#34: Bring on the chaos
What happens when I cling to something too hard is that I ruin it.
There’s a story about a little girl who got a puppy. She was so excited. On the car ride home, she held the puppy between her little hands. She already loved the puppy so much. The more love she felt, the more she squeezed the puppy. Eventually, she squeezed the puppy so hard that the puppy disappeared.
By the way, this story is not about me! I’m not the little girl. And I can prove it because my parents’ didn’t let me get a puppy when I was little. Ha-ha, okay, I’m still a little bitter, but I’ll make up for it by one day getting a puppy :-)
I’m sure you’ve experienced something like this before. As adults, we do it all the time. We cling to expectations, to how we want something to be, wanting for something to work out so badly that we fuck it up.
Last weekend, I did an annual review with a group of people. It was really comprehensive. We acted like archeologists of our past and creators of artifacts for our future. Our task was to remember the past year and journal about it using some prompts. Then, we were supposed to create an artifact for the new year; perhaps a piece of art, a photo album, a blog post - it could be anything that resonated.
I started by going through my Google photos from last year. There were so many memories: fun times with friends, fun times solo in nature, and fun times with my husband. Despite the pandemic, I was able to travel a good bit within the United States and I even saw my family on the East Coast several times.
Don’t worry this is not a post about how amazing, hashtag blessed my life is. LOL.
This is actually a post about my bad habit of information hoarding; of clinging onto knowledge.
Starting in 2020, I got deep into note-taking. I started using a note-taking system called Zettelkasten, which is German for “slip-box.” It was heavily used by a famous 20th century sociologist and systems theorist, Niklas Luhmann. He took notes on the information that he read and created Zettels, which are small pieces of information. He wrote down his Zettels on index cards and filed them away into a cabinet. Today, there are digital systems like Roam and Obsidian that serve like digital filing cabinets. You don’t have to create Zettels to use the software - you could just take notes in any way you want - but many people who have a Zettelkasten use one of these digital systems to house their Zettels.
After I went through my Google photos, I opened my note-taking tools: Roam, Obsidian, and TiddlyWiki. I started to review my Zettels (and also non-Zettel notes).
I was surprised at how uninteresting they were.
I read a ton last year. The world was out of control, and I thought by reading and taking notes I could make sense of what was happening. It was the mindset of: If only I read this one book, I will have learned X and solved this problem in my life; or if only I take another note I will be able to write a better blog post because I can combine that note with another note and generate an insight.
My problem was that I was clinging onto information, onto knowledge, because I thought it would help me to become a better writer. But that’s just tip of the iceberg. I was holding on tightly because I didn’t trust myself. Notes became a crutch.
I know this because the notes never actually helped me to write.
When I would use notes, I struggled to keep a clear head. My mind was cluttered thinking about the notes - not about the writing. I was focused on the wrong thing.
This may be a hot take, but embracing the chaos seems to be the best way forward.
The thing with embracing chaos, what makes it so hard, is that it requires a lot of self-trust. You need to trust that by allowing yourself to let go a little, by not being so attached to an outcome, you will actually produce better work. And when you fuck up, which you sometimes will, you need to let go of that too.
During the annual review session, I learned a really nifty idea that I started to implement: the jar of awesome and the jar of poop. Every time something joyful happens in your day, make a little note of it and stick into a jar. Every time something negative happens in your day, make a little note of it and stick it into another jar. At the end of the week, or whenever you want, go through the jars and watch how you feel.
With these two jars, you create a distance between yourself and the things that happen to you in your life.
The jar of awesome and the jar of poop can be great ways to build trust in yourself. They serve as a helpful tool to realize that sometimes things just happen: good and bad. Making a note of these things helps remove the judgement that we naturally ascribe to events in our life.
When I hold on too tightly - to an idea, or to a goal, or to an expected result - I feel physical pressure in my skull, particularly in my forehead, around my eyebrows and the corners of my eyes. I can feel the anxiety building up, and my mood changing.
If I take a few deeps breaths and imagine those tight spaces relaxing, they eventually do. Our brain and bodies are amazing. We just need to learn to trust them more!
I’ll leave you with a super cool video of our brain structure.
Enjoy, and I wish you a wonderful weekend!
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Really interesting to get an insight into your process
Thx. Will be interested to hear more about how the two jars u compile notes in works out for you. Maybe some concrete anecdotes in the future would be helpful