intentional noticing

It feels a little strange to be sending this along, business as usual, after recent events—so you can read some of my thoughts on the election right here if you're so inclined.


More and more lately, I’ve been thinking about noticing.


I'm talking about making time to stop what you're doing and look at the sounds and sights and feelings and thoughts happening right now, whether that's inside of you or in the world around you.

I particularly love the idea of noticing projects—choosing a specific period of time and then a specific thing to pay attention to and just seeing what happens.

Maybe that's setting several random reminders on your phone to simply stop and take notice ofeverything going on inside and outside of you for one week. Maybe it's taking a photograph each morning or evening for a month. Maybe it's taking a daily walk and paying special attention to the changes in a single tree over the course of one season.

Or maybe it's choosing to spend 31 days writing each day, noticing your thoughts and ideas and memories instead of simply letting them zoom by unacknowledged. This past January, many of you did just that when I opened the doors to an experience I called Explore: 31 Days of Intentional Writing*.

I didn't create Explore as a noticing project—but as I've become more aware of my own fascination with these types of experiences, I can see that that's exactly what it is. And figuring that out made me really excited! (FYI, I'll be opening registration for Explore soon; you can sign up at the bottom of this post to hear when it's time.)

Now Explore is a very personal experience—just you and your writing. Of course, you could choose to share what you've discovered with someone else, but it's not inherently a public-facing project. But today, I wanted to share with you three very public projects that I've found immensely inspiring over the years!

3191 Miles Apart

I’ve been following MAV and Stephanie from the very beginning of their time together, when they simply posted a diptych each day—without discussing the subject ahead of time. The combination of their photos was always beautiful, and sometimes there were stunning similarities that were always a joy to notice. Over the years, they’ve created many things based on noticing and recording everyday life—a book of morning photos, a book of evening photos, a magazine series, an online journal. They’ve just launched another book full of letters and photographs and recipes and projects, and I’ve been fully immersing myself in their world in the past week or so. These women—their site, their Instagram, and the books and magazines I own—are an unending source of inspiration for me.

Elephantine

Remember the good old days when blogs were beautiful portraits of everyday life? When advertising wasn’t really a thing yet and you could simply peek into someone’s world through their eyes? Elephantine, by Rachel Ball, captures that feeling to me, and she’s currently sharing a single photo each day, which I love. She does run two shops—one selling beautiful, dainty jewelry, and one selling carefully selected and beautiful gifts for yourself and others—but her blog is not really a platform for those stores. She mentions them here and there, but she also shares about her writing life, curates favorite finds in beautiful images, shares books she loves, and more. It’s a real treat.

The August Break by Susannah Conway

You’ve read about my love for Susannah before (here), and I find her August Break to be genius. Susannah’s work usually comes back to photography in some way or other, and each year, she takes a break from sharing words in the month of August, instead simply sharing a photo each day. She has now created prompts so others can join in, and it’s beautiful to see so many people take a meaningful, intentional pause for noticing. (She's also about to start her annual December Reflections project, which could be a fun option if you're inspired to start noticing and sharing right away!)


I’m sure I could go on, but I wanted to simply give you a taste of my inspiration. In a world that's filled with minds that jump from thing to thing (including my own), it feels like a refreshing pause to watch one person focus on one thing or idea and carry it through.

And doing a noticing project can feel that way, too. I did Explore myself the last time around, and I would love to do it again. There’s something about knowing there’s time set aside to record your thoughts and ideas that feels pretty magical, and even though Explore has specific prompts for each day, it would be wonderful to also include five minutes of writing about something you noticed that day. I’d be so interested to see where you found yourself after 31 days of noticing.

Keep an eye out for more emails about Explore, including a note about when it’s ready for you to begin!

Until then,
Sending much love,
Erica


* For those of you who weren't around when Explore opened up last time, or who would like a reminder: The idea is that for 31 days, you write every day, responding to a prompt that arrives in your inbox. But so much of the beauty of this experience is in preparing for it (you get a guide that helps you set an intention for the 31 days and make some choices that will help you see it through) and in reflecting on it afterward (you get another guide that helps you use whatever you create in that 31 days, whether that’s momentum or clarity or the actual words you wrote down). Once you’re done, you can choose to keep going—or you can simply enjoy the experience for what it was and move on to another experiment.


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Just Try It Out (don't add the pressure of "forever")

We've been, at least indirectly, talking about pressure a lot lately (and how to put less of it on yourself).


A few weeks ago, I talked about how balance might not look like doing something every day or every week—instead, it might look like doing something a couple of times a week or a few times over the course of a month (or whatever else feels right). The bottom line? You get to decide. No pressure.

And then last week, I talked about giving yourself a break when you need it—essentially, not forcing yourself into an arbitrary schedule when what you really need is rest. Again, no pressure.

So when I talk about Explore (a writing experience I offered in January and will be offering again soon), whether you've participated in it or not, you might be a little confused about where it fits into all of this no-pressure talk. Because the whole point of Explore is that you write…every day.

Waaaait a minute. (I can hear you now.) I thought we didn’t have to do these kinds of things every day! I had just gotten cozy with that idea! What’s going on?

Here’s what's going on: Explore, and other pursuits like it, are simply experiments. They allow you to try something on and see how it works. No pressure.


The thing is, we don't usually think in terms of experiments. Instead, unconsciously, we think in terms of forevers.


I'm sure you've had a thought that goes something like this: Okay, that’s it. I have to step up my game. I’m going to:

  • Share a post on Instagram every day.
  • Publish a blog post every week.
  • Meditate every morning.
  • Read one book a month.
  • Write 500 words every day.


At first, that kind of statement makes you feel good. Powerful. In control. Like your future self has it all together.


But while you may have excitement around those Instagram posts or your meditation time the first few days, when that initial jolt of energy wears off, you may feel tired at the thought of continuing to do that thing.

So you stop. You miss a day because you don’t feel good or you get busy or something unexpected happens and or you just don't want to...and then it’s a quick slide back into your old patterns. But something else also happens—you get frustrated with yourself. You start to believe you’re not the kind of person who can start new, meaningful habits…and slowly, you become that person.
 

What’s so often tripping us up is the implied forever. There’s no end date—so your mind gets worn out at the thought of making such a huge change.

But when you decide to simply do something for a set amount of time—an experiment—you know when the end date is, and you no longer face the pressure that of forever.



That’s why I’ve set up Explore as a 31-day experiment. You commit to yourself that you’ll write every day—but only for 31 days. Once that specific amount of time is up, you can choose to do whatever you want. You can keep going. You can stop. You can change it up. It’s your choice, and you can do whatever feels right to you.

And the same is true for any experiment you decide to create. Want to post on Instagram every day? Try it for a week and then reevaluate. Want to read one book a month? Try reading one book this month and see how it goes.

Then, when the time is up, be honest with yourself. How did it go? What do you want to keep doing? What do you want to change? Then reset that experiment timer (every day, every month, every Tuesday, whatever it is)…and keep on going.

I’ll be opening the doors to Explore very soon, and I’d love to be a part of your writing experiment. But don't feel like you have to wait to start experimenting.
 

I’ve created a simple but powerful worksheet you can use to create your own experiment right now!

 

It's in the Library with several other worksheets you can use to create meaningful connection with yourself, your ideas, and your audience. Sign up below to get access, as well as weekly(ish) emails from me. I would love to hear what you’re experimenting with!

Gaining a Little Perspective

One of the themes I’ve been noticing lately—in conversations with you, in conversations with myself, in the things I’ve been listening to or paying attention to—is the idea of balance.


(I know, I know, it’s talked about a lot. But hear me out.)

I’m noticing that when we finish a particularly busy workday, we think, Ugh. I didn’t exercise or do my morning pages today, and I missed a call from a good friend. My life is totally out of balance. Or when we get to the end of a week where we concentrated mostly on client work, we think, Oh no, I didn’t send out an email this week and I didn’t spend any time on business growth. Everything is way out of balance.
 

But I’m starting to believe we’re measuring balance on the wrong scale.


I’ve been listening to I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam (who also wrote What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think). She did a study of how women spend their time and I Know How She Does It is all about what she learned.

I won’t get deep into details, but one of her conclusions is that we should measure balance weekly instead of daily. Maybe you have a couple of really busy days, but they let you have the entire weekend totally free from work—and if you look at the week as a whole, that might feel pretty darn good after all.

So let’s look at that busy day as an example. Yes, you skipped exercising, didn’t write your morning pages, and missed a call from a friend. But later on in the week, maybe you went for a longer run, sat in a coffee shop for an hour and wrote to your heart’s content, and met that same friend for a leisurely brunch. When you look at the week as a whole, do you feel like your life is out of balance? I’m guessing not—or at least not as much. You still got to do the things that were important to you—you just didn’t do them all in one day.

But I think you could pull back even further. Let’s look at that client-heavy week. Yes, you skipped sending out an email and didn’t focus on growing your business. But maybe in the same month, you sent out two well-written, well-received emails that gained you a new dream client and then sat down for a several-hour planning session for a new ecourse you want to create. When you look at the month as a whole, do you feel like everything is out of balance? I’m guessing not—or at least not as much. You still did the things that were important to you—just not all in one week.
 

Really, what we’re talking about here is perspective.


Many of us have mapped out our ideal day, and I love this exercise. It’s a beautiful way to look at what you truly find important and what makes you happy. But I think that where we fall down is thinking we can always do those things every single day.

For example, I would love to be able to meditate, stretch, exercise, write morning pages, take a walk, and hang out on the couch with a cup of tea reading a book that helps me grow—every single day. But realistically, at the pace I typically move and with the other things I have going on, doing all that would take more hours than I usually have. (And with a baby on the way, those hours are going to shrink even more.)

For a long time, I felt like my day was a failure if I didn’t check all those boxes. But what I’m coming to realize is that if I get to the end of a week and I’ve done each of those things, say, two to three times, I feel pretty darn good—meaning my body and mind feel taken care of and I feel like my life is pretty good.

But I only get those good feelings when I stop trying to force myself to do more than is realistic in one day (or even one week). And if I do have a day where I manage to do all of those things and still get all my other responsibilities taken care of, I have something to celebrate—rather than letting that super nice day get ruined by all the other “failures” around it.
 

So what do you do if things feel out of balance?


Take a step back. Imagine zooming out on a map of your time. Look at bigger windows of time. How are things going on a weekly basis? Monthly?

And then think about how that bigger view makes you feel. Are you ok with things the way they are? What changes would you make?

Maybe you decide, for example, that you want to write every day (even if just for ten minutes) but that you’re happy exercising three days a week. Or maybe you decide that you’ll have a marathon reading session once a week, and be content with ten or fifteen pages before bed other days. Or maybe decide you want to do a month packed with client work followed by two weeks of content creation, business growth, and other internal projects before firing up a busy client month again.

Or maybe you simply realize you're in a busy part of your life right now (new baby, new business, big move, hard personal things happening) and you just let go of some of the expectations you've been placing on yourself.
 

Just remember that you’re the one who gets to decide what balance looks like for you.


I would love to hear what balance looks like for you!


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