Prcocrastination

Last month, I was a writer on fire.

Every time I sat down to write, a great story with a good take-away came out of my keyboard almost without effort.

It was the last month of Elephant Academy—writing month. Super inspiring. Every week, I submitted two or three stories to Elephant Journal, and they were all published.

I received a lot of positive feedback from fellow apprentices who loved and shared my articles on the Facebook pages they were managing.

They cheered me on and told me I was on fire.

I felt like I had wings. I was inspired and 100 percent motivated all the time.

And then it all came to a screeching halt.

The apprenticeship ended. We were gently removed from our Facebook pages to make room for the new group of apprentices coming behind us.

We were told: “The training wheels are off; you can do it by yourselves now.” The group camaraderie changed into more individual contacts with those people I had connected with most in the last three months. Things slowed down quite a bit.

Maybe I should say: I slowed down quite a bit.

It was as if I had gone cold turkey. Without the structure of weekly meetings and writing prompts, I now failed to inspire and motivate myself. Without the whole group cheering me on, I found it hard to generate the enthusiasm to write and keep writing until I had a catchy story with an interesting takeaway for the reader.

My inspiration and motivation were gone. I had lapsed into an acute bout of intense procrastination.

I let myself procrastinate for a while. I had been working hard for three months straight, and I felt I deserved a break.

That was a pretty dumb decision. I allowed myself to lose the invaluable momentum that the apprenticeship had helped me gain.

Procrastination has a strange self-reinforcing mechanism: when we postpone something once, the next day it’s already a little easier not to do it, the third day even more. It doesn’t take long to just forget completely why we wanted to do something at all.

But I had been writing every damn day for more than a month. I knew I was capable of it.

So my question to myself was: why am I procrastinating again? Why am I all of a sudden not able to sit down and write every day, as I would like to?

I decided to dig into the strange phenomenon of procrastination itself.

“Procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.” ~ Elliot T. Berkman, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon

Almost all of us procrastinate in some way, and none of us are very proud of it.

Basically, we procrastinate out of fear. Fear of having to work hard, fear of failure, fear for not getting a reward, fear for the discomfort that is inherent in making meaningful changes in our work and lives. Easier to put it off for a bit, right? There’s so much else we’d rather do.

By putting it off, we falsely assume that tomorrow it will be easier to do the task, that we’ll have less fear. God only knows why we think something will change overnight that’ll make it easier. It turns out that the opposite is true, according to Forbes contributor, Margie Warrell:

“Our fears grow larger, not smaller, the longer we put things off. Eventually they lead into the burial ground for unfulfilled dreams and untapped potential.

By procrastinating, we sellout on our happiness—both today and in every tomorrow.”

Ouch! We don’t really want to do that, do we? Sellout on our happiness? Bury our dreams? Leave our potential untapped?

There’s three good reasons to stop procrastinating!

The question is: how can we stop?

Here are a five ways in which we can beat procrastination and get going again, according to psychologists and other experts in the field:

1. Define our goals: The clearer our goals, the easier it is to motivate ourselves.

According to Berkman, it is important to connect our goals with our future self. Imagining how we will feel if we achieve our goals, really identifying with that fulfilled future self makes it easier to detach form the present self that just wants to indulge.

Asking ourselves the specific question: why do we want to exercise, meditate, learn to play the guitar, stop drinking, or start saving money? What is our goal?

For that matter, why do I want to write? Good question.

Because I love writing! It makes me feel alive. Because I have many unique stories and experiences and insights in my head that I want to share—they might be of benefit to other people. Because I am a teacher, but I don’t like crowds—so I’m better off writing it down. Because I have a book in me that needs to be birthed.

Because I want to reach out to the world and be of service with my words.

2. Once we have a clear idea (again) of our goals, we can look at the things we have to commit to in order to achieve them.

The experts recommend making this as specific as possible. It is easier to fulfil specific goals than vague concepts.
If we want to get healthy, our goal should not be a vague wish for “more exercise.” Specifying it into “going for a 30-minute walk every day after we’ve had our morning coffee” makes it more likely that we’ll feel committed enough to actually do that.

If I want to be a writer, I can commit to sitting down and writing 1,000 words every damn day, starting at 9 a.m. right after breakfast. I can commit to posting a short inspirational post on Instagram every day after lunch. To submitting a story to Elephant Journal every Tuesday. Three specific and doable goals.

3. An often heard piece of advice is to break the big goal up into smaller bits that are easier to handle.

If we aim too high or too big at the beginning, first of all, it will seem too overwhelming. Secondly, we set ourselves up for failure further down the road. It’s called self-sabotage.

It is also important to focus on fewer tasks and really being choosy about our priorities.

We cannot start running 10 miles when we have not moved at all for the last 15 years. We may start with a daily walk just around the block. When that feels comfortable, we add another block. The priority is moving every day, not moving 10 miles.

If I want to be a writer, I won’t crank out a best-seller on the first try. Or become a daily blogger overnight. So I start small with a weekly blog submission. I do one Instagram post a day, instead of four or more. I’m not getting into Twitter or Pinterest yet. I aim for a 1,000 words every day to begin with, instead of 2,000 or even more.

When we set ourselves tasks that are within reach of our abilities, but just a tiny bit out of our comfort zone, we are more likely to fulfill them compared to goals that are too unrealistic. Growth happens right in the middle between too easy and extremely difficult, between comfortable and too challenging, between well-known and totally unfamiliar. Choosing tasks that fit in that middle zone will set us up for success.

When we are able to fulfill the smaller goals that we have set for ourselves, we will feel accomplished. That feeling will motivate us to keep going, and move on to the next goal. Celebrate every achievement for an extra motivational boost!

4. Imagining the future rewards and understanding our intentions and motivations.

Regular exercise will bring us prolonged health so that we will be able to take our grandchildren on hiking and camping trips. That’s a reward worth working for now.

Now that I’ve lost the immediate reward of multiple cheers from my Academy peers, it’s time to redefine my reward for writing.

Getting published all the time is actually a worthy reward in itself, knowing that I only started submitting stories a couple of months ago. I’ll celebrate every 10 published articles by buying myself a book that I really would love to read as a bonus reward. I’ll write for that!

5. Take the first step—even if we’re not yet convinced that we can attain our goals.

As Lao Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

Although that first step is the hardest, because it is the one that has to move us from our comfortable procrastination into action mode, it is also the most rewarding. Once we get going, the next step is already easier. We gain momentum (again) and before we know it, we are at full steam. The fact that we have taken the first step is reason for celebration of our accomplishment, which motivates us again to keep going.

My first step was writing this article about procrastination! What could be yours?

 

This article was first published in Elephant Journal

Image: Flickr/Andrew Wiggin

 

procrastination, writing every damn day, just do it
Photo: Lisa Monseglio/The Fern Feather

 

A year ago I subscribed to a 30-day creative writing challenge.

On day two, the writing prompt was a dialogue between our inner critic and our artist self.

I happen to not really have such a big inner critic, thank God, but I am a great procrastinator, so I gave my procrastination (P) a voice instead.

This is what I wrote:

Waking up at 5.15am, after a good nights’ sleep ( I went to bed at 8pm and slept through the whole night), the first thing P says is:

“Great! Only 5.15am, loads of time…what shall we do: a game of Scrabble, some reading…anything else we can do here in bed? Meditating? It is soooooo comfy in here, and there’s no money-making work waiting for us today anyway.”

Me: “Oh come on P, we talked about this last night! We were going to get out of bed as soon as we would wake up. No delays! Remember? And you know very well that meditating in bed turns into hours of random trains of thought.”

P: “OK, I forgot about that promise…but are you sure you don’t want to stay in bed a little longer, I mean, all those healthy routines you are going to be doing next, do you never get tired of all that?”

Me: “Tired? Are you crazy? It’s what makes me tick all day! It’s what keeps me healthy, and balanced and motivated!

If it weren’t for you I would be doing that every day of my life. Why do you have to try and talk me out of it every single day? Do you never get tired of THAT? Jeez! It’s thanks to you that I gave up running already, while it used to make me feel really good.”

P: “Well, I have been hired for it, haven’t I, to keep you from doing stuff? And what’s this writing thing, are you going to add that to the whole routine-machine as well? 

There’s going to be no end to all those things that you will want to do every day. You’re making it harder and harder for yourself to do it all. It must be quite overwhelming for you every day…(I can hear the sarcastic snicker in her voice)…I bet you cannot keep it up even for those 30 days, let alone for the rest of your life…”

Me: “I know you want me to think that I can’t do it, because that’s your job. Well, let’s bet your job over this: If I succeed to write 30 days in a row, you will lose your job for good. If I don’t finish these 30 days, you can hang around some more and get another chance in defeating my efforts (“but I will keep trying anyway”, I whisper under my voice). Is that a deal?”

P: “Sure. I betcha you can’t finish it!”

Me: “I betcha you will be without a job in 30 days!”

So almost a month after I wrote this dialogue, I fired my procrastination from its job, since I had fulfilled the 30-day challenge. I had written every damn day for 30 days. I felt more alive than ever, and was gung-ho about starting my blog and book. I was going to do it!

I was so motivated, that I overcame all my fears for the digital world (I used to call myself a proper digital dinosaur), and even figured out how to make this website on my own (I became quite intimate with some of the help-desk staff of my web-provider). It took me two months, but I did it. And it looks pretty good, doesn’t it?.

In December I was ready to start blogging, and I kept it up till the end of May. I didn’t aim too high, so I only posted every 10 days or so, thinking it would be easier to crank up the frequency and boost my confidence than having to slow down, feeling defeated.

But.

Living the secluded life I live, I have reduced my social circle to the bare minimum. I am one of those people that is very happy on her own. Now that turned out to be my major handicap. I was writing loads of inspired and fun stories, with interesting takeaways, but had barely a handful of people reading them.

It reminded me of that famous Koan: “When a tree falls in the forest, but there’s no-one around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I started to lose momentum, leaving bigger gaps between posts every time.

I wasn’t ready to give up, but I knew I needed a readership if I wanted to stay motivated. The only way to do that, was getting my ass out of my cocoon and venture out into the world to connect with people and invite them to read my words.

I was not happy about that prospect. That is hard work, and it involves social media. I have a certain disdain for social media, apart from the fact that they scare the shit out of me (link). I don’t like to be in the spotlight, and find it very hard to be in groups. Getting my words out there was going to be a major personal challenge in multiple ways.

Then I saw the ad for Elephant Academy, an apprenticeship promising me to learn everything about social media, journalism ethics, writing and (self-)editing. That sounded like the perfect medicine for my ailing writer-self.

I signed up and got very busy with it. I got more than a dozen articles published in Elephant Journal.

I took the busyness of the apprenticeship as a proper excuse to completely withdraw from my blog. I didn’t look at it for 3 months straight, and didn’t even feel guilty about it. I needed a break from it, obviously, and then recoup.

Now the apprenticeship is over. I learned a lot, feel much better equipped, and I have received a lot of validation for my writing over the last three months, so I know I should continue. Basically, there is no excuse to not pick up my blogging again, and get my words out there through social media.

So what’s keeping me, you ask?

Procrastination.

That stinky bitch—kicked her out a year ago, but she snuck back in through the backdoor. Now I have to find a way to get rid of her again.

I  have several stories going, but none of them want to evolve into an interesting, fun article with a good takeaway for the readers, so I walk away from them quickly.

I am starting to fail my writer-self big time, spending days without seriously sitting down to write creatively. I’m working half-heartedly on my social media network, but could definitely do much more there too.

I am back to procrastinating, big time. But I don’t like it, and don’t want it.

Then my friend and writer Lindsay Lock posted these words on Facebook:

“Have you noticed…how moving toward a great dream summons from life’s jungles the fiercest lions, the scariest tigers, the grizzliest bears…who eventually turn out to be the noblest teachers, the bravest guides, and the dearest friends? You’re on your way. ”

My comment was: “It’s funny when we get the courage to look fear straight in the face, its face changes immediately!”

And then it struck me: I was saying it right there, but not doing it. Walk your talk, Leontien, and face your fears, your major blocks!

So I decided literally to get back to writing and working on my social media network by looking procrastination straight in the face, investigating it, learn everything about it, and write about it. I will be looking into all the fears that lie hidden beneath it, and look each one of them in the eye, to see what they can turn into. It’s going to be fun. I’ll be breaking through procrastination in no time.

One of the quotes that came to my mind in this process, was this one:

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.” – Lao Tzu.

To break free from the prison of our own procrastination we only have to take one step. 

This blog post is the first step. The next one will tell you everything about procrastination in general and mine in particular. I bet we can all learn something from it.

See you all in a few days!

 

(a major case of procrastination)

healthy habits - procrastinationYou may wonder about the picture featuring a bag of Diatomaceous Earth (DE), a brush and a lemon press? Well, the DE became today’s prompt for me to write this post. That bag, no kidding, has been sitting on my counter top in that exact spot for about 2 months now, without ever having been opened. Looking at it this morning it all of a sudden became a very obvious symbol of my personal procrastination…..and that called for some honest writing.

Before I moved it to the counter top, this same bag had been sitting on a shelf for another 4 months at least, again, without being opened. And it isn’t just your ordinary bag of diatomaceous earth (a natural food supplement) that I bought around the corner in the nearest health food store (because there is no such thing as a health food store within a few hundred miles from here). No, this is a Very Special Bag of Diatomaceous Earth because it has been flown in from Canada on my request, and is most likely The Only Bag of Diatomaceous Earth on the whole of Little Corn Island or maybe even in Nicaragua (well, I may have a few healthy friends here and there that might have their own very special bag of DE). 

Why have this stuff brought to me from so far? Because for months I had been regularly reading about all the health benefits and healing properties of it, and how I should take it on a regular basis (see below for relevant links). As if I didn’t have enough healthy habits yet, I felt the need to add the daily ritual of a glass of juice or water with DE to the long list. It was going to change my life for the better. I was going to be even healthier! Yeah, right.

I have literally drank one (1!) glass of it since I got that stuff 6 or 7 months ago, when I prepared it for my cat Pumpkins, to help him with his intestinal parasites (yes, good for pets too!). He had been bloating like a blimp, and the stuff actually helped. But I never took it again.

So how does that work then, creating a new healthy habit? 

Not by just buying the necessary ingredients or equipment (running shoes is another good example) and putting them on your shelf. Even putting them smack in your own face in the middle of the kitchen counter doesn’t seem to do the job. That much is very obvious.

So why does it not work, then?

Because there is more to it. There is a mind you have to deal with. A very resisting mind. Let’s call it ego. Ego doesn’t like change (hmm, where did I hear that before?). So first we have to convince Ego that this new habit is really going to make us feel better. In our argumentation we may have to dwell extensively on all the discomforts that we experience due to NOT having the new healthy habit yet (bloating, digestive issues, etc.). Really convince ego that you’d like to put an end to all that ‘suffering’. Get the main motivation in place. Well, that’s probably where it went wrong for me, because I didn’t feel that bad. So I didn’t have a lot of convincing arguments to win my case against ego and motivate myself. 

healthy habitsOn top of that, I (or was it lazy ego?) managed to come up with a bunch of reasons that made it even more viable not to start that habit of taking DE on a daily basis. For example: I don’t drink milk or factory made fruit juice, so I would have to mix it with water or tea which doesn’t taste too good, or make my own juice. Making my own juice is not only a lot of work, it also would involve electricity, which we don’t have until 1pm, so there was another lovely procrastination argument, because I only take fresh fruits in the morning, before I eat any other foods. So I would have to change a decades-old habit to create this new habit…..ahh, that resistance is taking on unknown dimensions by now……Also, the price of fresh fruits on this little tropical island is ridiculously high because they have to come from far, so taking a glass of fresh juice with DE would become quite an expensive daily habit. And because I have only a small fridge, I would have to go to the village more often and lug all that heavy fruit home several times a week, instead of my regular 1 trip. Whoa, taking DE as a daily supplement had grown into an insurmountable obstacle of hardships, physical and monetary discomfort and a major investment of time (which I could otherwise spend in my hammock, or on the beach). Ego won the case…..I think. I can sit back and relax and not feel guilty.

Well, actually, no. Because there is a very simple solution to wipe all these very strong arguments against the habit off the table in one swipe: just drink it with some water. The taste isn’t that appalling, just a little chalky, something I’m not used to (resistance to change, right?). I bet if I drink it a few days in a row, I won’t even notice it anymore. And hey, by drinking it with water I am saving myself tons of money and time…that’s a win:-)

What it really melts down to is this: how much importance do I want to give to all the arguments against my new healthy habit, and how much am I willing to admit that it is just another example of that infamous resistance to change, fear of something new, having to come just half an inch outside of my comfort zone….(recognize any of this?)

Now let’s look at the actual implementation of this healthy habit-intention. The most important part is remembering to do it every day (our resisting ego is very good in forgetting stuff!). The trick is to use another routine that you already have firmly in place as your daily cue. You just tack the new habit to the existing one. I chose this one:  Every day I take some supplements with some water around lunch time….now it will be: take some supplements with some DE-water around lunch time. The difference between procrastination and starting a new healthy habit can be as small as two capitals and healthy habits - procrastinationa hyphen. Sometimes it’s that simple. I’ll report back to you in a week from now…

 
The other two items in the picture at the top have gone through identical periods of sitting unused on shelves for months…but I am proud to tell you that for at least a year now I have the healthy (and very pleasant) habit of dry-brushing every morning and drinking a glass of lemon water right after I get up and have cleaned my mouth and teeth. I believe there is still hope for my Diatomaceous Earth!

So what could be your procrastination symbol? Take a picture of it, and post it in the comments or maybe just on your own social media as a confession and a commitment at the same time!

 

 

PS: A week after writing this…..I have dropped out of this midday habit, because I don’t want to drink a whole glass of water right before or after lunch. Now I’ve changed the habit to the morning. My first cup of tea has become the victim: I pour it before yoga class and let it sit on the counter getting cold. I put a tea spoon across the cup to remind myself to add the DE before drinking it. By the time I come out of class, I am thirsty, ready to drink a hole cup of lukewarm tea, with its DE! 

So with some trial and error I have found the best way to integrate this habit into my life, finding the way of the least resistance. It is all about taking away the obstacles that we like to blow up to enormous proportions in our imagination, but are actually quite manageable in reality. Go for it! Just do it!

Learn more about Diatomaceous Earth here.

Learn more about dry brushing and its health benefits here.

Learn more about the impact of drinking lemon water every morning here.

 

 

The Karma Shack blogGratitude is a much used word these days. In this new age of spiritual change that seems to spread slowly but steadily, you hear people talk about gratitude left, right and centre. Every third quote on Facebook seems to be about gratitude. Gratitude is being quoted as the secret to happiness. If you just start being grateful, happiness will find you easily. Is it really that easy? Or is everybody just talking after each other, without really knowing what they are saying? How many of them practice gratitude on a daily basis? Is gratitude becoming a platitude? I’d like to explore that idea here…..

Those of you who have ever been to one of my yoga classes in the Karma Shack know that I always end the session with a little gratitude contemplation. I express amongst other things how extremely grateful I am for everything that the Karma Shack has brought into my life: growth, depth, joy and fulfilment, and the fact that I can share all that with others in my classes and treatments. The first time I said this out loud in class, it was a spontaneous act. As if the thoughts had been put in my head and my mouth just worded them, without much conscious input from yours truly. I had goose bumps and tears in my eyes. Because it sounded so totally true. I felt that gratitude deep inside, in every cell of my body, and it made me very happy. It was real.
I realised that by saying it out loud every day I confirmed that happiness over and over again, and I started adding this little gratitude prayer to the end of each yoga session. Every day it feels true. I am thankful for the Karma Shack in so many ways, and I even believe that that little building keeps handing me more good stuff because I thank it out loud in front of everybody every day.

 

Apart from that daily public expression of gratitude, I do another little private round in the evening, the moment I lay my head on my pillow. I run quietly through my day and name all the things, events and people that I feel grateful for: an inspired yoga session, a pile of clean laundry, a super-satisfied massage client, a hummingbird visiting the Karma Shack garden while I am at work there, a visit with a friend where one cup of tea leads to another and to a very intimate conversation, my cat Pumpkins joining us in a Karma Shack yoga session or sitting on my lap all afternoon while I am writing, a beautiful meal with veggies and herbs from my own garden, the fact that I can go to bed at eight without feeling that I am missing out on anything. Then I fall asleep with a peaceful mind in less than 5 minutes, usually. 

 

 

I pick up trash. Not for a living, but just because it’s there. And because I can. Because I want to. Because I have to. Let me explain.

I live on this beautiful tropical island in the Caribbean, Little Corn Island, off the coast of Nicaragua. It’s tiny, so everything (and everybody) is right in your face. You cannot avoid walking past trash, because there are only a few paths that take you around the island. And there is trash everywhere. 

I bet your first thought is: why do people throw their trash around in such a beautiful place? Well, there are many reasons. First of all, this is a developing country, with a lack of funds, logistics and poor education. Basically, here we have no system in place that takes care of our trash the way you are used to have your trash taken care of. All you have to do is put it at the curb, and a truck will come and pick it up. Out of sight, out of mind. You pay for the service, they take care of it. Not here. We have no municipal facility or officer here. We have no roads, no cars, so no garbage trucks. We have no central dump or incinerator. Apart from a handful of recycling bins, we have no general garbage bins along our walkways, because emptying them causes a problem: where to take it? So better not have the bins, head in the sand-strategy. Basically, we’re on our own, when it comes to trash. We DO have trash, lots of it. 

 

A lot of the people living on this island have not grown up with the same concepts about trash in nature as you and I have. It’s a cultural thing: I have learned that trash does not belong in nature, and I have learned why it is bad that it is there. So I know. I cannot walk past trash sitting in nature without feeling bad about it. A lot of the people here have not learned that (yet). And let’s be honest, our developed countries took ages to establish this attitude towards trash. I remember I was tiny, when we had only one black and white channel on TV, seeing a government campaign about taking care of the environment. So it was barely 1970 when they started educating us about the environment in the Netherlands. It took us well into the 90’s before there was a firmly established system of recycling and diminishing our trash, which now has become second nature to most Dutch people. So if a well-developed, rich country with a good education system, municipal services and government campaigns needs a whole generation to get this environmental attitude in place, we cannot expect that a poor country without all that is going to get on top of their trash problem in a couple of years. I let go of that dream a while ago.

Here reality is that a lot of people throw their trash wherever they go. Because they don’t know any better. And because there is no real option to put it anywhere anyway, apart from plastic bottles and aluminium cans that are collected and shipped off the island for recycling. At their own homes they may burn their trash, but when it rains (and this is the tropics), that is not an option either. So then it is the bush. Where the chickens will scratch through it, and neatly distribute it all over the place. Dogs will scrounge and find the edibles (including disposable diapers). So what’s left is plastic, loads of it, and cans, everywhere.

Then I walk by. I see the trash. I used to get angry at the people for throwing it there, even though I didn’t know who had done it, a pretty senseless waste of my emotional energy. When I started to understand the complexity of this problem better I managed to stop blaming them, and I also tried to stop thinking that the local government should do something about it. Because they won’t, because they can’t. The person who throws plastic in nature is guilty of a crime against Mother Earth, and in a way that is a crime against every organism on this planet, which includes me. So that could give me a good reason to be angry and upset. But when I walk by and I see that trash sitting there, KNOWING THAT IT IS HARMFUL TO MOTHER EARTH and then not picking it up, I become as guilty of a crime against nature as that person who threw it there in the first place. I should be mad at myself then too! Once you know, you cannot leave it there, can you? That is the most important reason to pick it up: I do not want to be guilty of leaving it there, passively condoning these crimes against nature, which are also crimes against me. So I pick it up, and take it to the recycling bins. I throw the non-recyclables in there too, that is my silent protest to the municipality  and government for not providing some kind of trash-bins and a system to take care of that street trash.

Last week I posted a list of 17 things that could be potential deal breakers in your life on a little tropical island. If you started laughing hard at some of my descriptions, you are made for island life. If most of the points made you cringe or gave you the shivers, you may reconsider relocating to a tropical island paradise. 

Today I am giving you the exact same list, but this time I will tell you why most of them are the BEST reasons to come and live on Little Corn Island:

1.The Heat: I love the heat, because I love the sun! I always feel a lot of affinity with the iguanas we have here. They only come out when the sun shines. They first have to warm up, before they can become active. I’m just like that. Inactive in the cold, active in the heat. Although you won’t find me sunbathing on the beach, I always say I was born in the wrong location. In the Netherlands I was often cold, and very miserable in wintertime, when blankets of cold grey dampness do anything but make you feel comfortable or lift your mood. The sun is hidden by that ominous dark layer, sometimes for weeks at a time. The landscape looks grey and brown and dead, without any colour to brighten up your day. Only in my thirties I learned there was a name for my yearly depression: Seasonal Affection Disorder. Living on a little tropical island, seeing the sun almost every day and feeling warm most of the time has totally fixed that problem. Temperatures never drop below 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and are usually up around 25 in the shade (high seventies). The climate forces you to be outside in the fresh air all the time, instead of being locked up in air-conditioned or centrally heated sealed spaces. Having your house all open and being outside all the time also makes the whole island community more welcoming and open. No huddling behind closed curtains to keep the cold out. And thanks to that year-round warmth, Mother nature is always showing herself in her brightest greens and colourful flowers, against the backdrop of turquoise seas and blue skies. Nothing more uplifting for your mood than a dash of bright colour! Oh, and the sweat? Just see it as if you’re working out all the time: a major boost for self esteem and feeling accomplished. 

2. The Rain: OK, I confess, sometimes I have to force myself to love the rain. But imagine the first rains after months of dry hot weather. It is the most refreshing thing ever. I will take rain-showers, literally just standing outside washing myself in the downpour. It’s a most invigorating and super fun experience, and both my skin and hair love it! The rain saves you work, because you don’t have to water all your plants, and you can catch the water running down from the roof to water those that are not exposed, and to wash your laundry. Your clothes just feel and smell different when they have been washed with rainwater. As annoying as rainy season can be, with days of intermittent showers and squalls or 24 hours continuous downpours, we have to be grateful for all that water. It replenishes our aquifer and allows us to live on this little rock. We are totally dependent on the rains for all our daily water use. And after all the heat and sweat and always being outside, sometimes it is nice to be forced by the rains to go inside and do something indoors, without having sweat running down your spine. You have to love the rain!

3. The Wind: ahh, the wind! Here it is called a “sweet breeze”, and what better name for that cooling breeze coming from the sea, to keep you from coming to a full boil around midday. The breeze dries all your laundry in no time, and also keeps the mosquitoes at bay, that’s why you want to live on the windy side of the island. Those of you familiar with Ayurveda will understand when I say that for Vatas the windy season may be a little aggravating, but with the right foods, a thin wrap around your shoulders and some extra stretching it is still ten times better than winter up north.

4. The Transport: oh well, there’s a lot to be said that is not in favour of our transportation system to and from the island. But on all the good days, a ride in that open panga is the best way to come home to our little island. You make friends on the way, see a beautiful sunset over your shoulder, while craning your neck to catch a glimpse of your destination. On an early morning ride out to the Big Island, I meditate under the rays of the sun, not yet too hot, feeling the rhythm of the boat against the waves resonate with my own heart beat. The wind blowing your hair out of your face, the spray from the bow making beautiful shimmering arches. Ahh, I love those panga rides!

5. The Erosion: well, there is nothing to be loved about that. It is horrific and makes us all very sad and scared. Businesses are close to falling into the sea in some places, people are losing part of their properties, the island is getting smaller with every storm. On the opposite side of all that material loss is the impressive power of Mother Nature. You gotta give it to her: maybe we humans are bad to her, but she is a badass herself, throwing right back at us all that we have done wrong. When a good high sea backed by a strong wind washes the sea water over the vegetation into the beach trail, leaving us with ankle deep water full of trash and debris to wade through, I cannot help but think: right on, girl, thanks for rubbing it in. 

6. The Bugs: they are beautiful! At least, quite a few of them. Colourful butterflies, amazing moths, bright red dragonflies, bright green grasshoppers, the most amazing beetles, caterpillars and (tiny) praying mantises, and have you ever taken a good look at a cockroach? It’s actually quite a beautiful creature. So is a tarantula. We have banana spiders here who have a miniature skull face painted on their backs. Ants have intricate ways of communicating and working together, never giving up their tasks. Watching a mosquito from close by, seeing how it lifts its hind legs, is quite interesting. But then you just smack them on the head. Mosquitoes and sand flies offer excellent training in letting go. Letting go of wanting to be in control, because you can’t. Letting go of being annoyed by their high pitched buzz, because you can’t stop them. Letting go of the need to scratch an itchy bite, because you will cause it to get infected (you can stop yourself). Thank you bugs, for providing us with multiple reminders to let go and relax.

7. The Dogs: they are so much fun! Most island dogs run around free, and choose whom they want to hang out with for the day. They may be your best friend for a couple of days, until they run into someone else that all of a sudden becomes their preferred company (probably a better bite from a hamburger). Most dogs have names, and we all know them by their name. So we greet all dogs just like we greet each other. They are an integral part of the island community, are allowed in most restaurants, feature in lots of tourist’s pictures, get their own Facebook pages and are missed by many when they pass away. I’m a cat person, but I love the simplicity of dogs too.

 

8. The Aquifer: Not much to rejoice about an aquifer in itself, but the fact that it is limited makes you very aware of the amount of water that you use every day. Once you become aware of the possibility that the aquifer gets depleted, every drop of water plays a trick on your conscience. You learn to conserve water, recycle it, catch it. It definitely contributes to mindfulness and conscious and creative living!

9. The Trash: another one that is hard to be liked. Trash everywhere. Always washing up more on the beach, from all around the world. Always a stinking, burning pile of household trash somewhere close to you, unless you live smack on the beach, upwind from everyone. Always trash lying around everywhere, since a lack of education has not taught a good part of the local population that trash does not belong in nature. Besides: we have nowhere to go with it. Still, there are good things to be said about trash and little tropical islands: for a lot of us living here and being responsible for our own trash has made us very conscious of it. Some of us have started to shop more consciously, looking for things in bulk, creating less trash. I personally have let go of most processed foods, to avoid trash. So in a way I can thank trash for a healthier diet with mostly whole foods. It also makes us more resourceful, finding creative ways to recycle it, like stuffing soft plastics in cushions for the beach, or reusing PVC-pipes used for pouring cement posts to organise T-shirts in the gift shop. I have made a lot of fun things out of beach trash, and it is my way of not getting totally sad and upset about all that rubbish sitting on the beach. Watching the giant Karma Shack mobile made of beach trash slowly doing its never-ending choreography makes a lot of people feel good. 

10. The Limited Availability of Basic Things: love that one! The lack of choice is so liberating. When you need new shorts, and the store has only two pairs of cotton shorts that are not jeans and full of bling, you don’t mind that one is a size too big, and the other not really a colour that you’d normally wear. You just buy them! When you start to think about it, modern life is a daily struggle of choices, taking up a lot of your time. All day long. A lot of them are choices about stuff that you buy to wear, to use, to eat or drink. On a little tropical island there is not a whole lot to choose from, and it leaves you with lots of time and energy to do other things, or think about other things. The realisation that you won’t die when you don’t get your favourite coffee, your preferred sweet rolls or flip-flops that match your bathing suit, means that you are growing away from a highly materialist life of having, and start to get more into the mode of just being (I even have a pair of non-matching rubber boots). If you can handle the limited availability of basic things, you have passed one of the main rites of passage for life on a tropical island (in my Christmas 2016 post I wrote about ‘being vs having’ as an essential characteristic of island life).

11. Lack of Proper Healthcare: this is an interesting one. When you know there is not really a reliable medical service, you become more resourceful in finding out on your own what could be wrong with you, and then finding natural treatments for it, instead of pharmaceutical remedies that are sometimes not available anyway. But you also let things just take their course more often. When you get sick, well, you just wait till you get better, instead of running to the doctor for some pills. You start to rely less on someone else taking care of your health, and become more responsible yourself.  In all these years on the island I have visited the clinic once. Living a proper stress free island life also makes you less prone to disease. 

12. Lack of Communication: the lack of reliable telephone and internet signals has made me very independent of my phone, and of my need to stay connected with people in other parts of the world. When I can, I will, when I can’t I won’t cry over it. As I write this it is noon, and I just realised that I have forgotten to turn on my phone this morning! (and I am still alive!). When I am in the middle of posting a blog and the internet blacks out, I just go rake the garden or walk along the beach. Having unreliable communication can also be a great excuse to not stay in touch, or not get any work done! I sometimes dream of making our little island a digital detox destination. DDD, I’d love to offer that in the Karma Shack! 

13. Limited things to do: bullshit. I never have enough time to read all the books I want to read, study all the topics I want to study, write all the posts I have in my head, make my garden look perfect, finish all those arts&crafts-projects, and make all those home-cooked goodies that I’d like to eat, just because I am too busy with island-life as it is, and I don’t mean work. Boredom is a choice, and it’s not mine.

14. Temptations: that can be a tough one for some. But it can also be your real challenge. Staying true to your choice to live a life free of addictive substances that are toxic for you in many ways, is a very empowering experience. Especially when you are surrounded by people who are daily users of one for more of them. 

15. The Tourists: Love them or leave the island! So many wonderful people from all over the world come to our little island. And they are all here to have a good time, so as soon as you contribute to that, they are your best friend forever! I have met so many interesting people through my work in the Karma Shack, from submarine engineers to drummers in famous bands, ayurveda specialists and acupuncturists, young families travelling with 3 little kids, and double breast cancer survivor 85-year olds still swimming everyday. A guy that made a living of carving wooden spoons and teaching people how to do that, with a raw vegan chef as his girlfriend, whom he asked to marry here on the island. A woman who teaches yoga to children with special needs. War veterans, relief workers, missionaries. Wonderful musicians share their talents, artists leave their paintings, and many a tourist will spend a couple of hours leaving our beaches cleaner than before. Some of the tourists come back and become part of our community for a few weeks or months every year. These people become our favourite pack-horses to lug special requests from the US and Canada down here for us. Tourists! So grateful they come here!

16. The Local Community: a local island community is always a fun mix of many. Because even the locals come from all over the place, and add to that your mix of foreigners settling here after they have arrived as tourists. Once tourism starts to offer a good amount of jobs you see the local and foreign community mix more and more. Living in a place like this you get to have friends from all over the world. Apart from Nicaraguans both from the island and from the mainland, we have French, Italian, British, Irish, Portuguese, German, Austrian, Swiss, Spanish, Norwegian, Israeli, Argentinian, Australian, Kiwi, US, Canadian, Salvadoran, Colombian and Syrian people living on our little island. To this day I am still the only Dutch resident here, phew! 

The local community provides a never ending course of life-lessons. More than anything you learn that the way they do things in your country, is not the way they do things in any other country, and especially not on your little island. You learn to open your mind to different ways, and accept that things cannot always go your way, simply because you’re not at home. 

17. The confrontation with self: a great point if you’re into personal and spiritual growth! Being in unfamiliar surroundings with a lot of common things missing, out of your comfort zone, not surrounded by your closest family and friends that are always there for you and put up with your quirks or moods when necessary, you get to face yourself in the mirrors that random strangers will hold up for you, not knowing you so well. What you see in that mirror might not be your most favourite you, but then you can start working on it, and grow into a better version of yourself. Enjoy the ride!

So here we have the exact same list that I presented last week as 17 good reasons why you DON’T want to live on a little tropical is
land. Today I turned them around and made them perfect reasons why you DO want to live here. Last week’s list was based on all sorts of fears, keeping us in our comfort zones, today’s list is based on love, challenging us to step out of that comfort zone and learn new things and have different and magical experiences. That is always your choice in life: do I think, speak, act and live from a place of fear based on discomfort, uncertainties and the unknown, or do I live from a place of love, based on a willingness to learn and grow? Take that thought with you when you pack your bag to come and visit us and check out our little island for yourselves!