Being Present

It was the first Sunday of 2019 and I was visiting a friend. We took a walk along the river nearby. It was a rare gorgeous sunny day and the weather was warm. 

My friend and I are almost two generations apart and our conversation has a unique atmosphere. She is a physical therapist who trains people who just had surgeries or suffer from various diseases, helping them relearn the essential life skills like climbing stairs or going to the bathroom. I asked for more details, and she delineated movingly how she guided a man to buy a Christmas present for his girlfriend and how surprised she was. Mid-conversation I caught myself thinking about a related scenario and fantasizing how would I recount the story to others.

Although she didn’t notice, I felt bad for spacing out. It would be understandable if I’m in a boring class, but not when I’m talking to someone I love and care about. It became “normal” for me to think about the next item on my to-do list before finishing the last. I blamed the internet and social media for my shorter concentration time and decided to relearn how to focus. 

The first step is becoming intentional. Whenever I catch myself either censuring myself for past mistakes or listing the best and worst scenarios of future situations, I hold up a huge stop sign in my head. 

The second step is changing the mindset. I convinced myself that planning something else mid-task will not increase my productivity. I could finish my homework without thinking too hard, but maybe I wasn’t memorizing the formulas. Of course, there are exceptions like listening to a podcast while driving or showering, but most of the time what you are doing deserves your full concentration. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s the time to rethink your priorities and reorganize your time.

Practice, practice, and practice. Making concentration a habit, and after weeks and months your brain won’t see multitasking a feasible option and you’ll appreciate life a lot more. 

Have you ever felt like you’re not really living? 

Lately, I have been practicing the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. For those who never heard of it, the technique means acknowledging five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. I prefer saying them out loud; there is a magical feeling of hearing yourself reciting things. It helped me with anxiety (I even successfully used it to prevent an anxiety attack) and refocusing on the present moment when I’m feeling grumpy.

Being present is the secret to happiness. Being happy is the secret to success. The world will be a better place if we stop worrying about the past or future and cherish the present—like a wise person said, it’s called a gift for a reason.

Christmas as an international student

Merry Christmas!

I did some last minute Christmas shopping on Sunday before holiday anxiety hit me. Although I’m not religious, Christmas has always been special to me as it brings back the memory of the two host families who opened the door for me and welcomed with such kindness when I was lost. But at the same time, Christmas is scary. Terrifying. The social situation, and the fact that it’s so close to the end of the year. Sure, every ending is a new beginning, but have I accomplished enough this year? 

Christmas means amazing food, family time, and hanging out with the annoying relatives that you don’t want to see. But for me, things are a little different. I will be meeting with a bunch of strangers. To be fair, I’ve seen them on Thanksgiving, but that’s it. As an anxious introvert, socializing for a few hours is already difficult enough, needless to mention there is always one fear in the back of my mind: am I talking too much? Even if I’m being the quietest person in the room? Christmas is the time for family reunites and I want to allow everyone to talk to their extended family. My host family said I am a part of their family, but missing sixteen years of their life, things aren’t the same.

Or maybe I’m just overthinking.

But I’m still so grateful for winter break! The break is late this year so we don’t go back to school until January, 8th. I have lots of time to catch up with reading and writing: between all the eating, chatting, and opening gifts, I’ll find time to work on the second draft of my YA novel which I ultimately failed to put aside during the month of December. I’ll revise the short story I wrote about Christmas and New Year. I’ll read tons of good books that I borrowed from the local library. I’ll take time to reflect, take care of myself, and welcome 2019 with my best ability.

—December 23rd, 2018

Balancing school, writing, and self-care

Whether I am watching Youtube videos, reading blog posts, or talking to writer friends, balancing writing with life is a topic that gets mentions again and again. As a high school junior, I barely have time to write with homework, studying for standardized tests and extracurricular activities. Needless to say, the anxious voice in my head consistently seeks to persuade me that I’m not good enough, therefore I’m not going to make it.

For years, I struggle to be productive without sacrificing my mental health. Everyone says balance is the key for a healthy and happy life, but a balance is always this mysterious thing that no one captures. Luckily, after devoting tons of time to reflect on past mistakes and reading other people’s advice, I figured out a few tips that are most helpful for me. Although the definition of balance is different for everyone, I hope you find this post helpful.

1.Make your goal realistic

I have seen this advice in many places and dismissed it many times. As an ambitious overachiever, I stupidly thought that maybe that the human condition won’t apply to me. I filled my to-do list with goals that I should be able to accomplish if I use every second of my life effectively. No. The truth is, I am a human. I can’t write every second that I’m alive like Hamilton did (or at least that what they say in the musical). There will be days that I space out. Days that I come home from school exhausted and dysfunctional. Or worse, days that thing didn’t go my way, and after all the unintentional overthinking and overanalyzing, I freak out and have a mental meltdown. I learned one lesson the hard way: forgive yourself for not being perfect. When you have a bad mental health day, pushing yourself to study or write for three hours straight might not be a good idea. Take a break. Add relaxation into your schedule: if you have four hours after school, plan to study and write for two and a half or three hours. Expected things are going to happen at the most inconvenient time. And we all have the experience of being so overwhelmed and end up doing nothing. Rather than failing and feeling guilty, setting realistic goals will make your life is much healthier! In the meanwhile, if you don’t have the habit to write a to-do list, start doing it! It only takes less than one minute, but it will take off tons of stress in your mind.

2. Sleep, eat healthy, and workout 

I came from a culture that has an unhealthy notion of productivity. Growing up, my parents talked about how American college students sleep three hours every day and insisted me to do the same. Okay, first, that’s definitively not true. Second, this misconception belittles the importance of self-care and encourages people to overwork themselves. Maybe that’s why my parents are workaholics. Our biological body is designed this way for a reason. I believe psychical health builds up emotional health: after eight or nine hours of sleep, the little things in life don’t irritate me as much. Similarly, sometimes I’m mad at someone for no reason, and end up figuring out that I’m just hungry. So sleep for as long as you need (but don’t overdo it), and eat nutritious food that makes your body feel good. After filling your stomach with unhealthy snacks during the National Novel Writing month, December is the time to treat yourself better. Last but not least, exercise. I haven’t been working much recently, which probably explains why I feel tired all the time. Go for walks when the weather is good, or simply follow the instructions on Youtube and do some stretches in your room. A little exercise every day can go a long way.

3. Prioritize schoolwork

Most days when I come home from school, I’m not in the mood of doing homework, even though I LOVE homework. Our teachers rarely give us busy work; the reading/worksheets/projects we’re working on are usually really interesting and I can’t be more grateful for my education. It’s just so tempting to open a new document or a blank page and write. In my monthly reflection, there is always a note “finish your homework before writing!” From time to time I become resentful. Writing is what I am passionate about, why in the world should I place it after schoolwork? Deep down, I know the answer. I need to study because my dream college requires a certain GPA and standardized test score. Even though getting a nearly-perfect score on the SAT isn’t important in term of personal growth, I choose to make the sacrifice. When I get home, I do my homework and study. If I only write 300 words, it’s okay. I’m still young. I have time. Don’t feel obligated to write every day; it’s good to have a routine, but you do not have to prove to anyone that you’re a writer.

4. Take advantage of weekends and breaks

I love weekends because I can catch up with all the reading and writing. I love to spend a whole morning or afternoon typing undisturbed by my desk or at the local library. When inspiration comes, I won’t feel guilty for staying up until one A.M. drafting a short story because there is no school tomorrow. I used to be obsessed with writing a certain amount of words every day until I learned that I work better with a more flexible schedule. A writer’s current state of mind will always reflect in their writing. If they’re stressed over a deadline, the reader can see through it. That’s why for me, the holiday season is the most productive time of the year. Winter break is approaching! I hope everyone can squeeze time to write between all the eating, drinking, chatting, and reflecting on the year.

5. Use writing as a form of self-care

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. It helps me escape from the world, the concept of reality, and myself. I also use writing to research, to reach out to others, and to question the universe. But when I get too reward-oriented, the desire to accomplish something can ruin the joy of creating it. Sure, I want to write a novel that will make people think and feel, but I also just enjoy writing. I want to stop worrying about how imperfect my manuscript is, because it’ll never be perfect. And imperfection is one of those things that make life so beautiful. Allow yourself to the taste of pride after finishing the schoolwork, to tap the keyboard like it’s once and only a lifetime. My favorite YouTuber, Shaelinwrites, talked about treating writing as a reward for studying, and I personally find extremely helpful and stress-reliving.

6. Stop hurrying

I have dreams. Big dreams. I wanted to publish a book before I turn eighteen. I wanted to build a platform before my twenties. Sixteen-year-old me got way ahead of herself. Sit down, take a deep breath, and think. Girl, you’re still in high school. Your friends just start thinking about the colleges they want to go and the careers they want to pursue. There is no hurry. Think about the beginning of everything: why do you want to write a book? I want to tell stories. Beautiful stories. I want to make others feel less alone. I want to make people laugh and cry and think hard. I believe in the beauty and power of words. Years ago, when the lonely little girl didn’t have any friend, her characters came into life and embraced her with a warm hug. She cried. I don’t want to be the person who forgets herself in the competition of others. So I wrote this down to remind myself of my purpose. Creativity is a lifelong journey and I want to take as long as I need.

Thank you guys so much for reading and I hope you to have a healthy and balanced life! Happy writing!