A Purposeful WIP Learns to Listen

Have you noticed how loud the world has become?

With the availability of portable electronics, we seem to be constantly inundated with buzzing and beeping and chirping. And even if you aren’t currently somewhere with an abundance of external noise—no car horns, no blaring television or radio, no one-sided phone conversations or miscellaneous white noise from those around you—chances are good you are still subjected to plenty of other, more stealthy bits of noise. Things like social media posts, internet stories, the chatter in your own head that constantly reminds you of your endless to-do list and how you’ll never have enough time, energy, [fill in the blank], etc., to achieve that goal of yours.

For some reason, when I think of our often chaotic, overstimulated society, I picture us all in a giant ballroom filled with hundreds and hundreds of other people sitting at elegantly set tables. Waiters wearing white coats with gold buttons rush around with trays of hors d’oeuvres and narrow champagne flutes. Amidst the clink of dinnerware, there’s the hum of classical music—tasteful and unobtrusive in its style and volume, yet played on a relentlessly endless loop—and of course, conversation. Everybody has something to say. Everybody wants to be heard. EVERYBODY is talking. And if everyone is talking, that means no one is listening.

You might wonder what listening has to do with making progress on goals.

I pondered that one myself and couldn’t come up with a single goal that doesn’t require some form of listening. If your goal is to start your own business, you must learn to listen to your instincts. If your goal is to become healthier, you must learn to listen to your body. A goal to build closer relationships with loved ones requires listening better to them. Listening to my creative mind is essential for attaining my goal to write a novel.

But if listening is so important, then how do we learn to do it well amid all the noise? This is a simultaneously simple and difficult task, but here are three ways to get started:

Make time every day to turn off and tune in. Turn off all the external noise—the TV, the phone, the computer, etc.—and find a way to turn off the internal noise (e.g. by practicing meditation, prayer, journaling) in order to tune into yourself. With the number of outside voices we encounter on a daily basis, it’s easy to lose the ability to hear our own. Turning off and tuning in every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, can re-center our mind, refocus our attention, and remind us of our purpose, our goals, and our essentials.

Be present. As far as listening to other people goes, this one is kind of obvious. If we’re having a conversation with someone else, but while they’re talking we’re thinking about what we’re going to say next or regretting something we said two days ago or planning what to make for dinner, we’re not really engaged in that discussion. But staying in the current moment can also help with that internal chatter. Instead of holding onto negativity and criticism by replaying that interior video of past mistakes or wishing for a fast forward button, we’re more likely to stay positive and motivated and follow through on a goal if we listen to ourselves in the present tense.

Decide what to let in. This one is tricky. With so many options available to us, it’s hard not to get caught up in a fear-of-missing-out mindset. We want to do, see, and experience it all, but we have limited time, limited energy, and limited capacity for absorption. The cool thing is the choice is ours. We get to decide what outside noise we allow into our minds. We get to decide what music we listen to, which books we read, which shows we watch, who we spend time with. All of these things affect us both positively and negatively. They can weigh down or uplift our motivation, our mood, and even our energy. So choose and listen wisely.

What about you? What tools or tips do you or have you employed to learn to listen well in our often loud culture?

Let It Go

Photo by Raul Varzar on Unsplash

Over the last several weeks, I have been slowly and methodically cleaning out old files. I’m talking paper bills and statements, digital documents and records, ancient emails, defunct usernames and passwords, obsolete internet favorites. You name it. If it once fell into the “I may need this someday” category, I kept it. But things were starting to pile up—file cabinets, plumb full; digital folders, overwhelming and unorganized. Clutter created by those “somedays” that never came.

I find such chaos to be distracting, so this purge has been largely a cathartic exercise. But it has also provided an eye-opening reminder of just how difficult it can be to actually let things go. For instance, when unearthing a decades’ old back-and-forth email conversation that was written when emotions were running high, I could still feel the sadness and hurt associated with the message despite the fact that I have long since moved on. My body reacted even though my mind had mostly forgotten the particulars surrounding the situation.

Who needs to remember such things? I certainly don’t . . . DELETE.

And so it went. Anything that brought about joy, wistfulness, or thoughtful reflection—love notes from my hubby, meaningful missives from friends and family, etc.—was saved for a rainy day, whereas anything that prompted useless reminders of not-so-great times went in the trash bin. Immediately, I noticed a gradual, but perceptible shift in my mood with each deletion. A lightness. As though each memento had been lodged in my subconscious and by discarding the negative and rereading the positive, my perception changed shape.

Imagine if our memories were like the hard drive on my computer. Imagine how much space we would free up in our hearts and minds for love and goodness and forgiveness if we could, with the click of a button, simply clear the clutter created by resentment and bitterness and disappointment. Maybe it really is that easy. Maybe we just need to make the decision to do so. Maybe we just need to take advice from Queen Elsa of Arendelle and the Zac Brown Band and Let. It. Go.

A Purposeful WIP Kindles Karma

What does the word Karma mean to you?

To me, it’s not a reward or punishment in the next life for the way we behave in this life—although that is technically its definition—but more of a You Get What You Give prospect. We give love and we’re more likely to receive love. We forgive and we’re more likely to be forgiven. We encourage and are more likely to be encouraged. The energy that we put out into the universe, the outlook with which we approach life is what returns to us.

In terms of our goals and dreams, karma means opening ourselves up in order to support and encourage other people, which then brings that support and encouragement full circle back to us. This idea aligns well with a post I wrote several weeks ago called A Purposeful WIP Cultivates Community. We can certainly work on our goals on our own, but it’s much easier to achieve and accomplish them when surrounded by a caring community.

For the first several years when I began writing my manuscript, I had closed myself off from others, keeping my energy and efforts and aspirations largely to myself. I worked on my novel, I wrote and rewrote, edited and reedited, but I never really moved past the first draft stage. But after reengaging that community mindset and relearning how to share and cheer on other people and celebrate their progress, I, too, began making progress.

But it isn’t about keeping score. This isn’t an “I scratched your back, now you scratch mine” proposition. It’s more of a wholehearted openness. It’s embracing a spirit of genuine giving, gratitude, and graciousness. It’s choosing to kindle karma without expectation or entitlement. It’s doing a good turn for the simple sake of adding goodness to the world.

What can you do to kindle that kind of positive karma this week?

A Few Words of Wisdom for My Younger Self

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

I love this time of year. The subtle shift in the air bringing with it notes of the coming fall. The return of football season. The plethora of school supplies littering store shelves. Although I haven’t been involved in the back-to-school hype for many years now, the arrival of those character book bags and lunch boxes, bright-colored crayons and markers, crisp notebooks and folders fills me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.

I think back to my own first days of school. The nerves, the excitement, the promise of growth and change, the requisite picture of my brother and me sporting our new duds while shouldering our fully stocked backpacks. Aided by the passage of time, my memory of those days is largely shaded with warmth and fuzziness and although I have no desire to relive it—there are just as many awkward and insecure moments tucked in my brain’s hard drive (and likely many more that my subconscious keeps in a password protected file that even I can’t access)—given the opportunity, I would offer my younger self a few words of wisdom:

  • It doesn’t matter what clothes you wear, the condition of your skin, the sound of your voice, the timing of your development. Although others may identify you with these things, they don’t define you. But the level of your strength in character, your generosity in spirit, your honesty and loyalty in relationships, now these are the guideposts with which to measure yourself.
  • Don’t worry so much. Most of the imagined worst-case scenarios you lose sleep over will never actually happen.
  • Have faith. All things in life are temporary, but God is steadfast. Learn to rely on Him.
  • You know the walls surrounding the gym floor at those junior high dances? Yeah, they don’t need your help to stay standing. And neither do you need to wait for someone to lead you out onto the floor. Use your own two feet to get out there and boogie.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. Hidden talents and secret passions aren’t discovered by staying in your comfort zone.
  • Your family and friends provide the foundation for a full life. Treat them with love and respect.
  • Live in the moment. The past cannot be altered and the future will unveil itself soon enough. So wake up, pay attention, and embrace the present.

If you had the chance to speak to your younger self, what advice would you give to her/him?