One Little Word

Word Play

On the last Tuesday of the month, many of us in Bloglandia share updates about our "words" for the year. (Honoré hosts, check it out.) It's a really helpful way to reflect back on the month-nearly-ended . . . to see how our "words" have popped up in our worlds. It's especially fascinating to me to see how these words connect - all year - for so many of us. There is some mysterious power in having a word, that's for sure.

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When I first chose my word - flow - this year, one of the first things that popped up in my head was . . . yoga flow.

I've been doing yoga for a very long time. The first yoga class I can remember taking (although I'm pretty sure I took a class or two before this one) was when I was pregnant with Erin, and she turned 31 earlier this summer. Since then, for the most part, I've practiced yoga in some form or another. In more recent times (the past 15 years), I've taken a weekly studio class -- with daily sun salutations at home to stretch things out every morning.

The pandemic, of course, has changed my yoga practice in a big way. Actually, this is probably one of the best changes I've experienced in PandemicLife -- because now . . . I do yoga every day . . . with Adriene! (I highly recommend Yoga With Adriene, by the way, if you're looking for a good, solid yoga-anywhere practice. Her videos are available for free, although the for-pay option offers much more -- and at $10/month, it's less than most one-session studio yoga classes, so a good deal, too.)

I get so much benefit from my regular yoga practice. There's the physical stuff -- flexibility, improved balance, and strength (I feel like such a badass whenever I do a full chaturanga!). But there's also the mental stuff -- mindfulness, improved focus, and a sense of calm. (And who doesn't need that these days?)

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This month, I decided to learn a bit more about my favorite type of yoga: vinyasa, or . . . flow.

"Vinyasa" is a Sanskrit word, and like many Sanskrit words, it has multiple meanings on multiple levels. But if we break down the word, we get this translation:

Vin means to place.
Yasa means in a special way.

So . . . Vinyasa . . . means to place in a special way. Or, as Adriene explains it, to move with intention -- a systematic approach to moving from one point to the next . . . with the breath.

In the yoga studio, vinyasa classes tend to focus on "flowing" from one pose to another rather quickly -- always with a focus on the breath. (As opposed to hatha style classes, which tend to take a more slow approach -- holding the poses longer, but still with a focus on the breath.) And in most classes, there are many chances to "take your vinyasa" (yoga teacher speak) referring to that flow sequence between downward dogs that traditionally includes the chaturanga.

It's complicated (multiple meanings on multiple levels). And kind of technical. I hope you'll pardon this yoga-digression, but for me this month, it's been all about thinking of flow in a bigger "life" sense by examining flow in a more direct "yoga" sense.

My one little word lesson this month? Focus on vinyasa!

to place . . . in a special way
to move with intention
to flow

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How about you? What did you learn from your word this month?

 


A Steady, Continuous Stream of Something

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As I've been playing around with the word "flow" this year, I've discovered that it is a word with many definitions. (I've also discovered that it comes up in regular conversation ALL the time. I've never had a word so easy to find "in the world" as this one.) Anyway, of all the definitions I've found, this one is my favorite:

Flow. (n.) a steady, continuous stream of something

As you can see . . . flow . . . means the opposite of being stuck. But lately? I've been feeling pretty . . . stuck.
Not steady.
Not continuous.
Definitely not a stream of anything.

But that's how it is sometimes, isn't it?

"Between the banks of pain and pleasure the river of life flows. It is only when the mind refuses to flow with life, and gets stuck at the banks, that it becomes a problem."
            -- Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

So. My dilemma: How to get unstuck (at the banks)?
And start that steady, continuous stream of something . . . again?

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For me, I headed back to my "basics" -- the five elements I discovered several years ago (when my word was balance). I stripped my days down to the 5 basic elements I need in my life every day:

  1. Reflection (this usually comes through journaling)
  2. Meditation and yoga
  3. Moving my body (working up a sweat)
  4. Breathing fresh air
  5. Creating . . . something (anything, really)

Sometimes, when I get busy -- or when my brain gets busy -- I leave one or more of these elements out of my day. (It's usually reflection, which I think is telling.) And when I get overwhelmed with bleak thoughts or the relentless stream (a flow . . . ) of disturbing news, I tend to forget about these five things altogether and approach them in a very haphazard way. 

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Earlier this month, I realized this was happening again (that haphazard thing). So a couple of weeks ago I made myself a little checklist in my day planner with my 5 basic elements, and I started tracking them and giving myself checkmarks at the end of each day. (I'll do almost anything for a checkmark.) I really concentrated on those 5 elements. Every day.

Every.
Damn.
Day.

And with a more steady focus on my 5 things . . . coupled with a pretty extensive "unplugging" (of blogging, of the news, of Instagram, etc.), I'm starting to feel a shift in myself.

I wouldn't quite call it a steady, continuous stream of something quite yet.
But . . . maybe closer.

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Did you choose a word for this year? If you did, what have you discovered this month? Be sure to visit Honoré today to read what others have shared about their word.

 


Maybe the Most Perfect Word

At the beginning of the year (you know . . . back when it all seemed so fresh and inviting and full of possibility?), I chose FLOW as my word for 2020. But it wasn't an obvious word choice. It was more that I had a . . . concept. . . in mind long before I had a word.

My concept? Well, I'd just spent a year on "intention" -- and I'd done a lot of work developing my personal values and understanding how important alignment is when it comes to intention, and - here is the biggie - coming to grips with reality-meeting-intentions. I really wanted to continue that work, but with a little more energy and some action -- and much more thinking.

I knew from the start that I wanted to focus more on mindfulness, and I wanted to explore how mindfulness could apply to my work flow and my creative flow. I wanted to do some very specific, flowing kind of movements -- more frequent yoga flows, for example, and spending more time on the water kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. I had been wanting to get away from calendar-time and tune in more to the lunar phases. And, mostly, I wanted to accept how to just . . . let that shit go . . . in my life.

One word just kept popping up as I thought about my concept: FLOW. So I went with it! It felt right to me. I decided to just kind of . . . see where the word took me. I didn't want to establish any set plans or specific goals, though. Not really. Because . . . that just seemed to be the antithesis of FLOW. Right?

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How could I have known then . . . what 2020 would throw my way!?!

Because, yeah. A global pandemic will kind of upend Every. Single. Thing.
Requiring . . . that you go with the flow!

FLOW . . . because no other alternative, really.

Things I'm learning these days (about living through a pandemic AND about going with the flow):

  • Mindfulness . . . is the key to getting me through my days.
  • Calendar? What calendar? I'll pay attention to the moon instead!
  • Stay rooted  . . . but flow! Change is everywhere.
  • Solitary time . . . brings clarity. And resourcefulness.
  • Getting into flow (through exercise or creative pursuits) . . . invites release, escape, and peace.
  • Let go of control . . . to see what emerges.

"Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing."
        --- Jon Kabat-Zinn

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How about YOU? What are you learning from your word this year?


What a Month!

Oh, March!
Talk about going out like a lion!  
Let's end this very . . . trying . . . month with some thoughts on my One Little Word this year.

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I'll begin with a little trip down memory lane . . . to my 18th birthday . . . way back in 1977.

For my birthday that year (my senior year in high school), I received a gift (I think it was from my sister, although it might have been from my mom) that I had been coveting for some months.  It was what I called at the time . . . an "empty book" --   just a  plain bound book full of blank pages.  

I know that sounds silly these days -- because you can go to any brick-and-mortar book or stationery store - or anywhere online - and find dozens upon dozens of "empty books."  But back in 1977, you couldn't.  You could buy diaries (by year, and often with a lock) (and I did have a new one of those every year), but blank journals just weren't A Thing yet.  

When I first saw one (I think at our local Hallmark store), I was entranced!  I had to have it!

I still have it. . . 

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It's nearly full.  

I used it to collect "sayings" (as I called them then).  And poems.  I drew in it a bit.  Practiced calligraphy.  There are LOTS of song lyrics in there!  Sometimes friends wrote things they thought I might like in my "empty book" (with my permission).  Unfortnately, I didn't always attribute the "sayings" or poems to their authors.  And I didn't date any of my entries.  But I know I started right out in March 1977 . . . and put the book away about the same time I graduated from college.  (There are no dates, but just based on the types of things I was writing down, I can tell what was going on in my life:  new love, break-ups, betrayals, growing up, discovering my own life.)

Anyway.

Here's the first page . . . the very first things I captured in my "empty book" back in March 1977 . . . 

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Now.

Let's take a closer look at the sideways writing on the right-hand side of that page . . . 

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"Don't push the river . . . it flows by itself."

You can probably HEAR my kids rolling their eyes out there right this moment.  Because this has been a constant mantra in my life  . . . well . . . since 1977 (at least).  And my kids heard it PLENTY as they were going through rough patches in their lives growing up.  Although I didn't attribute the quote to anyone at all, it turns out it's from Frederick S. Perls, who is the father of Gestalt therapy.  (Who knew?)

When I chose FLOW as my word for 2020, my first thought was, of course, "don't push the river . . . it flows by itself."

Pretty much a lifetime mantra for me.
How could I have known that it would be more important than ever for me this year?

These March days have been all about me . . . trying to push the river.  Wanting to control things I can't control.  Worrying.  Stressing.  Struggling.

It's time to quit pushing.
And let it flow.

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What have you learned from your word this month?

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Also -- thank you so much for all the wonderful birthday wishes yesterday!  You all made my self-isolating, social-distancing birthday so much nicer!  (What would I do without this commUNITY???)  


Starting Things Off

"Flow doesn't come to those who try to do things well.  It comes to those who try to do things freely."
                    --- Barry Michaels

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Each year, I always begin to think about and work with my "one little word" the same way:  by inviting the word into my life.

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I start with tangible things:

  • I find quotes that inspire.
  • I put the word in front of me.
  • I start a word-inspired playlist.
  • I identify books I want to read.
  • I create a dedicated word journal.
  • I search for a poem.

This kind of "stuff" helps me get my word firmly in my head, and sets the tone for the thinking-work ahead. 

Next, I come up with a list of . . . things? activities? themes? . . . that might help me link up with my word through the year.  Of course, this kind of list - put together at the beginning of the year - will change and evolve as the year goes on, but it does give me a place to begin.  

On my list this year:

  • Pay attention to things that flow (lunar cycles, my attention span, water . . . ).
  • Give myself space (in my life, in my days, in my closet . . . ) to let ideas and thoughts flow more freely.
  • Practice flow, especially related to my own creative activities.
  • Analyze my own work flow -- figuring out how to give my days the structure I need while still allowing flow to happen.
  • Show up in the "now" with intentional work on mindfulness and presence.
  • Explore the work of Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, the founder of the "flow state" concept in psychology.
  • Bring more yoga-flow to my life by doing . . . even more yoga.
  • Let love flow by more intentionally practicing kindness.

So.

I have no clever conclusions or meaningful progress or life changes to report yet.  Just forward movement -- and a whole lot of ideas!

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If you choose a word, what are some things you do as the year begins?


One Little Word . . . 2020

I've been choosing a word each year* . . . for as long as I've been blogging.  This is the first year, though, where my word wasn't immediately clear to me from the get-go.  This year I had a concept . . . before I had a word.  I really had to work at finding the right word this year!

I knew I wanted to pull together a lot of things I'd been working on and thinking about already, but I also wanted a word that was more active.  A word that got me up and moving.  A word with energy.  A word that was forward-thinking. A creative kind of word.

And then . . . it came to me.

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This year, I want to . . . find my flow.
I want to be the flow.
(So I can live my best life.)  
(For the rest of my life!)

"The more in harmony you are with the flow of your own existence, the more magical life becomes."
                    --- Adyashanti

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*My past words:  move, shine, surprise, possibility, journey, risk, balance, focus, and intention.


One Final 2019 Wrap-Up

Before the new year becomes . . . well . . . just THE year, I want to take one last look at my word for 2019: intention.

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Because . . . it turns out intention was a trickier word than I anticipated it would be.  And I learned some very important things from it.

Like, well . . . 

Intention is not really an extension of focus (my 2018 word).  Or . . . not like I expected it to be at any rate.  For me, focus was about clarity. Figuring out what I wanted to focus on by figuring out what I was focusing on. Important work, to be sure.  I initially thought that intention would be about following focus.  But it was so much more than that!

Intention is about purpose.  About being deliberate.  About understanding the why behind my decisions and my choices.  It was more thoughtful and less active.  It involved . . . creating a pause . . . building in a thoughtful and deliberate beat between an idea or a thought and my taking action about that idea or thought.  I trained myself to be more mindful of what I was doing and (more importantly) why I was doing it.  And this was a very good thing.  

To really be intentional . . . meant I needed to be very, very clear about the what and the why.  At first, I thought that would be easy.  Because I'd done all that focus work already.  I knew what I wanted to focus on in my life.  But I learned that . . . focus is a fleeting thing.  Life is fickle.  New things (or ideas or thoughts) come along all the time.  So it's easy for our focus to be pulled in new directions.  I figured out that I needed something more . . . stable.  More permanent. So I developed a list of my personal values . . . which are the underpinnings of my everything, really.  Focus areas may change.  But my personal values don't.

(Here's an example.  At the beginning of 2018, I jumped on the "make nine" bandwagon, and chose nine projects I wanted to make during the year.  I thought it would be a good way to focus on things I wanted to make.  It was not.  I think I only made one of those items.  Was it because I lost my focus?  Was it because I wasn't intentional enough?  Did I fail?  Nah. I came to understand the next year - in my year of intention - that I didn't "fail" with the "make nine" thing at all.  Because I did make nine things in 2018.  Just not the nine things I set out to make in January of 2018!  Turns out that - for me - the "make nine" thing was fickle.  It only represented nine things I was interested on that day.  The real and important thing?  One of my personal values is "making things."  And I was very deliberate, very purposeful . . . about "making things" all year long.)

So rather than think of intention as an extension of focus, I changed my thinking a bit.  Focus and intention are related -- but that relationship is tricky!  My intention work got so much more sharp and successful when I linked my intentions to my personal values . . . instead of my more fickle focus areas.

Another key thing I learned in 2019 is that no matter how clear you are about the whys and whats and the alignment of action with personal values . . . well . . . intention still meets reality.  There are only 24 hours in the day, after all.  And weather happens.  And other people's values/intentions don't always line up with yours.  There are seaonal variations.  Health issues.  Personal quirks.  Things just come up.  So even when your best intentions set you on a path for greatness, it's still going to be a bumpy ride with plenty of obstacles in your path.  Adaptablility and flexibily are key.  Even (maybe especially?) when it comes to intention.

I also ended the year with a big question for myself:  If we make time for the things we really want (focus/intention), and I say I really want to do something . . . but then I consistenly don't make time for actually doing the something . . . what does that mean?  And what does it mean that I do make time for stuff I'm only meh about????  (I'm still pondering that one.)

So.

Intention was a great word for me last year . . . in ways I really didn't expect.  I learned so much.  I did a lot of thinking and journaling.  I put some new things into practice in my life.  I came to understand myself in a whole new way.  And I even developed a solid exit plan for a big commitment I've had for a while that just does not line up with my personal values.

That's the power of one little word!

(I can't wait to see where 2020 takes me.)

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Tune in next week.  I'll tell you about my word for 2020.


Taking Intention . . . On Vacation

Before Tom and I left for Alaska, I told him my one intention for the trip:  
Less screen.  More experiences.

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First night on the ship, somewhere outside Vancouver.

I know that sounds kind of weird. . . less screen.  What I meant, really, was I wanted to take fewer photos.  I wanted to free myself from feeling like I needed to document every moment of our trip.  There is nothing wrong with vacation pics -- and I certainly did want to take photos.  I just . . . didn't want to experience Alaska behind the screen of my iPhone.  I wanted to experience everything around me directly.  I wanted to live in the moment of the trip.  I wanted to create my own mental memories.

And, of course, I would take photos!  Here I was . . . in one of the most incredibly beautiful places I've ever visited . . .  and I wanted to capture it.  (For later.  To inspire my art.  To document our trip.)   On the other hand, I really didn't want to miss anything . . . by trying to get the perfect photograph.

So that was my intention.  Less screen.  More experiences.

And I'm happy to say . . . it worked for me.  I took far fewer photos than I normally do on a trip.  I kept my phone in my pocket much of the time.  I looked and experienced first -- then took my camera out after that.

And you know what?  Doing that . . . experiencing first . . . actually made the photos I did take BETTER.  And I know my memories about the experience are richer -- because I didn't live them from behind a screen.  

A perfect example.

In Juneau (on the evening after our Mendenhall Glacier trek), we went on an evening whale watching cruise (which also featured an amazing "Alaskan culinary experience") (so awesome) (my first taste of reindeer!).  The setting was gorgeous -- water, mountains rising straight up, sunset, eagles soaring.  Really . . . just amazing.  The small boat had comfortable seats, HUGE windows for viewing, an on-board naturalist to explain everything we would see, and binoculars.  (Also wine.)  

It didn't take long . . . and we saw whales!  Humpback whales -- spouting in the distance.  The ship's captain steered us toward the whales, while the naturalist told us all about the humpbacks and explained what we were seeing.

I kept my phone in my pocket . . . and grabbed the binoculars instead.

We followed the whales (always at a distance of at least 100 yards for the respect and safety of the whales) for about an hour and a half.  It was amazing!  We ended up seeing something that is rather exceptional on whale-watching excursions -- something called "bubble netting", which is a cooperative feeding practice of the humpback whales.  We ended up watching a group of 8 humpbacks working together the entire time!

Now here's where I'm going to be a bit judge-y.  There were about 25 people on the boat with us.  Most of them . . . watched this entire spectacle behind the screens of their phones or cameras.  Trying to get a good shot . . . of unpredictable wildlife . . . in the water . . . from a moving boat . . . at a distance of at least 100 yards.  

As Tom and I watched, we learned to (kind of) anticipate where they might surface next.  We learned to watch for the signals -- first the spout, then the surface rise, then the ALL of them coming up to the surface at the same time, then the fluke (the tail).  The folks with their screens?  They were always behind the movement because they were limited to what they could see on their phone screen.  

Eventually, the boat made this spectacular turn . . . and the lighting was amazing and the backdrop was perfect.  Whales or not, it was time for me to get my phone out and take a few photos of an incredibly beautiful landscape.  

And then I noticed it . . . 

Spouting.

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Surfacing.  (With bonus soaring eagle!)

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Rising.  

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Fluke.

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Yep.  I ended up getting some pretty great whale photos that evening.  But I'd like to think that I was able to capture these moments . . . because I had experienced them first.  I knew what I was looking for.  And . . . even if I hadn't gotten ANY decent photos of the whales, I'd still have the glorious memory of our magical whale watching evening.  

(We also saw harbor porpoises on that excursion.)  (I didn't get any photos.)  (Didn't even try, actually.)

I'm really glad I decided to take intention with me . . . on vacation!

 

 


Intention: Now With Extra Action

During April, my word - intention - took a decidedly action-oriented turn.

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At least . . . if you can call "inaction" "action." ;-)

On April 1, I launched myself into a 30-day digital de-clutter, à la Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism book.  (You can read my original post about my digital declutter here.)  I wasn't THAT bad when it came to my digital habits.  I mean . . . I'd already removed Facebook from my life (which brought me much happiness and no regrets at all).  But there were a few tendencies that I wanted to disrupt; bad habits I wanted to break.  (And I will admit to being shocked at how much time I DID use my phone every day . . . when I was finally brave enough to really look at the stats for my screen time!)

This digital declutter meant I had to be very intentional about how I was going to use my phone and the rest of the digital tools at my disposal (my laptop and my iPad).  I set up rules for myself.  I removed the most troublesome apps from my phone.  I committed myself to . . . just leaving my phone in its pocket in my bag.  It also meant I needed to be very intentional about what I would do instead of picking up my phone.  (Always having something handy to read really helped here.)

Every single thing about my digital declutter has been intentional.  And now that I'm at the end of it, I'm going to be equally intentional about what I allow back into my digital life.

Here are some highlights from my digital declutter:

  • I reduced my daily phone use to under an hour each day.  According to my at-the-end-of-the-digital-declutter screen time stats, I now only pick up my phone to use my camera, to check the weather, to meditate (I use an app called Insight Timer), and to communicate (text or phone).  And that's . . . pretty much it these days.  

    Now that the digital declutter is over?  I want to keep it that way!

  • I have completely disrupted my tendency to "Google everything."  (My kids used to call me Google Mom.)  Seriously, before the declutter I would pick up my phone and Google any "I wonder" thought that popped into my head.  (We're not talking Useful Information here.  We're talking Really Stupid and Inane Things that I don't even really care about, but that were mildly interesting in a passing way.)  I have learned to let this stupid stuff just . . . go.  

    Now that the digital declutter is over?  I don't see this tendency making a return.  I'm just not interested anymore.

  • I took email off my phone completely.  Turns out that checking my email . . . was my "gateway drug" to using my phone.  I'd check my email "real quick" . . . which would lead to a scroll through Instagram, then maybe checking out what Pinterest was recommending for me to look at, and then a scan of today's headlines -- where I would probably click in to a story or two (or three or four).  And then, well . . . maybe I should check my email again???  Total. Waste. Of. Time.

    Now that the digital declutter is over?  I'm leaving my email off my phone, unless I'm traveling.

  • I took away the "headline news" feature on my phone.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much this has boosted my happiness.  And it's not like I'm living in a cave now, completely unaware of what's happening out there in the world.  Now I pick up my news through once-daily digests from my favorite news sources.  I access the information when I'm ready to check the news, and I find that I am more than adequately informed.

    Now that the digital declutter is over?  No news headlines.  Ever. 

  • I took the Instagram and Pinterest apps off my phone..  They did remain on my laptop and iPad, but, like I discovered with Facebook a couple of years ago, I found that I just didn't access either of those sites very often during the 30 days.  (I think I never looked at Instagram, and I know I pinned two things to Pinterest from my laptop.  But that's it.)  

    I do miss Instagram.  A lot.  I miss seeing what my friends are up to, and I miss sharing photos.  What I don't miss?  People I never should have been following anyway.  (No surprise there.)  

    What I miss most about Pinterest is having it available as a reference.  I pin a lot of "inspirational" ideas that I like to access in my art classes or when I'm sketching or when I'm with my friends and want to share things I've seen  -- and not having access on my phone is a pain.  Somehow, I need to balance the handy reference feature of Pinterest with my tendency to scroll to see what ELSE is out there.

    Now that the digital declutter is over?  I'm putting both apps back on my phone.  I'll begin engaging on Instagram again tomorrow, but on a limited basis (maybe just once every couple of days).  I'll also "unfollow" people who make me roll my eyes.  As far as Pinterest goes, I'm going to have to be really careful.  I'll monitor my use, and if it becomes a problem for me . . . I'll have to take it off again.

Bottom line?  

I did this digital declutter to take control - with intention - of my digital tendencies and habits; to get my digital use "in line" with how I want to spend my time.  The declutter was super valuable for me in doing just that!  I disrupted tendencies and patterns of use, I broke habits, and I gained a TON of perspective.  You know what else?  I discovered that I have so much time for DOING . . . when I'm not glued to my damn phone.

From an intention standpoint, it was an ideal exercise for me.  I will be more purposeful and deliberate (more intentional!) about the digital parts of my life from now on.

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How about you?  What did you learn from your word this month?

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Also -- be sure to check back on Friday!  I'll be . . . Asking Questions!  
(Are you curious????)

 

 


My One Little Word 2019

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.     --- Annie Dillard

I've been choosing a word for the year since 2011.  
That's eight words so far.  
(Move, Shine, Surprise, Possibility, Journey, Risk, Balance, Focus)  
Eight words that continue to stick with me, long after their year is up.

But none so much as Focus -- my 2018 word.  Focus . . . has brought about more thoughtful change and real, personal understanding of myself than any other word.  And I think I'm not quite finished with it yet!

Although I considered other words (because it's so much more exciting to have a fresh word for a new year), I kept rolling around to . . .  more of the same.  To the fact that there is probably more to this focus thing for me to discover.  And I decided to choose a word that kind of . . . links up to last year's word for me; a word that can allow for a further extension of my ongoing work on focus.

My word for 2019 is . . . INTENTION.

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As in purposeful, deliberate, thoughtful, considered.
How I want to act.
How I decide.
How I want to BE.

I'm eager to see where this one takes me!  It's like . . . focus . . . with MORE!

What you think, you become.
What you feel, you attract.
What you imagine, you create.
                               --- Buddha

 

How about YOU?  What's your word for 2019?
(I'll be linking up with Juliann to talk about our words on the last Tuesday of every month.  I hope you'll join us!)