Life Lessons

Start with a list

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So a blogger friend of mine sent me a message the other day saying, “I’ve lost my writing mojo.”

I replied back with, “You’re not the only one,” considering I haven’t been as consistent on my blog as I usually am.

But then she said she had to write an important report and couldn’t even get that done. So my suggestion was to start with a list. Just bullet points. Incomplete sentences. Grammarless English. Or Sheng.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of lists. Whether you’re trying to break out of writer’s block or a prolonged procrastination period, lists usually do the trick because they’re so simple.  My personal favorite list is one I saw spreading on social media. It fools you into thinking you’re so productive.

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Joking aside, there’s no rule of where to write your list or how it should look like. You may write it on a post-it note and stick it on your laptop screen to increase its visibility (though that doesn’t always work because your mind gets trained to ignore it).

However, the single best advice I’ve heard about daily to-do lists is “Limit your to-do list to three tasks.” No less, no more. Having more than three items on your list can be a bit overwhelming especially when the tasks take hours. Also, finishing the day without crossing out everything on the list makes your mind think it’s okay to put off today’s work until tomorrow and that enables the procrastinator in you.

So what type of lists are you used to writing? Leave your comments below and feel free to share.

Your Little Happiness Box

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Why is it that when we have a bad moment, we find ourselves digging up all the bad moments from our past and talk about this continuous spiral of doom? But when we have a happy moment, we let it stand alone in the middle of a spotlight and don’t associate past happy moments with it. Is it because we are more inclined to the negative than the positive? Or is it because of the adage, “Misery likes company”?

I read of an idea by a blogger called Gretchen Rubin about keeping a collection of happy memories at hand. You can be creative about how exactly to do that, but the main goal is that it should remind you of happy moments, so it could act as a trigger for your happiness whenever you’re feeling down. And it should be accessible. Traditionally, people have used photo albums a lot to capture happy Kodak moments but the problem is that sometimes families keep them in places where it’s a hassle to retrieve them (because they’re precious and all), so it’s the last thing on your mind when you’re feeling down.

Step number 1 would be to organize your memories. Whether they’re in the form of photographs or restaurant bills or receipts, you can work on a scrapbook or a filebox to keep your happy memories in one place. The problem nowadays is that people have various means of taking digital photographs so their images end up being spread “all over” (on one’s iphone, or tablet, or a parent’s samsung, or they got it through whatsapp….). So it would help to sit down for a few hours every month to organize images in a virtual or physical (accessible) photo album. I personally like making picture collages with happy memories and keeping them within my journal. That way, the collage gives me a visual summary of happy moments. And since my journals are filled with words, the pages that have the collages attached tend to catch my eye immediately when I flip through the journal. And since I always have my journal with me, it happens to be easily accessible.

Others have spread the idea of a “Happiness Jar” on social media sites where they write about happy moments on a small piece of paper and put them in their Happy Jar. These could be surprise gifts they’ve received or things they’ve accomplished or simply “LOL” moments. However you decide to organize your memories, be creative and be you!

Step number 2 would be to use your organized memories for days when you’re feeling down. So let’s say you’re faced with a disappointment and your thoughts immediately start dragging you down the spiral of doom, you can open your filebox or scrapbook or Happy Jar and brighten up your mood. Your happy memories don’t always have to be in the form of pictures. I know people who collect fridge magnets from all the countries they’ve visited. That can act as a visual reminder that in life, there are good days as well as bad days, even if the bad days tend to bunch up together in your mind.

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Sonrisa

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You can say that what happens around you doesn’t affect you a bit, but we’re all affected somehow by every experience, every person we interact with, every word we hear and see, every soundbite we watch on TV. We are all affected somehow. Whether the effect is positive or negative, it doesn’t matter. How many people have we run into who changed the course of our lives? Some people beautify the landscapes of our lives, while others ruin it. Then there are those who don’t influence it much. Until they’re gone and we realize how subtle their contributions actually were.
If there’s something I learned in my life is never to get attached. To people, to places, to lifestyles. Don’t get attached, because life can change in a second. And don’t be too picky about making plans because plans are perfect until the time comes for you to execute them.
Sometimes Kid President’s words make sense especially when he says that sometimes you need to give yourself a high-five just for getting out of bed. Go through the motions and focus on making it through the day, from sunrise to sunset, and be grateful to God when you do.
It’s very easy for us to live in our own bubbles, heads hung over our smartphone screens, shutting out the world around us. It’s very easy to imagine that our personal problems are the biggest problems on Earth. Whether to it’s trying to figure out where today’s dinner is going to come from, or whether you have wi-fi coverage where you are; whether it’s a third world problem or a first world problem…it’s very easy to think we’ve got it worse than others.
But everybody’s got problems, everybody’s worried about something, everybody’s got secrets. So don’t go wishing you’re living someone else’s life just because they appear to have no problems. Appearances can be deceiving. It’s like the Swahili saying that crudely translates to “Walls have hidden many secrets”.
You know they say that, “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.” We realize that maybe our problems are manageable. Maybe our problems are unique to us because we’ve got the tool to handle them. Maybe we’re the only ones who can make turn a difficulty into a triumph.
And finally, take a lesson from the page of that poor, barefoot, five-year-old African boy in the dirty tattered clothes who, even though he doesn’t have much, he’s still got a reason to wear a sonrisa on his face…maybe because as long as the sun rises, he still got a reason to smile.

P.S. Image used for illustrative purposes only

Get Happy Yourself

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Sometimes in the midst of the whirlwind of having a child around it is easy to forget about yourself. You become the parent, the nurse, the teacher, the caretaker, but you forget that you’re also you, the person. A friend of mine once brought up the discussion of how some people in our parents’ generation lost touch with their closest friends once they got married and had children. Which was all good and fine until those children grew up, flew out of the nest, and a vacuum formed, because their closest friends were no longer around to provide the support system they needed. Interesting enough in one of the anecdotes provided in the discussion, someone said that they wished their parents had kept in touch with their friends because now they were stressing her out and blaming her for not always being there.

So it got me thinking about how people in our generation seem to be walking down the same path. The moment they get married (sometimes the moment they get engaged) they disappear from social circles and no longer respond to any communications. Which nobody would blame you if you have a child who is younger than five. But when the children are in school, or when there are no children, what is their excuse?

Having some me-time is important. Remembering you’re an individual is important. And sometimes the individual in you needs a friend to counter the stress that children can bring about, and those friends don’t need to be your friends from uni. They could be other mothers from your children’s school or they could be neighbors. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. You’ll find people to connect with the moment you learn to reach out. And if you think you’re being selfish about having ‘me-time’ with your friends then think about it this way, studies have shown that how happy you are dramatically improves the psychological well-being of your children. In other words, happiness is contagious, and yeah…

they’re watching you.