I’m gonna make my 2016 about exploring and experimentation. Last year I focused on writing: finding my voice, finding my confidence, finding a rhythm to write by. Now that we’re at the end of 2015, I find that I like my voice. I think I write from interesting angles and I like to explore.
This coming year, 2016, will be my time to figure out where the people are who might want to read what I’ve written. My tribe. I need to learn where I can make my writing a profession. Need is an interesting word to use, though. I guess I don’t really need to, but I want to contribute my share doing what I love to do. That’s my goal; by year’s end, but by July 1st would be even better!
I’ll write a blog about exploring, whatever strikes my fancy to explore on any given day. I’ll write blog posts freelance. I’ll tweet and text and email and post when I’ve written something. I’ll learn how to promote myself without feeling like an asshole.
My question is, who wants advice from a 50 year-old woman who admittedly doesn’t have it all together? Although my intent is not to advise, actually. It’s to demonstrate how I go about experimenting my way through life. It’s how I like to frame things.
So how will I measure? I guess the biggest difference in the way I do it is that I measure quality of life first. If I’m not happy with the way I’m spending my time, I’m just wasting it, and there’s nothing I hate worse than to waste stuff.
I had an epiphany today and made a significant decision in the course of my life because of it. In a nutshell, I was questioning whether there is a difference between spending time and spending attention in life. Confused? No worries, it took me a while to wade through my own thoughts. If I try to clear it up for you, maybe it’ll help me further clarify my own thinking and ingrain the idea more fully in my psyche or soul or whatever that part is that gives us life and consciousness.
Here’s my the train of thought: time is a mathematical construct that humans have superimposed over life to help give it form. For all its helpfulness, the concept of time is artificial and it has an inherently external quality. It exists outside of us.
Attention, on the other hand, is internal. There’s a direct link between me and my attention that I can’t make between me and time. Time is not under my control. Time can’t change me. My attention is, and can. It’s my choice whether my attention, or what I focus it on, will contribute to how I desire to live and who I want to become. Or not.
What it boils down to is I’m adjusting my internal vocabulary, self-talk if you like, so that how I live becomes an internal prompt to constantly become who I intend to be. Here’s an example. What if I’m scheduled to have dinner with someone I would prefer to avoid? It doesn’t really matter why, but let me go ahead and give you a backstory. This person used to be my boss and I left the company because she was claiming my work as her own. She happens to be a friend of a friend and now we’re all scheduled to have dinner together to celebrate our mutual friend’s engagement. (This is a totally fictitious scenario, by the way.)
It makes sense, though, that I would prefer not to have social contact with this person, right? If I focus on spending my time with her, over which I have no control, I automatically feel negative about the whole affair. However, if I decide to spend my attention that automatically prompts me to choose how to focus it. Time is not mine to manipulate, whereas my attention is. So, since I want my attention to grow me in the direction of the person I intend to become, I am more likely to choose a positive way to spend it. Perhaps this person is a dog lover. Well, hey, so am I! Maybe she likes the same NPR program that I do. Nice! I will choose to focus on like qualities and the parts of this person that I can appreciate.
We all have good and bad qualities and by focusing on the good I’ve given myself the chance to connect with someone I otherwise would not have bothered with. Why is that important? Connecting with people and appreciating their goodness is a part of me that I want to encourage in myself. There’s so much negative discourse in the world and cutting ourselves off from others because of a single trait, or even a few, we don’t like does nothing to reverse the negativity. We are all more similar than we are different. If we begin to focus on our similarities I believe we can eliminate some bits of the ugly global tensions that seem to multiply daily.
Food for thought: “Pay attention” is a great little phrase, isn’t it? What it says is that our attention is so valuable it costs us dearly to use.
How about we get a little more existential, just for a moment? All that I have, at the most basic level, is my life. If I weren’t here to experience it, none of the material things, the shirt on my back, the phone beside me, the coffee table I’m resting my feet on, none of it would exist, not for me anyway. It doesn’t matter except that I am here. So why concern myself more with the “things” that make up my life instead of my life, itself? Which leads me to another existential conundrum: how to define the meaning of life. If what we focus our attention on and target it at becomes the person we are, then, in essence our attention is ourselves.
Who am I? That’s the mystery of life that is continuously answered in bits and pieces as each moment passes into the next. If every moment builds me into the person I am, and I am always becoming a slightly new person, then it is important that I spend my attention, use my attention, focus my attention in ways that nourish the woman I desire to become. As long as I use that idea to guide what I do with each moment, how can I possibly reach my last moment on earth and not be satisfied with the life I lived?
So how should I choose to spend my attention? That’s the challenge, isn’t it? A broad and somewhat esoteric answer to that question might be, choose to spend it in ways that help you become the person you are meant to be. I can appreciate that, but it’s not directly instructive. I’d like something more concrete.
What about this? I choose to spend my attention challenging myself. That’s better, but still it’s only a pla and I’m looking for a plan. Here’s something: the things that interest me: nature, geology, relationships, photography, writing, hiking, family… those are already a part of who I am. If I choose to spend my attention on those things then I am choosing to become more and more of the person I want to become. Which doesn’t mean I’m leaving no room for growth. Just because all of those things interest me today isn’t to say that I won’t become interested in say contortionism some day and decide to spend some attention on body mechanics and flexibility.
The point is, only I can be me. Only I can choose who I become. If I don’t spend my life in pursuit of that becoming, then my greatest fear, the potential that I will live an unimportant life, may well come true. I refuse to let that happen. So I will spend my days spending my attention. Will I do anything groundbreaking? There’s always that possibility, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that I am interested in who I am and what every day of my life brings. I can’t think of any more satisfying way to live all of my days until the last.
And maybe it’s just me, but maybe I’ve been running around wasting my time when if I’d only chosen to pay attention before now maybe I would already have become the person I now endeavor to be and that person would already have set her sights even higher. But it’s really never too late , and I’m perfectly happy to start right now.
Don’t get me wrong, addiction is no joke. I have dear friends and relatives who have suffered with/through/around addiction and I know the heartache and struggles addiction brings with it. If you have or know someone with an addiction, get help! Start with a simple google search, like I did for this post, on “overcoming addiction” and go from there.
The rest of this post is not intended to be quite as heavy as life threatening addictions can be – it’s more a self-lament and, hopefully, step toward freedom.
I am a Facebook addict. Really. Checking Facebook is one of the first things I do in the morning and last things I do before bed at night. When I’m bored I’m most likely to grab my phone and tap that app, that beautiful, giant blue F. But I hate it, generally. I really do.
Everyone has an opinion about everything, but more and more frequently those “opinions” are no more than a bashing of the opposition. That’s not helpful, nor does it further any sort of intelligent discourse. Then there are the cute dog videos and kitty pictures – I’ve been guilty of posting my share, plus a few of my adorable bearded dragons – these are mind-numbingly redundant; likewise baby pictures. I understand you’re newest bundle of joy just simultaneously turned 268 days old and spit up a Picasso-esque clot of pureed vegetables, but we saw the same picture three times last week. Oh dear, the reposts, the political angst, the stupid memes!
I’m trapped, though. I am a co-conspirator to all things evil in social media and I hate myself every time I log in. So, it’s time that I figure my way out of it. Of course I started with some research about addiction.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is, in short, “an inability to consistently abstain” from a given substance, behavior, or activity. And by that definition, I am, indeed, a Facebook addict. I have gone so far as to delete the Facebook app from my phone, only to find myself logging in over Safari. In case you’re shaking your head, it’s okay. I am, too. I found some helpful information, though, when I searched the term “overcoming addiction.”
The top 10 google results included a few Christian-based advice sites, an article in Psychology Today, advice from Dr. Phil, and even a 13 Step wikiHow article. There was even a link to advice for beating your addiction to pornography… I chose not to click on that one. I’m no prude, but I’d rather not have that come up on my list of visited sites if the NSA ever takes an interest in my internet activities.
I’ll jump into the variety of advice with Dr. Phil. He’s a big advocate of self-assessment when it comes to addiction. One helpful question I found on his list was “What are you using your addiction to avoid?” Well that’s a loaded question, now isn’t it? My guess is most addicts aren’t prepared to answer such a question without a little coaxing. In turn, you may see my analysis of the question as a direct avoidance of answering it. And you would be correct. The truth? When I sit down and scroll through post after post of Facebook fluff, I’m avoiding my writing. I have some hangups about my writing and Facebook lets me ignore them. It also gives me a place to write silly little blurbs about some of the things that I really give a damn about, AKA the things that I should be turning into blog posts or articles or books. So yeah, it’s a place to hide from my fears.
There, I said it. And the Psychology Today article “Overcoming Addiction” reinforced that point for me when it advised that “the awareness of the relationship between addiction and symptoms of … anxiety is essential.” The more anxious I get the more likely I am to partake in my addicting behavior? Well now that’s a pattern I’ve seen before.
One of the more interesting revelations I had during my research was a kinship with the advice of Joyce Meyer on the Christian Post site: “True freedom is knowing who we are in Christ and that we are valuable because Jesus died for us.” Without delving too deeply into religious territory, I’ll rewrite that statement the way it sounded in my head – “True freedom is knowing who we are and that we are valuable.” To be brief, I am too much of a skeptic to be a good Christian (or any other structured religion) believer. Here’s the kicker for me: toward the end of the article this statement appeared, “Don’t try to do anything without praying.” I know prayer gives a lot of people strength and direction, but I’ve never found that, so I’m not a subscriber. Plus, I happen to believe that as I grow and improve as a person I am capable of what I put my mind to. Which is not to say I have any issue with those who are fervent believers. I like the gist of that quote, though. Having a deep understanding of ourselves and an equally deep trust that we each have our own intrinsic value is unquestionably important. Also, I’m pleased to know I appreciate good advice no matter whether I agree with its context.
Of course, there were some repeating themes, like, “the hardest part is deciding to change,” or “admitting you have a problem is the first step. ” True, but not very helpful in a practical way. wikiHow had some good advice in it’s 13 Steps. For example, “brainstorm a list of all the negative side effects” and “make a list of positive changes.” I like those. They’re good action items (for those of you in the corporate world, or up on the Top Ten Hippest Business Buzzwords).
One reassuring finding is that addiction has a genetic link. So when I claim to have an addictive personality, the Harvard Health article on overcoming addiction supports me in my belief. Why is that reassuring? Because what I’ve seen over and over again in my own family is this: addictive behavior isn’t the problem, truly. The problem lies in what you become addicted to and how that choice affects your life. There are far worse things to be addicted to than Facebook, to be sure, but I’d prefer to be addicted to my writing. That’s an especially helpful perspective to have since another recurring theme was finding other activities to replace or distract from the addiction you’re trying to break. I like the idea that the end result of my replacement behavior is the creation of new, never seen before material. Whether it’s good or bad is beside the point. To have spent my time in the research and then creation of a piece of written work that slakes my curiosity should prove to broaden me as a person. And that, ultimately, is what I’m looking for – to learn about life and my unique place in it. Is there any better reason to break an addiction than that?