Exploring the Past to Understand the Present

Journal Positively-Present


When my parents moved to a new house last summer, I found myself carting boxes of my old stories and journals and art and terrible photographs (amazing to see the "good" photos that we saved and how they look like the kind I'd immediately delete on my phone today) to my apartment. I tucked them away neatly in cupboards and closets (ah, the joy of being a Virgo!), telling myself I'd spend time going through it, determining what I wanted to keep and what could be tossed. Of course, it's been out of sight and out of mind since then, one of those tasks that will randomly pop into my mind and then be pushed away by the notion that it'll take so much energy — both the physical and the emotional kind. Plus, I couldn't decide if it was, in fact, valuable to revisit these things. 

I spend so much of my time writing about (and trying to experience) the present moment, so the idea of diving headlong into the past, re-meeting all those old versions of myself, seemed like a bit of a strange one. Would exploring the past help me to become more present now? Would it drag me back to things I've forgotten (or tried to) in a healthy or unhealthy way? I'm still unclear about the answers, but I kept thinking about all of these old things, sitting close by but tucked away, and over the past few weeks pulling them out and reading and reflecting on them. Here are some of the things I've learned: 



So many of the things that seemed terrible when I was writing about them ended up working out fine (or, if they didn't, have gotten much easier to cope with over time). Revisiting these old pains and realizing how most of them are gone or faded was a nice reminder that, regardless of whatever difficulties you're currently going through, things will change and you'll survive. 



It was surprising to take note of how many similarities there are between who I was and who I am now. I was always writing and drawing in some form, which is a pretty cool thing to see, particularly in terms of the progression. I was always fascinated by quotes and lyrics, writing them in colorful ways in my notebooks and diaries. I was always trying to understand why things were the way they are, always searching for a better understanding of myself. (There were also some less-than-stellar traits that continue to linger and reading about them was an eye-opener.)



While I'm the same in so many ways, I've also changed and grown a great deal (as we all do). When we're living in the present with no record of the past, it can be easy to forget how much we've changed and grown and overcome. Looking back at the past has given me a greater appreciation for where I am now, and a hopefulness with regard to the aspects of life that I'd like to be different. It's taken time and effort, but I've changed a lot of aspects — and that means I'm likely to be able to make changes in the future too. It's weirdly inspiring to reflect on how far you've come, especially when you're able to read your own words about a specific time period. 



So many patterns kept popping up as I was reading and reflecting — some good, some bad. Honestly one of the most interesting things I discovered was how many of the same patterns I still embrace today. It was an eye-opener and made me really think about what patterns I want to keep up, and which ones I need to work on modifying. Even if you don't keep journals, you can spend time paying attention to patterns you keep repeating and explore whether or not they're useful for you right now. Just because you've always done it doesn't mean you always have to do it.  



Every memory you have is influenced by your own unique perspective — what came before it and what's come after it. Revisiting the past memories and my thoughts on them jotted down in real time reminded me that so much of what we hold on to in our minds as memories is really just a set of stories, some containing more truth than others. When you can read about them again, you can understand things in a new way. You can almost see through your old self and understand the emotions and how they might have influenced the memories. Exploring the past memories reminded me that memories aren't facts, an important lesson to keep in mind in the present. 



I long to reach out to my younger self and tell her not to worry. I want to tell her that it will work out — not always in the way you think or the way you want, but it will. I also sometimes want to sit her down and give her a serious talking to, showcasing all that I've learned and all that I wish she knew then. But that's how life goes: you don't know what you don't know. You do the best you can with what knowledge and wisdom you possess, and that's all you can really do. Reflecting on this reminded me that there is still so much I have left to learn and it's okay that I'm just doing the best I can with what I have right now. 



This is a small lesson, but an important one. As I was sorting through the boxes of old notes and photos and silly little cards, I realized that the things with the most value were the things that people spent time writing a lot on. Any card that just had a signature went in the bin, but all of the handwritten love letters, the notes passed back-and-forth in high school (pre-texts!), the silly little drawings my best friend and I created as kids, all of those things still really mean something and give me not only insights into myself, but into the people I've been surrounded by. Which brings me to the next point... 



Honestly, I wish I had written more down, created more art, documented the really important moments (those always seem to be missing a lot because I was so in-the-moment with them that I couldn't imagine ever forgetting or wishing I could see it in writing). While I know writing and art-making isn't for everyone, I do think there's something valuable in just jotting down a line or two during life's interesting experiences. It doesn't take long, and it can help you better understand yourself (and whatever you've been through) in ways that memory alone just can't do. Plus, I really do think that getting all of my feelings out on paper or on a screen was really useful for me in the moment (a kind of at-home therapy), which makes it both a tool for reflection and for mindfulness.  


I'd love to know: do you keep (or did you keep) a journal or diary? What are your thoughts on revisiting it? Do you go back and look at it? How does it feel when you do? Or do you prefer to get it written down and then forget about it, using it only as a tool for the present? 

Also, a fun exercise if you don't keep a journal: imagine that each year of your life is a book (like I've done in the image above). What would the titles be? (This is actually a lot harder than you might think, but it was a fun little introspective activity that I'd highly recommend!)


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The 5 Best Ways to Beat the January Blues

Hey Its Okay Positively Present


Happy 2018!

2017 was... interesting (to put it nicely), and I can't deny that I'm looking forward to a fresh start, with 12 whole months of possibilities ahead. That being said, January is always a bit of a tough month for me. For some people, there's the excitement of a fresh start, the glow of the coming year's opportunities, and I want to embrace all of those things too, but more often than not, it's just stressful. The beginning of January often comes with a mix of make-it-the-best-year-ever pressure and it's-ages-before-my-favorite-season (autumn) rolls around again. 

Like many people, January often finds me either fretting about what I didn't do in the previous year or worrying about all that's yet to come. Plus, the holidays are over, the days are short, dark, and often gloomy, and it's cold. It's not the greatest month for a lot of us, but that doesn't mean we can't do our best to stay as positively present as possible! 

Here are some of the tactics I'll be using this month to try tackling those January blues. All of these I've tried before and they've really helped me ward off the doom-and-gloom of the new year. Hopefully they'll help you too! 



When it comes to dealing with a difficult situation — no matter what it is! — the first step is acceptance. If you try to pretend you're not struggling or you try to push away the sad or stressed emotions, they'll come back even worse (and often in unpredictable and bizarre ways!). If you're not feeling the "new year, new me!" vibes, don't worry — you're not alone. It's a challenging time for a lot of people, and the first step to making it easier is recognizing that it's okay not to feel super excited and optimistic about the year ahead. Twelve months is a long time, and you don't have to be jumping for joy on day one. Allow yourself to feel how you feel, and try your best not to judge yourself or tell yourself that you "should" feel a certain way. You feel how you feel, and that's perfectly okay. 



Part of the not-so-great feelings that can come along on January 1 involve believing that you didn't accomplish everything you wanted to last year. You've probably heard about the high failure rates for new year's resolutions so if you didn't get all of your bad habits under control last year, you're not alone. You can't change everything that happened last year, but you can take a positive action right now. Think of one thing you could do right this month (today even!) that you wanted to do last year. It doesn't have to be something big — could be cleaning out a closet, donating some old clothes, writing an email to an old friend, visiting a museum you've been wanting to check out — but pick something and do it. It'll make you feel good, and it'll set a positive, proactive tone for the year ahead. 



I know, I know — this is the most cliched new year advice in the world, but for the past few years I've started doing Yoga with Adriene's 30 Day Yoga Journey and it's been amazing for me. Working out is hard (especially if you're not a fan, like me) and this is an easy way for me to get into a routine without too much effort since I can do it at home anytime I want. Plus, because she's been doing these for a few years, I start a old video series in February and it keeps me on track for a few months. It apparently takes about two weeks to start a habit so why not incorporate something into your daily routine now? It doesn't have to be a major shift (sometimes that whole "resolution" concept feels daunting!), but doing something (however small!) new on a daily basis will give you a nice little focus for upcoming gloomy month.  



Last year after Christmas, I decided I was going to leave up the lights all year 'round. I'd decorated my bookshelves and windows with them and I knew that taking them down was one of the hardest bits of post-Christmas de-decorating because it meant a lot of the light would be taken out of the room. Keeping up lights always seemed too college-dorm-room to me, but once I decided to embrace them, it was kinda awesome. I generally don't use them much in the warmer months, but they keep my place feeling cozy and hygge-like all winter long. Lights might not be your thing, but try to do something at home that'll keep you feeling cozy and uplifted throughout the darkest months of the year. Even a little thing can have a big impact on your mood!



Years ago, I wrote New Year, Same Me: 6 Stay-the-Same Resolutions, and I think about it every year when all of the articles and blog posts on making and keeping new year's resolutions start popping up everywhere. There's always so much focus on what we want to change and what we hope for in the year ahead (or reflections on what happened the year before), and most people don't pause to think about what they want to stay the same in the upcoming months. Resolutions might work for some people, but I personally find them frustratingly ineffective. Since I wrote that post back in 2010, I've found it a lot more useful to think about what worked well in the previous year and direct my focus to creating more of that in my life. Instead of focusing on what you don't want to be (or don't feel you are), try zeroing in on what's working about you and your life, and it's sure to make January a bit more joyful (and perhaps a little less judgmental, too!). 


If you're struggling right now, don't forget: you're not alone. A lot of us have a hard time during this time of year, and the best thing you can do is do what you can to make the most of it. Hopefully these tips will provide some inspiration for the weeks to come, but if you're really feeling down and can't seem to shake the January blues, I highly recommend seeking advice from a professional. Therapy (and light therapy!) can work wonders for the toughest time of the year. 


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4 Ways to Embrace the Freedom of Letting Go




This week, I made this illustration for the "Freedom" prompt of the 2017 Gratitude Challenge, and it really got me thinking about how freeing the act of letting go really is. But it's also really difficult to do — at least for me it is. I'm pretty picky so when I let a person / thing / experience / idea / behavior into my life, I find it challenging to let it go (even when I know for sure it's no good for me). But, as I say often, it's often the most challenging things that are the ones worth doing. 

Hanging onto the things you no longer need might feel comforting, but consider what would happen if trees clung to all of their dead leaves? Come spring, the brand new (alive!) leaves would have a pretty tough time finding room on the branches. Same goes for us. When we cling to what's no longer enhancing our lives, we block off possibilities for new things to flourish. 

Releasing our own dead leaves isn't always a smooth and effortless process, the way it seems to be for the trees, but that doesn't mean we can't do it. If we want the freedom that comes with letting go, it's up to us to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of letting go. Here are some of the best ways to get started: 

  • Determine what you value most. When you take a step back and think about you truly value in your life, you'll realize that much of you're holding on to isn't as essential as you might've thought. What's essential is being healthy, positive, mindful, and living your life to the fullest (or maybe some other things that matter most to you!). If you are clinging to things or people, you're not experiencing true freedom. You're restricted by beliefs that aren't allowing you to thrive the way the trees do in the spring. Stepping back and assessing what really matters to you will make letting go a lot easier.

  • Reflect on what you're really receiving. We often hang on to things or people because we believe they're add value to our lives, that we're receiving some benefit from them (or providing it to them). But is that actually a fact? Are you actually benefiting from the clutter (emotional or physical) in your life, or do you just tell yourself you are because it's easier than choosing change? Reflecting on whether or not a person / experience / etc. is making your life richer can provide you with a boost of motivation to let someone or something go. Of course, not everything in life is about what you get from it, but if something is taking more than it's giving, it might not be worth clinging to.  

  • Take note of what you're overvaluing. Are you placing high value on a person or thing you're holding on to unnecessarily? Are you giving something way more value than it truly has? More often than not, we idealize people or things and tell ourselves that, for whatever reason, we need it/him/her. Needing something is kind of prison; it keeps you trapped in situations that aren't necessarily beneficial for you. If there's a voice inside you saying "let go," it's a pretty good sign that you should let go. What you truly need in your life is never going to be accompanied by a voice that urges you to let go. Listen to that voice — not the one that overvalues what's no good for you as a way to keep you feeling the false comfort of not experiencing freedom. 

  • Be strong enough to release your grasp. It really does come down to two little words: let go. No matter how hard it feels, no matter what obstacles appear to stand in your way, if you want to experience true freedom, you have to be brave and release your grip. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but, honestly, taking action really is the only way to access freedom and make room for new growth. You owe it to yourself to be brave and release what you no longer need. And keep this in mind: the hardest part is the release; once you're brave enough to take that first step, you'll soon see that you're fine without those dead leaves clinging to your branches. 

As you're learning to let go, also keep in mind that, deep down, you know what's best for you. If there's a voice telling you to let go, listen to that instinct. You won't hear that voice when you're doing what's right for you, when you're with people who bring you up, when you're connecting with the very best parts of yourself. It's hard to listen to the voice telling you to do the hard thing, but not listening often makes it harder — you'll either remained imprisoned by what you're clinging to, or you'll drag out the letting go process, making it even more challenging when you finally release that grip. 

Let the trees inspire you, and look to them way they let the dead leaves drop motivate you to release what you no longer need. When you let go, you might go through a tough time — a bare-branched winter, like the trees — but that pain will pass, and you'll have made room for the bright, lively leaves of spring when they arrive (and they will!). 


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