Posts Tagged ‘dreams’

Inspiration Challenge 16: Make a Play Date with Your Inner Child

February 19, 2009

The first thing I think of when I think of my inner child is “Harry Potter,” because when I was 15 Harry Potter brought me back my childhood.  My young childhood, the one taken with fairies and magic all around us, just waiting to be discovered by the right pair of eyes.  But simply rereading Harry Potter feels like an easy way out of this challenge, so I pushed one step further.  What about that younger child?  How was she doing?  What would she want to do now?

And then I remember the creek fairies.  Actually, I’m not quite sure what they were called, but they lived in four marbled folders stuffed full of paper that I used to carry around with me everywhere, scribbling notes for the novels I had planned for their adventures, one for each folder.  The fairies were about three inches tall and lived by a creek, though they were eventually forced to move to an island and into the forest, among other places (hence the subsequent novels).  Their adventures were the first novel-length story I planned, and I faithfully sat down to my father’s computer at the tender age of 8, typing away for 20-odd pages after school and on weekends before I stopped one day.  I think the words stopped flowing, and I stopped typing.  It was my first run-in with writers block.

I wish I had that manuscript now.  So instead of putting Harry Potter on audiobook as soundtrack to the dishes, I sit down to recreate the story of the creek fairies.  There are few details I remember now, only that they could fly (all my fairies could fly), and that they were gatherers, making do with nature’s provisions for sustenance and household goods.  It was idyllic for sure, no hunting or conflicts with neighboring tribes of creek fairies, maybe a close call with a fox.  The fairies of my childhood were always sweet, without edge, the type of people I wanted to surround myself – the type of person I wanted to be, I suppose, living in harmony with beauty in the world.

The stories, too, never had much plot.  I was usually too enamored with creating the details of their context to think about action.  Imagining the details of a house in a log inspired me more than friction to move a story along.  I much preferred to imagine how many rooms they would have, how they would furnish it, where they would play and cook and sing and befriend a gross hopper or friendly mouse.  I can think of very few details now in the fogginess of adulthood, only, perhaps, a hollowed out acorn for cups or bowls, but even now the adult censor kicks in, asking if they would harden the acorn shells with fire for durability, how they would find or tend such a fire, whether the cups would really be waterproof.  Perhaps it is this voice of “common sense,” this inner critic, that silences the imagination now, for it has been challenging to recreate these details that I loved so much in childhood.  My mind does not operate on the same scale or see natural objects with multiple uses anymore.  I wonder if I am rusty, or if my mind is too filled with “big world” matters like plot and characterization, to hear the voice of the young child calling through the darkness.

I think the creek fairies must have coincided with my Borrowers phase, because I read many similarities between the two.  The tiny scale (though most my fairies were this small), fashioning daily goods out of found objects, moving in and out of nature.  How I loved nature, even in those days!  How I loved making daily objects from found items, improvising a boat out of a large leaf and a stick!  How I loved stories like Stuart Little, reading about improvising for tiny creatures or for living out in nature.  I loved books like the original Bobsey Twins books, a complete set from my mother’s childhood.  Those books featured activities like experimenting with jelly cakes or making houses out of cardboard shoe boxes.  Making.  Doing.  Creating.

I see now that theme has always been inside me.  Those were the stories that most drew me because they wrote of activities that fascinated me.  Today those are the very same activities I prefer.  Instead of creating small worlds where my protagonists occupied center stage, I’m now taking these activities and using them in my life instead.  What’s missing is the magic and the imagination.  Or perhaps they are merely expressed in a different format, magic and imagination framed in grown up terms like recipe improvisation or the sheer joy of a beautiful sunset.  But I do miss that young child.  I think she still has lessons for me, if only I can cut through the din of the world to hear her whispered fancies.

Day 17 challenge: bring fresh flowers into your life.

Day 18 challenge: Do something new.

Day 19 challenge: Reconnect with an old friend.

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Ways to Keep Inspiration In Your Life

February 17, 2009

There are many ways to keep inspiration in our lives.  Daily challenges are one way, inspiration boards another.  In the spirit on inspiration, here are more ideas to spark your thoughts:

*Inspiration scrapbook or binder.  Similar to the board but a permanent landing place that keeps all your ideas in one place.  Can be multiple binders, or one with compartments for recipes, weekend activities, home decorating ideas, work projects ideas, favorite sayings, reflective exercises such as “If money were no object …”

*Inspirational quotes, photographs and images.  These can be placed anywhere: a photo of your next vacation spot next to the computer monitor at work, a picture of the your dream house tucked into the credit card compartment of your wallet, “if money was no object …” list taped to the mirror.

*Visual reminders of impending deadlines.  Some people prefer to track their daily efforts against a larger timeline to keep themselves moving forward.  In this case, weekly or monthly goals should be written up in a prominent location.  Every week I make a list of topics I want to write about.  When I’m fumbling around at 7AM trying to get the words to flow, this list is usually enough to point me in the right direction.

*Visual reminders of progress made.  A visual metaphor for progress is a powerful antidote to the voices of self-doubt, laziness, or the mental roadblocks that make it difficult to start your project each day.  Pinging is one example.  Or place a calendar next to your work spot, and every time you complete your goal – exercise for 20 minutes, write 500 words daily, clean out the attic to make room for your expanding side business – mark that day with a giant X.  As the X’s start to accumulate on the calendar, your motivation to keep going comes from two sources: to keep moving towards your goals, but also to keep up that steady stream of X’s.  Or say you’re trying to exercise regularly.  Put a dollar in a clear glass jar every time you exercise.  It’s a nice feeling as the dollars accumulate in the jar, and you can use the jar as fun money to treat yourself to something you wouldn’t otherwise do.

*Images that remind you of your ultimate goal.  This keeps the focus towards the ultimate goal and overcomes small temptations along the way that detract from the ultimate goal.  A smoker might quit to be around when her grandchildren grow up.  One way to encourage her is to put a box of mints or Altoids where she normally keeps her cigarettes, and paste a picture of her grandchildren to the front of the box.  If habit kicks in and she automatically reaches for a cigarette she’s immediately reminded of her reasons to quit, instead of growing tempted to have “just one” because the conspicuous absence causes her to fixate on smoking.

Take some time to reflect on what you find most challenging, and where you could use some inspiration.  On a day-to-day level, what do you find most difficult?  Getting started?  Keeping the rhythm?  Maybe this means putting the alarm clock across the room and taping an inspirational word or quote to the top of it.  Or it could mean setting up a small corner that is solely devoted to your project and making it as warm and inviting as possible.

Or are your efforts uneven from day to day – some days everything comes together, other days progress is slow?  What patterns do you notice about both?  What rearrangements can you make to increase the number of good days?  Maybe you work best by keeping the final product in mind.  Or maybe you are most inspired when there’s a tangible short-term product to aim for.  For example, if you’re training for a marathon you might find it most motivational to remind yourself “Four months left to train up to 26 miles!”  Or you might find it easier to think, “This week I will train up to 12 miles.”  Either way, transform these into visual reminders and keep them prominent.

Troubleshoot your problem areas.  When do you encounter the most resistance?  Be specific.  Where are you, what are you thinking, and why are you thinking those thoughts (i.e. what are the underlying emotions that create those thoughts)?  Each “W” is an opportunity to change up your routine to overcome resistance to your efforts.  For example, you’re trying to eat healthier by eliminating nighttime snacking.  What is giving you the most trouble?  Perhaps you find yourself constantly going in and out of the kitchen after dinner (where).  Is it during commercial breaks (what), because you’re bored (why), because you like to end a meal with something sweet (why)?

Snacking => kitchen => TV => need something mindless to do while watching TV

Each arrow represents a place in the chain to stop the activities that prevent you from reaching your goal.  In the link between snacking and the kitchen, you might turn off the lights, close the kitchen door, put signs on the kitchen door, refrigerator, cupboard panels.  These signs can be inspirational quotes or reminders of healthy snack alternatives.  To address the link between kitchen and TV, keep yourself occupied during commercial breaks.  Place a stack of magazines or crossword puzzles next to the couch.  To break the link between TV and the need to do something mindless while watching TV, think of various ways to keep your hands occupied.  Take up crocheting, work on a jigsaw puzzle, doodle on scratch paper.

Keep inspiration all around you.  Keep it physically close to the places you could use extra encouragement.  Think about what obstacles you’re facing when you need that extra boost.  This offers clues about the best way to use inspiration to keep you moving.

Soccer lessons

February 15, 2009

In the middle of my first semester of grad school, a little sign popped up in an out-of-the-way message board for intramural indoor soccer. We could form teams ourselves or sign up individually and get placed on someone else’s team. I hadn’t played soccer in over a decade and thought it would be fun to have regularly scheduled weekly exercise and an excuse to band together some classmates to share in sweat, pain and glory. There’s something about that combination that really brings people closer like no other. Katelyn had sent out an exploratory “anybody interested?” email to our cohort to little reply so she dropped the subject, but we agreed to put each other’s names on our individual signups and hope they’d place us on the same team. On the very last day for signups we gathered at the board to fill out our forms. One by one classmates dropped by to see what we were doing, and one by one we talked them into joining us, until, spontaneously, we had enough for a team.

The unfortunate detail I forgot to mention to everybody present was that I suck at soccer. I do. In elementary school we’d had a ragtag team – our school’s only team sport available – that won maybe one game in the entire four seasons I played for them. We had a couple parent coaches with no particular soccer experience, and did nothing but scrimmage on an open field for practice. The field sloped slightly downwards so that whoever won the coin toss and chose their side of the field generally won the scrimmage. I knew very little about dribbling, passing, strategy, where to run and when to do it. All I did know was defense, where two defenders and myself would prowl the perimeter of our territory and attempt to eject any stray balls or opposing players that ventured into our territory.

Enter indoor soccer. A dozen years later I found myself facing the very first sport I’d ever played, the one that really should have turned me off of sports as a meaningful form of exercise but instead, it’s really the form of exercise that I enjoy most. But indoor soccer is a beast of an entirely different nature from soccer. Halve the team size and transport the game to a basketball court, where walls are “in” and so is the area behind the goal. Indoor soccer is like watching a movie on fast forward. The montage cuts out all the nonessential filler and puts the action in a small arena. There is no hiding in indoor soccer, no room for superfluity. Every person counts.

Our first game was at 6PM on a cool November evening. Some of us hadn’t played in over a decade, others had competed on high school teams and such. The referee blew his whistle, and the blur of bodies and ball began. I discovered within seconds that when there’s only five of you on court there’s just not a lot of room to hide. Two people on offense versus three is a 50% increase; it means the difference between one person to pass to or two. And when there are only four people on each side, well, there is a large difference between stranding your teammate in an offensive strike and running up to help out, if only to spread out the defense.

Even if their professed skill level was roughly equivalent to mine, they threw themselves in without abandon – chasing the ball, running back and forth between goals, dribbling, taking aim, giving it a shot. They put themselves out there, experienced or not, and as their reward, they were actually part of the team: laughing, high fiving one another, whereas I, I was still timid, still shy, wanting to be a part of it but not quit sure how to venture in, unwilling to take the plunge on the off chance that I might fail quite gracelessly by dint of trying.

There’s nothing like a rousing game of sports to throw you back to your most primitive state of being. At my very core and youngest version of myself, I am shy, timid, risk-averse and conservative, unsure of myself and unable to put myself out there, and how that all came out in that first game. I froze at the thought of venturing up to offense, a place where I have no skills, no experience, no sense of strategy or field vision, nothing to offer.

Why can’t you be like them, I’d whisper to myself. Just get out there and try. Surprise yourself. It’s the only way to improve. You would have so much more fun, they would have so much more fun.

To make a clean breast of it, for several months now I’ve been meaning to work on this fear of failure that stymies any attempts towards even trying. Sometimes you can hide behind the excuse of exhausting work schedules and over commitment that prevent you from really tackling what you want to do, but out on the court pretense is stripped down in a matter of seconds, and stares you in the face for one long, painful hour.

I’ve grown up in many ways from that shy, timid version of my most primitive being, but in this one area I still haven’t made nearly as much progress as I’d like. More than anything, that is what this year is about: putting myself out there, learning to embrace failure, even seeking it out to force failure upon myself in order to become a better person.

The importance of inspiration

February 11, 2009

Everyone has a list of things they’d like to do before they die. Maybe it is to write the next great American novel, act in a play, see the pyramids, start a business. Far too often we put these off for “later, when I have time.” Meanwhile life slips by. We rush from obligation to obligation, and at the end of the day we’re too tired to do much more than flop down on the couch and decompress for a couple hours in front of the television.

The problem is that we could fill three lifetimes with work and household chores and still not be done with everything we’re “supposed to do.” In other words, we could spend three lifetimes on tasks that are less important to us, and less meaningful, than our dreams and passions. But it is our dreams and passions make us unique, not our jobs, not our ability to wash dishes or pick up dirty laundry. You may be wonderful at your job, but chances are you didn’t create your job. You may have molded someone else’s description into a job that fits you, but at the end of the day someone else could still take over and the organization would continue functioning. Your dreams and passions, on the other hand, are unique to you. Even two people who share the same overarching passion will find differences in the details, because our dreams are defined by life experience and personality.

To honor our dreams and passions is to honor what makes us unique. This means acknowledging our dreams and actively pursuing them. It may feel impossible to carve out time for them, but I’m sure you can think of a couple minutes ach day to devote to them. Pick one. Start small. Give your dreams half an hour a day, or fifteen minutes, or even ten or five. Aren’t they worth it? Aren’t you worth it?

Just start. Think of fifteen minutes you can squeeze into your day. Maybe it’s during lunch. Maybe it’s right after dinner when the TV shows aren’t that good anyways. Or maybe it means setting the alarm clock 15 minutes earlier and starting your day off on a positive note. It’s helpful to identify a consistent time each day. Think through the small details – where you’ll be, what supplies you’ll need, ways to avoid distractions and other obstacles. Make the commitment in writing, tell a friend.

Inspiration is the starting point. Inspiration is the day-to-day reminder to work towards the big dream, and why it is so important. It is also encouragement, a source of new ideas and solutions to the problems we encounter along the way. Inspiration is the flashes of insight into how you will carry out the dream – it is the seed of an idea, a novel new approach, the way around a stumbling bock. Inspiration keeps us moving forward. It reminds us to stay balanced and stay focused on what’s important.

Most of all, acting upon inspiration is exciting. Acting on one good idea unleashes a wellspring of new ideas that tumble forth, pile up, cross-fertilize to create even better ideas. You’ll notice this spill over into other areas of your life. Work won’t feel as tedious, and inspiration will help you find faster ways to get work done, or new ideas to contribute at meetings. It gives you something to look forward to as you do your chores. As your project grows and develops, it encourages a broader shift in thinking: what is worth my time? Am I enjoying life? Can I reshuffle my obligations to increase the time I spend on the things that matter? This creates an even larger snowball effect. Acting on inspiration leads to working on our dreams, which inspires new ideas and possibilities that lead to even more time and energy spent on our dreams, which leads to even more ideas and positive energy.

Inspiration Boards

February 8, 2009

Inspiration sparks new ideas and keeps us going through tough times.  Any endeavor that is challenging – weight loss, a job search, a creative endeavor – benefits from constant inspiration to spark new ideas or encourage us to work through the task at hand.  Daily inspiration challenges are one way to generate constant inspiration.  Visual inspiration reminders is another way, particularly if they are integrated into the spaces in our life where we are most likely to need inspiration to keep us going.  The still life I created is one example of this.

Another format I really like is an inspiration board.  A simple board hung on the wall, it is fast and convenient way to create a display of inspirational objects and ideas.  Pushpin boards are cheap and make it easy to add in new items, but be creative!  I’ve seen metal wires with slips of paper attached by clothespins, or a narrow shelf above a desk lined with a few well-chosen objects.  The idea is to keep inspiration visible and keep it close.

What goes on the board is completely up to you.  A dream vacation spot, quotes or phrases, a list of restaurants to try, that couch you’re saving up for, a striking color combination to work into a new design.  Change it up.  Keep it fresh.  Most of all, keep looking for inspiration.

Inspiration Challenge 8: If money was no object …

Take out a piece of paper.  Across the top, write the phrase “If money was no object …”  Now complete that phrase in the phrase below.  What would you do, where would you go?  Would your days be different from how they are now?  How?  How would you really spend your time if you didn’t have to work for a living?

On dreams and princes

February 5, 2009

During a training session at my school-related conference a couple weeks ago, Angela and I started chatting about the future during one of our breaks.  Although Angela and I run in the same general circle of Chinese-speaking first year students, we’d never really spent time together until this conference.  After listening to my jumbled thoughts which, given their current incoherent state in English, sound far more incoherent in Chinese, she switched tactics and asked about some of my craziest dreams.  You know, those deep-held dreams that make you laugh when you list them on the life goals list, the ones you think you have no shot of achieving but list anyways.

Write a book by the time I’m 30.  Film a movie.  Bicycle around the world.

Angela looked at me in surprise.  “But I’ve done a lot of those things!” she told me, explaining that one summer she’d spent the entire vacation indoors writing a novel.  The editor of her school newspaper for six years, she shares my love for words and language.  During college she also filmed several movies for her classmates.

“For the first film I was so excited that I stayed up all night working on the script.  When I brought it to my friends, they took one look at it and told me it would never work as a movie.  We reworked the script and reworked the script until I dropped all of my original ideas.  Still, I had a lot of fun filming it.  Lighting, actors, sets … it was great.

“After that I thought I would continue making films in a serious way.  I even bought an expensive recorder.  We did make some more films but I was never as crazy about it as that first time, staying up all night to work on the script.”

We paused and ate some fruit.  She said, “My friend once made a great analogy:

Going after your craziest dreams is like pursuing a crush.  If you only admire them from afar it is easy to put them up on a pedestal and create all sorts of fantasies.  But if you actually get to know them better – try things out – well, maybe you’ll discover that you don’t want to marry them after all.”

So make eye contact with that crazy dream.  Sidle up to it in a bar, make some casual conversation.  Initiate contact.  See if it’s interested in a longer-term commitment, or if it really only wants a one night stand.  Frogs and princes all look the same from a distance, so get up close and personal.  Just go for it.

Why “Inspiration”

February 2, 2009

Last month I wrote at length bout clearing away the cobwebs in the brain caused by excessive shopping.  I needed a detox from materialism, to stop myself from spending hours glued to online shopping sites, looking for good deals on stuff I don’t need.  There’s a whole world outside my computer just waiting to be discovered, social causes that could use an extra hand.

I now spend hours in front of the keyboard struggling with words instead, but words that capture my interpretation of the world at large.  (Don’t worry, my new internship is very much in service to a good social cause)  Writing daily is a goal I’ve struggled with for years.  Ever since I was five and decided I wanted to be a writer, I’ve been a writer who dreams of writing, who jots down story ideas to herself, random half-thoughts and vivid details captured on scratch paper and eventually lost, who feels guilt over her lack of writing but does little to act on that guilt.  This is exactly what 2009 is about: taking that first step, strengthening the ties between my interests so that they coalesce into an integrated whole, pulling the little details of life into alignment with the big picture.

February, then, is about finding inspiration to dream big.  February is also about bringing snippets of inspiration into daily life.  These snippets are little reminders to stay true to the larger dream, but they are also bits of happiness woven into the daily fabric of life.  Daily inspiration, drawn from daily life.

Daily inspiration invites new ideas, creativity, and directions for growth, because it encourages us to constantly see the world and our lives in new ways.  The unexpected challenges conventional wisdom we hold about who we are and what we are capable of.

This month’s challenge of daily inspiration is about consciously seeking inspiration.  And it uses the power of habit and reinforcement to attune my eyes and heart to all sources of inspiration in the world around us, to stay open to new ideas and new ways of seeing the world.  I will write out 28 distinct inspiration-themed activities on separate slips of paper and draw one each morning.  I will post the theme of the day to this blog, and report back on progress throughout the month.  Some days won’t be easy, I know this now, but part of living an inspired life means following inspiration out of our comfort zone.  Besides, some of the best stories come from testing unchartered waters.

Day 1 challenge: Create a clear workspace.
Day 2 challenge: When strangers meet.

jar with slips of paper