7 Habits for Staying Present

How a few small habits have changed my quality of life as a writer

This week, the topic is how to maintain clarity of mind when your brain doesn’t know how to discern the difference between a house fire and loud music. Also, below, an approach to procrastination that changed how I view perfectionism.

7 Practices to Keep Me Clear-Minded & Present

I don’t know if it’s autism or ADHD, but I have a fucking hard time managing stimuli, and the stress of it exhausts me. My life feels fuller when I consciously experience time passing instead of blinking away hours at a time.

Here’s 7 practices that help me stay present:

#1: Waking up earlier (without expectations)

Hayley and I have been waking at 6 together. There’s no plan beyond that; we’ll just drink coffee and enjoy the cooler temps of the early morning. Moving my waking hours to the morning helps me experience the day more fully.

#2: Writing morning pages

I practice “morning pages,” which is writing 3 pages of brutally honest, unreadable stream-of-consciousness to clear out my head. It helps me manage backlogged stimuli that I never even mention, but fogs up my brain nonetheless.

#3: Going on midday walks followed by midday showers

Experiencing extreme temps puts me ‘in my body,’ so I’ve started taking walks during the hottest part of the day. It burns off my anxious energy, but it also primes me to enjoy the cold shower that follows right after.

#4: Bullet journaling

Rapid logging my thoughts/commitments/obligations gives me a sense of where my time and attention go. Time passes slower when I bullet journal, which is a good thing.

#5: Writing by hand

I say this a lot: writing by hand is incredible for my brain. One, writing IS thinking, so connecting my thoughts to a physical act ties my body more closely to my mind. Two, it’s satisfying to see physical evidence of my progress.

#6: Reading fiction

For writers AND socialist organizers, reading non-fiction is a must. History, theory, and news needs to be read, analyzed, integrated into perspectives for action. But my life feels fuller when I read fiction, too.

#7: Phone calls for fun

Phone calls use to give me anxiety, but recently I’ve embraced just calling my friends to shoot the shit. It’s way better than Zoom because I don’t have to sit still or look at anything in particular; I can just walk around and talk.

All of these practices contribute to my quality of life, but they also ensure my head is clear when I do creative or political work.

Clarity is vital—it's the difference between 3 hours of progress and 3 hours of checking YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram in a ruinous cycle.

3 bits of inspiration

  1. A couple weeks ago, Jacobin published “15 Years Ago, Mad Men Quietly Began Its Engagement With Leftist Ideas,” and right after I finished my first watch-through of Mad Men. I recommend it for a perspective on the show I hadn’t considered.
  2. I’ve been watching a YouTuber called Struthless, who does personal development videos, but isn’t a weird Elon Musk-worshipping productivity fetishist like a lot of vloggers in that genre. He did a great one on procrastination and perfectionism that’s been on my mind this week.
  3. Sometimes you find someone so good at their craft, it inspires you to create—even if you don’t even practice the same art form. I found this artist on Twitter who’s doing some awesome J.C. Leyedecker-style illustration: big, broad brush strokes and bold shapes. Really beautiful stuff.

The socialist org I belong to published a great piece on alienation, which attempts to explain why even the best jobs under capitalism eventually burn us out. If you’ve been having a hard time at work over the last couple years, you’re likely to feel seen:

Why Work Sucks: Capitalist Alienation and Socialist Human Potential
The pandemic has accelerated a deeply-rooted mental health crisis, particularly with young people. Social isolation from COVID is now heaped on top of intense anxieties about the future of life under capitalism. Mass shootings, war, environmental destruction, right-wing attacks on oppressed people,

Do you struggle with brain fog? Does it get in the way of your creative work? Tell me about it: reply to this email with some of the obstacles or limitations you’re facing. I don't have a class to sell or anything like that—I'm really just curious.

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