What I Learned in February

Well, it wasn’t as successful as last month – by a long shot. I had a few lovely days off to hang out with visitors (reading under palm trees, gorging on delicious food, and wearing myself out with pool games) followed by a week of not as much fun when the builders came and tore out two of our bathrooms. I was locked in the living room with a meowing cat for five days, one of which was my birthday. Not terribly fun and definitely not very productive.

That being said, I did manage to get some stuff done in February and learned a few things along the way.

Keep a Happiness List and Read it Often

While I didn’t completely finish the Bliss Station I mentioned last month, I did make progress. One thing that was great to work on was my happiness list (based on Gretchen Rubin’s happiness commandments from her wonderful book The Happiness Project – how many times can you fit the word happiness into one sentence?). I wrote the majority of this list a few months ago, but I wanted to review it and hang it somewhere I could read it every day. I’ll put up another post with what each of these mean to me and why I chose it, but as that is too long for here I’ll give you the shortened version.

Reading these every day really does cheer me up. It reminds me of who I am and what matters to me. And the process of deciding what went made it on the list was helpful and fun. Who knew that thinking about what makes you happy actually makes you happier?

Don’t Make an Ass Out of You and Me

Another lesson I learned was from my logic and reason class (the Think Again series on Coursera – highly recommended!). I have a tendency to assume other people (ALL the other people, let’s be honest) know more than I do about pretty much everything. That leads me to value their opinion more than my own, particularly when they state it matter of factly. This is a bad habit.

One way to remind myself that what they are saying is merely their opinion and not a guaranteed fact is to insert parenthetical bits between the words they say, such as (In my opinion…) or (Based on my experience…). It seems so small, but it somehow releases the power their words have over me and reminds me that they are just other humans expressing their ideas about what they think of the world based on their experiences. It also allows me to react less like a jerk and more like a compassionate person who is curious about why they feel that way.

I also spent a lot more time reading better sources of news. This helped my mood and general outlook on humanity immensely. As the Vlog Brothers put it, a lot of what is thrown at us daily is from people who are “trying to win rather than trying to inform” (yes, that opens to a video about dogs, it’s not the wrong link). Choosing wisely about what you consume and focusing on places whose ultimate purpose is to inform you rather than persuade you makes a huge difference.

 

Don’t Limit Yourself

It turns out my study schedule isn’t really working out that well for me. The whole purpose of the year was to focus on the ocean. To study oceanography, marine biology, fish ID, conservation, sustainable tourism, and, of course, dive as much as I can to see it all in action. It was a pretty exciting goal for the year. Then I sat down and made a schedule that moved almost entirely away from that. Why? Because I am kind of scared to live an awesome life and be proud of it.

We could get all psychological and analytical about it all (and there’s a whole post worth of thoughts here really), but there’s a habit in my life that comes up again and again and which I really struggle to break, which is: constraining myself with upper limits. The more I would love to do something in life, the more I tell myself it’s not possible for me.

I have an amazing life, really. And if all goes according to plan (ha! does it ever??) it will be even more amazing this time next year. But I’m just me: little old Noelle. Why should I be able to live on a remote island in southeast Asia spending my days looking at rare marine animals and my nights hanging out with awesome diving folk? Why should I get to have a whole year of awesome ocean-related living when I could be sitting at a desk somewhere earning money in a way that sucks my soul out of my body?

This constant reigning in of my potential, of my life’s possibility, is a very bad habit I am working to break. So in March I will realign my schedule with what I am not only excited to do but what I feel really lucky to be able to do. It’s ok to have an awesome year of ocean love. It’s okay to spend my time learning about the things I enjoy. It’s ok to take this time to get ready for the amazing new adventure we’re planning. It’s ok to allow my future to be limitless and believe that anything is possible if I just give it a little elbow grease and time. There are no limits!

Limit Yourself

Okay, okay, I know. I mean different limits here – time limits. This is one area where limits have helped me a lot.

I’ve tried a few different approaches this year to segmenting my time into productive chunks. The pomodoro technique doesn’t really work for me. I find that I don’t really hit a groove until about 20 minutes in and by then I’m supposed to take a break, which then starts the whole process over.

I have found that setting a timer and working two hours straight (a la Roald Dahl) is best for me. There’s something great about that amount of time. I know I can get a lot done and that I’m not in a rush, but I also know that the clock is ticking and I don’t want to waste it on useless detours like Wikipedia rabbit holes or formatting binges. My attention generally starts to flag at about an hour and forty-five minutes, so I take those last few minutes to wrap everything up, tidy off my desktop (real and virtual) and take an inventory of what I achieved.

For harder days or tasks I feel myself avoiding, I try the 20 second technique just to get me going. One of my classes also taught me that stopping is as important as starting. If you know you will give yourself more time later, you won’t be as efficient with the time you have now. And let’s not forget, time is the most valuable thing we have, so using it wisely is the best way to get what you want out of life.

Ok. that’s a lot for this month! It’s nice to see it all together because I didn’t really feel like I did a lot until I saw it on “paper”. Hopefully some of my experiences will help you with your own projects and pursuits.

See you soon!

*featured image – Lance Asper, Unsplash

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