Blank Pages

Blank pages are – ironically – pretty conflicting.

On one hand, when you sit down to begin a project, you feel the excitement of starting something new and are buzzing from the endless possibilities of how it will turn out. On the other hand, you can’t pin down exactly how you will get to the end result you desire, or even what exactly that end result will be. It is the action you take in this very first moment that largely determines how a project will go, and that can be daunting.

The first thing I do when beginning any project is research. That way, when I get to my blank piece of paper, I already have thoughts floating around in my head about what other people have done in the past, what solutions I like, don’t like, and so on. This is similar to how Twyla Tharp fills up her boxes before beginning work on a dance. Some of this research is specific to the problem I’m solving or question I’m answering, but some of it is my every day consumption of pop culture, blogs, pictures, music, video, etc. Some of my favorites include Seth Godin’s website and an RSS feed I set up curating content from over 30 blogs. I also do things to keep my creative muscle sharp, like participating in the CreativeSprint challenge.

Next, and this is specifically for when I’m working on a written project, it is all about getting words on paper. After thinking for a few minutes and staring down the blank page, I just let whatever comes to mind first flow. I write and write until I don’t have any more words to spit out. Then, I go back through and read what I’ve come up with. I delete the parts that don’t quite work, and embellish the ones that do. I find that looking at whatever content I have helps me to define and solidify my opinions and ideas.

After going through the words a few times, I’ll return to the research to make sure there aren’t any ideas that I wanted to incorporate but left out. I’ll listen to some music to get my brain flowing again (this article says that music can inspire you, put you in a good mood, and increase your focus!) , and maybe have a snack. Then, the only thing left to do is edit and edit until I’m happy with the finished product.

While this creative process is specificially for writing words, the same applies to when I am writing music. The major key here is having something to work with. Getting a few lines of lyrics on paper (or chords on sheet music) is the first step for me. From there I can refine my work to satisfaction. What is your creative process?

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Rethinking the Way We Ask

A blog by the Wall Street Journal said that “Studies show we tend to hit our questioning peak around age 4 or 5, and then ask fewer questions as we get older.” Why is that? Maybe we think that by asking questions, we are demonstrating a lack of knowledge. Or maybe, we just don’t spend the adequate time coming up with thoughtful questions.

When doing research in advertising, you ask questions that will unearth the data and insights you need to build a campaign. Whether conducting a focus group, survey, or interview, you want to make the most of your time with the participant by asking questions that get deep into the heart of the matter at hand.

Here’s an exercise. I’ll take the following questions and turn them into two better questions that I can ask instead.

Have you ever sent a text message while driving?

  • What do you do when you receive a text message or phone call while driving?
  • When you are driving, what things distract you?

Would you say that you travel abroad frequently?

  • How often do you travel abroad?
  • How would you describe your travel habits?

Do you post a lot of pictures on Instagram?

  • How do you use Instagram?
  • How would you describe your posting habits on Instagram?

Do you prefer to shop at big boxes or locally owned stores?

  • What kinds of stores do you prefer to shop at?
  • What do you consider when selecting a store to shop at?

How often do you eat sweets?

  • What are your habits when it comes to eating sweets?
  • How would you describe your diet?

Do you tend to buy things that are on sale?

  • How does a sale influence your purchasing decisions?
  • What effect does the price of an item have your decision to purchase it?

Do you like to eat wheat bread?

  • What kind of bread do you like to eat?
  • When buying groceries for the week, what would be in your cart?

Now, by looking at this exercise and the new questions I came up with, you can see that open ended questions are much more interesting and have the potential to lead to much broader conversations. I want to caution that to get at a very specific answer, you may need to follow up with probing questions. But, from the discussions that follow these questions, you might also discover a new topic that you want to explore more than the topic you had originally chosen.

I learned a very important lesson about question-asking in an interview roleplay setting where I was challenged to conduct an employee’s review. I thought I was being thoughtful and productive by doing my homework and coming up with questions that got at the root of the problem in the situation. However, I realized that by asking yes or no questions, I was dominating the conversation and leading the other person to give the answers I thought I was looking for. It was very frustrating for the other person because they felt like they were unable to speak for themselves and tell me what they really wanted me to hear.

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via GIPHY

By asking open ended questions, you can really listen and understand the truth of what the person is saying. In the end, open ended questions will give you better answers that lead to better insights.

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Meditation of the Week: Stillness

I’ve decided to focus each week of 2016 on a different topic/feeling/concept. This week is stillness. As an ESFJ, I am someone who is constantly flowing with passion, concerned with the wellbeing of others, and always trying to do things. Sitting idly with nothing to occupy my time terrifies me. I feel the need to text someone to see how they are doing, clean something, change the font and format of an essay I’m writing – anything to keep me busy. But a lot of these things I do are totally useless.

This week I am trying to embrace the feeling of simply existing and not pressuring myself to be busy.

It has been really hard for me because I feel lost when I don’t have structure to my day. If you know me, you know I like to schedule something for every hour of my day. But then I complain about it. Why? Why do I book myself up and then speak about it as if I wish I hadn’t? It isn’t just an annoying habit to me, it’s annoying for everyone around me.

Then I realized: being busy is my comfort zone. I am a worrier, and if I am constantly occupied, I don’t have time to worry. But the real issue here is learning to control my busy mind, my worries, so that stillness can be enjoyable and not stressful.

When I think back to one time in my life that I really had a good grip on being still, I think of when I was regularly attending yoga classes. Yoga teaches you the power of listening to your breath and quieting your mind. It teaches you that it is okay to be in tune with your body and not think about anything other than the movements you are making. While I didn’t get a yoga membership this semester to save money, I’ve found a similar outlet in dance class. Doing something physical allows you to put energy into something real and tangible, rather than into the busy thoughts in your mind.

What helps you to be still?

Gratitude Instead of Fear

One thing I am working on is being grateful for what I have in the present, rather than being fearful that I will no longer have the same circumstances in the future.

For example: “I am thankful that I have this now,” rather than “I am afraid I will no longer have this tomorrow.”

Circumstances change and this is largely out of our control. We can work hard towards the things we desire, and we will be rewarded. But sometimes, try as we might to line our ducks up in a row, what we receive isn’t equal to what we believe we deserve.

I believe that adopting this perspective will lead me to a happier life because I’ll shorten the amount of time I spend worrying on any given thing. Yes, I will worry when worrying is due, but in the mean time, I can enjoy life the way it is.

2016 Goals

  • 500 followers on Twitter (@sltaylor94)
  • 200 followers on WordPress
  • Publish blog post 1x per week
  • Journal every day (no set length/topic)
  • Keep planner up to date using Bullet Journal technique (see here)
  • Read 1 book for enjoyment per month
  • Keep personal website (taylorsamantha.com) up to date
  • Personal finance with mint.com: adhere to a savings plan; monitor monthly spending;
  • Transfer all emails/contacts/listserv subscriptions from school email address to personal email address
  • The 52 Lists Project (see here)
  • Reduce items in closet by 30%; sell or donate accordingly
  • Play piano, guitar, sing, or write a song 1x per week
  • Declutter
  • Learn Spanish

Balancing Work, School, and Play

Next semester, I’ll be in 12 credit hours, working a part-time internship, and attempting to enjoy the best (and last) semester with my friends.

I was going to write this post about tips and tricks for balancing your life in a way that you don’t have to sacrifice any of the things you care about, but then I realized that that isn’t possible.

Yes, there are things you can do to cut corners and squeeze as many things into your busy schedule as possible, but then, are you really making time for anything at all? Or are you just half-assing it all, and in doing so not really putting the right amount of time into anything?

This is a hard subject for me because I am a really busy person who wants to think that she can do it all. There are way too many experiences out there that I want to have, and I want so so badly to be there for my friends at all times, but you just can’t do it all.

This is where priorities come in. Priorities are evil. Not really, but sometimes I feel as though they are my enemy. Why can’t I prioritize everything equally? Why can’t I have three separate lives in which I focus on one area of my life in each of them?

I don’t know the solution, or the secret key to unlocking this problem. It is something I’m currently trying to work through. I suppose that’s my answer – it takes time and soul-searching to be able to really look at your life and honestly decide what areas on which you want to focus your precious (and scarce) time. But I have a strong feeling that making a decision will lead to a better outcome. Putting more effort into the things you do and giving up the things you just can’t make time for will show people that when you do something, you do it right, and you do it because you care. I think that that sends a better message than trying to be in one thousand places in once because guess what? You can’t be. And when you aren’t all in, it shows.

As the new year approaches, here’s my challenge for myself, and for you if you wish: pick a few things in your life that you care about and be all in.

You don’t have to give up everything in your life, but try to shave off a few things that you know you don’t have the time or effort to dedicate yourself to fully. Also, make sure you forgive yourself for this. One thing that weighs heavy on me every day is that I don’t play piano as much as I used to. However, beating myself up about it isn’t going to change the fact that I just don’t have the time or desire to make it a priority right now. Forgive yourself and hold onto the idea that maybe one day circumstances will change and you can revisit it.

All that being said, I’m looking forward to the best semester yet with my friends (who I love and appreciate so much) in blue heaven. I can’t wait!

Leaning into Pain

I was inspired to write this post while I was at the gym, scrunching my nose up as I fought the bike machine for just five more minutes, just two more minutes, 1 MORE MINUTE, PHEW!

As I lumbered away, panting and cursing the machine that I inherently resented but also loved, I thought about something that various yoga instructors have told me in the past.

Acknowledge the pain. Embrace it. Really experience it, and don’t shy away from it – lean into it. 

They would say these things as we each fought our internal battles on our separate mats to stay in one pose for 1 minute, or was it only 30 seconds? Who knew. Sometimes I would think, “This is a load of crap. You’re just telling me this so I’ll hold this position longer, and I’m not fooled!”

But they would still say these things, over and over.

Pain is how you know you’re alive. Pain is human. Be grateful that you can feel this pain. Embrace it, experience it, lean into it. 

Time after time, I would hear their words but still dislike the feeling. However, when I was on the bike at the gym yesterday, it just seemed to make sense to me, and on somewhat of a grander scheme. We are human, and we do have the ability to feel pain, and yoga teachers always told me,

“Remember, we are talking about good pain, the kind that you can bear and that makes you feel good after you’ve pushed through it. Not the kind that means you’re pulling a muscle  – learn the difference.”

So I started thinking about that. Good pain versus bad pain. Good pain motivates us. In exercise, its what tells us that our bodies are working hard and that we will definitely be feeling the effects in the morning. It also tells us that we are using the right set of weights, or doing the right set of movements, to push our bodies to get stronger.

Bad pain tells us to STOP – DON’T DO THAT EVER AGAIN. Bad pain is when we burn ourselves on the stove because we try to clean it too soon after turning the burner off. Bad pain is when we do something we should not, and bad pain is the memory that will prevent us from making the same mistake again.

I know I’m going all philosophical here, but I really think that this lesson on pain is one of the best things my yoga teachers have taught me. It applies everywhere in life. There are times when we must push through the hard stretches in life to get to our end goals. We have to put in a lot of work, but the rewards are worth it and make the temporary discomfort fade into the backs of our minds. There are also times when we must stop because we realize we have pushed ourselves too hard, or in the wrong direction, and we need to give ourselves a break.

Good pain, bad pain. Both are important because they guide us through life. It’s pretty awesome to be a human.