Have you ever done a 100-day project? Have you ever done a…3-day project?
I'm about to begin one (the 100-day variety, but we'll see how long it goes) as a ritual to quicken my soul with curiosity as an antidote to feeling stuck. A new goal also seems like a nice way to beckon spring's rejuvenation (or autumn's back-to-school invigoration, for my friends in the Southern Hemisphere).
It's often in transition periods that I feel life's stickiness most. When one chapter has closed but there's no new chapter in sight, I just keep reading the last page of the old one, trying to cling on to any sense of familiarity. It's an antsy place to be. And sticky. That's where I am now in a few areas of life, layered with the sticky antsy-ness of waiting for winter to take its final bow already. The final credits are playing and it's not getting the hint!
As I seek clarity, and general un-stuck-ness, I'm using a few tools to help sharpen my attention and stir some mental movement:
1. The aforementioned 100-Day Project:
I’m joining my friend Suleika Jaouad this month on her own 100-Day Project (she offers a complete guide here), a practice which can nudge creativity awake after a long period of stagnancy. By committing to one small act a day, we can train ourselves to count time differently and mess around with our metrics of success.
But a flaw of any daily ritual is expecting that it will result in something specific; it’s ideal to enter with a spirit of adventure and see where it goes, even if that final destination looks like "What possessed me to write a haiku a day?!"
My own 100-Day Project is an adventure of communication: writing letters. This will address a few of my recent pain points; I’m becoming intolerant of maintaining the billions of inboxes that are scattered across my phone (texts, DMs, email, three different messengers), and I’ve been missing the self-reflective and peaceful experience of writing long-hand.
By hand-writing to friends rather than sending quick messages, I'll get to spend some rich time in their mental company and get back in the swing of writing at length on paper. In theory.
Along with my letters, I plan to send physical photos rather than sharing personal pictures on social media (I'm sure my friends will be thrilled to have selfies of me to put on their mantles) as well as tangible souvenirs: postcards from restaurants, pressed flowers, interesting clippings from newspapers and magazines. I'm ready to go full grandma.
I’m just getting back from a week in Italy where I delighted in my favorite hobby of writing and secretly eavesdropping at a cafe, recording bits of overheard conversation in my letters while slyly sipping a cappuccino. That was a fun way to begin the project, but I’m certain the real challenge will begin a couple weeks from now when I’m not in a foreign country and I’m running out of things to say and people to say them to and I don't have a cappuccino handy. Maybe that’s when I start counting bill-paying as letter-writing?
2. A digital clean-up:
I was inspired (and a bit panicked) by this recent podcast episode on how to do a “digital life edit," all about clearing clutter from our phones/inboxes/social media.
Clutter is the worst thing to have around when you're already feeling sticky. Spring cleaning is an intuitive end-of-winter practice to physically release ourselves from the stuff of hibernation, but digital clutter is just as cumbersome. Inspired by Krista's tech purge, here's what I did with my phone while on a plane (besides use it to watch Love Is Blind: Japan).
I’ve deleted all the apps I don’t often use, so now I have only two pages of them on my phone (no folders). I also shifted all apps off my home screen so now I just see a clean lovely picture of a Greek island when I open my phone, instead of a bunch of multicolored boxes with their little red notification circles screaming at me for attention (I removed notifications off my phone a long time ago, but those red circles still taunt me!).
I paid for an app that helps delete excess photos by scanning for duplicates and organizing them according to some robot technology that I’d rather not think about. Getting my phone stolen a couple times has really been the key to keeping my photos limited, but it's nice to have the remaining ones pleasingly organized. I also edited albums I already have: I probably only need 25 pictures from a vacation, not 300. It's a good reminder that we are in full control of what we bring into our mental space; it doesn't have to feel so overwhelming.
I’m also working on: deleting all message threads, contacts, and photos that no longer support who I am at this moment. The podcast refers to “closing digital timelines” and I’ve found it freeing as someone who is easily weighted down and confused by nostalgia. Outdated connections don’t need to be kept alive in my digital space, and it's comforting to look at my phone and see only clear reflections of what and who is most important to me right now at this moment in time.
3. An intentional adventure:
Whether this is a solo vacation or two hours at a museum, it's been meaningful for me to ritualize a transition time with any out-of-the-way journey that infuses some new sights and thoughts into my soggy/stuck brain.
I’m lucky to live near a gorgeous botanical garden, and I visit at least once a season to observe the shifts of familiar landscapes. These visits have always turned out to be epochal, even when I didn’t expect them to be.
Any unusual solo journey—no matter how far and long—can hasten the process of a new beginning, or at least understanding more about what that new beginning will be.
Intentional solitude is not about shutting off; it's about opening up and engaging, like putting out your ears to listen for the words that will come together to start this new chapter of yours.
4. Records of beauty:
A friend of mine says, "Prayers are answered with beauty."
What is beautiful to you right now? Write it down, take a photo, draw it, talk about it, whatever you can do to build your muscle for recording what you find beautiful.
Transition periods are disorienting; even the months of spring can make us sick and tired with their capricious ways. Summer dress weather at dusk but a parka the next morning? Disorienting.
Noticing beauty is one of our finest ways to understand what's important to us at this moment in time. I love the fact that the Greek root for the word "beauty" is related to the word for "calling," i.e. beauty is what we are called to.
John O'Donohue elaborates: "It means that, actually, in the presence of beauty, it’s not a neutral thing, but it’s actually calling you. And I feel that one could write a wonderful psychology just based on the notion of being called — being called to be yourself and called to transfigure what has hardened or got wounded within you."
If you've ended one chapter and you're looking to start another but you're not sure where to find it, begin with beauty. That's your soul knocking loudly on your door, asking you to give something a second look.
On that note, some things I found beautiful (and called to) this past week:
Jon Batiste's Grammy speech: a beautiful definition of art
The artful no-nonsense of a teenage Italian boy who saw me struggling with my suitcase down the stairs at the Milan train station and aggressively picked it up and took it down for me without a word, then left without looking back. Bold directness (something Italians have in spades) is a beautiful way of being that I could certainly learn from.
Of all the moments during a breathtaking wedding on a sun-filled lake, the bride squeezing my hand before the ceremony was the most beautiful. The small moments are the big moments.
This thread of happy memories: a beautiful reminder that our cherished days are almost always the ones we don't plan. (Extremely helpful information for my fellow controlling anxious people.)
I had margaritas with my mom and we talked and laughed so much, reminding me of mourning doves who chirp and chatter all morning long with each other outside my window. It's beautiful to have a long, much-needed conversation with someone you love.
This beautiful song honoring the musician's friend who died: I thought a lot last week about how many minor interactions I had by chance with strangers while traveling (baristas, train conductors, the Airbnb host, the person who sold me a journal), and I'd almost surely never see them again. That one minor interaction was my only opportunity in life to experience this other human: a person with a whole complex history that I knew nothing about, whose path crossed with mine for a brief moment. Thinking about that made me want to keep better records of the people I actually know, and all the many ways they've touched my life. I was here, she was here, we were here, and I want to document that. This song kickstarted that desire.
I wrote my first of 100 letters to a friend I haven't talked with in a long time, but even in writing it felt like no time had passed. I dove right into the nitty gritty, and it was beautiful to spend time with her—even if she was unaware it was happening!
When there's beauty, notice it, and feel free to tell me about it! And if you're doing a 100-Day Project (now or in the far future or in the deep past), I would love to hear about it too.