So a weird thing happened to me. After basically ignoring 97% of the apps on my phone for the last five years, and questioning the value of apps in general, I fell in love with two just this past week. They're pretty fantastic, so I thought I'd share:
Forest: With everything I've been going through lately, it's no wonder I'm having problems focusing on my work. For a while I tried the Pomodoro technique, which works, but most often I'd forget all about it and slide back into anxious procrastination. Then I heard about Forest, which uses the same concept, but ties your working periods to a virtual growing plant. You just set the timer for how long you want to focus, the app "plants" a seedling, and if you can stay on task for the entire period without getting distracted on your phone, then the seedling grows into a tree. But if you get distracted, the plant dies...so you try really hard to stay on task. You can collect trees to build a forest and I find that oddly satisfying. Maybe it works for me because I like to garden and I can't stomach the idea of killing a tree! (I wonder if there are similar apps out there for people who would be more motivated by a tamagotchi-style pet.)
Also, the more successful trees you plant, the more points you earn, which you can use to "buy" other kinds of trees and plants to grow in your forest. So there's a gaming element to it, all of which gives me motivation and accountability to stay focused while I'm editing for a client. I also like the fact that I can set timers for myself that remind me to "plant" a tree so I don't forget to use the app. Forest costs $1.99 in the Apple store, but it's honestly one of the better 2 bucks I've ever spent. Last week I was barely able to work for longer than 15 minutes at a time without getting distracted by sad thoughts or logistic questions about my upcoming move. But since I started using Forest, I've been clocking hours of solid work time, which I so badly need to do at this point, if only for the distraction and the money.
I'll admit, I heard about Forest from Cupcakes & Cashmere, which is kind of a hate read for me, but they very occasionally introduce me to something new and useful., For whatever reason, it's almost always technology related, which I guess is just a sign that I tend to lag behind the times.
Skyscanner: I'm guessing I'm pretty late to the Skyscanner party as well, but I still think it's a great app to check out if you want to travel as inexpensively as possible. My best friend invited me to spend a weekend with her in Dallas this summer. Sounds like fun! Except, for obvious reasons, I'm trying to be careful with my money right now. To be honest, I don't think I understood how to use this app when I first tried it. I searched for flights to Dallas and it gave me a list that seemed no different from Kayak or any other airline ticket search engine. You fiddle and fiddle with your travel dates to lower the price, but it feels like you're shooting in the dark.
But then I noticed a bottom tab that said "Explore." I clicked on it, then entered the city where I wanted to go, and BOOM - a dozen upcoming flights appeared of various dates and lengths that were by far the cheapest of all the fares. I just filtered the results to show only the weekend flights, and within 15 minutes I had found and booked the best deal that also fit my schedule. The only trade-off is that you can't choose specific days to depart and arrive, but there were plenty of reasonable itineraries to choose from, and it wasn't hard for me to be flexible given the open-style of my friend's invitation. All I had to do was confirm that a time also worked for her and we were good to go.
So now because of Skyscanner, I get to see my friend and have something to look forward to, all without breaking the bank. Can't argue with that! So pro-tip, use the "Explore" feature on Skyscanner,
Have you found any good apps lately that are actually making a difference in your life?
Buy this book and read at least the first four chapters.
I'm seeing a counselor to help me through my divorce and this was the homework she gave me after our first meeting. From what I understand, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, was one of the first books published on cognitive behavioral therapy that was aimed at lay people. It's very easy to read, but most of all, incredibly helpful.
The point is to teach you how negative thoughts create negative feelings and moods, like depression and anxiety. By learning how to identify various patterns of cognitive distortion (basically, mistaken, illogical thinking) through different exercises and activities, we can retake control of our mood and get back to feeling good again.
It might sound a little hokey from the way I've described it, but the book is most definitely not. When Burns explains cognitive behavioral therapy, the answer seems so obvious and clear: I'm going through a difficult time, my brain is filled with negative thoughts, and those thoughts are making me feel even worse. When I analyze those thoughts using the methods prescribed by Burns, I realized they weren't actually based in reality - they're distortions of reality. And as I realize this, it's easier to shut them down, and my mood has improved accordingly. It's really very cool. It's not a linear improvement, but I can tell I'm on the right track.
One of the coolest takeaways I've learned from this book so far is that the key to self-confidence is getting rid of these negative thoughts. I'm a child of the 90's, so I grew up in a culture of participation trophies and "good job!" at every turn in what I think everyone now agrees was a misguided attempt to boost self-confidence in kids. The idea that self-confidence may in fact be more about silencing that inner-critic instead of creating some kind of false inner-cheerleader was sort of mind-blowing.
So if there's any silver lining to my divorce, it's that it has encouraged me to seek counseling from a professional who has introduced me to cognitive behavioral therapy, and I can already tell these are techniques I'll be able to use for the rest of my life to help me manage my anxiety. At the moment, it's really helping with my situational depression, which is hardly unexpected given the circumstances.
If you're curious about the different kinds of cognitive distortions we all experience to some degree, here's a link that lists the ones that Burns identifies as the most typical. One of the exercises you can do is write down your negative thoughts as you experience them, then identify which cognitive distortions they fit on that list, followed by a more rational response to each distortion (basically, explain to yourself why that negative thought isn't actually true). Study after study has shown that when this type of cognitive behavioral therapy is used in conjunction with medication, it's more effective at treating depression than just medication alone.
I've mostly written this blog post so I can come back to it and easily look up those cognitive distortions as I'm working on these kinds of exercises every day, but maybe you'll find it helpful too if you're struggling with negative feelings of any kind at any point in your life, not just divorce.
Also, I hope readers of this blog understand why I'm writing about divorce right now. It won't be forever, I promise. I hope to get back to discussing reading and writing again soon, but for the moment, I really need to do this in order to focus on getting better and figuring out the new "normal" in my life.
Last month I mentioned that my husband and I were in the process of separating. It's a sad, difficult decision, because it's mutual and we're both conflicted. We're not mad at one another, we're just not sure how to fix the same problems that keep coming up. In short, we just want and need different things. I suspect this is a fairly common problem, but that doesn't make it any easier.
So I've been doing a lot of self-care to help me through this. I've found it harder to write fiction, so I'm letting myself take a temporary break from it (the pressure to write was making me feel crazy), but I have been keeping a journal, which I find very useful to work through my thoughts.
I've also been doing a lot of other activities to help me feel more stable. In brief, here's my list of what to do during a breakup, just in case it's of any help to you.
1) Give yourself a weekend of "Treat Yo Self." Eat what you want, watch what you want, spend what you want. Not forever, but for those first horrible days it really helps to treat yourself. For me, I bought myself a new pair of shoes, watched Mad Men, ate at Taco Bell, and laid in bed all day.
2) When you're done with Treat Yo Self weekend, then consciously practice A.C.E. This works. Such a helpful tool. I keep track of my A.C.E. activities in that same notebook that contains my logistics list and my journal. It helps to keep this information all in one place.
3) Call or talk to your parents, but don't smother them. After those first few days, I made myself try to get over each emotional low for at least an hour. If I couldn't do it on my own, only then did I call my mom. It helped prove to myself that I was tough and that I would eventually be able to get through a day without totally relying on her for emotional support. It gave me confidence in myself.
4) Find a small notebook. Instead of calling your ex, write down what it is you would say. Write out your thoughts and feelings. Patterns will emerge. You'll realize what was really bothering you. When you have a weak moment, consult the notebook to remind yourself that there are real issues at stake and you are making the right choice.
5) In that same notebook, make a list of logistical things you need to do (e.g., where are you going to move, money stuff, possessions, insurance, etc.), then put it aside. Add to the list as you think of anything else that needs to be done, but don't worry about it yet. After the first week or so, only then begin tackling each item one by one.
6) Watch When Harry Met Sally. Excellent and very optimistic breakup movie.
7) Take long walks, go for a run, strength train, take a dance class, whatever. Just make sure you're getting regular exercise. For me, the best part of my day is taking my dog on her long morning walk. I always feel better when I'm outside with her.
8) Put away the junk food and make sure you're eating healthy meals again. For me, that means cutting out the processed food (or limiting it to the occasional treat). I love to make this soup.
9) Call your friends. Make plans to hang out. Remind yourself that you have a lot of people in your life who care about you and vice versa. I'm going out to Dallas this summer to see one of my best friends and it's the first thing I've had to look forward to in a while.
10) Smile and be nice to everyone you come across. I don't know if it's just because I've been wanting more warmth lately, but I've been dishing out the smiles and small talk with all sorts of strangers. And people are awesome. Without fail, they are so nice right back at me. When you feel lonely, a smile or kind word from a stranger can mean so much.
11) Make a list of people you admire who have gone through a divorce. It really shows you how normal it is. Here's my list:
The point of all this is only that there are positive steps you/I can take to work through this. It's a challenge, but not a disaster, particularly if we keep a good attitude.
For more tips, check out this google doc compiled by the Death, Sex, & Money listeners. There's a lot of great advice in there.
Writer, editor, scientist.