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Posts Tagged ‘positivity’

I received a good reminder earlier this week, so I thought I’d share.

If you aren’t familiar with the website Meetup.com, it’s a website where people put together activity groups. So you can join and then find groups in your area that host events that you can attend, and if there isn’t any group in your area, then you can start one yourself! There are hiking groups, book groups, parenting groups, board game groups, support groups, and on and on.

Meetup.com is a website that comes up often in online advice about how to make new friends. The idea is that you can meet people while pursuing your interests and hobbies that you want to do anyway. And you instantly have something in common! I personally know a few people for whom this strategy has worked quite well.

However, I myself tried a Meetup group some years ago now, and I was not impressed. I went to one event, and I didn’t click with any of the people present. It was hard to get there, and then it was all small talk, small talk, small talk, and someone suggested we should arrange meetings to all work out together at the gym, and I threw up a little in my mouth. (To be clear, there is nothing wrong with having a Meetup to hang out at the gym; it is just really not my thing.) I was relieved to go home, and ever since then, I’ve thought, “Oh, Meetup. That totally doesn’t work for me. At all. The end.”

But I still get their emails because I am lazy about getting myself off email lists, and a few weeks ago, I saw a new Meetup group that was exactly my thing. Of course, the first Meetup group I’d tried had also seemed to be exactly my thing and look what happened there, but this was maybe even more so. So I decided I’d try it out.

My first meeting was on Monday evening. I was nervous, and I kept thinking of all the ways in which it might be uncomfortable or boring or plain obnoxious, and I kind of didn’t want to go. But I’d RSVP’d and I’d spent considerable effort preparing for the meeting, and this felt like one of those times I needed to ignore my brain and push myself to go anyway. So I went.

And it was FABULOUS. It was interesting and informative, we had a wide-ranging conversation about topics that I want to learn more about, the people were respectful and articulate and insightful. I was so glad I went.

Nala used to hate her kennel, but now she wants to hang out in there all the time. (Yeah, I might be reaching a tiny bit, but...cute dog photo!)

Nala used to hate her kennel, but now she wants to hang out in there all the time. (Yeah, I might be reaching a tiny bit, but…cute dog photo!)

So here’s the reminder I took away from this experience: Just because you’ve tried something once doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t try it again. Generalizations can sometimes be a useful shorthand, but when they’re formed with too little information and without being aware of variation, they can be inaccurate and potentially harmful.

Also, sometimes brains are overly negative. And sometimes we have to do our best to ignore them until we can prove them wrong. Being able to tell the difference between a real threat or issue and unfounded negativity is an incredibly valuable life skill.

And Meetup.com can sometimes be awesome! Good to know.

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Theodora Goss recently wrote one of those lists of what she’s learned in her life. The entire post is worth a read, but I was particularly interested in her #9:

“Your habits create who you are.”

I completely agree with Dora. Our habits are the building blocks of our lives and of our identities. I actually love this truth because while changing habits can be difficult, it is very possible. So that means if we don’t like our lives or identities, we can work towards doing something about that.

Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfight cc

Take the identity of being a writer, for example. (How could I not go there?) Some people are satisfied with the daydream of being a writer, which is fine but unlikely to bring about the reality. But for people who seriously want to claim the writer identity, it’s all about habits. It’s about making the time to write on a regular basis. It’s about making a commitment to finish projects. It’s about revising and reading other people’s work and thinking critically and educating yourself to become better. All those activities can be developed into habits over time.

This works for personality traits to a certain extent, too. We all have our original set points for different traits, and some of us will have to work harder than others to change and maintain those points, or will have limits to where we can move those points. But we can choose to encourage new habits that develop a certain trait. I used to be quite shy when I was younger, but I decided it wasn’t really very fun to be shy. So I practiced meeting people, I practiced inviting people to do things, I said yes to invitations, and I cultivated new hobbies that encouraged me to be social. I still have my shy moments, but now I often look at those moments as a challenge or game that I can try to succeed at as opposed to a miserable experience. And really, most of the time I’m not very shy at all because of the habits I eventually formed. I’ve talked to several other people who have had similar experiences.

And finally, habits even affect the kind of thoughts we have. That’s what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is all about. If we decide we want to be more positive, we can explicitly practice framing our thoughts in more positive ways until it becomes second nature. If we want more self esteem, we can practice thinking kinder thoughts about ourselves until, you’ve got it, those thoughts become second nature (or at least more frequent). Sometimes a lot of how we see the world is affected by our individual thought patterns, which are really just habits of thinking we’ve picked up over time.

When I think about it, I realize how strongly my habits shape my life, from how I spend my time to what and how I think to what my actual expressed priorities are. Of course, habits can arise FROM those priorities as well as shape what those priorities are. I think that’s why I care so much about living an examined life, so I can be more conscious about choosing those priorities and figuring out how to express them rather than have priorities happen TO me.

What habits have you chosen to develop? What habits do you want to change?

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“I’m not interested in blind optimism, but I’m very interested in optimism that is hard-won, that takes on darkness and then says, ‘This is not enough.’ But it takes time, more time than we can sometimes imagine, to get there. And sometimes we don’t.”

Colum McCann (by way of Jonathan Carroll’s Facebook page)

I think this is important to remember. Hoping for the best without taking the time to educate ourselves is not particularly helpful. Blindly doing the same thing we’ve been doing over and over while expecting a different (and better) outcome is Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity. Looking at silver linings to the extent that we’re blinded to reality and won’t look for changes we can make to better our situations keeps us stuck in one place.

But taking a real look at our lives and making change, real change, takes optimism as well. Optimism allows us to believe we’ll be okay whatever is happening. Optimism allows us to think change is possible for us. Optimism allows us to create a vision of a better future. Optimism gives us courage. And optimism gives us a greater capacity for both kindness and happiness.

The trick, then, is in being able to tell the difference between the optimism that holds us down and the optimism that lifts us up.

Photo Credit: Ira Gelb via Compfight cc

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Guess what time it is? Birthday week! I’ve been spending the past week celebrating, and there will even more celebrating through the weekend. (Battlestar Galactica the board game! Fancy tea! And also frozen yogurt!) And today is my actual birthday, so I am spending time doing fun things…and also revising. Because revising seems to be a never-ending process in my life at the moment.

For the last couple of years on the blog, I’ve made a birthday post listing five happy things. But today I’d like to take a moment to think about one BIG happy thing: gratitude.

The reason thinking about five happy things every day is supposed to increase general happiness is that it helps us cultivate a sense of gratitude. This year has been a tough one for me, and what I’ve learned is that in the face of adversity, feeling gratitude is even more important. It’s so easy to get caught up in a tidal wave of difficult emotions, but being aware of all the positive parts of life helps keep things in balance. And because of the contrast, the good and the sweet and the special feel even stronger and more important than they normally do.

So today on my birthday, I am feeling gratitude and appreciation. There are so many wonderful people in my life, many of whom will be reading these words today, and my life is so much richer because of you. Whether I am learning from you or having fascinating conversations with you, having super fun times with you or offering and receiving support, you make a difference in my life. I only wish I could see those of you who don’t live close to me more than I do.

Taken during birthday week! Nala is too excited to hold still and look at the camera.

Taken during birthday week, by Yvette Ono. Nala is too excited to hold still and look at the camera.

I have been lucky this past year in many ways. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time doing creative work that is important to me: revising The Academy of Forgetting (and revising some more), starting on the Space Novel, thinking of future story ideas. I’ve gotten to spend time in Seattle and New York and Boston, Chicago and Toronto and Detroit. I’ve reconnected with some people who matter to me, met some new people who have been fantastic, and deepened my existing friendships. I’ve been on the receiving end of a whole lot of generosity.

I live somewhere I feel comfortable and safe. My knees have been cooperating, and my allergies have improved. My friend Ferrett survived his triple bypass. I learned a lot about myself, and I’m on the path to creating the life I want. I have a little dog who brightens every single one of my days.

So here’s to another year! I know there will be challenges, but there will also be so much joy and gratitude that I get to be here experiencing life in all its glory.

What do you feel grateful for today? Let’s spread the happiness around.

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As I write this, Nala is sitting right next to me keeping me company, as she usually does while I write blog posts on my laptop. Actually, in this case, she is sprawled upside down, limbs akimbo, the top of her head smushed up into the side of her bed so I can’t see her eyes, only her white ear and lots of paw.

Sleepy dog.

Sometimes, she curls up in a little ball instead.

Four years ago this month, I saw a photo of Nala on the Silicon Valley Humane Society’s website. She looked scruffy and scrawny, and I fell instantly in love.

When I met her, she wasn’t interested in me. She didn’t want to snuggle, and she seemed nervous around people. She was much more interested in exploring the shades covering the window. I put her on a 24-hour hold so I could sleep on such a major decision. But I went directly from the shelter to the pet store to get everything a little one-and-a-half-year dog could need.

Nala loves to howl when she gets excited.

Nala loves to howl when she gets excited.

When I first got her, I was really excited every time I was on my way home because I knew I’d be seeing her soon. I figured that eventually this feeling would fade. But four years later, it hasn’t changed a bit. Whether I’m coming home from an errand or a long trip, I always look forward to seeing her.

Nala, Wisdom Dog

Things aren’t always easy. Nala has been suffering from increased separation anxiety the last few months, and I worry about her even while I’m trying to help her adjust. And Nala worries about me too sometimes, even while she’s licking my hands and staying close, doing her best to cheer me up. But we get through the hard times together.

She's also a great listener.

She’s also a great listener. (Photo by Yvette Ono)

Adopting Nala has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. She is my constant companion and my best doggie friend. The flow of unconditional love between us is one of the most beautiful parts of my life. She makes every day better with her presence.

I love my little dog.

Best friends!

Best friends! (Photo by Yvette Ono)

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I went to my city’s New Age bookstore today because I wanted to buy a calendar. (And I did! It has cool pictures of fractals.) I ended up buying myself a card because the text made me so happy. It says:

Be who you really are and go the whole way. -Lao Tzu”

I wanted to share a photo of my card, but then I started worrying about copyright issues, so instead I used the new Google+ photo tools (well, new to me, anyway) and made this photo to share.

Amy and Lao Tzu wisdom

I love this saying. It’s so fierce. Telling someone to be who they are isn’t enough. (And it’s also incredibly vague advice, especially if you don’t exactly know who you are.) But telling someone to go the whole way implies that there will be that moment of decision, when you could back down or mute yourself or hold yourself back or pretend to be someone you really just aren’t. And then, THEN, MY FRIEND, that’s when you have to go the whole way. That’s when you have to commit to who you are, who you’ve worked to become, who you want to be, and how this moment will be woven into your own personal narrative of self.

This is the essential truth of how to be a badass.

Going the whole way means stripping yourself of the things that don’t matter. It means being unwilling to apologize for who you are. It means celebrating the awesomeness that is you. It means letting yourself shine, and if you shine so bright some people have to look away, so be it.

Be passionate. Be silly. Be provocative. Be serious. Be warm. Be witty. Be quiet. Be no fun. Be the life of the party. Be honest. Tell lies to strangers about your adventurous past. Love what you love, whether that be writing or fly fishing or crafting or singing or traveling or golfing or playing board games or teaching or making or building or boating or gardening or talking or spinning around in the middle of a big field until you’re so dizzy you can’t stay standing.

Relish the freedom of being you. Try to avoid relinquishing that freedom, and if you lose it by accident, channel your inner fierceness to gain it back again.

Think about what going all the way might look like. Try it on for size.

Revel in it.

 

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Here is a beautiful thing.

In the midst of stress, there is connection. In the midst of sorrow, there is laughter. In the midst of fatigue, there is anticipation. In the midst of loss, there is appreciation. In the midst of chaos, there is the act of kindness that matters because of its mere existence.

In articles about dealing with stress, the idea of gratitude is repeated over and over again. Whether or not it is an active strategy, I find that gratitude and its cousin appreciation bubble up so easily these days. Perhaps because I need more help I have more to be grateful for. Or perhaps the contrast makes my appreciation keener. Or maybe I’m always this way and I just don’t usually pay as much attention. It is hard to know.

I stood in the grass at Shoreline Amphitheatre this weekend, my vest zipped up against the cool evening air. I watched Passion Pit play their song “Take a Walk,” and I was so happy to be there. I watched a friend of mine win the Andre Norton Award on Saturday night, and in the middle of tearing up, I was so happy to be there. I ate a late evening snack at my favorite local crepe place with a group of friends old and new, and I was so happy to be there.

My Taos buddies and I at the Nebulas this weekend. Photo by Valerie Schoen.

My Taos buddies and I at the Nebulas this weekend. Photo by Valerie Schoen.

A friend told me this weekend about a friend of hers who read my blog post about stress last week. Apparently it had a big impact, being the right post at the right time for this friend, who has been going through a lot herself recently, but she was embarrassed to write and tell me. I laughed and said, “I was embarrassed to write that post too.” I am so happy I decided to write something that mattered to someone.

I am so happy that so many of you have reached out to offer support and tell me it’s totally fine to spend some time staring at trees. And I completely agree. Staring at trees can be pretty great. So can eating pie and reading fluffy novels and petting little dogs and wearing a fantastic dress.

I am so happy to be here right now.

I am always looking for reasons to be happy, and I found so many of them this weekend. And perhaps that’s what I feel the most grateful for: my ability to find those reasons, and your willingness to create those reasons with me.

Thank you.

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