Focus

There’s so much going on in the world today. So much good, so much bad, so much exciting, and so much mundane.

In a way, social media has leveled the playing field. Major news headlines sit alongside headlines of lesser importance about celebrities or sports. People from anywhere in the world with WiFi access can have a discussion in the comments on a Facebook post. It seems like everything is accessible thanks to the internet and in turn, this makes everything harder to filter and process.

It’s so hard to focus in this world, but focus we must.

In recent years, it has become painfully evident to me how much I struggle to keep myself on task when I’m alone. I have gotten much better at cultivating focus out of necessity, but every so often I still have days when I just feel constantly restless, when it is just difficult to think. I tend to do best when I am in a semi-public place, like a coffee shop or library. My self-consciousness keeps me accountable to my work when there are other humans around me.

In addition to forcing yourself to focus in order to finish a certain task, it is also important to cultivate focus in your hobbies/activities and interests as well. This is perhaps where I struggle the most. I love doing anything remotely creative, so I often end up creating nothing because I can only think about the ten different things I want to try–weaving, sewing, painting, you name it–and end up indecisive and doing none of the above. Something that has really helped me lately is realizing that (God willing) I have time. I don’t need to learn and try everything I ever want to learn and try right now. I can focus on one thing at a time, and then move on to something else when I have sufficiently explored the topic. As much as I am always living either 10 years into my past or future in my head, I am very much here-and-now in reality: not a big planner, probably too emotionally-led, always wanting to do everything on my to-do list at once, and often a play-before-work kind of person.

I think about something my ballet/yoga teacher said to me when I once asked her about the potential challenges of teaching ballet in the 21st century. She said the challenge is that kids these days (or their parents) aren’t as willing to make the commitment. Ballet is one of those art forms that takes a solid 10 years minimum to really learn, to get the posture and muscle memory and all the nuances down. You can tell a trained dancer from a casual class-taker often just by the way they move their upper body, their port de bras; the minute hand, finger, and arm movements requiring years to develop into the strong but delicate proper expression.

I wondered the other day about how different I might look and move if I had grown up playing basketball or something instead of ballet. When you spend so much time on something, it truly shapes you. My feet instinctively feel the floor as I walk, my toes automatically point and reach for the steps as I descend stairs. When I look in the mirror and stand up straighter I can still see the ghost of my ballet posture, lean and long. It’s been years since I was consistently in class, but my body still remembers the movements that were drilled into my muscles by repetition during my developmental years. I didn’t do much besides ballet growing up; it was my primary, and sometimes only, extracurricular activity. I was in class 2-4 days a week from age 8 to age 18, with hours of rehearsal around performances up to 4 times a year. This is partly where I learned the importance of focus.

Now that I’m in full control of my life outside of school and spending hours in a ballet studio is no longer part of my routine, the art of focus is a constant pursuit more than ever. There’s just so much I want to do, but life is so short, and we must choose wisely. I didn’t really intend for this post to go so deep when I started writing it, but this topic has been on my heart for the last few years. Simplify, simplify. Focus. That’s the real key.

Where do you need to cultivate more focus in your life?

Reminders

I drew this a couple weeks ago because my mom handed me a sketchbook she found and some markers and told me to. Or at least, she asked me to draw her a simple saying and some flowers after she had been trying to doodle some of her own, and I obliged.

I used to love to draw, but I don’t do it often enough on my own anymore. I doodle a lot, but rarely sit down with a sketchbook, and I don’t know why, because I really love it. I have always loved it; I have tons of notebooks and loose pages of drawings from age 3 through my elementary and middle school years, but as life naturally moved out of that childhood slowness and got busier, I stopped drawing daily like I used to. Now, sometimes I need someone to shove a sketchbook into my hands and tell me to.

Sometimes we all need to be reminded to do simple things.

Today was my first day of classes to start the new semester, and I was thinking back to that simple affirmation I had doodled: “be brave & be kind.” It’s so simple it almost sounds meaningless, but it’s pretty good advice for those new experiences, or “first days” in life. It’s not my first day ever at my school, and it’s certainly not my first day ever of school or college in general…but it is my first day of different classes, with different people, in a different building, on a different part of campus…lots of new experiences. So, I still found myself with a bit of that first-day nervousness, and it’s good to be reminded: be brave. Be open to the new, the different, the unexpected, the unknown. And I met new people, so another good reminder: be kind. Be open, friendly, and helpful to others, they may have really needed your encouragement, and they will return your smile.

So if you have any “first day” apprehension, remember: be brave and be kind. It may not always be easy, but it’s simple, and the simple reminders sometimes make all the difference.

Accountability

While I detail the reasons this blog is named for the Luna Moth on my about page, I didn’t necessarily mention the fact that it also fits because I am a notorious night owl. It’s just another reason I can identify with a moth better than a butterfly or a lark. For a long time, this was a characteristic I just accepted that I couldn’t change; that I would be doomed forever to accidentally staying up until 2am more often than not, pulling all-nighters to write papers instead of working in the morning or afternoon, and overall being constantly in a state of sleep deprivation with multiple wake-up alarms set each morning.

These past few years I’ve become a bit addicted to self-improvement. As you can probably tell from the theme of my blog and the tone of the posts I’ve written, I’m always on the lookout for bad habits to reform, things to learn, and new habits to build. My terrible sleep schedule should have been first on the list, but again, I just didn’t think I could really help it.

Until now.

(dramatic pause) Okay, okay, no miracles have been worked yet! I’m probably jumping the gun a bit. But I do have good news: with just one simple change, I’ve been able to get up before 9:30 without an alarm multiple times in a row this week, and with no obligations on the calendar at the moment and a track record for sleeping in late at any chance I get, this is huge for me. So what miracle tip do I have? The title is a bit of a spoiler: accountability.

My best friend also happens to be a major night owl, so two Sundays ago, as we were lamenting our desire for early-bird status over snapchat with the new school year approaching, I had an idea. Since we already snap each other daily as our primary and easy form of communication, why not use it to help kick our late night habits?

We agreed to snapchat each other with a timestamp when we head to bed each night and wake up each morning. As accountability partners in Operation Early Bird, we could hopefully be motivated to reform our natural tendencies into much healthier and more consistent sleep patterns. Surprisingly, that simple challenge has made a world of difference. While neither of us has become perfectly consistent and we’re not exactly waking up bright-eyed at 5am or anything, we’ve both been much better about going to bed at a reasonable time and waking up without abusing the snooze button, and when we have nowhere to be, without an alarm at all and long before noon. Seeing as we both went from consistent 2-3am or later bedtimes and very inconsistent wake times (sometimes in the afternoon) to relatively consistent bedtimes often before midnight and wake times before 10am in under 2 weeks, I’d say this is a pretty impressive change.

We’ll see how this goes once the semester starts and work begins to pile up, but I’m hopeful that this is the start of much better habits and a happier school year ahead. I’m more determined and inspired to organize my life than ever, and with the renewed energy I have from waking up with the morning light casting the prettiest sunbeams, I think this is good preparation for the remaining year or two of my college education.

September always feels like a month of new beginnings, whether that looks like a new school year, a new job, or just a new season approaching. So, mid-August, I think I’m off to a head start for once. It will always be easy for me to fall into night owl, late, last-minute tendencies, but I’m finally challenging that. Bad habits may be easier, but they make life harder, while good habits make everything else a little easier. Do you have any September resolutions? πŸ™‚

20 minutes

What can you do in 20 minutes?

I know I ask a lot of questions around here so far. πŸ™‚ That’s kind of the purpose of this blog, not to go on about having all the answers, but rather to go on about not having the answers, and asking questions instead. When a question is asked, unless it’s a math problem, usually there isn’t one single correct answer. Maybe there isn’t a correct answer at all. This is one of those very subjective questions: what can you do in 20 minutes?

I think we often underestimate how much we can do in a short period of time. When you only have 20 minutes between one thing and another, you probably don’t aim to do anything significant. But adding up all those 20-minute in-betweens in your life, you’re wasting a lot of time if you don’t use them for something now and then.

Today, I’m using one of my own 20-minute intervals to write this blog post. Typically, I’d just scroll away on social media or clear my email inbox when I know I only have a small chunk of time between A and B. And sometimes you do just need to use that break if A and B are hard work or draining activities, but today my A and B are not work, so I decided to use that in-between productively, and here I am, with a significant bit of writing to show for it. So next time you have 20 minutes, instead of scrolling through Instagram, you could…

-put away laundry or dishes

-declutter a shelf or drawer

-write a blog post or a journal entry

-meditate or pray

-exercise!

-read a chapter or two

Again, maybe you’re more productive than me and you already do this. Or maybe you forget how much time 20 minutes really is and needed this reminder. How will you use your next in-between?

Becoming a minimalist

I was listening to the minimalists podcast earlier today and one of the points brought up that really stood out to me was about minimalism not being a destination, or even a path to follow, but rather a tool to clear the path so that you can get where you want to go. In case you’re reading and you have no idea what this whole minimalism thing is, the best way I would describe it is the same line I use to describe what my blog is about: intentional living.

You can still be a minimalist and own more than 100 things. It’s not about obsessively counting what you own, wearing the same thing every day, decorating your house in solely black and white with sparse furnishings, or otherwise conforming to a certain stereotype. It’s not really even an ascetic lifestyle of denial, it’s just about focusing on/buying/owning/consuming only what brings true value to your life, and letting go of anything superfluous that might get in the way. And again, it’s not a journey or a destination, but a consistent mindset that helps you to live with purpose and not get bogged down by clutter, mental or physical. So, today I want to talk about my personal experience with minimalism and how it has affected my life (spoiler alert: only good things).

Let me start by saying that I was the furthest thing from a minimalist: I am extremely sentimental by nature, and as an only child I also had a tendency to give a lot of personality and weight to objects because playing often revolved around things instead of other people/siblings. So naturally, I held onto every little thing that came into my life because I wanted to and I had no reason not to, and I loved collecting pretty knickknacks. Being an only child and living in the same house from age 5 to present meant that I didn’t have to compete with any siblings for space, nor did I ever have to confront the full scope of my possessions…until I began preparing for college. I realized that not only would I have to pack up a condensed version of my life to move into a small shared dorm room, but there was a real possibility that I might not live at home with my parents for more than another summer or two if I followed the seemingly common college student pattern of getting an apartment, then an internship, and eventually a job.

So, sometime in late 2013 or early 2014 during my senior year of high school, I discovered the concept of minimalism. At the moment I can’t remember how or where, but something led me to the minimalists blogΒ and from there my mindset began to change from sentimental hoarder to (still-sentimental but no-longer-hoarder) self-proclaimed minimalist. It definitely started slow, but looking back, it’s amazing how far I’ve come. Initially, I only had time to declutter while sorting out the necessities to pack for college. After living in a 12’x12′ shared dorm room for the 2014-2015 school year with only the necessities and for the most part feeling like I still had more than enough, I returned home with renewed resolve to pare down my belongings so that if I needed to pack up and move in the near future, it would be simple instead of overwhelming.

I ended up not following that “typical” college pattern of dorm to apartment, and have been living at home ever since for various reasons, which admittedly was helpful in the process of minimizing my life. Two years later, after packing away too many bags and boxes of donations to count, plus a few neatly organized containers of sentimental items that are truly worth saving, I am finally almost done utilizing the tool of minimalism to clear my path. Of course, I will continue using this tool again and again as more clutter inevitably makes its way into my life, but the large pile of debris has been cleared. My parents even removed a significant amount of their own clutter in this time as well.

I would estimate I now own about 25% of what I did when I started, and I feel physically lighter and much happier. The new things I bring into my life are carefully considered, and though I now own mostly things I love and use regularly, I do also feel less attached to “things.” As a Christian, my personal values are rooted in my faith, and minimalism fits right into those values. As I strive to live intentionally with my values as the core motivation of my actions, I knew that before anything else, I needed to clear the clutter. I wanted to share this story of how I became a minimalist in case you’re feeling stuck, or like your things own you instead of the other way around, to show you that even if you’re a sappy sentimental weirdo like me, you can still learn how to disengage your emotions from your “stuff” if you’re willing to put in a little effort to change.

Minimalism in a world of consumerism and indulgence can be quite countercultural, sort of like Christianity or veganism, but I challenge you to challenge this culture. Life is freer when you don’t have your path blocked by stuff you’ll never use, and it’s so much easier to be grateful for what you do have when it’s all stuff that actually adds value to your life. Maybe you’re like me and you need this challenge, or maybe you’ve been a minimalist since before minimalism was cool. Either way, remember to challenge yourself once in a while. What could you change in your life to better align with your own values?

On being uncomfortable (in a good way)

I want to try out a pattern for this blog where for one post, I use a photo, then for the next, an illustration. I take lots of photos, so this will be a way to put some of the random, pretty ones to use (I have a bit of an obsessive DIY attitude that makes me resistant to actually using a stock photo or anything I didn’t personally create) while also giving me a break in between illustrations, which are more of a challenge and a way for me to practice and refine that skill. So to begin my first illustration, I grabbed my sketchbook, which I conveniently keep in a basket behind the couch. Because, let’s face it…

I love spending time on the couch.

Don’t we all? I mean, if I ranked the activities I truly love doing, sitting on the couch would be pretty low on the list. It doesn’t give me any reward or sense of fulfillment compared to going to yoga class or visiting family or working on a creative project of some sort (although there are many creative projects that can be done from the couch). But sitting on the couch is comfortable.

How much of our time do we spend being comfortable?

The answer to that question varies for each one of us. Your comfort zone might not be as literally comfortable as a couch. Maybe you’ve had the same job for years, or you visit the same place for vacation every summer, or you hang out with the same friends and go to the same workout class every Tuesday night. When is the last time you tried something new?

I’m not trying to get existential here, but it’s often true that we stay in our comfort zones far more than we leave them. The word “uncomfortable” is typically only seen in a negative light, but in many situations it can be a very positive feeling. Think of the last time you experienced something really fun, new, different, unexpected. Riding a roller coaster, having a conversation with a friendly stranger, accomplishing something that you were really convinced you couldn’t do. The initial emotion you experienced in all of these situations was probably discomfort, then exhilaration.

So when 6:15pm rolled around yesterday and I had the choice to head to yoga class when I hadn’t gone in a month, or stay at home on the couch, I thought about this post I wanted to write. And I chose yoga class. And when the instructor cheerily told us to drag our mats to the wall for six rounds of handstands, I was happy to oblige. And when my whole body felt like a wet noodle as I held that sixth handstand, I was really glad that I wasn’t sitting at home on the couch. So I urge you: be uncomfortable (in a good way) more often. It beats living your life on the couch.

When is the last time you did something that took you out of your comfort zone?

Emerging from the cocoon

Hello there, nice to see you. I’m Chloe, here to add my voice to the vast and ever-expanding world of blogging. Before you laugh at me for my foolishness, allow me to clarify. I am RE-joining the vast and ever-expanding world of blogging.

Yes, way back in 2008 I started my first blog. At the time I was twelve years old and the notion of “blogging” was simply fun and social network-like, a way to share thoughts, interests, and daily goings-on. In 2009 I started my first “real” blog. At least, one I planned on updating regularly with content that could be interesting to someone other than just me. I kept up with that blog in varying degrees of consistency until 2012, so it was very much a part of my life for years, and I even had a whole few readers–all family members, but it gave me a semblance of purpose and accountability.

Shortly after I abandoned that blog mid-high school, I realized I still felt a need for an outlet and continued writing on a completely private blog (my thoughts always feel too fast for a paper-and-pencil journal) through those angsty late-teen years and into college. I still enjoy my virtual journal, but over a year ago I started feeling a pull toward blogging publicly once again. So here we are.

It took me a while to start, but I wanted to do it right. And it took a lot of digging through the 1,001 tutorials that now urge starting a blog as a business, as self-promotion, as a way to market yourself, and realize that I didn’t want to restart my blogging career for money or fame or even with my name plastered all over it. I wanted to do it because I love connecting with other humans. I love reading about other people’s lives and experiences, I love sharing my own, and I love cultivating a creative and intentional life. So here I am.

As with anything, you have to start somewhere. I look forward to developing my written voice further, experimenting with graphics and design, and just chatting into the black hole of the internet about topics I find interesting or worthy of exploring and sharing. I’d love it if you would join me πŸ™‚ What are you itching to share with the world?