for today's post. Then I opened Jon Acuff's Friday newsletter, and this sentence flung itself into my brain. I almost never read newsletters when they hit my inbox, so this was kind of an odd situation. I decided it must mean something, me reading it on the day I got it, and this sentence getting stuck in my head. And so here we are.
Feelings are an odd thing for me. I used to fight mine a lot. I used to try to never cry and not show too many of them. In my family, I was known for never crying at funerals. And at the same time I was actually incredibly emotional. I just saved the tears and the expression of it all for when I was alone or with a couple of close friends. It was like this all through high school and college and beyond.
I've been practicing more at expressing my feelings, examining them and doing what needs doing with them in a timely manner rather than burying them. And I've realized that my struggles with trying to control my emotions, keep them in check and invisible, has lead me to let them rule me and make all my decisions for me.
I've had that understanding but not quite these words for it until today when this phrase came along and lit everything up for me. Emotions are important. They need to be listened to, acknowledged, worked with. But letting them make the decisions in how I talk to myself and my actions--that doesn't need to be the way things go.
This is something I know, of course. I've known it for a long time. It's so much harder to practice than it seems like it should be. So this reminder today, when I've been having a lot of hard days, is good and needed.
I don't have a wrap-up. This is just a thing that swirled back into my attention today in a way that made it a little clearer and more solid, and now I am thinking of ways to work with it to help me move toward the life I want to be living. It's good stuff, but it's still open-ended. Like life is. Like so many things are.
Thursdays are turning into weirdly hard days. I got called last minute to go to a different school, and it was an elementary school again (I teach middle school and high school for Pete's sake!). And a mix of things have added up to lots of pain in my leg, so I can't get comfortable and I can't concentrate so I can't get anything done that I really wanted to do, and it's about bed time, and I feel like there's too much stuff I need to do in the next three days. And really what I want to do is delve into this new writing book I'm working through with a friend and some writer friends of hers. We're starting Saturday, but we're doing the prep exercises right now, and being responsible and doing the stuff I need to do is killing me! I don't want to be an adult right now!
Okay, I feel a little better now. I highly recommend writing down the stuff that's bugging you. And complain about it, too! I think it clears the brain. Now I'm going to go write a list. On paper. Of the things I need to do over the next few days. And I'll get it all done. That's the power of writing things down for me. This brain is ready to go!
I don't like gratitude lists. I think it's great that other people like them, but I kinda hate them. They feel forced and phony, and the few times I've worked with them I've been really resentful. But I love writing lists of good things in my day (today the good things are plants--I bought gerbera daisies and polka dot plants and spearmint and curly parsley!).
Aren't they the same thing, you ask. I ask, too. Maybe they are. Somehow, the designation of gratitude list and the designation of list of good things sit very differently with me. Making a gratitude list makes me feel like I'm faking an emotion, because I often don't feel particularly grateful about the things I'm writing down. But a good things list is more objective, or at least more removed from the emotion part. I'm just looking around, observing good things, and writing them down. I'm not trying to force myself to feel anything about it.
That's really it. I don't have a point to this post really except to say that I don't like gratitude lists but I do like good things lists. Do you do either one of these? How do you feel about them?
When I'm tired, especially when it's the kind of tired from my body hurting and it's still hurting, it's hard to find five good things (or even three or two, honestly) in my day. But I think that's when it's especially important for me to do these lists. Finding some good things on hard days keeps me from sliding into even harder times. So here's a list for today.
I have a day off tomorrow, so I get to stay up a little later (I am a night owl!) and sleep in a bit in the morning.
We ordered pizza for dinner.
I was invited to do a writing thing with a group of writers starting on the weekend, and I have a brand new composition book to crack open for it!
M surprised me with an adorable Strange Planet mask to add to my collection of fun masks to wear at school. It even says "knowledge transmitter."
It's chilly enough to have the fireplace on and a blanket on my legs (under the sleeping kitty), and it feels very cozy and relaxing right now.
As the weather starts to warm up, everyone seems to be winding up, making plans for the summer, talking about all the projects they're going to do. I love hearing about it, but I'm not going to lie. I feel overwhelmed. It's nice out! I should be doing so many things!
I think I'm not the only one. So I made us a little plan for how to get things done even when it's overwhelming.
Keep it simple. This is not as easy as it sounds. Make a note. Put it on your mirror. (And remember--if you're overwhelmed, your plan isn't simple enough).
Don't try to do everything. It's easy to see all the cool stuff out there and want to do it all. But trying that is just going to exhaust you or freeze you up so nothing gets done. So spend some time thinking of the things you really want to do, then whittle that list down to the ones that will really feel good. Put everything else on a list for later.
Celebrate when you take a small step! You're getting stuff done, and who cares how much your neighbor Janice did?
Make sure you put some fun things on your list. Fixing up the yard and the house and whatnot are great. But what do you want to remember at the end of the spring or summer? I want to remember drives in the country and going to the coast and visiting waterfalls and lighthouses. Put some experiences on your list. Make sure you sprinkle them in amongst the tasks and to-dos.
Take things off the list whenever you can. Doing a bunch of yard work? Don'e put making dinner on your list for the same day. If ever there was a time for carry-out, the evening of a big yard work day is it!
When you're thinking of what you want to do ask yourself some questions. "What's the simplest way of doing this?" "What's the smallest step I can take toward this?" "Why do I want to do this? What do I want to feel from doing this?" Make your plan from the answers.
We can do everything. Just not all at once. And we don't really need to. We just need to figure out the things that will make us feel good because we did them, then pick those. And keep those steps small and simple!
I was just telling my partner that I want a spot in the backyard to go and hangout. In the past I had toyed with the idea of a she-shed, but right now the space just won't work. We're going to be putting an enclosed patio on the back of our bedroom, but right now the front yard is the focus. Then a friend got this super cute tent that has colorful pennants and swirly things on it, and I want one! Or something like that. For my backyard. So he came up with a few ideas for me, and I got pretty excited.
And then I stopped dead in my tracks. I don't tend to go sit outside. I never really have, unless I'm at an outdoor party or something like that. I shouldn't put any time and effort and money into fixing up a spot in the backyard. I just want to be that person who sits outside to read and listen to music. I've never actually been that person. What if I set everything up and don't use the space?
But then I realized that if you want to be a certain kind of person, you don't have to wait to do the things that sort of person does until you've made the proper inner shift or whatever. You become a certain type of person by doing the things that sort of person does. I
Writers write. Artists create. Backyard sitters go sit outside. So I'm going to set up a space for myself and see what happens. I might just be a person who enjoys sitting outside! And I'm going to think of what other people I want to be, and I'm going to start walking the walk. That's how you get there, after all.
I'm behind on a bunch of things I wanted to get done this week (going back to work flattened me, and I hate that!). But today I really needed to play with some paint. So I caught up a little bit with my Wanderlust lessons. Played with alcohol inks mixed with my paints on the gel plate. Got one print I especially liked, but the edges didn't lift so the actual print area wasn't big enough for what I wanted to do. So I made another one (and a couple more because gel printing!) and got this, and I'm pretty satisfied with this. And feeling better after having some play time.
The takeaway--sometimes, even if you have a lot to do, you have to step back and get in some creative play time to lighten up and give yourself a boost so you can get on with all the other stuff.
I think that like many people, one of the reasons I was drawn to teaching and coaching was to learn more about how to do my own work and find ways to go through or around or over my own stumbling blocks.
One of my biggest stumbling blocks is perfectionism. That's true for so many creatives! What is it with our brains?! That's a question for a longer post, though.
Lately, to help me conquer my perfectionist tendencies, I'm working with the ideas in Jon Acuff's book and course Soundtracks. This week I have been practicing a new soundtrack for when I get frustrated because something is imperfect and not been working out. I've especially been using it as I'm trying to put together a version of that master to-do list idea I wrote about the other day. I've tried a couple of ideas that just aren't working for me, but instead of giving up on the idea, putting it aside for later and probably never getting back to it, I've been saying, "This one isn't quite working out for me. What else can I try?" And it's been pretty awesome.
My brain loves questions, so as I work more with these soundtrack ideas I'm seeing more and more that putting in questions with my statements is a really good way to go for me. My brain instantly starts coming up with answers when it gets a question, and that seems to be helping me not get stuck when things aren't working out. It's just a matter of finding the questions that really get to the heart of what's holding me back.
How do you keep yourself from getting stuck or quitting when things aren't going as you'd hoped? Do you like questions? Or does something else do a better job of getting you rolling again?