Motivation

Inspiration

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Inspiration has traditionally been discussed as a passive factor beyond our control. Something which comes to us from an otherworldly, external source and settles into us when we are ready. When we are worthy.

In many ways we have been encouraged to stop trying so hard to wrangle it and wrestle it into submission. Inspiration is not ours to own. It is something which a select few are privy to. And these select few are the artists, the thinkers, the philosophers. It is their job to inspire through their work. Should the remaining masses want to inspire, they have been encouraged to do so through their actions/deeds, setting a good example for others to follow (this is often aligned with a particular religious or spiritual dogma).So, a few people can be privy to inspiration. The remaining can act as we have been told in hopes it will “inspire” others to also act in a similar way.

*Sigh*. If you have read here for even just a short while it should come as no surprise that I really dislike this line of thinking.

To me, this conceptualization of inspiration comes from an allegiance to the notion of scarcity.

It comes from the belief that the world is a place of dearth, that there will never be enough of anything to go around, and that most individuals (save for a privileged few) will never have enough inherent within them to access true inspiration (not dogmatic doctrine masked beneath the guise of inspiration) and share it with others.

I want to debunk this traditionally passive and privileged notion of inspiration. I want to assert that inspiration is intimately connected to creativity. It is an active force accessible to anyone willing put in the work required to attain it.

Yes. You must do the work–when it’s easy, when it’s hard, when it’s a struggle, or is a mess.

If you do this, eventually inspiration will descend, an idea will take root, and the work will take flight. But that ONLY happens when you put your nose to the grindstone. It only happens if you are continually curious and open to the help, advice, and inspiration of others.

Mihaly Csikszentmichalyi, father of the notion of Flow, writes in his book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention:

“An idea or product that deserves the label “creative” [or “inspired”] arises from the synergy of many sources and not only from the mind of a single person… A genuinely creative accomplishment is almost never the result of a sudden insight, a lightbulb flashing on in the dark, but comes after years of hard work.”

To truly believe that sitting around and hoping that inspiration will descend from the heavens is hopeless; waiting for that good idea will simply leave you waiting a very long time.

Walking toward inspiration can sometimes feel like we are walking through a swamp. It is hard work but it is the only way you’ll get close to the thing. The process is like working a muscle. We have to flex and work our inspiration muscles everyday so that when the right circumstances arise, we are open and ready to grab it and run with it. For me, this means working through the assignments and tasks that I am not as excited about or interested in, but also actively seeking and creating tasks for myself that I am excited about. This helps me to prevent myself from getting stagnant or allowing my energy and excitement ready from waning.

I have found to occasionally stumble upon inspiration, I need to continually challenge myself to find the specific areas of research and study that I am personally interested and pursuing them. This can be hard, especially in grad school or in a hierarchical organization, but it is possible if you are willing to continually ask questions and be curious.

It is possible if we are curious not only about the world around us, but also about our own potential. This means pushing ourselves to new places and trusting in our potential.

We can do whatever it is we set out to do, as long as we approach it with an open mind, with a sense of curiosity, if we are not afraid to ask for help when we need it. It is also vital, in my experience, to strive to eliminate attachment to the outcome and, rather, invest ourselves more in the process.

And to me, this makes the practice and process of inspiration and creativity sustainable. I went into academia because it gave me the opportunity to pursue my interests, and be curious about how things work and operate. How I work and operate. I get to learn and grow on a daily basis and I get to make a career out of this. I am really lucky.

I am finding it is easy to lose sight of this at times. It is easy to get lost in the swamp-land of deadlines and expectations and forget that it is our right to live our lives anyway we want. I have to remind myself sometimes that we have a fundamental right to exercise our curiosity and be open to inspiration in any way which seems authentic to us. It many ways, it is our responsibility.

We have a responsibility to ourselves and to those in the future to be as authentic and curious as we can be.

And this responsibility affords an awesome opportunity to begin to shape our lives, our careers, our professional fields in a way which is aligned with values and interests. So what if no one else approves of what you do? What if no one likes it? If you do the work well, with a sense of integrity, it doesn’t matter because you have done it in a creative and inspired way and this makes it invincible to judgment, by yourself or others. And doing work in this way is exciting because it is from this place which others can be truly inspired.

I am so excited for the next generation of academics because I see us in a unique position to begin to move our fields toward a place where we are encouraged to pursue our passions and interests in a creative way, rather than in a way which simply supports the system that is in place. We have the opportunity to shape our fields and careers in a sustainable way. In a way which we can be excited to go to work on most days. In a way which we can live our careers out in an authentic and inspired way.

So this week, I hope you have the opportunity to work hard, be curious, be creative, and maybe wrap it up with a little inspiration 🙂

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Motivation

Creativity

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How often do you think of yourself as pursuing a creative profession?

I have to admit that in a Psychology graduate program, that was a hard leap to make at first. “Creative professional” were not the first words that came to mind.

“Scientist”? Yes.

“Helping professional”? Definitely.

Part Full-time Nerd”? I wear that label with pride.

“Creative professional”? This one is a little more of a stretch.

As I would guess many of us do, I tend to group the “creative professions” into those which center around the fine arts (i.e., painting, sculpting, illustrating, etc), writing, musicians, singers, etc. Psychologists, especially Clinical Health Psychologists, don’t easily fit into that category. Sure, you can make an argument that doing research is a creative endeavor and and I would whole-heartedly agree. You could even argue that that working with clients requires a creative mentality. One size does not fit all (though I am sure some would argue to the contrary). But still, categorizing myself as a creative professional is not a ready association. Or at least it wasn’t until recently, when I read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert.

You might know her from her memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” (or maybe you saw the movie). In her new book, she forays into the world of creativity with the mission to help us all embrace our inner-creative and get to making.

According to Gilbert, if you are alive, you are a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers and creatives. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers—these are our common ancestors.

Being creative doesn’t have to be about writing stories, or painting pictures, or playing instruments (though it certainly can include these things). Creativity is also, just as importantly, about styling your hair and choosing your outfit. It’s about the throw pillows you choose for your home and the selfies you take. It’s about singing at the stoplight, its about helping your kids learn how to count using gummy bears and pennies, and its about finding research ideas that ignite warm and fuzzy feelings of curiosity inside of you. Because all of those things are creations. The act of making, in whatever small way, opens you to the potential of living a creative life without the fear of failure, no matter what your idea of failure is. It puts you in touch with the inner (and often hidden) artist within you.

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

While I began to consider myself as “creative” and apply this to my graduate identity, I experienced a mixture of excitement and fear. On the one hand, I was so excited to embrace that I am in a creative profession. To me, creativity is what sets the great scientists apart from the rest. It is where the truly innovative studies and research designs come from. It is where the ideas (both big and small) come from that keep the field moving forward. It is what allows interventions to be modified, even if just ever so slightly, such that the treatment can resonate with each client we work with, no matter what their background is. It is the force that inspires future generations to pursue a satisfying and exhilarating career.

On the other hand, while I was excited, there also existed a sense of both fear and apprehension as I attempted to own this label. Yes, I wanted to be creative but I struggle with fear on both sides of the creative gulf: I fear the results of the hard work itself will not meet my own expectations, and I fear that my hard work will not be received in a way that meets my own expectations. That fear gets in the way of my ability to create without (self)judgment. It is a viscous and downward spiral- I get a creative and potentially unique/quirky/innovative idea, I get excited, the fear creeps in, I start to doubt my creative motivations, I doubt the quality of my idea and my capability to implement the idea, I consider giving up on the idea, and I begin consider resigning myself to riding the wave of status qua moving forward. It just seems easier. It just seems safer. If you are an academic, graduate student, (nay, if you are a human being) my guess would be that you can relate to this cycle in some way.

I think the key to breaking out of this cycle is curiosity. Finding those things that we  genuinely want to know more about. This can be an idea, or this is can be a sense of curiosity to see what we can make. What we are capable of. Regardless, the key to breaking out of this cycle of fear is finding those ideas or things that ignite a warm, rosy glow if interest deep within you. Finding those things that you just cant get out of your head, that you absolutely need to know more about, or that you absolutely need to try/experience.

It is about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear. It is about knowing that there isn’t anything at stake in the act of creating besides satisfying curiosity.

If you simply create (or make, if that’s a more comfortable word for you) because you do, because you want to see what you can make, then you have no expectations and failure is no longer an option. Fear, to paraphrase Gilbert, will still come along for the ride, but it doesn’t get to drive.

In my brief tenure as a psychologist, it is the “creatives” that have inspired me to continue on. Their passion, curiosity, and desire to just explore things that they are interested in for the sake of interest, with no expectation to publish or get a grant or change lives, etc, is what made me want to be a scientist and what continues to motivate me.

When I started grad school I committed myself to curiosity. I was going to pursue the things I was interested in. This has led to about a million ideas. Many of them have fizzled but a few have stuck. I have been lucky to have a few which I cannot get out of my head. They keep me up at night. I dream about them. I think about them all day. And they are accompanied by that warm rosy feeling. It took me about a year to get over my fear of sharing them with my advisor, but once I did it completely changed my experience. I no longer think my ideas are something to be ashamed of. Rather, they are an extension of myself and a chance to get to know existence more intimately. Sharing all my random thoughts with him has, at times, made him want to pull his hair out. But it has prompted some really interesting conversations and has helped shape our relationship such that it is more collegial. More importantly, by sharing my ideas I have come to be proud of them, of my curiosity, and of my creativity.

I have found that curiosity is like a muscle, it you work it, it gets stronger.

Allowing the ideas to flow generates more ideas. I email about 10% of my ideas to my advisor and share maybe 10% with others in brain-storming sessions. The rest? I write some of them down to return to at some later point. Others don’t stick and I just let them flow through me. With each idea, whether it is a keeper or not, I take a moment to thank my mind and the universe for a brief glimpse at creative introspection. I thank them for making my life a little richer and more colorful in that moment, for helping me feel a little more connected. With that sense of gratitude, I can let the ideas go and have freedom to either pursue what I am working on already or be on the lookout for the next one. Sometimes the ideas come back. Oftentimes they don’t. Either way, it is OK.

I have found that by redefining creativity as the process of simply making and by redefining my end goal as simply an opportunity to pursue an interesting idea, I have come to love my work. Sure, grad school is stressful. But I really do believe I have the most amazing career out there. I get to be curious and creative every single day.  I have stumbled into a career that is intellectually satisfying AND fun. I really do feel lucky and credit a change in perspective as the key to making the whole experience manageable. If you are looking for some creative inspiration, I recommend Liz Gilbert’s book. If you have already read it, I would love to know what you thought about it and if you have been able to apply any of the concepts to your own life.

Motivation

Monday Motivation- MLK

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The summer before I returned to graduate school, I had the great privilege of teaching at a leadership camp. I spent the week with a group of 15 middle school students traveling around Washington, DC, Virginia, and West Virginia helping them learn about leadership, our political system, and freedom. It was an amazing week filled with memorable experiences; however, my most memorable moment came at the end of the week. The topics of the day were the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. The lessons that day were particularly poignant as the DOMA ruling had just taken place that morning. I was instructed not to discuss it with my students (I think the camp was afraid of political and religious leanings), but I couldn’t help myself. How can you be in DC, discussing civil rights and freedom with children, on the exact morning of DOMA and not discuss it? So, I defied authority and went for it.

We had a rich conversation about equality and freedom without any sort of religious or political leaning. I was so proud of my students. We discussed the freedom which America offers its citizens and were able to reflect on just how far we have come in 50 years (and just how far we still have to go). At the end of it all, I took my group to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We stood on the spot where MLK gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech (pictured above). Each of my students were given a copy of the speech. They were instructed to look out at the mall and picture it filled with people. Not an inch of standing space available. They pictured themselves back in a time when basic rights were unavailable to certain subsets of individuals based on how they looked or what they believed in. They imagined what it would be like if they were one of those people. Someone who has the same thoughts, feelings, emotions, hopes, dreams, desires, etc. as everyone else, but who was denied the expression of these basic human tendencies as a result of misunderstanding and prejudice. Then, they took turns reading stanzas of the speech out loud, reflecting all the while on the power of the human spirit. On how far we have come as a nation. They reflected on the power of dreaming, on their own unique dreams, and on the urgent need for dreams to persist throughout ones life. On the necessity for dreams to be put into action and on the corresponding courage required. Finally, they reflected on the need to work together and rely on one another to actualize their dreams and affect lasting change in our world. It was powerful and there was not a dry eye in sight at the end of the exercise.

I left camp that week feeling utterly exhausted following a week of late nights and early mornings. I also left entirely inspired and excited for our future. I still carry this excitement with me. It is easy to look out at the world, with all of its sorrow, hatred, violence, and suffering, and become discouraged. It is at times like this when the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. becomes increasingly important. We all have a dream. Dreams for how we can improve our own lives and the lives of those around us. There is no right or wrong dream, as long as you are dreaming. I encourage you to reflect on your own, unique dreams today and on steps you might take towards actualizing them. What can you bring to the day that moves you closer to where you want to be? What can you bring to the day that helps move others closer to where you want the world to be? I assure you that if we approached each day with this mentality, our world would be a much more peaceful place.

In the spirit of MLK, I will leave you with a video clip of his iconic speech. I hope you have an amazing week and may you never stop dreaming!

Motivation

A Spring Yoga Teaching

It is beginning to feel like spring outside. Spring is the time of year where life begins to reemerge after the long, cold winter and, relating to school, I find that the time following spring break is a “rebirth” of sorts as well, signifying the close of the first half of the semester and indicating that there are a mere 8 week left until Summer vacation.

Spring is a time that is synonymous with new beginnings, fresh starts, and spring cleaning. This rebirth that is occurring all around us often inspires us to do some Spring cleaning of our own in other aspects of our lifes, working to remove those more extraneous things from our lives that add unnecessary clutter and weight. This is evidenced in a rededication to New Year’s resolutions (exercise routines, clean eating programs, etc), the physical cleaning and reorganization of our homes, cars, and living spaces, and/or a rededication and increased focus to studies or work at hand.

This process of cleansing or purification, in Sanskrit, is called tapas. This literally translates as “to heat” but also is understood to mean purification practices, more generally. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teach us that this process of tapas is cultivated through sadhana, or some form of consistent and disciplined practice for the purpose of self-realization. Sadhana is typically practiced in one of three domains—(1) Jana—or dedication to the practice of the pursuit of knowledge via consistent study of or dedication to more intellectual or academic knowledge (e.g., studying philosophical or religious texts in an effort to gain insight), (2) Karma—or dedication to the attainment of self-realization through service and humble action (e.g., picture those who have dedicated their lives to serving and promoting equality and well-being for others such as Mother Theresa or Ghandi), and (3) Bhakti—or dedication to the practice of self-realization through love and devotion to God.

We generally tend to resonate with a particular domain of sadhana, though different times in our lives may call for different practices and true self-realization is often reached via the combination and practice of all three domains, simultaneously.

As our sadhana is practiced, our desire to change, to purify, or to realize end results or outcomes can be thought of as an iterative process, reflected by periods of intense dedication and periods of resistance to change. These can exist separately or simultaneously and these differences in motivation create a sense of friction, heat, cleansing power or tapas.

The fire of tapas (e.g., the fire of change) certainly works to purify and mold us, but it also serves to soften us, working to break us free of old patterns and habits which have become stagnant and allowing us to penetrate more deeply into the density of our bodies, minds, and hearts. As a result of this process, the physical, psychological, and emotional body becomes cleaner, stronger, and more flexible and out indriyas (or sense organs that serve as our windows to the world) begin to regain qualities of sensitivity and discernment, allowing us to being to rework or narrative and perceptual reality in a way that is more in life with our ideal selves.

Spring is a beautiful time to examine habits or patterns which we may find ourselves repeating and it is also a wonderful time to reevaluate our goals, both for the immediate and distal future, holding on those which best serve us and beginning to see how we might best rework those that are no longer serving us in ideal ways. Our yoga practice is the perfect place to begin doing this. As you move through your practice, either of physical asana, of meditation, or of both, see if you can bring awareness to the thoughts, feelings, or sensations that emerge as you transition from one moment to the next. You may be tempted to judge these sensations, labeling them as good or bad, right or wrong, but as much as possible see if you can let go of the judgments and become a passive observer of your experience. Let the thoughts and sensations be just those, thoughts or sensations that rise and fall much like waves in the ocean. Note how at some moments, the ocean of your experience may be more calm than at others, but note that there is always a dynamic force, friction, or tapas underlying it all that gives rise to one moment and then the next. See if, in the midst of this constant movement and change, if you can find a moment of rest and repose. Of stillness. And in that moment, see if you can experience a sense of satisfaction.

This is the practice of mindfulness, the practice of awareness, and, truly, the practice of yoga. That constant return to our experience and awakening of awareness, again and again, time after time, tends to be accompanied by a sense of peace, ease, and well-being. It may seem difficult at first to access but, like a muscle being worked and strengthened, becomes easier to tap into with dedicated sadhana.

I hope you are able to find some moments of peace, ease, and well-being today. Until next time, lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.

Motivation

Monday Motivation

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Happy Monday! It is cold and rainy around here today. The sort of day where all you want to do is curl up on the couch with a blanket and watch movies. My friend Margaret posted this today on Instagram and I wanted to share it here as it was just the motivation I needed today.

    I have given a lot of thought lately to my bad habit of making choices based on convenience. From the stores where I shop, to my exercise routine, I tend to choose what’s most convenient and not what’s best for me and my health. So… I am breaking old habits and choosing to live from intent. And I intend to be healthy! So this morning, instead of hitting the snooze button, I slid out of bed, sat on the floor with my back against the bed, closed my eyes and meditated for 15 minutes. That’s a good start.”

I love this and find this so applicable to my life. It is so easy- especially when we are busy and stressed- to do the easiest thing or make the most convenient choice, even if we know another slightly more difficult or less convenient option might be more in line with our health, well-being, and best interests. It is in these moments our challenge is to catch ourselves and mindfully choose to act in such a way that will align ours lives with the goals we have set for ourselves. Recalling my intention for health as well, I chose to pass on the movie today and practice yoga. It was hard going at first (that couch was calling my name!) but my choice to practice was well worth it by the end. I feel energized and ready to take on the week. Thank you, so much, Margaret for these poignant words!  Check her out her Instagram (@ommyoga) for daily inspiration and her Etsy shop for sweet homemade jewelry.

Here’s to a wonderful week!

Motivation, Uncategorized

Monday Motivation

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This quote is super applicable to my life this week. Drew and I had a fantastic weekend in Cape Cod, MA celebrating the wedding of our two friends, Kat and Sam, and exploring. It was amazing and I did not want it to end! I sat down in my office today and made a list of my impending deadlines and realized they are closing in! AH! I have SO much to do these final two weeks of October..it is time to stop procrastinating and making excuses and get to work!

Motivation, Uncategorized

Monday Motivation

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“A year from now you will wish you had started today”- Karen Lamb

This is going to be another short week for Drew and I as we prepare to head off to Boston later this week to celebrate the wedding of our friends Kat and Sam. During weeks like this it is sometimes hard to keep motivated and it is really easy to say that something will get done but then let it fall through the cracks or push it off for another week. We have to remember that there is no time like the present! If you want something, go for it. If you have something that needs to get done, do it. It frees up more time and opportunities as you move forward and allows you to feel a sense of pride in all you have accomplished at the end of each day. Here’s to a productive week full of realized dreams, wishes, and opportunities!