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  • Jina Etienne

A Gift from Sam

Anchoring Moments to Create Memories


Day One. That’s the name of the journaling app I downloaded on Christmas Day in 2014. I was going to start journaling. Sadly, my attempts never really took off. Between 2015 and 2018, I made 270 entries. Since then, and only 9. The idea of restarting popped up a few times here and there, but there was no real intention behind them. My last post was 1/9/2020. Before then, 12/29/2019. Nothing in 2021 or 2022. It felt like I was writing a report of what happened during the day. I never seemed to capture my thoughts, experiences and reflections. It just felt more detached, more intellectual than emotional. I loved the idea of journaling, but it wasn’t going the way I’d imagined. It was more of a gratitude journal. I even blogged about it. That’s not a bad thing, just not what I was trying to do. I was troubled by the fact that I wasn’t able to capture my emotions; express them and the experiences they were tied to. What the hell! It’s not as if I didn’t feel them. They were in there. They were very real. As time went on, it didn’t get better, So, eventually I stopped trying.

The other day, I was listening to an episode of the Hidden Brain podcast titled “Relationships 2.0: The Power of Tiny Interactions” and learned about something called the Liking Gap - the gap between how we believe others see us (otherwise known as external self-awareness) and what they actually see. Internal self awareness is how we see ourselves, something I’ve been working to improve for years. Through that work, I’ve come to understand how ADHD manifests itself in my life day to day. Forgetfulness is part of it, which was a big factor in my failed journaling attempts and is directly tied to the story I created a story around journaling and why I couldn’t do it.

I recently renewed my commitment to nurture a sustained mindfulness practice (not, it was not a New Year’s resolution). There are sooooooooooo many benefits: emotional regulation, better decision making, better focus, stronger relationships. And the health benefits: lower blood pressure, improve sleep, reduce stress, boost immune function. I never even considered journaling again. Then a few days ago, halfway through a Peloton ride, the idea of restarting popped up again.

Enter my Sam Yo. Sam is a Peloton instructor who, among many other talents and skills, is an ordained monk. During the ride he talked about the joy of being present. “The present can give us clarity,” he said, “for what we need, what we can do less without, but most of all, how we choose to pursue going forward.” He shared that when the noise of the world got too loud, how he would set an alarm to go off every 2 hours. The chimes served as a reminder to take a moment and reconnect with the present moment. I loved that idea. I’d tried using silent alarms on my Fitbit, but they felt like those “should do” reminders - you know, the ‘oh sh!t, I’d dropped the ball again, this is my chance to do better” or I needed to make up for a commitment I’d forgotten about, that kinda thing. And the times I picked never worked. 99% of the time, keeping my promise to do XY or Z would require me to stop whatever I was doing. It had to choose between staying focused (hashtag ADHD) or keeping a well intentioned personal commitment. Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t. No wonder I ignored them. They became reminders of little failures throughout the day. I deleted them.

Sam gave me an entirely new way to use alarms. Instead of “do” reminders, they could serve as “be” reminders. They could be part of my mindfulness practice by helping me be more present throughout the day. That was a game changer.

Today is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it “the present” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

We are all so busy, flying on autopilot most of the time because we are juggling so many things. Our attention is usually somewhere else - remember something, anticipating something. I was struggling to capture my feelings because I wasn’t present to what was happening throughout the day, how it was impacting me, what I was learning, etc. There wasn’t anything “wrong” with me, my brain just worked differently. As I reflected on it more, I could see how little anchors were being dropped in my memory in those moments when I was really present.

What I really needed was a quiet reminder to come back to the present moment because that is how I keep my commitments. Not the “to do” list ones; the kind that keep me from veering off course from my internal sense of direction, intention and purpose. Mindfulness is called a practice because it is an ongoing process. There is no judgment, no right or wrong way to do it. By reframing those alarms, Sam offered me a tool to help me be more present throughout the day and help me create more memory anchors. And just like that, alarms became a good thing. Because of them, I have so many more moments for reflection, celebration, appreciation, and learning to capture in my journal – each serving as a small step on my never-ending journey of self-awareness.

Sam’s idea was a beautiful gift. It’s only been a few days, but this time it feels different.

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