Spark a little mid-break motivation

TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR MOOD

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image via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Motivation would be so dope. And, apparently, motivation can be derived by increasing your dopamine levels.

Smack in the middle of winter break, we’ve just finished the highlight of it for most of us: Christmas. That highlight comes at a cost sometimes. The buildup starts before Halloween, and for some it’s positive and merry-making, but for some it’s depressing and anxiety-producing for a variety of reasons.

For myself, it’s a mix. I am blessed beyond measure regarding my loved ones, but I am genetically predisposed to worry and overthink everything. With the main festivities out of the way and no expectation to go back to work for a week, I’ve allowed myself to wallow on the sofa a bit the past couple of days. One could say I deserve it, being a teacher and publications adviser who works crazy hours during the school year and never really stops thinking about deadlines and details. But on the other hand, wallowing begets wallowing. I see others online, too, who just need a lift.

So to the internet I went, in search of ways to raise dopamine levels, and I found this article from Endless Entertainment on the first shot. Glenn Santos writes of 10 Ways to Increase Dopamine to Boost Productivity. Just what I was looking for.

  1. Discover new things, Santos tells us. Well, I can vouch for that. Just searching for and finding the article gave me motivation to share this info. What does he mean by discovering new things, though? Santos suggests taking to the internet and exploring via Amazon or Pinterest, a couple of my personal favorites. He does warn against the addictive nature of those sites. But I’ve discovered such things as rock painting, bullet journaling, lettering, Zentangle and new authors and books, all of which I’ve at least tried, if not fallen in love with.
  2. List your small tasks. The logic here is that completing something, indeed, the act of marking the item off the list as complete, gives you that dopamine pump. So why list one item: “clean the kitchen”, which you may not be able to mark off for a couple hours, when you could list: empty dishwasher, load dishwasher, clean out fridge, wipe down counters & cabinets, sweep floor, mop floor … each swipe of the pencil (or check in a box) gives you a separate dopamine trigger. So if you really want to get the biggest advantage of this trick, do what I’ve always advised: the first thing on your list should always be: “make a list”. Done? Check.
  3. Listen to music. No brainer. What pumps you up? At what volume? Do it for you. It’s medicinal.
  4. Increase your tyrosine, a protein found in common foods.
    Almonds
    Avacados
    Bananas
    Beef
    Chicken
    Chocolate
    Coffee
    Eggs
    Green Tea
    Milk
    Watermelon
    Yogurt
    Almond milk mocha latte with your scrambled eggs, avacado and banana breakfast? Or, heck, just a piece of chocolate about 3 p.m. That’s how I roll.
  5. Reduce your lipopolysaccharides. Your what? Well, if you’re increasing the good stuff, it makes sense to reduce the bad stuff. And don’t kid yourself. You know what the bad stuff is: fatty and sugary foods. They are toxins.
    One way to combat those, according to Santos, is a probiotic diet. He suggests yogurt, which I am familiar with, and kefir and kimchi, which I am not.
    I will, however, put in a shameless plug for Herbalife, and a supplement I can personally attest to: Florafiber. A caplet or two a day gives you fiber, calcium and lactobacillus acidophilus. Message me for details if you are interested.
  6. Exercise often. I hated typing that one. I have an ongoing battle with myself and my personal trainer son about exercise. Intellectually, I know that exercise does good things for me. I know that it not only releases dopamine, but serotonin as well. But, man, I find it hard to convince myself to exercise. This is something I need to work on.
  7. Establish a streak. Santos suggests keeping track of something so you can see progress. Under “new things” I mentioned bullet journaling, something I started last January (Look at me! Did something consistently for a whole year!). I love bullet journaling. It’s a planner, a journal, a sketchbook. It’s any combination in any way you want it to be. Yes, there are original guidelines on which the system is based, but the beauty is that the system is endlessly customizable. Some of the popular features most folks put in their bujos are trackers, graphic elements intended to track behaviors. Bujoers track water intake, exercise, weight loss, moods, housekeeping chores, making their beds and brushing their teeth. They track savings, paying off debt, social media analytics, days without soda or overspending. What would you like to track? Just tracking that I updated my bujo, that I had my Herbalife shakes and tabs, and those evenings I didn’t spend with TV helped me improve in those areas. Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet helped me increase my blog posts or water intake. Always room for improvement. Check Pinterest, YouTube or Facebook for bullet journaling practitioners and get some ideas.
  8. Take dopamine enhancing supplements.
    Curcumin is found in turmeric, a spice used in curry dishes. But there are dozens of recipes on Pinterest using turmeric. I’ve tried it as a hot drink with cinnamon and honey in almond milk (meh.) and I actually loved it sprinkled on sweet potatoes, then roasted.
    Ginko Biloba is available over the counter.
    L-theanine is apparently available in great quantities in green tea.
  9. Make stuff. Love this one. Anyone with an artsy hobby can probably attest. If you’re doing something you love and you get in the zone, time flies by. Is it drawing? Painting? Photography? Crochet? Rebuilding motors? How about just coloring? Coloring has been found to reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure in some people. It’s a soothing, repetitive task that produces a colorfully pleasing result.
  10. Meditate. Look into the proper way to meditate or just take an afternoon for ceiling time, as I put it. Uninterrupted time to just stare at the ceiling and let your mind wander, work things out, feel some feelings and work through why you’re feeling that way can be helpful. In addition, you can set goals and plan tasks to get there or visualize positive situations. I sometimes make up scenes for fiction I’m working on, work out plot details or flesh out character traits.

So is it meditating or is it wallowing? What is it I’ve been doing the past couple of days? The fact that I’m being productive means that it doesn’t matter what I call it.

What can you do to increase your dopamine levels? What can you do for you so that you can be more productive?

Whichever you choose, do it. You deserve to be happy and productive.

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Adventures in bullet journaling

A stack of Post-it Notes and a Sketchbook walk into a coffee shop. Barista says, “Planners are meeting in the back room.”

They order a couple of hot drinks, one skinny vanilla latte and a chai tea, sit at at table and then think, “What else do we have to do this afternoon?” They head toward the back of the shop, where a soft glow spills from beneath a set of swinging double doors…

coffeetime

In the back room, it’s meet and greet time. Several journals are chatting at the far end of the room. A couple of them open their covers to show off their different style pages. Lines, dots and grids are all visible. A huge group of pens are having a scribbling contest on a blank page lying on the floor. They each demonstrate their colors, their smooth flow. Once in awhile, a couple of them flip the page to see how the paper has handled their ink. Rolls of Washi tape are being engaged by a few journals, and, it seems, snubbed by a few others.

Drinks in hand, the Post-it Notes and Sketchbook make their way to the center of the room as the keynote speaker takes her place at what must be the front.

A roomful of office supplies, individually awesome, but often having their qualities overlooked, learn about the possibilities in coming together to build unique organizational systems for people. They know by listening to the inspiring presentation that the life they could have as part of one of these new systems is far better than what they have had – being stuck to computer monitors or tossed in a drawer with colored pencils, only looked at when something else in the drawer is needed. Oh, to be a part of a bullet journal.

*   *   *

OK, it was corny. But I have been seriously corny lately. Doesn’t hurt that in my corniness, I’m accomplishing a few things and playing with my creativity.

A couple of months ago, I ran across a pin on Pinterest that caught my eye. It described bullet journaling, taking a blank journal and creating the pages you need for your own style of planner. The bullet journal combines the ideas of calendar, planner, bulleted lists and doodling canvas in one personalized journal. This person shared her bullet journal pages and I was struck by the neatness, for one. The lettering was soothing to my eyes. Where it needed to be, it was simple, but where it could be, it was fancy. The pages were designed artfully, with headers and banners and framed, hand-lettered quotes. Extreme organization created a hierarchy of information she needed: year at a glance, a monthly spread and daily look. Her habit tracker was something I really liked, and, though I may not track the same habits she does, I took many ideas from hers. I was mesmerized by this woman’s bullet journal. Her name is Kara Benz, and, as it turns out, she is followed by many. Plus one.

During Christmas break, I explored more through Pinterest. I watched YouTube Videos, and I found Facebook groups. I began listing and sketching out ideas on a plain old yellow legal pad for what I wanted in mine. 

I scribbled down every idea I liked from other people’s bullet journals and added a few tweaks of my own. Then I began to storyboard, or plan out the spreads, so I’d know what order I wanted items in the beginning of my journal.

Moleskin and pens

And I ordered an Orchid Moleskin, soft-cover, dot-grid journal, some Sharpie fine line pens and American Crafts Precision pens, .05.

If you would like to take a look at my original inspiration, Kara has a website and several YouTube videos about her bullet journal. But I also found videos by Ryder Carroll. His style of bullet journaling is more functional, not artsy, but it shows that anyone can develop the basic idea in a way that suits him or her. Once YouTube knows what you’re looking for, it will offer up numerous suggestions – because the Cybergods are watching everything you do and often know what you want to look at before you do.

Amid all that nearly obsessive searching, scrolling and clicking, I also discovered a Facebook group: Bullet Journal Junkies member posts now pop up regularly on my feed and, at least for now in this honeymoon period, I’m looking at nearly every post.

I took what I liked of the other systems I saw and did a mashup for what works for me. The beauty is, I can always change it next month if I want. Here are a few of my own pages.

I saw two sets of bullets used in most journals, and I took what I liked in each, realized I wouldn’t use ALL of the ones I thought were cute, so I dropped a few. Still kept more than I’ll probably use. I like adding new pages to my index because that tells me I’m working my plan – or at least building pages about plans.

In most bujos, a full calendar, called Year-at-a-glance, graces beginning pages. I figured it would be handy to have, so I made one, too. Here is where the differences between lined, graphed and dot-grid likely come into play. I chose dot-grid because I want the hint of what I could use for aligning, without the distraction of actual lines. In good light, my 50+something eyes can see the dots, which help me line things up. On the right is the future log. If year-at-a-glance simply tells us what days the dates fall on, future log gives us space to post those dates we know of waaay ahead of time, like birthdays and anniversaries, vacations or business trips planned in advance – or yearbook deadlines, if that’s part of your business.

 

Jan spread

Week spreadI’ve seen the monthly spread in a couple different versions. Some like the block calendar layout, but I thought I’d give the numbers down the side and columns for parts of the day version a try. I note main dates to remember and can put in any of three columns, depending on whether it’s for morning, afternoon or evening.

On the far right, I can note tasks and goals I’d like to accomplish during the month. Getting my bullet journal up and running was first – and it is crossed off the list as done.

This weekend I’ve worked on another project, one where I tackle each room of the house, one per month, to declutter and reorganize. So I also noted on January to tackle kitchen that aren’t part of the regular routine.

The daily or weekly spreads really help me be mindful of completing tasks each day. This is what I’ve always thought of as a to-do list, but it’s easy to toss Post-it notes – hide the evidence. In the bujo, I feel more compelled to get things done and account for them. Even if that means migrating a task to further on in the week. I use two spreads for a week, with four days on one and three on the other. I made a mini-list of items I’d like to add to my closet when I can find them. I see students watch the clock and call out “11:11! Time to make a wish!”, so I figured a clock with that time posted would make a good graphic for a wish list. Unfortunately, I stuck the hands in the wrong place on my first go. So I just made another one. Learning to let go of perfection is another advantage of this form of planning.

I like having my lists in my bujo. I don’t know how many separate notebooks I have all over the place, never mind Post-it notes and index cards, with to-do lists for the day or week, lists of blog post ideas, or tasks I need to do for a bigger project. They get scattered, lost and forgotten. With a bujo, it’s not only a list, I’ve got tasks noted on monthly layouts or on specific days. There’s a PLAN.

But be careful, it’s also addictive if the bug catches you. I should have been satisfied with my journal and that first assortment of pens I got, but a recent shopping trip landed me at Hobby lobby and I added some more pens to experiment with.

A store clerk explained to me the differences between the wetter ink of the marker-type pens and gel pens. I picked up a three-pack of Micron black pens in three sizes: 01, 03 and 05 to add to my colored pencils I already had at home. These were the pens I kept seeing on the Facebook page and in other artsy forums, and I wanted to try them, wet ink or not. They do not bleed through my Moleskin pages, but they do “ghost”. I can see shadows of what’s on the previous page. But I plan to write on this one anyway, so it usually becomes less noticeable. Those three should have satisfied me, but like any junkie, I wanted more. I wanted a template for pretty circles, and I wanted a sketch book for doodling in. So online I went, and there were all these pretty pens, and there were YouTube videos about using these pens. And I just knew that if I had the pens, I, too, could become that artist, make beautiful videos and live in my pajamas if I chose. Not really, but I did want more pens. So I ordered more pens. Now I have too many pens. I’ll stop now.

Hearing terms like “layout” and “spread” is familiar because that’s the language of yearbook. We also like to talk about fonts and pairing plain ones with fancy ones. I have found myself looking at videos about hand-lettering, too. These are my people.

Take a look at what others are doing, and if this is a system you can get behind, try it out for a while in any notebook, with a pen or pencil – doesn’t matter. Just see if you think the ideas will work for you. Share your ideas and questions here. If you already bujo (we can make it a verb, too), share some of what you do in yours. We’re mostly visual here, so show us what you’ve got!