Things I Tried in 2016

BOOKS

I actually successfully completed the Goodreads 2016 challenge. My goal was to read 52 books last year and I read 53! I haven’t officially checked, but that might be the first time I ever completed the challenge. Part of my goal included reading a certain number of books on writing and creativity. On Writing by Stephen King was by far my favorite. It is a good book for writers and non-writers alike. I’m not going to do a “best of” list (at least not in this post) but I did end up with a few new favorite books in 2016.

Podcasts

I started out the year getting caught up on Welcome to Night Vale. That was in part due to tickets I had to an author discussion with the creators in late 2015 to promote their book of the same name. Of late I have not stayed on top of their podcast updates, but I did appreciate it for Twin Peaks-like storytelling. Lately I’ve been listening to the James Altucher podcast. I don’t listen to every guest, just ones who sound super interesting. When he releases a new podcast, he also teases with a blog post listing several things he learned from the latest guest. I click over to listen when I want to learn something from his list too.

Habits

Speaking of James Altucher, I started a practice in 2016 he strongly recommends. Every day write 10 ideas about anything. He claims doing this has drastically changed his life every 6 months. I haven’t made it a daily practice yet, but I have noticed that I am taking action on ideas I generate on my lists. Not all of these ideas are good. Actually a lot of them are terrible. Chances are I would not have come up with my good ideas if I didn’t write the bad ideas too. This has led to blog post ideas, new creative project ideas, and new avenues in writing projects. I’ve also used this at work when I get stuck on a problem to find alternative solutions when they aren’t immediately evident.

At the end of 2016 I also started a habit tracker to promote good habits in health, mind, soul, and creativity. Results have been mixed. From what I learned in December I need to make more time for fitness and writing.

Meditation

This has been something I have tried on and off since reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris. I try for a daily mindfulness practice for just a few minutes, though lately I haven’t been very consistent. Meditation is something you build. Just like your idea muscle with your 10 ideas. This is your mindfulness muscle. I have noticed that I feel the need to get back to my practice when I am feeling most out of line in my life.

Blog

I revived this blog towards the end of 2016 with the goal of posting every Wednesday morning. About that… Anyway, it’s Wednesday and I’m back. I’m going to keep plugging away at this and see what it turns into. The blog, just like everything else I tried in 2016 is an experiment. I’ll try and I’ll tweak and I’ll figure out what works for me and ultimately do that.

Thanks for hanging with me.

Happy 2017. Are you trying something new this year? Are you keeping up with a new habit from last year?

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I Forgot to Breathe… Green Day Reminded Me

I was driving home. I was anxious and upset. Overwhelmed. Trying not to cry. A song came on the radio. I’m pretty sure I had never heard it before. Green Day and I have never been on the best of terms. More like they do their thing and I do mine. This single showed up when I needed it though.

The great thing about a song refrain is it repeats. So those particular lyrics are easier to learn. I don’t sing well… except to my steering wheel. Then I’m a freaking rock star. To distract myself from what I was feeling I tried to sing along.

“I’m still breathing on my own.”

At that moment I noticed my breath. It was shallow in my chest. I felt a tightness in my shoulders and neck that comes with stress and lack of deep breathing.

I had forgotten to breathe.

The signal I was waiting at turned green. Right there in my car as I drove through the intersection I started a breathing exercise. I learned it in the book F*** Anxiety. Please get past the swearing. It’s a legit book on anxiety from someone who gets it. He’s a clinical psychologist with a good sense of humor and a straightforward approach. I read it a couple of months ago and it was like getting real advice on wrangling anxiety from my best friend.

The author taught a way to focus on your breath. It can be done anywhere because it doesn’t require closing your eyes and visualizing anything or some loud exhale sound that will draw attention in public. He said it was necessary to practice this exercise when you CAN breathe (little to no anxiety/stress) so when you CAN’T breathe (high anxiety/stress) you are ready to use the tool. Luckily I had practiced at least a little. Inhale for seven counts, hold for four, exhale for eight. Repeat.

And again.

Normally by my fourth or fifth time through this exercise I feel improvement. The tension eases, and so does my mind. When I return to breathing naturally I feel less of the constriction I felt previously. How long does it take? Less than five minutes.

7-4-8

Then I’m breathing on my own.