In these times of stress, the one great piece of advice I have for myself is this: focus only on the present moment, the present work. When working on one assignment, don’t let thoughts of what needs to be done in the future swarm your mind, like locusts infesting a healthy, colorful farm; allow yourself to focus only on the task at hand. The locusts foster anxiety and stress, and this quickly turns into lip-biting, nail-picking, and fragmented breathing. Put those thoughts aside, and just work.
Maybe living in a sunny climate with clear skies will make you feel good. On the other hand, it might become normal to you after a week or so, and you won’t notice that it’s any different from (or even better than) your previous environment. So perhaps it’s better to live in a climate with a fair mix of sun, clouds, and rain: that way, you can more fully appreciate the sun when it comes out. And you can learn to accept the clouds and the rain — because it’s really not so bad.
Wealth is subjective. If you’re relatively rich but can’t buy something you want — a company, for instance — you feel frustrated and “poor.” If you’re relatively poor but can afford everything you need and want, you feel satisfied and “rich.” Now, I don’t think a rich person would actually feel “poor,” or vice versa, but that hardly matters: what matter more are the feelings packaged along with these circumstances. Would you rather be rich and frustrated, or poor and satisfied?
(Of course, it’s not quite that simple, but realizing the relativity of wealth can be eye-opening.)
Here’s another realization I had: just as it’s important to establish routines and build habits, it’s important to explore and to not fall into a single routine. Having the skill to create habits allows successful traits and results to be fostered and obtained, but sticking with the same lifestyle for too long — years, or a lifetime — inhibits exploration and leads to dullness.
Reasonably breaking with (or changing) routine is a skill in itself. It takes being able to tell when enough is enough with any given activity, as well as the ability to bear the discomfort that may come with such a change. Last night, I considered my meditation schedule: I currently sit for several minutes in the evening (sometime between 9:00 and 10:00 PM, depending on when I finish showering), but I wondered how my life would change if I chose to meditate in the morning instead. Would I maintain a prolonged clarity of thought throughout the day, as opposed to being more immediately clear-minded in my hour between sitting and sleeping?
In fact, this is a change, not a break, in routine. If I change my meditation habit, I’ll experience something vastly different from what I would if I were to continue meditating at night. Without changing, I’ll never fully learn what morning meditation might do for me: I may be happier and more productive, so it deserves more consideration.
Meditation is just one example, but this can apply to anything. Scott H Young wrote in one of his earlier posts that despite being a vegetarian, he would likely allow meat back into his diet at some point so he could vary his experiences (and, I take it, learn more about how different foods affect him). Steve Pavlina has similarly experimented on himself, often in 30-day trials (such as when he stuck to a raw-food diet).
Thinking of these routine changes as life experimentation, like Steve Pavlina seems to, makes a lot of sense. That’s a theme that I’ve noticed repeatedly in my thinking: sometimes I imagine I’m not actually a student / writer, but an invisible scientist or puppet master: I’m making tiny adjustments here and there, pulling the strings in various ways, carefully observing what happens, adjusting in response… Continuously learning.
I had this great realization tonight about stress. Stress does not have to exist beyond the moment it reveals itself. You acknowledge you’re stressed, because you have to do something important or are anxious about doing such a thing. After you notice it, you can decide what to do with it: when will you do the work you’re stressing about, and how will you do it?
Once you determine this, stop thinking about it. Just let go. You will get it done, so why continue feeling stressed? You can decide how you deal with your emotions, so you may as well make the best of stress and let it go.
The core benefit of going through the college application process seems to be that I get to work out my proactivity muscle. I need to write and revise essays; schedule, prepare for, and have college interviews; and fill out applications. And I need to realize that doing all this takes a lot of time, and that I don’t have much time. So, I need to not only be efficient, but be proactive — I need to start yesterday and work every day.
It’s scary, mysterious, and frustrating, so I need to be courageous, self-aware, and methodical. And I need to realize that while this is work, it doesn’t need to be stressful. In other words, busyness is not equivalent to stressfulness. Genuinely realizing that there are benefits (improved writing skills, efficiency, time management, proactivity, introspection, etc.) helps make it appear more exploratory and strengthening than oppressive.
Of course, be realistic, too. There is an intended audience for all these forms and essays; certainly be aware of that. But don’t agonize over the process.
Another essay-writing idea came to mind today.
Spend a good chunk of time — an hour and a half or two hours — writing. Take short breaks every twenty to thirty minutes. After that chunk, give yourself a break. Read, take a walk, spend time with friends. Come back to it a few hours later, perhaps after dinner. If you find you’re still stuck or too jaded to continue right then, sleep on it. The next day, repeat — but for a different essay.
Should you work on multiple essays at once? I think so. How can you avoid it? With so many essays due in such a short amount of time, it makes sense to spend a day on one response, the next day on another, and the next on another (if you have more time to spare, you can space them further apart). After a few days, circulate and come back to your first. As long as you don’t work on one essay day after day, you’ll allow your subconscious to naturally generate good ideas, and you’ll be constantly improving your writing and introspecting skills. This is because most essays require the same deep, reflective thought and are about similar topics (e.g. “Why do you want to come to our school?”).
And the writing continues…