Thursday, December 31, 2009

13. Completion vs. Consistency.

Received wisdom (or the wisdom that I’ve received, at any rate) dictates that in order to complete a task, you have to be consistent. You must set aside a regular time for a task and do a little every day in order to be successful. This year, I’ve discovered that this isn’t necessarily true. There’s nothing wrong with single-mindedly working on a task for hours at a time, a few times a week, when the fancy takes you – in a thoroughly inconsistent manner, so long as I get the task done.

Essentially, in most cases, consistent work isn’t all that important. What matters most is actually finishing the task, and that tends to require persistence, not consistency.

So, from here on out, consistency will generally be reserved for the tasks I don’t really like / struggle with, or for habits I need to develop. Otherwise, I’m focusing on sticking with completing any task I start, because I’m fed up with all of my unfinished projects. And the reason that I usually abandon them in the first place is because I get too caught up in the when and how often – in the insignificant details. So, in short, I’ve started to focus more on the big picture, and not leaving things unfinished.

12. Daring

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
-T. S. Eliot.

There are a lot of things that I’d like to do, plenty that I want to do, and many more things I’ve never even considered doing, simply because I’m either not prepared to take a risk, or I lack a sense of adventure, or I’m just a plain, old-fashioned, scaredy-cat.

The thing is, I wasn’t always like this. I used to have a great sense of adventure. If it sounded like it was fun, and not painful in any way (I'm really not big on pain), then I was up for it. Be it jumping in puddles on the way home (to the shock of passers-by – whom I was careful not to splash, just so you know), getting pink highlights, talking to strangers, or just trying something new, I was there. It was soooo done. But in the past couple of years, I’ve kinda toned down and I seem to have lost my sense of adventure. And I miss it. A lot.

And yes, in a lot of instances I looked rather crazy (what would you think if you saw a grown woman jumping in all the big puddles in a street?), and sometimes I looked just plain stupid (like the doughnut-eating competition. Which, to make matters worse, I lost.), and sometimes I actually looked pretty cool (the pink highlights were amazing). But I always, always, always had fun. I always wound up laughing – and never by myself. I chatted to people I would never have come into contact with otherwise, and really enjoyed talking to them.

This year I realised just how much I love all of that, and how I really don’t love sitting on the sidelines watching other people have fun. I’ve realised just how much I need to reconnect with the more adventurous spirit in me. It’s hard, though, now that I’ve got so used to playing it safe. But finishing uni has kinda given me an impetus to get back in touch with my more daring side.

More often that not, it’s not about creating or actively seeking new experiences, but about recognising the fun right in front of you and making the most of the opportunities you have.

And it’s not that I’m getting older and moving on to the next stage in my life. That’s different. That’s ok. I can live with getting older – it means I get to be a little more polished (sometimes), and believe me, that’s a nice change, from being the punky one. But it’s no reason not to have fun – and that’s what I feel I’m missing when I’m less daring.

I’ve grown this year in the simple realisation that I need to be more adventurous and take advantage of any opportunities that come my way. As a result I’ve started to take risks and am getting back to my old habit of being a bit more daring, because it’s truer to who I am.

11. Attitude / Perspective.

“Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”
- Grandma Moses

I tend to get stuck in a rut in terms of my attitude towards, well, everything really. Too often I find myself asking, “what’s the point?” and, for me, that is a fatal question. It sends me on a downward spiral of negative thoughts, which leads to my old friend, procrastination, and then a general lack of productivity.

Many times in the past, I’ve read about choosing to be more positive, about how nobody can change my mood without my permission, about being more proactive, and whilst I agree with it all, I just haven’t really believed it enough to put it into practice.

Over the last few months, however, I am starting to be more proactive in terms of my mindset. There have been several occasions where someone/thing was really annoying me, but where that would usually turn me into a snarky b*tch (which, by the way, I do really well – I have it down to a fine art), I tried to ignore it, focusing instead on being determined to be happy. In all these instances, it’s paid off and I’ve felt much better about myself and the day as a result. It actually felt really… empowering, strangely enough.

This has prompted a little voice in my head to question my attitude to doing things (only very occasionally, mind you). Basically, it’s started a slight shift in my attitude and has called into question my sense of perspective on things, causing me to make some adjustments. It’s still a small change, but it’s definitely a positive one, as it affects so much else in my life.

10. Knitting

I learnt to knit when I was eight years old, and have re-learnt many times since then, but this year is really the first time I’ve actually followed a pattern, which – I’ve learnt the hard way – is crucial, if you want something functional, which my first ever completed project was not. What’s more, I’ve actually finished projects. Notice the ‘s’ at the end of ‘projects’ – I actually finished more than one thing! My aim is to be as good at knitting as Lisa, she's given me scarf-knitting envy. They are gorgeous. My accomplishements are a lot less impressive, but it's a start, and that's how I've grown this year: I've started!

I started off with this baby hat and then the matching booties to go with it:

Then I made two mobile phone cosies (one is actually supposed to be for a friend, but I’ve yet to give it to her. I might have to DHL it).

I love this button I found for the black one:

Last of all, I made this scarf, which I finished a few days ago and has prompted a request for a scarf from my brother:

And I think I might just oblige him.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

9. Hobbies

It’s rare that I make time for the things that I like to do, as I am usually so focused on all the things that I have to do. I have made considerable progress in that this year. As I’ve already mentioned in previous posts, I’ve started reading more, watching more films, exercising, knitting, writing and blogging – the last three of which I only started this year.

It’s been rather enlightening to discover that I can relax and unwind whilst still doing something. Usually, I relax and unwind by doing nothing. And then there’s the added bonus of finishing something, be it a book, a blog post, or whatever.

I’ve also learnt the amazing impact that giving value to an activity can have on prioritising it into my life. The more I value something, the more I regard it as something important to do, the more time I will find to actually do it. In fact, I find myself actively thinking about when I’m going to read a bit more of that book, or when I’m going to get a few more rows of knitting in, in the past I’ve only thought about work or university commitments in this way.

8. TV / Books

I channel flick, watch crap, and will want to watch something on TV even if there’s nothing on and so I usually end up watching reality TV for a few hours, wasting all that time.

Earlier in the year, in an effort to curb this, I bought myself a TV for my bedroom, with no TV or satellite channels whatsoever, and nicked the DVD player from downstairs. Now, when I want to watch something (especially at breakfast) I stick a DVD in and watch about 20-30 minutes (or however long I want/have time for) of a film that I love, from the comfort of my own bed. Invariably, it puts me in a great mood, and then I turn it off.

I watch actual TV (like from a satellite) downstairs, but only for the length of the programme that I particularly want to watch. The only things I tend to watch now are films I don’t own, or series that I really love, like CSI (Vegas and NY – don’t like Miami), House, Criminal Minds, etc. This has freed up a lot of time for me.

Personally, I don’t believe that the TV is anything other than a tool. I can use it to enrich my life (entertainment is enriching, right?), or I can abuse it and let it waste my life. This year I’ve really learnt to use it and, more importantly, the off-button.

Instead of watching so much TV, I’ve started to read more books. I also haven’t re-read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (my favourite book in the English language) or ‘The Lord of the Rings’, which is a good thing, because it’s kind of boring reading the same book several times a year, especially if you don’t get something new from it. I’ve not read a huge amount because I am a slow and irregular reader, but it is a definite improvement. I used to read quite a lot of books (more than 4 a month), but for some reason I stopped doing that over the past few years. I am very glad that I’m getting back into it again.

7. Following My Heart & Standing My Ground

[NOTE: All the posts in this series have been written - they're either on my USB, or in my notebook, but between a dodgy internet connection, a suddenly hectic social life and a week of staying up late watching DVDs, they haven't been posted regularly. Ooops. They will however be posted eventually, because I've gone to all the trouble of writing them in the first place. :)]

At the beginning of this year, I was engaged and…, well, suffice to say that I am now neither married nor engaged. I called the whole thing off back in April because I knew in my heart that we weren’t right for each other, even though on paper it seemed great. It took a lot of guts, especially as we had been engaged for a few months, but I followed my heart and it really paid off. I am sooo grateful that I didn’t marry him, for both our sakes.

It really showed me the importance of following my heart, and standing my ground when I do. There have been a few other areas in my life where everyone keeps telling me that I don’t need to change/grow/improve, that I’m fine just the way I am, but my heart’s whispered otherwise. Areas including my weight (“You don’t need to lose weight!”), uni (“You’re smart! You’ll be fine, you shouldn’t work so hard.”) and my general lifestyle (“It’s normal for someone your age to stay up half the night and sleep all morning!”). Yeah, right. This year I’ve started to listen to my little ticker, rather than other peoples’ thoughts and I’ve had to really stand my ground to do so.

Honestly, I don’t think you can really follow your heart without also standing your ground. In order to do the former, you need to be able to say ‘no’, to walk away, to go against the flow and do your own thing, however hard it may be. I think that I’ve grown by recognising this and doing it more. In the past, I have always focused on following my heart, but then I live by other peoples’ schedules. This year I’ve learnt to say ‘no’ and I’ve come to realise that most people don’t have a problem with that. Those that do are simply not on the same wavelength as me, and that’s ok – it really doesn’t matter.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

6. Career/work

Because I graduated this year, these past six months are the first time that I have seriously thought about employment – real employment, not scanty, next-to-no-pay employment – and what I want to do with my life. Late, I know, but that’s because I procrastinate, and this is scary, so I procrastinated a lot. So now I’m poor.

I have learnt that I don’t really know what it is that I want to do for the rest of my life, nor do I know what area (teaching/translation/whatever) I want to aim for. More importantly, I’ve learnt that this is ok and I don’t need to start panicking about it. I don’t have to have all the answers now – they will come (eventually) with experience (I hope).

I have discovered that CVs are really, really, really hard to write, especially when
you don’t actually have any employment history to speak of.

I have realised that finding a job that I can/will do (without going crazy) is going to take a fair amount of time and research, but that this usually pays off in the end. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about what’s important to me in a job, and hopefully when my thoughts are more organised I’ll write a post on the topic.

Above all, I’ve learnt that I am utterly fed up of being a broke university student. I’ve done it for five years and I would like to grow out of this phase now, thank you.

5. Internet

[Note: this should have been posted yesterday, but for some reason we lost our internet connection for a day – I really don’t know why. Anyways, it’s back now, so I’m going to do a double post today to make up for the day lost.]

For the past few years, I’ve used the internet mainly to read celebrity gossip, research obscure papers for uni, read celebrity gossip, scan the latest news, read celebrity gossip, catch up on fashion/beauty trends/tips and read celebrity gossip. It was essentially my biggest time-wasting tool, and it usually made me feel kinda crappy.

This year I started to read blogs and discovered Google Reader (a little late off the mark, I know). I only tend to pick blogs that I gain something from, be it inspiration, motivation, ideas, or even just a different perspective. Because I’m gaining something, it’s not a waste of time.

Also, despite having started this blog ages ago, I’ve only really begun to use it this year – albeit in a sporadic, inconsistent manner. And I’ve really enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, I find it extremely difficult and having to do write regularly challenges my two greatest problem areas: consistency and writing. But I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I post on my blog, and it’s good – even therapeutic – to externalise some of my thoughts. It’s also been hugely educational – trying to find my own writing style, discovering what I can write about with passion and what I really can’t write about, using language in a new way… the list goes on.

In addition to blogging, I’ve been using the internet to learn about new things – things I wouldn’t actually be bothered to do any real research on, but as I’m online, I might as well. These things are usually utterly useless in my daily life (like how guide dogs for the blind are trained), but it’s nice to satisfy one’s curiosity about these things. I’ve also used it to stay in touch with friends by signing up to Facebook – although I’m not really in love with it anymore.

Monday, December 21, 2009

4. Religion / faith

[Note: these posts are organised from most obvious and easy to write about, to the least obvious and most difficult to write about. They are not ordered in priority, because to be honest they are all inter-connected. I would not have grown in terms of my education without perseverance and good health, for example.]

As a practising Muslim, my religion and faith are very important to me and yet this is the one area in which I am always dissatisfied. I could always have done more, been better, been more sincere. I always focus on my shortcomings, not my progress. But I can only determine how far I have to go, how I can actually improve, by acknowledging what I’m doing right. I am not writing this to become complacent in practising my religion, but to recognise the areas on which I can build upon.

I think that the main way in which I have grown this year is by incorporating faith in my daily activities. By this, I mean dedicating as much as possible (i.e. when I remember) of my day-to-day life to God. So for example, helping out with the dinner: I’ll do it with the intention of trying to please God, of trying to gain reward by dedicating it to God. In Islam, everything that you choose to dedicate to God counts as an act of worship, so long as you’re not doing anything harmful to yourself or others.

Also, I’ve revised more Quran this year than ever before. Muslim’s are strongly encouraged to memorise as much of the Quran as they can, to preserve it – the written word can be lost, but what is kept in the hearts of humanity will always be preserved.

I’ve also improved by doing some extra acts of worship, like saying extra prayers, etc. Although I admit, I’ve not been doing as much of this now as I was earlier in the year.

Most importantly, I feel that I’ve made an effort over the past year to become closer to my Creator and I feel a great sense of peace in my life as a result.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

3. Diligence and Perseverance

“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they while their companions slept
Were toiling upward in the night.”
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I’m a wimp. The minute the going gets tough or it’s just not fun anymore, I quit.

This year I’ve fought through that (in teeny, tiny, baby steps) and learnt to persevere: to suck it up from time to time and just keep going. This required a lot of diligence, and I’ve had to push myself to keep making an effort.

Honestly, it’s paid dividends. I’ve finished things I’d normally put off, I’ve passed exams I would have otherwise failed, I’ve achieved a lot – and more than that, I’ve had the kind of confidence that only comes from knowing that there’s nothing more you could have done, of knowing that I’ve done my best.

And that’s a very nice feeling indeed.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

2. Health

While taking care of one’s health sounds really obvious, and there is an abundance of information available on the ‘best’ way to do so, I’ve discovered just how much of a personal journey it is, and what that actually means. I always knew that it was a personal journey, but I thought that referred to the personal way in which a particular theory/plan/diet/routine/whatever is followed. It’s actually more personal than that. It’s a journey to discover what gives you vitality and not just a clean bill of health from a medical practitioner or a dress size. Through all the errors of the past few years in attempting to follow different plans, diets or theories with regards to both food and exercise, through all the years of out-of-control moods, excessive tiredness, difficulty sleeping, etc, etc, I have finally figured out what works for me.
I have finally learnt which foods are good for me – and which will send me on a rollercoaster ride. I have become more committed to getting more exercise. I (generally) am going to bed at a much more respectable hour, getting a good night’s rest, and then getting up at a decent time. I have lost around about 5lbs and have kept them off (without drastically changing my life) for a few months now. All this I have achieved by doing what is right for me.
I have also learnt that what works for me, will not work for everyone else – that all the pieces of ‘advice’ available are, in fact, just suggestions, which you can take or leave. I’m not saying that exercise and a healthy diet rich in all the nutrients necessary is not important – on the contrary, it’s absolutely crucial. What I am saying is that how you choose to get that exercise (running, aerobics classes, yoga, etc) and how you choose to eat a healthy diet is up to each individual.
Knowing this has completely changed my attitude to information on healthy eating and fitness. Before, I would just feel guilty about not doing whatever it was, or I would near kill myself trying. Now, I enjoy reading as much information as I can, because it’s not about what I should be doing, but rather about a different way of doing things – suggestions that I may or may not try, to stop things from getting boring.
Most importantly, I feel good, I feel strong, and I feel alive.

Friday, December 18, 2009

1. Education

This year I finally graduated university, at long, long last and then went on to gain entry to the post-graduate Masters’ course. (Yay – still ecstatic over that!) I discovered a whole new passion for my subject area and it’s been a huge motivator.

I’m now truly fluent in Arabic reading and writing and I can understand my lectures and actually take my own notes (instead of borrowing someone else's) now – none of which was true when I started university four years ago.

Now that I have finally caught up linguistically, I am able to achieve the kind of marks that I used to get when I was studying in Englis and am now on an equal footing with my peers, academically speaking. It is a truly wonderful and liberating feeling to know that I’m not going to suck at everything because of my language problem.

However, I believe that a person’s education is not measured merely by academic success (we’ve all met academic geniuses who turn out to be total idiots). I’ve also got back to reading and writing, as well as watching more documentaries and less crappy reality TV (although I still watch a lot of that too). Generally, I’ve been pushing my mind in new, informal ways: reading poetry, and classics, watching interesting things on Youtube, trying to seek out and be open to different ways, opinions, information, etc.

Annual Growth.

The idea for this is a series of posts by Lisa before Thanksgiving, in which she wrote about the 10 things for which she is most grateful. Taking her great idea and then tweaking it for my own purposes, I have decided to do a series of posts on how I think/feel that I’ve grown over the past year.

Today, Friday 18th December 2009, is the first day of the Islamic New Year (1431 – in case you were interested). It’s not actually a religious celebration, in fact, it’s not actually a celebration at all – it’s just a Bank Holiday throughout much of the Islamic world. So, for today and the next 13 days (until the Gregorian New Year on the 1st January), I have decided to blog about how I’ve grown these past twelve months, so as I can figure out what to work on in the coming year. After all, how can I move forward if I don’t know where I am right now?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's raining!

I know that for most people in the Northern hemisphere there's been a lot of rain and cold weather, because it is, after all, winter. Duh. (Honestly, I can't believe it's mid-December already.) Some places have had freakishly cold weather - I was watching Euronews yesterday and was rather surprised to see that Spain has been snowed down. They've had temperatures of -2C, generally unheard of in the Mediterranean.

This is in Madrid.

Here, on the other hand, the weather has been pretty mild (bar one crappy, cold week at the end of November). Until yesterday, that is. Yesterday afternoon the heavens opened, the wind picked up and the cold set in (cold, by the way, is a completely relative concept) and Winter really started. It's been raining ever since.

It doesn't really bug me that much because a) I know that Algeria needs all the water it can get in the short winter months, b) it won't last long and c) the cold actually gives me a reason to wear my lovely, long, warm winter coat. Honestly, I love winterwear. I think it's from having lived in England.

And, of course, as I finish writing this, the rain has finally stopped, the wind has died down and the sun has come out.

And I can't believe that I've actually written a post about the weather.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A fresh start.

Having been sick for the past week or so, I decided (i.e.: was forced) to take a break from pretty much everything in my life: internet, exercise, uni, work, friends, everything. And to be honest, I’m actually feeling grateful for it. I’m not saying that I was grateful when I felt like death warmed up, because I really wasn’t. Nor was I grateful when I developed the world’s largest cold sore, but let’s not dwell on that. What I am grateful for is the time off from all the thinking and planning and worrying. See, that’s the great thing about being sick: all I could focus on is getting better.

So here I am now, back at uni with my first lesson teaching English on Wednesday. I feel like I’m getting a fresh start, simply because I had a week off between all the months of planning and the actual fruition and application of said plans. And this fresh start feeling has (mostly) removed the anxiety that I would normally feel. Instead, I’m excited to be back in action – yay!