Say Yes

I wouldn’t say 2016 was a bad year, but definitely a tough one. I had some of my worst experiences leading up to 2016, which only made me think it was going to be a bad year, but somehow I also ended up having my best experiences ever. The worst moments of 2016 were when I was feeling tired, stuck, or in denial. I’m an overthinker and for several weeks it got out of hand.  I was constantly awake stressing over every little thing and fighting my body to rest, but I learned to slow down and make calmness a lifestyle choice. At another point I was stuck trying to make sense of why bad things happen to good people. I even read some books on it. I never got all the answers I wanted, but the only way I got through that was by having a positive outlook. Most of the time I was surrounded by the people I care about most, but I was still missing the company I desired. Nonetheless, something good came of every bad situation, some a bit more delayed than others, but I eventually got the relief I was searching for.

I had some of my most amazing experiences because I kept saying yes and I wasn’t afraid of doing something new or crazy. I explored beautiful cities with my best friends, heard a lot of awesome stories from strangers, went on random adventures, and met amazing people along the way. I got to see my favorite artist, Florence + The Machine in concert which left me with so much inspirational and creative energy that I still feel it many months later. I got to see Snakehips and Lion Babe, which was just another musical dose of good energy. I finally turned 21 and had the best 3-day birthday celebration with a lot of laughs and good company. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of great moments with special people, but I also learned to be okay going on adventures alone. This past year, I learned to not be afraid of distance and space. 2016 was a progression of everything that embodies how I think and feel. With that being said, I have simply just grown. I’m not focused on writing a whole new story for myself in 2017.  This is not the end of everything associated with 2016 or a pledge for New Year, New Me. I’m focused on being the best version of myself and saying yes even more times than I did last year. 2017 is about good vibes and positivity and it’s going to be great, I promise.

-AJ

 

Captivity

I think about the density of New York City: the hundreds of people I walk past each day, the close strangers I sit next to on the subway, the friendly eye contact I make with people. I wonder if that same friendliness is exchanged? With a quick glance, people make assumptions and within minutes, I become a piece of commentary. Recently I have witnessed the ignorance that has been held captive in the minds of the people around us. I say captive because there is a whole social psychology that makes people feel like they are a part of something, whether they are public or private about their opinions. The truth of the matter is: we are afraid of opposition and we strive to express ourselves.

When do we share? When do we finally speak up?

We share when our life or our dignity is at stake.

We share to potentially change someone’s opinion.

We share to make ourselves feel better.

Most of the time, we share when someone else shares first.

As a young adult in this society, I feel the sense of acceptance and openness for new ideas and change among my peers, but recently, I’ve received a reality check that leaves me with the question: how many steps we have taken aimlessly? Whether our steps are quick or slow, these steps don’t mean anything without the right direction. Without the right mindset or goal, we will continue to be held captive. Always stuck in the past or living for an idea of the future, when the present is in turmoil. With no direction, progress will just be another intangible thing and we will continue to be conformists in a world filled with ignorance.

I believe our mind is our most powerful force. It can break us down despite our physical strength, then give us all the encouragement we need to be okay again. Humans are not static creatures: our bodies and our minds are never quite at rest. Even in our sleep we are formulating thoughts and images. Our brains are albums that capture moments of joy and darkness in our lives and that is a beautiful thing, but we live in a world that is not at peace. Our defenses must always remain up because all ideas and personal expressions are not nurtured. It’s hard to feel safe when we don’t know what is on the minds of others. We live in a world where harm is not only physical and where we have to worry about captivity: in any shape, way or form.

-AJ

Vulnerability: The Art of Rising Strong

Your mindset and emotions are on the same wavelength as your personality and behavior. In my pursuit to live fully present, I’ve learned that recognizing emotion is a primary aspect. I can easily put my emotions aside and be objective, but you can just as easily call that “taking the easy way out”. So, I had to challenge myself and more importantly challenge my emotions. I believe that everyone is sensitive, but things don’t affect people in the same ways. Everyone has the ability to be vulnerable, but once again, things don’t affect people in the same ways. What’s the most difficult emotion you’ve experienced? Some may say it’s pain, but others may say its joy. People are afraid of feeling pain and rejection, so they just avoid it altogether. We can try to escape loss, failure and confusion, but these things are embedded into our lives.

We can try to protect our hearts and feelings, but if we tiptoe around every situation in our lives, we’ll never learn to adapt to change. Any relief will only be temporary. I want to have stories and countless adventures and more importantly, I want to cultivate my wisdom. In order to be courageous and allow myself to flourish, I had to get out of my comfort zone. I needed to be vulnerable. Whether it was by traveling to new cities with friends, going to a concert alone or by taking on leadership positions, I challenged myself. I said yes a lot. Someone who inspires me is social scientist and theory researcher, Brené Brown. She mentions that many people move through life attempting to disown difficult stories so they appear more acceptable.

Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is a weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness…”

– Daring Greatly

Someone asks us how we are doing and we say, “I’m fine” and leave no substance. We want be accepted and understood, but we answer simple questions with dry words. It has become socially acceptable to hide our true selves. You can call it self-protection, but the facets of our personalities and our minds aren’t always sharp edges. Being present means letting everything in, letting people get close to you, saying yes to things you’ve always said no to. Being vulnerable is about letting the surface crack and being okay with it. It’s not the end of the world if something breaks, vulnerability does not mean we are defenseless.

-AJ

 

 

Perfection Perception

Perfection is bittersweet. It can help us set high standards for our work or leave us grasping to reach impractical goals. With the constant need to overachieve and always second guessing yourself, the finish line can seem impossible. Perfectionist ideals can help us create an impeccable image of what our creative process should be, but perfectionist tendencies often leave us feeling inadequate.

I often feel uninspired to paint or sketch because I think it should look a certain way. Perfect lines and smooth transitions.

Tonal value and depth.

A play on darkness and light.

It has to look real, have dimensional quality.

Nothing abstract.

Anything less and it’s not good enough.

Anything less and it’s not perfect.

The focus here is perfection and its relation to the creative process because it may be doing more damage than you think. Those who have perfectionist tendencies often look to please everyone else, but the fear of disappointment can take away all of the enjoyment.  Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. If you really think about it, you are trying to achieve something that is unattainable. So allow yourself some compassion and flexibility and learn to accept imperfection.

I wouldn’t sketch or paint for months, because I was stuck in the mindset of perfection perception. Instead of allowing myself to be encompassed in the process, I was rigid about the outcome. It’s funny to think about it now because I call myself a creative. Don’t get me wrong, the desire to create something based on your standards is completely valid, but understand that criticism is powerful. Don’t take it so personally because it is not about being invincible, it’s about being resilient.

When something goes wrong, we have all probably thought to ourselves that we weren’t perfect enough, or rather simply not good enough. We begin to compartmentalize and if done the wrong way, it can emotionally conflict us. Then, on top of that we use perfection to categorize excuses for why we failed. You didn’t fail because you weren’t good enough. You failed because that tactic didn’t work. You failed because you made a wrong decision. Maybe you failed because it just wasn’t the right way. And no, I’m not calling you a failure right now, but understand it’s all part of the process. The point is to acknowledge what didn’t work in your situation, not waste time deciphering the logic of perfectionism.

So I started to art journal. Even though I already knew that art is not just still life, landscapes and portraits, I learned to practice this idea with intent. I allowed myself to experience the abstract because the goal was simply expression. With that in mind, I created some of my most meaningful work.

The bitter side of perfectionism can truly paralyze your creativity. If you find yourself struggling to finish a piece because it has to be perfect, give yourself a deadline or get some feedback from another creative or just a fresh set of eyes. Don’t stop and tell yourself you’ll do it later because the same issues will just follow. Something has to change: a new outlook or a different approach. Maybe try out the artistic style that scares you a bit or try a new genre of music or literature. Don’t waste your energy on fighting something that simply doesn’t work. Rather, use that energy on something new. You can begin by not striving for perfection itself, but by striving for something tangible, like your realistic goals.

-AJ

 

The Power of Habit

Think about this: are the things you do each day habits or are you actively making decisions? Are you making specific choices or are you following cues?

Ever wonder why change is so difficult? Oftentimes it’s because our habits get in the way. Our brains are trying to be as efficient as possible. When we start to do the same things over and over again, these actions and/or behaviors become something we do subconsciously or without second-guessing. Unfortunately, our brain doesn’t differentiate between what’s a good habit and what’s a bad one. All things considered, habits help us feel safe. So how do we get over the bad in our efforts to change and furthermore, create new and improved habits?

We can start with these simple tips:

  1.     Acknowledge they exist.
  2.     Understand the cues.
  3.     It’s not just about breaking routines, but creating better ones.
  4.     Build momentum with small wins.
  5.     Don’t forget to reward yourself.
  6.     Take your time, it won’t happen in a day.

New York Times reporter and author, Charles Duhigg states that every habit functions essentially the same way. It begins with a cue: something that triggers a certain behavior, which leads to a certain routine. These triggers can be a place, an emotion, or even a time of day. Once you figure out what the cue is, you can start to break down the routine and ultimately the habit to create better and new ones. One example would be getting motivated to exercise in the morning. If you set your workout clothes near your alarm or right next to your bed the night before, it will be the first thing you see and prompt your brain that a certain action needs to occur. This cue: seeing and having your workout gear close by, will trigger the behavior: getting up and going to workout. That’s a simple way to improve your routine and be a little healthier in the process.

As you are making these improvements in your routine and creating new habits, don’t forget to reward yourself. Make small changes at first, so you’re not overwhelmed. If you love shopping, buy some new workout gear to motivate you. If you love sweets like me, reward yourself with some cake – just one piece though, we’re not trying to reverse your hard work. Your brain will release endorphins with the excitement you feel from getting a reward. Over time you won’t need to have the cake, because your brain will recognize this new habit and prompt the neurotransmitters that create a euphoric feeling after you exercise.

Last but not least, remember to be patient. The goal here is not just to eradicate your bad habits in one full swing (although that would be great), but also to understand the process. By acknowledging the cues in your life, you can understand the role they play on a daily basis. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Habits aren’t random nor are they resolute.  As a matter of fact, many of our habits are formed from previous habits, whether good or bad. If we keep repeating the same things each day, these habits essentially form who we are, how we act, and everything we believe. It’s always good to keep your habits in check.

-AJ

Based on Charles Duhigg’s New York Times Bestseller, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

 

New Beginnings

A year has ended and spring has arrived and so a new chapter in life has begun. Everyone has a different take on life; some think, even if it sounds totally clichéd, that a new year means a new beginning (which is totally me) but at the same time I believe that a new year means that we can forget about our past failures and aim to improve ourselves and learn and grow to be a better improved version of ourselves. Every year we get a chance to think of life as a fresh chapter that we can edit if we don’t like our story.

Personally speaking, I have been shedding my past ever since I started college. I started my school in New York City and coming from my background of close minded Indian culture, this was all I had been waiting for since I could think for myself.

The new found freedom was refreshing and challenging at the same time. I could live my life without having someone look over my shoulder every time I went out of my threshold; however, the whole experience of changing and growing has been scary as well since I had to break out of my shell and mold into the person that I want to be. There are always two sides of a coin and every side has its pros and cons but if I had let the fear of living in the city alone or doing something out of my comfort zone stopped me, I wouldn’t have learned and grown so much.

I have learned a lot of things since my two and a half years of living alone and I am going to learn a lot more things but for now these important messages keep me grounded and keep me moving.

I have learned that…

I have to accept my body as it is – coming out of high school I was really insecure of how tiny I was, still am at times. I thought that no guys or anyone else will take me seriously like they do to the more average body types. I was wrong in thinking that and it took me a year since high school to believe that. I had to come out of my comfort zone and meet new people and read a lot of motivational articles to understand that. This year I am going to take that further by joining the gym to get more fit.

I am going to get jealous from certain people and that’s completely ok – in college, there are so many people and you will find a lot of them having a lot of strengths that you think you don’t have. I struggled with that, and I still do but I have accepted the fact that I am not going to keep comparing my life with other people (at least try not to) since everyone is different and everyone is leading a different life even if they are in the same major as you.

I have to rely solely on myself to achieve the goals that I want to achieve – A hard lesson I learnt last semester was that at times even the person who you think is supposed to guide you and help you through something won’t do their job and you will be left alone in a hole that you will need to come out of yourself. I had a professor, who I thought was going to help me come to terms with my queries and understanding of architecture, completely bailed on me and laughed at me. That hurt me a lot. It was something I thought a professor would never do, but he did and that made me insecure and lost. It took me a while to understand my self-worth again and believe that I wasn’t wrong in the way of my thinking, I just had to rely more on myself than on others to work through school projects and projects of life because in the time of need the only person you can rely on is yourself.

These are just a few of the lessons that life has taught me so far. I wouldn’t have learned these three lessons if I had been inside my shell and not embraced the present. Each year is different and it brings so much more to life, all you can do is think of it in a positive light and begin again for a new journey.

-HS

New Beginnings

We often feel like we’re disconnected from the world. We have our routines, we are productive, we do everything we’re supposed to do and even when we do it well, we somehow still feel disconnected.

Part of the new beginning is connection. Connect with others, but also don’t forget to connect with yourself. You always hear the cliché, You can’t love anyone else if you don’t love yourself first. And if you’re like me, you are tired of hearing it. But what’s truly important is knowing yourself and knowing exactly what you want. We follow these maps as if life is fair, as if time has discretion, and as if distance gives us space.

I’ve always been a goal-oriented person and I am determined to get where I want to be in life, but I often get stuck on letting things go. I don’t get attached easily, but once I do, letting go seems impossible. It’s my defense mechanism to put up walls. I’m passive, I taught myself to block things out. New beginnings have given me strength to move on and to give time a chance.

I’m starting a new beginning. Not because it’s 2016 and I need a resolution, not because its Spring and Spring itself is about new beginnings, but because I need emotional relief. Because it’s perfectly okay to decide to set a new goal in the middle of night and because everything I feel is valid. ­­ Landscapes change and maps aren’t these stationary things anymore.

Why do we give ourselves so many restrictions? And why do I feel the need to suppress? People come and go along with opportunities, and changing to respond to all of those things is irrational. I am not a person that fits into a box or single category, nor am I a conformist. I am stubborn and complex with more room to grow. With this new beginning comes confidence and it is one thing that will stay.

-AJ