Summer means stifling temperatures and humid days punctuated by unexpected thunderstorms. We are accumulating multiple days where the mercury rises above 90F, and the meteorologists aren’t promising any relief this week.
There are advantages to operating on energy-saving mode. It forces you to do away with nonessential tasks. Eliminating the distractions running in the background gives you the space to clear your mind. With the noise silenced, your thoughts wander. You can reflect. There is freedom in letting yourself explore untraveled paths and recognize beauty. You remember the joys of daydreaming.
People often considered this practice selfish and a waste of time. History is full of individuals who explored their imaginations. Dreamers change the world, by altering our perceptions. Philosophers like Socrates challenge us to think, and they warn that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Reflective thinking unlocks alternatives you might not have otherwise contemplate. But it requires work to examine your opinions and beliefs, to apply logic and reason, and to imagine remarkable solutions. By allowing ourselves to dream of a better tomorrow, to consider positive outcomes to various scenarios, we visualize and plan for happiness.
Are you using your daydreams to construct your future?
Random objects, unplanned situations, snippets of conversations, and fragmented thoughts stir my imagination. Empty picture frames always get my wheels turning. I assume they once held a special image. Did the pink one surround a photo of a novice ballerina in her first tutu? Perhaps a soothing watercolor of an ancient cypress tree draped in a seductive veil of Spanish moss filled the interior of a matching green frame. And the ornate gilt square elevated the importance of small oil painting reflecting the tentative strokes of an artist’s self-portrait.
Pristine pages in a leather-bound journal, a sterile word document, and reams of boring snow-white copy paper elicit similar responses. Far from being daunting or creating fear, a blank page challenges my wildest fantasies and my amateurish abilities. Endless possibilities arise, each tale vies for my consideration, and I must decide. I close my eyes and start typing. Once I begin, I am compelled, driven by a duty to create the best story I can produce, and a powerful desire to finish. I owe a debt to the novel ideas which I did not choose. They haunt me.
As they slink about in my brain, demanding my attention, they grow. Their themes, plots, and characters become more vivid. The settings coalesce, details are refined, and a unique world takes shape. The cardboard individuals inhabiting those scenes blossom into proper people with wants, needs, goals, and interesting points of view. They gang up on me, spur me forward, and demand I complete my current work so they may have their turn.
The greatest perk of holiday weekends is the chance to sleep late. I may have a delayed sleep phase disorder. It is a phenomenon where an individual ends up falling asleep after the normal bedtimes of most folks. For years, I believed I suffered from insomnia. Aren’t we all supposed to nod off at 10 pm and rise eight hours later? The problem is, I hit my second wind around nine and don’t become tired enough to relax and snooze until well after midnight. But having to conform to social norms requires me to set my alarm for 5 am.
Thanks to technology, I have monitored, logged, and tracked my sleep schedule. It turns out, when left to wake naturally, my regular cycle lasts six hours and twenty minutes. I routinely start projects after nine in the evening and can continue until one or two in the morning. Contrary, what most might think, staying up late does not mean I am wasting time watching tv or playing video games. Instead, these are great opportunities for grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and writing. If I am on a roll, I may opt to work past what I consider my normal bedtime and finish when others are waking. This leaves me with a tough decision — do I try to get some sleep or push to stay awake?
The beauty of a holiday is I can allow my natural circadian rhythms to dictate my schedule. The added benefit is, my endless list shrinks, I complete multiple items, my mood improves, and I don’t feel as exhausted. I appreciate my morning coffee more, and the world feels a little less annoying.
Owning books is a joy. I appreciate seeing my dear friends staring at me from their homes on my bookshelves. I relish running my hand across their spines and visualizing the words, worlds, and adventures we experienced together. These are my loyal companions, and I am determined we will never part company. I enjoy reading eBooks and listening to audiobooks, but they can’t compete with the tactile aspects of a real, hardcover book.
I am lucky to have so many purchased volumes populating my bookshelves, but I also exercise my library membership. It is not unusual for me to have five, or six on loan at any point. It comforts me to know money is not a barrier, or an excuse, for not reading different genres. The library is a great resource for indulging without a huge financial commitment. In fact, I am more likely to purchase a book I have borrowed from the library so it can find a home on my shelves. My personal copies are the ones I recommend and lend to friends and family.
My biggest change for the lockdown was when they closed my library. Thankfully, I had just picked up six books, but in extending the due dates, they deleted the books I had placed on hold. Last week, they opened a new bin for returns, and next week, they plan to loan books again. I can’t wait to meet my new best friends.
Do you supplement your purchased books with library books?
In business, there is a proven technique for attaining long-term improvements. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continual improvement. We can apply the method to every aspect of life. It relies on minor modifications that snowball and, over time, culminated in growth, advancement, and progress. There are six steps: Standardize, Measure, Compare, Innovate, Standardize, Repeat.
Standardize: What are you doing today? You have a process, even if you don’t realize it. Study what you are doing and commit it to paper.
Measure: Objective examination of your current workflow helps you determine where you are efficient or inefficient.
Compare: Inspect your results and plot them against your goals to see if your present operation is moving you in the direction you wish to go.
Innovate: Search for a better way to execute your plan. Your innovation may be big or small. Studies show that modest incremental changes get superior payback because they are easier for you to achieve and faster for your team to integrate.
Standardize: Implement your innovative ideas and make them part of your daily practice.
Repeat: Once your modernized workflow is a habit, you start the procedure again. Until your baby steps lead you to your target.
It seems like 2020 started yesterday, and today I check my calendar to discover half a year swept away. July is living up to its reputation for hot, sun-soaked days, but the expected lazy summer lull is not materializing. Instead, crazy workloads, and increased family demands coupled with uncertain procedures for completing once-routine tasks, rule the day. The normal state of my mind is a constant barrage of busy-ness. Thoughts chatter incessantly. I plan the future, review past performances, plot new trajectories, and fret about what I might be forgetting.
Time rushes onward, we stress about the lack of time and wish we could slow its passage. However, research suggests we control our perception and how we experience time. When we engage in benign, semi-pleasant, routine tasks, we enter a mindless state, and time slips away without conscience awareness. Likewise, when we must complete boring, non-challenging tasks that demand close attention, we can experience time stretching into a never-ending waste of precious moments.
Researchers say the cure for both situations is to focus on the moment and allow your brain to become fully engaged in the task. The act of full engagement alters your perception, time slows and expands. Call it mindfulness, focus, awareness, zen, meditation, or whatever, we may reap significant benefits from more purposeful observations of the world.
I loathe having nothing constructive to do. Being productive, maintaining neat lines of items to complete on my personal agenda is much nicer. I get a rush when I can cross them off my list, call them done, and move forward. Time wasters include standing in line, driving in traffic, or having to re-working projects because of miscommunication. They top my list of anger-inducing ineffective misuses of my life. I strive to avoid those situations. Where possible, I order online, shop during off-peak hours, align my route to combine errands, ask extensive questions when beginning group activities, and document agreements in writing.
Coworkers have admonished me to slow my pace, so they didn’t need to work harder. Managers have accused me of cheating or lying as no one could do the task in such a short timeframe. But I have always been vindicated. To keep a project on track, I sometimes resort to completing assignments delegated to specific team members. It doesn’t bother me much because it beats staring at the clock and waiting for the minutes to pass. There is nothing better than the satisfaction of a job well done.
I have a secret. It’s embarrassing when I am caught, and I discover someone is listening. Talking to myself, in my head, and aloud is a normal occurrence. I assure you, my conversations are rather mundane. Where is my phone? Did I pay the bill? Should I buy lemons at the grocery store? Who is knocking on my front door? Why did I come into this room? Those are typical topics I explore almost daily.
Late at night when the house is finally silent, the questions fade, and everything grows quiet. The voice changes, and I know my evening adventure is about to begin. I have heard this voice since I was a child. It has told me calming bedtime stories, created imaginary characters, and handed me the key to fantastical worlds. It is my trusted companion. Together we work through complex issues and create ingenious solutions for everyday problems. I write the tales I tell myself and share them with my friends.
I have a favorite mug I reserve for Sunday mornings. The cup is a brilliant sunny yellow and has room for a substantial amount of coffee. While I’ve never measured, I suspect it holds more coffee than two of its dainty porcelain cousins. The walls are thick. They rate it safe for both the microwave and the dishwasher, and my coffee stays hot for hours. The handle fits my hand perfectly and keeps my fingers and knuckles far from the scalding contents, reducing the chances of unintentional burning and the potential of accidents.
My sturdy friend and I have been through countless Sundays of garden workouts. She doesn’t complain when I set her on a cement step, balance her on the edge of a raised bed, or wedge her into a spot between my gardening gloves and my trowel. I’ve misplaced her more times than I can count. But she stands out in green grass, muddy soil, and on the shelf with my garden gear.
There are hazards associated with drink coffee outdoors. I’ve plucked stray leaves I noticed floating on my coffee’s surface. Her bright color attracts bees and wasps, though I doubt they enjoy coffee as much as I do. On more than a few occasions, I discovered dirt smudges on the rim. But there was still enough clean space to sip my brew.