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Here goes the monthly spiel for those unfamiliar with my blog: Gretchen Rubin‘s novel The Happiness Project guides my new years resolutions. Whatever she suggests, I test. This month’s subject matter revolves around paying attention. The author challenges her mindfulness by embracing Buddhist beliefs and stimulating the mind in new ways.

Initially I doubted how Rubin’s advice could differ from what I already knew. Eckhart Tolle‘s best-selling books shifted my view of reality drastically. He reiterated the significance of focusing on the now, encouraging me to pay more attention. But Rubin shares concrete examples of how to pay attention while dishing personal details of her own experiences. The October Chapter of the Happiness Project, a refreshing read, reminded me to slow down. Next, Rubin directs her attention towards koans.

Meditate on Koans

As someone who tries to meditate regularly, koans crossed into unfamiliar territory. Rubin describes koans as questions or statements that can’t be answered logically to provoke critical thinking skills. Upon further reading, the concept made sense, but when it comes to listing them off, I’m lost. I can’t call on an example besides “Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Koans ultimately drive students to think about thinking.

I needed to Google more examples. One website listed 30 scenarios, so my daily resolution for every day in October is to read one koan a day. My understanding of these riddles has gradually grown stronger, plus I purchased a book, 50 Philosophy Ideas You Really Need to Know by Peter Stanford.

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Examine True Rules

Rubin’s priority to reanalyze assumptions she’s made without thinking pressures her to break mechanical habits. For instance, the author jots down multiple top priorities and works to eliminate a few. She quickly pinpoints contradictive personal true rules like  “My husband is top priority”, “My son comes first”, and “Work takes precedence”. Rubin ultimately decides to put family first. In addition the author’s heuristic approach sheds light on her decision making abilities. Readers are pressed to examine their own rules, so I logged insidious thoughts that surface often in my mind for about a week:

Keep your eyes ahead.

Embrace change.

Laugh it off. 

Accept this moment as if you had chosen it.

Give the benefit of the doubt.

“Nature is in no hurry, yet everything is accomplished”- Lao Tzu

After work, the cat comes first.

High Productivity –> Bragging Rights –> Happiness

Go with the flow.

Validate.

Anyone you meet can be learned from.

A year from now, you will wish you had started today.

Do what feels good.

Make the first move.

Clean something.

Treat yourself.

Notice a few conflicts? Making the first move rarely feels good, so why did I list it directly under do what feels good? Odd…. On a side note, I’ve always held the busy-body label, someone whose weekends remain booked a few weeks in advance. Perhaps applying Lao Tzu’s logic, “Nature is in no hurry, yet everything is accomplished” would help. The quote’s displayed in my office, but aiming to exceed productivity expectations doesn’t always make me feel happy; in fact, it wears me out. I’m always in a hurry.

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Some rules are useful to remember, while others are worth tossing out. Recognizing my own true rules heightened my sense of mindfulness, because I noticed how often I lean on these rules. Studying exactly how I come to my own conclusions distilled a greater sense of confidence when it comes to making important decisions.

Stimulate the Mind in New Ways

Rubin’s hokey ideas sat okay with me, but I had already tried a few before. Gretchen posts a sticky note in every room with specific feelings she wants to experience in that particular area, while I’ve been known to post notes on the bathroom mirror with reassuring mantras to read before interviews and high-pressure encounters.

On my way to work, I’ve begun to locate new objects on the drives I’ve taken for years. I noticed an unusual grave down the road from our house. I noticed the remnants of a chimney in an open field spared from fire with no house remaining.  I even discovered a used bookstore, when I previously argued no such thing existed in Murfreesboro. Viewing the world as a glorious I-Spy book not only caused me to pay more attention but also to become more familiar with my surroundings.

Last but not least, a TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal lead me to view stress differently. Despite sentiments echoing Brene Brown’s words of wisdom, McGonigal’s How To Make Stress Your Friend teaches listeners to view their physiological responses to stress as strengths. To date, this has remained one of my favorite online discussions.

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Keep a Food Diary [Or Become More Familiar With Your Past]

Ironically, I kept a journal in April, focusing on food matters since I don’t have kids, and Rubin’s theme for April was all about raising children. Had I known this diary challenge was going to surface in future months, I would’ve waited.

Instead, I stole the idea of remembering the past from a close friend. From fragrances to foods, movies and experiences, anything I can do to remember my childhood and teenage years has proved thought-provoking. It’s easy to become wrapped up in modern day issues, like paying the bills and registering for graduate school courses, but reflecting on the past puts the present in perspective.  I decided to list a few ideas below, some I have tried already, while others I hope to accomplish by the end of the month.

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Eat Pop-rocks

Listen to Bush, Spice Girls and Ace of Base

Dine in at White Castle

Read Baby Sitter’s Club Books

Rent Return to Oz

Lay in Dad’s back yard

Walk the battle grounds in Murfreesboro

Relive home movies

Sleep with old teddy bears (Weird, I know, but this article explains why the significance of nostalgic material items matters)

Jump on a trampoline

Get crafty (Created a new window this month, plus decorations for Nichole’s upcoming wedding)

Drum!

Write poetry

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My friend Jessica signed up for a free Ancestry.com trial, and after investigating random graves together, I’ve felt compelled to research my family’s history. This last-ditch effort to become acquainted with the past is highly recommended by Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families. On NPR, Feiler argues “…knowing more about family history is the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.”

Very excited to share some recently discovered information with other family members. And who knows? Maybe if I have enough time to outline our family tree, the findings would make for great Christmas presents.

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So what do you think? Any suggestions or ideas to focus the mind are greatly appreciated.