Focal Points

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I love this time of year for many reasons — the holiday fun, the twinkle of lights on our Christmas tree, the cookies — but I think my favorite thing about the season is the reflection that it can (should!) bring about. Whether you make a resolution or not, it’s inevitable that as we barrel towards a new year, we all start to think about the last one and look ahead at what’s to come.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about my “theme” for 2017. Let me explain. In December of last year, on a whim, I bought this felt-tipped brush pen and was playing around with it in my office. I happened to write the word “forward” on a piece of card stock, and something compelled me to pin it up on an inspiration board. It stayed up all year. I couldn’t have anticipated it last December, but in so many bizarre and life changing ways, 2016 was indeed a year of moving forward. In fact, I can’t think of a word that better encapsulates the changes and adventures (to put it mildly) of the past year.

I liked the idea of having a word for the year, no matter that I stumbled upon it un- (scratch that!) subconsciously. So I’ve been contemplating what 2017 will be about. The word I keep coming back to is “focus.” I’m working on integrating focus into my work, my personal mindset, and even how I treat myself. Here’s how (do any of these ring true for you?):

Wasting time and wasting energy

One thing I’ve become mindful of is that the Internet is a distracting place. LOL, just kidding, I ALWAYS knew it was a distracting place. But I’ve started to think more about ways in which it does or doesn’t serve me, both personally and professionally, and trying to shift focus when I’m using it in ways that only set me back. The biggest thing that comes to mind is going down the rabbit hole of Instagram for more than about 5 minutes. Inevitably, I end up either falling into a comparison trap or panicking that I don’t post enough. Or that my photos aren’t good enough. Or beating myself up that I should be taking MORE photos, then getting annoyed because as anyone who manages a “grid” knows, planning these shots isn’t exactly fast or easy, and I hate feeling pressured to spend time on it when I have about five hundred other things I’d rather be doing. Basically, this year I recognized that Instagram became a somewhat joyless work thing that didn’t really feel like a daily necessity. So I’ve been shifting focus away from it and trying to eliminate that stressor in my life. I’m still there and using it, I’m just trying to be more mindful of when it’s sucking up my focus and energy.

It’s similar with surfing apps in general. Tell me if this sounds familiar: you have some time so you decide to check in on Insta. Then Facebook, then Twitter. Then you wonder, “What’s happening on Snapchat?” And then, “Oh, it’s been an hour since I checked my email…I wonder what’s come in?” You do all this, with probably some browser surfing/shopping in between, and then a damn hour has gone by. And somehow, even though it’s COMPLETELY INSANE, you start the cycle again, because an hour has gone by and you wonder, “What’s new on Instagram?” And your app surfing cycle continues. What’s even more ridiculous is that this often happens while watching TV. You need entertainment on top of your entertainment.

Just me? Oy, how embarrassing.

I’ve been aware of this dumb trap for quite a while, and recently have opted to become a lot more mindful of it. I’m giving myself a set amount of time with which to surf, and recognizing when I’m in this pattern and yet simultaneously bored of everything I’m looking at. We should all also remember that apps are like casinos: they’re designed to keep you in. My goal is to shift my focus back to reality to get on with what I need to do, or perhaps even why I’m avoiding it in the first place.

Focus goal #1: Focusing in the literal sense, so as not to be completely unfocused and wasting my time and precious energy.

Focusing on myself

Focus came into…well, focus, in October and November, too. You guys, I did it again. I nearly ran myself ragged. No adrenal fatigue this time, but per usual, I have a hard time saying no to things and ended up putting everyone except myself first. So I took on way too much work in the fall and turned into a grumpy, frazzled, tired mess at home. With a brain that was constantly jumping from worry to worry, task to task, I realized I couldn’t really focus on anything. It was like trying to focus a camera lens on a close up shot, and there’s too much happening and not enough distinction in the details — everything ended up blurry and muddled with no focus on what’s most important. Unsurprisingly, this is when the idea of focus really took hold. I literally woke up one day and was like “Ugh, enough. Time to focus.”

What’s so funny and obvious about focusing on yourself first is that it makes focusing on others and the tasks at hand that much easier. Sometimes when I get into these ruts, I’ll do things like not fix my hair or put on makeup, assuming that the TEN MINUTES it takes me to do both is really going to mean 100,000 times more productivity at work. Which is obviously ridiculous. Taking an hour for myself to work out will not make or break a project workflow (in fact, if anything, it’ll probably speed it up). But we (okay, I) convince ourselves that this is the case, and stop putting ourselves first, even in the tiniest of ways. Once I’m in that rut, it makes it easier to say no to yourself in a lot of other ways too. I then tend to become a rather unpleasant person to be around, not to mention a less effective worker.

Focus goal #2: In 2017, I’m working on shifting my mindset to allow myself to put me first in the ways that matter most and will provide the most amount of impact at work and with family.

Focusing on now

A lot of my thoughts around focus have been crystalized by thinking more about mindfulness.For me, this last one is the most abstract, difficult, and important piece of the “focus” triangle for 2017.  I’m slowly making my way through this book, and in tandem with some really good yoga sessions and trips to the beach recently, I’ve had the idea of “the present” on my mind a lot. The quote at the top of this post was actually a lead quote in one of the chapters of the book, and I really loved it. I’m finding that remembering to stop and focus on the right now, with no judgement or emotional attachment, is such a breath of fresh air for the spirit. Without meaning to, I also find that slowing down and being mindful inadvertently cultivates a lot of joy in my own life, because I end up recognizing how grateful or happy I am about something. That’s a lot harder to do when I’m in that dumb app surfing cycle, or focusing on everyone except myself. A good example happened yesterday, when I was out taking Lucy for a walk. She broke into a run, and I decided to jog along with her, reveling in her laughter and smiles. I stopped my thoughts for a second and reminded myself, “This is it, right now.” That probably sounds super granola and cheesy, but it was so joyful to be running alongside my beloved pup on a cool winter day, feeling her happiness, and everything that mattered was in that one moment. It was good stuff, you guys.

Focus goal #3: Cultivating mindfulness, whatever that looks like in my own life. The name of the book really sums it up: “wherever you go, there you are.” Abstract? Sure, but it’s worth thinking about.

So that’s a little of what’s on my mind as we head deeper into December. What about you? Are you already thinking about New Year’s resolutions or goals for 2017? I’d love to hear about them below!

 

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28 Comments

  1. Finja wrote:

    Hi V,
    Your words are speaking to me! I’m in a similar situation, yes 2016 has been a lot about moving forward and I’ve definitely know those issues with focus and all the lovely distraction online.
    Will try and focus to come up with my personal word for the year, great inspo here..
    Xxx finja | http://www.effcaa.com

    6 Dec 2016 · Reply
    • I hope you come up with something good, Finja! Happy Holidays :)

      20 Dec 2016 · Reply
  2. Victoria,

    These three things have been on my mind a lot lately, as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. These are great stepping stones to keep in mind for the upcoming year.

    6 Dec 2016 · Reply
  3. What timing! My word for 2017 is “me”. And I think you saw this a bit in October, but I’ve forgotten who I am when you strip away mother, wife, enterpreneur, and writer. ‘Exhausted’ was the only world that could come to mind.
    I’m really focused on taking care of myself first (properly – exercise, meditation, cooking my own meals more, taking a night or weekend away alone) in the next year.
    On the wasting time front – I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and installed News Feed Eradicator in my browser. GAME. CHANGER.

    6 Dec 2016 · Reply
    • Yas. My word for 2016 could easily be exhausted as well as forward (maybe moving forward can sometimes be exhausting???). I will admit, I tried FB with true chrono News Feed for a day and it was unbearable. Not because of weird fake news posts, but more the mundanity of the posts coming through. I kinda preferred my very well trained algorithm that gives me a mix of news from sources and lots of fashion and shopping fun too :) Ugh, Facebook, you got me.

      20 Dec 2016 · Reply
  4. Alexia wrote:

    Really enjoyed this post! I did the same thing with my pup the other day. Dogs truly are little bundles of happiness:)

    I have two words for 2017: explore and passion. I’m in my final year of high school and certain experiencing some of the burnout that comes along with that. On a side note, the news often talks about how industrialized education has become but I don’t think they realize how bad it is. I go to a well-off public school with wonderful teachers but with that comes high expectations to perform and meet certain standards. At my school at least, testing happens at least once a week, and normally more frequently than that. Anyways, so I’ve been living in this very standardized routine of doing nearly the same thing everyday, so I’ve decided to get out of my rut and explore. I intend to watch foreign language movies (PS the Spanish TV show the Time in Between on Netflix is SO GOOD), try meet new friends, and discover more of my little corner of the world. The second part, passion, goes along with the first. By exploring I’m trying to figure out what exactly excites me. So far I think I’ll probably go into politics/government, but who knows…

    6 Dec 2016 · Reply
    • If the future of America is high school students like you, we’re gonna be alright. Thanks so much for the comment, Alexia! You’re amazing.

      20 Dec 2016 · Reply
  5. Erica wrote:

    The rabbit hole of Instagram is real! It’s hard not to go down it, but it almost always leads to comparison for me (and sometimes unnecessary purchases). My son is 1 1/2 and I’ve really started to notice how often I am on my phone because he grabs for it or wants me to put it away and play with him. Your post made me think about focusing on play time with him and then having time where he plays by himself and I can do other things.

    6 Dec 2016 · Reply
    • Wow. That’s crazy that even a toddler notices when we’re not present. Altho, now that I think about it, Lucy is very happy to come over to me and gently let me know when she thinks I’ve been staring at a screen for too long, and need a walk outside! ;) Kids.

      20 Dec 2016 · Reply
  6. This definitely resonates with me, especially the Instagram part! It really hit me when I went to Europe…I noticed when I got back that I had been so busy taking everything in over there that for that time I had been completely in the moment, living in the present, without any time (or spare data) to check Instagram or even blogs. I didn’t notice it at the time, but when I got back it really hit me how much happier and just more peaceful and better I had felt. I think obviously it was to do with being in Europe (duh), but I honestly think also a LOT of it was just being in the present, focused on what I was actually doing at the time. Lately it feels like every time I scroll through Instagram it’s just bringing up the comparison feelings, and that is so unpleasant and unhealthy. Not sure I’ve resolved my feelings on what to do about it, but for now I’m trying to really just stay off it as much as possible, which is so hard! Even though it’s become a bit of a negative, I can’t seem to keep away from that constant scroll through Instagram, then Snapchat, then Twitter, just like you said…working on it!

    7 Dec 2016 · Reply
    • RIGHT?! Randomly, one of my fave things about visiting Paris is that it feels weird to have your phone out when you are at a cafe. THat’s not what it’s about! I love that it’s not really part of the culture there and you can truly live and soak it up, and you’re only compelled to take a picture when you happen upon the most interesting/beautiful things.

      20 Dec 2016 · Reply
  7. Shirsha wrote:

    Ali Edwards runs a whole “One Little Word” program every year. She’s been doing it for 10-11 years now, and she’s built a whole community around using your OLW as your guiding force for the year. I’ve chosen an OLW for the last 3 years, but unfortunately, 3 months into the year, I become completely unintentional and then have nothing to do with the word for the rest of the year! *hangs head in shame*

    Despite my past failure at being intentional about my OLW, I am going to pick one for the next year, and the word that I am gravitating to is the same as yours. FOCUS. Still have to think a little bit over what I want the word to mean for me, but it’s already resonating with me.

    Another December exercise I do every year is work my way through the “Unraveling” workbook that Susannah Conway comes out with every year. It’s part reflection and part intention setting and I love doing it every year! She’s just released the version for this year. Here’s the link if you would like to check it out – http://www.susannahconway.com/2016/11/make-magic-2017/

    7 Dec 2016 · Reply
    • Oh this is so cool! I had never heard of OLW — thanks for sharing with me! And I’ll check out the Susannah Conway link too :)

      20 Dec 2016 · Reply
  8. I’ve started using Lara Casey’s Powersheets, which is a fantastic exercise in creating goals and reassessing throughout the year how you’re working on those goals. There’s a lot of focus on what you want in your life, including personal goals like spending time with your kids or reading more books. I really liked that it wasn’t just for professional/career goals and that the worksheets help you pinpoint exactly how you’d like your year to look.

    One of the early exercises is finding a word! Mine for 2017 is “cherish”. I want to cherish my family but also my time and energy.

    I agree with the black hole of social media- I found myself going down that a lot & once I stepped away from my blog all of that went away. It was the best decision of 2016- I realized that blogging & keeping up with everyone else was taking up way too much space in my life, considering it wasn’t a part of my job/career (I can see that not being an option for others).

    7 Dec 2016 · Reply
    • I imagine quitting blogging and removing that element in your life was like waking up to a fresh new day. Like seeing the world with new eyes again!

      20 Dec 2016 · Reply
  9. Catherine wrote:

    I love this! Although, I don’t know if I’m quite ready to start planning for 2017. Eeeek! I can especially relate to your thoughts on the black hole that is social media. I find myself so busy but still thinking “I need to check Snapchat!” When actually what I want to spend my free time doing is anything but looking at a screen since that’s what I do all day at work.

    This year instead of setting one resolution (which I figured would be rather difficult to keep for the whole year) I set a mini one for each month. It actually worked out so well! I blogged about it, so that held me accountable too. Not every month went awesomely (like trying a new recipe every week…I am not a cook!) but I enjoyed a lot of them, like trying a new workout class, and not shopping for a month. I’m thinking I’ll probably do something similar again next year!

    8 Dec 2016 · Reply
    • I love your idea of a mini resolution each month! What a great way to break it down and stay hyper focused on small changes in a more manageable amount of time. I think I might apply that to my own goal of focusing, with little “focus” tasks each month. Thanks!

      20 Dec 2016 · Reply
  10. Julia wrote:

    Such a great post, V. I love your focus on focus (ha!), and am going to do some medication and work on figuring out my own this weekend. Thank you for inspiring me!

    9 Dec 2016 · Reply
  11. Robyn wrote:

    Victoria, I absolutely loved this post and so much of what you spelled out is exactly the state of mind that I’m in in terms of needing and wanting to be focused and more intentional about my approach (in all aspects of my life) in 2017. Thank you for always keeping it real (yes IG can be all consuming and I’m also guilty of the social media surfing while watching TV, which is ridiculous). Love your blog and your IG feed (your pictures are beautiful)!
    ~ Robyn

    12 Dec 2016 · Reply
  12. Rose wrote:

    The “mindless surfing” thing is so true—especially while watching TV. I try to limit my surfing and spend “phone time” on certain things at specific times; short breaks at work are a chance to look at social, while I choose to read NY Times’ app on my way in to work in the morning so I am focusing on something and ingesting new information.

    I was really bad about it watching TV, though, especially because I have the tendency to fall asleep after an hour or so of watching; it’s really bad for binging habits, or when my guy wants us to watch something together. So, I’d usually be on my phone or computer, looking at something to help hold my attention. Recently, I’ve started embroidering and knitting again—so now I do that! It gives my brain something else to focus on that takes physical attention so it helps me stay awake, and as an added bonus I’m creating something cool and worthwhile :)

    13 Jan 2017 · Reply
  13. Hi Victoria! Still loving and appreciating the honesty and openness of your blog, as always. What a special post – a lot of this resonated with me, and focus is such a good word to capture the range of personal efforts you’re mentioning here. Thought I’d share two of my own blog posts as it seems like there’s a lot of heart/mind overlap happening! Thoughts on Instagram: http://www.thephoebeblog.com/2016/10/08/instagram-and-the-dangers-of-comparing-our-lives-to-others/, and practices for the new year: http://www.thephoebeblog.com/2017/01/05/my-6-practices-for-the-new-year/. Love from VT!

    13 Jan 2017 · Reply
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