Guest Blog by Colleen Paeff
I took this picture while hiking through Hidden Valley in Joshua Tree. I love how the rock face looks so hard and unyielding and yet, at the tippy-top – growing right out of the rock – is a tree. And if you let your eye wander downhill, you can see a person standing erect, looking up the hill, as if mentally preparing for the climb ahead. Seems like a perfect metaphor for the new year, right?!
So, how are you feeling about the climb ahead? Strong? Do you have the right tools? A helpful mindset? Can you see your goal out there ahead of you?
In 2024, my big goal is to learn to focus through adversity. It’s not a resolution, mind you. I hate resolutions. They always make me feel bad about myself. It’s more like a muscle I want to work. I collected some tips from my newsletter followers on staying focused when life gets tricky and have compiled some great ideas – especially when it comes to staying focused on writing. I will be using these in the new year and I’m sharing them in the hopes you might find them helpful too:
Create Deadlines by Taking Part in a Regular Critique Group
I have friends I rely on for critiques, but we don’t set deadlines. This advice, however, inspired me to join a monthly critique group organized by some of my Soaring ‘20s buddies. Now I have a monthly deadline!
Write First Thing in The Morning – Before Doing Anything Else
Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Do not touch the phone or computer! I’ve already started doing this and it’s made an enormous difference in my productivity.
Do a Project Brain Dump and Prioritize One or Two
In spare moments (even of just a few minutes) devote some time to working on one of those prioritized projects. If I have a few extra moments I tend to play puzzle games on my phone, but now I’m experimenting with writing during those moments instead of playing games. I keep a dedicated folder in my Notes app for these quick writing bursts.
Rely On To-do Lists
I am a huge fan of checking things off lists, so I will be making better use of to-do lists in the new year. I plan to color code my lists by subject and day of the week and use different colors for different areas of my life. For example, writing projects, school visits, and home life will each have their own colors.
And now I here is my own advice for you! Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the benefits of mindfulness. People always talk about how mindfulness allows you to live fully in each moment of your life, which is great, but also feels a little abstract. Well, the other day I realized practicing mindfulness has a very concrete benefit that I’ve always overlooked – it silences critical self-talk!
For example, while I wash my hands, if I think about the feel of soap between my fingers and observe the way the water falls into the bowl of the sink, there's no room in my head to berate myself for eating that second bowl of ice cream. I don't have space to think about the projects I haven't finished or the floors I haven't cleaned. It's like meditating, but I'm up and about, living my life – without being harangued by critical voices. How could I not have recognized this sooner!?!? Maybe everyone else already knew this, but it was a revelation to me!
Here's my challenge to you for the new year:
When your inner critic starts talking, practice mindfulness. Notice the things that surround you, focusing on your senses. What can you see? Is there beauty hiding in the mundane? What do you smell or hear? Are those senses stronger when you close your eyes? If you’re eating, slow down and really taste your food. What surfaces surround you? How do they feel?
I’ve noticed a profound difference in my state of mind since I started practicing mindfulness in this way. I hope it will do the same for you. Let me know if it does!
This essay original appeared in Colleen's newsletter.
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