Thursday, January 29, 2015

12 Apps That Improve My Life

Presumably if you've made it here, you're coming from my Facebook post by the same name. This is intended to be a more detailed round-up, featuring in-depth tips about how I use these apps and how I've benefited from them. At the end of each entry is a link to the easiest way to find the app. I use the term "app" loosely but it's the easiest catch-all term. They're ordered roughly based on how great of an impact they've had on my life according to two metrics: Increased productivity, and increased ability to achieve life goals.

I wish all of these apps were free, and the price tag for a couple of them probably isn't worth it to some people. But I can confidently say that I would pay much more than the few dollars cost for these apps. It's up to you to decide if the benefits seem worth the cost. On the upside, they all have free trials, so go ahead and try them out for one month and see if they're worth the cost of a coffee and donut!

That being said, let's get into the details.

1) 750 Words. This has to go at the top of the list. The amount of mental clarity I get from doing 750 Words is unparalleled. 750 Words is a clean and straightforward website where you simply go write on a blank page every day. It's based on the idea of "morning pages", where you write three pages in the morning to clear your head -- 750 words is roughly 3 pages.

You don't have to write 750 words every day. The idea is that you write something, just to get your thoughts out concretely. The website urges you on with a bowling-based scoring system that awards points and badges the longer you stay on a writing streak, giving some incentive to get on and pound out a few rambling thoughts even on days when you aren't feeling it.

I tend to spend most of my days on 750 Words journaling. I hash out the things I've been thinking about, clarify my sources of anxiety, and set goals that I want to achieve. Anxious thoughts are so much worse when they're undefined, and 750 Words allows me to define most of the things that are troubling me and plan for the future. When I'm not journaling, I write blog posts or short stories.

I didn't realize how much I was benefiting from 750 Words until I stopped for roughly two years. I've just picked it back up for the last 20 days and the amount of clarity and focus I've found since then makes recent history seem like a muddled cloud. It helps me to think more intentionally, plan my life more effectively and wrestle with issues that I usually wouldn't even think about.

$5/month. Worth at least $30/month to me. "Why not save the cash and just go journal in a Word document?" I don't know. I tried that but it's not the same. Your first month's a free trial. Give it a whirl and see what I mean.

2) PrayerMate. I have never felt so compelled and enabled to pray in my entire life as I have with this app. That sounds like strong hyperbole, but it's the literal truth.

This app works similarly to the index-card based prayer system suggested by Paul Miller in A Praying Life. You start by creating categories. Example categories from my PrayerMate are "World Missions" "Jenna and I" "Friends and Family" "Missionaries". Within each category you have a set of subjects. You can either create these yourself, download them through the app, or follow a feed through the app.

If you create the subject yourself, you give it a name and a description (and a photo if you want). The description can be either some background information or a specific prayer you want to pray. If you download the subjects through the app, you can get packs of prayers like "Prayers for my wife" "Prayers for my pastor" etc. If you follow a feed, you get new prayer requests every day. I follow the "Operation World" feed and it has a different country to pray for every day, along with some background information and prayer requests from that country.

The beauty of the app is that you can have tons of subjects in each category but choose to only see one or two subjects from each category every day. This means that although I might have ten prayers under "Jenna and I", eight "Missionaries" to pray for, and dozens of other subjects on the side, I only ever have ten subjects to pray for each day. That's a very manageable chunk for one day, and over time the app makes sure that I get through all of the prayer requests I have.

Prayer no longer feels so overwhelming. It takes about 10 minutes to go through the list each day if I don't have more time. When I tell someone I'll pray for them, I put their request in the app so I don't forget. Furthermore, the app offers the feature to archive old prayers that are no longer necessary. I'm looking forward to being able to go through the archive to revisit answered prayers in the future.

This one's free. If you have a smart device, you've gotta try PrayerMate out.

3) YNAB. You Need A Budget. Holy cow, who knew budgeting could be so easy? I used to use Excel and meticulously copy down transactions from bank statements, trying to organize rows and formulas with some sense of clarity and often feeling buried. My friend Mitch recommended a simpler solution. YNAB makes everything so easy -- it's all laid out in front of you. You can track down monthly expenses, future savings, rainy day funds, bills. It's all right there and it's sensibly put together.

The budgeting workhorse is on your computer, but there's an included app so you can track your expenses on the go. It syncs through Dropbox, so you log onto your computer later and can see what you've been spending your dough on. Once you get into the swing of a couple months, it's easy to see where your money's going and to plan for future expenses. YNAB has really helped me take control of my money in a way I never had before.

The developer of YNAB is also a huge advocate for sensible budgeting and spending and he really wants to help people use YNAB well, so he has a whole email and video series about how to use YNAB. It's thoughtfully put together and easy to understand, so if you start using YNAB you can figure out how to maximize it too. You can try YNAB free for 34 days. If you're a student, it stays free while you're in school. If you're not a student, it's a one-time fee of $60. We're still using it under the student license, but I won't hesitate to buy it once we're out of school. It saves countless hours of poring over numbers.

4) Nanny for Google Chrome. Okay, the name sounds a little patronizing. But rest assured, this program is awesome. It's an add-on for Google Chrome (you can find similar add-ons for other browsers) that regulates your internet usage. So if you're spending too much time on Facebook or YouTube or BuzzFeed, you can allot yourself a certain amount of time and when your time is up, those sites will be blocked.

There are many variants on the market, but what sets Nanny apart is the ability to create "Blocksets". This means that you don't have to just give yourself 15 minutes for all time wasting websites and throw up your hands when you accidentally watched a long YouTube video and used all your time up. You can give yourself 5 minutes for YouTube, 5 minutes for Facebook, 0 minutes for BuzzFeed, etc.

You can also change the time frame for your allotted time -- so it doesn't just need to be 5 minutes every day. It can be 5 minutes every hour or 5 minutes every 6 hours. That way if it's something you need to see throughout your day, like email, you could give yourself little chunks of time throughout the day.

I'm not gonna lie, the interface is clunky. It's hard to get it working right, and it doesn't always work perfectly. The other downside is that you can simply go into your Add-On management and disable Nanny in about four seconds. This means that Nanny isn't the ultimate solution to internet time-wasting. But in conjunction with accountability, for example having your spouse ask you if you disabled the blocker each day, Nanny can be really effective.

It's hard to block all your internet time-sinks and I still waste a lot of time prowling the internet even with Nanny, but there are sites that are guaranteed time wasters that I can't access anymore. I would say Nanny probably saves me an average of 25 minutes of my life per day. That sure adds up! (Find it on the Chrome Web Store)

5) Circa. This is the best way I've found to get through the news. I like to stay informed on what the big developments in the world are, but oftentimes when I go through traditional news sites the articles are either prohibitively long or they require background knowledge that I don't have because I don't stay up to date on the news.

Circa comes through on both counts. The news stories are always extremely brief, cropped and curated by Circa's editors, and they focus on the big picture in every story. You get paragraph breakdowns of what a story means with the option to dig in deeper if you'd like.

If I want to just skim the big developments in the world, I can go through the 10 biggest stories Circa has selected for the day, reading paragraph summaries of each, and spend about 5 minutes getting acquainted with world developments. If I have more time, I can go through the entire day's news (usually about 40 stories per day), skimming headlines where I'm not interested, and feel reasonably well informed in about 15-20 minutes.

The interface is clean, sensible and smooth. Not available for computer yet, but it looks great on Android.

6) Sleep as Android. This app is a sleep-tracker and smart alarm. I'm not sold on the sleep tracking component -- you turn the phone on airplane mode and put it under your pillow and based on the amount of moving you do, it analyzes how well you slept. It doesn't usually seem to correspond very well to how refreshed I feel in the morning, so I've mostly given up on the sleep assessment.

However, what is useful about the app is the smart alarm. Within 30 minutes of your designated alarm time, the app will detect if you're moving, indicating that you're in light sleep, and will quietly chirp to wake you up. No more blaring alarms in the morning, no more waking up anyone else sleeping in the same room.

I used to get yanked out of bed, groggy and bleary, to a squawking alarm clock. Now it's a subtle little melody under my pillow that wakes me up before Jenna can even hear it. It doesn't wake me up perfectly refreshed and ready to go every morning, but the wake-up experience is a lot less painful. As a bonus, it keeps track of the hours I've slept each night so I can identify when I need to catch up on sleep. Free trial, $4.50 for the full version. (Android only. Find it on Google Play)

7) Accountable2You. The fundamental premise of an accountability program is that you have your internet activity monitored in reports that are sent to accountability partners to keep you on the straight and narrow. I've tried competitors Covenant Eyes and X3Watch in the past, and neither compare to Accountable2You. Covenant Eyes is more expensive and consistently slowed down my internet browsing speed. X3Watch is roughly the same price for the Premium version, which admittedly I never tried -- but the Free version, which promised many of the same features as the Premium version, was frustratingly glitchy and inconsistent. The interface was poorly designed and reports seemed to show up at random.

Accountable2You, recommended by my friend Kevin, is well designed, $5/month for unlimited users, devices and accountability partners, and it's working great. It doesn't slow my internet down and the reports show up on time as promised. It works on computers and smart devices so everything can be secured. This is what I've wanted for a while. If you feel like you need accountability software but haven't settled on an option, today's the day. Get Accountable2You. If $5/month seems steep, find some like-minded people and split the cost. Unlimited devices, unlimited users!

8) Podcast Addict. Podcasts are nothing new but I didn't realize you could get them on Android. If I wanted to listen to podcasts in the past, I would have to carry around my old iPod and that was too many items for my pockets. Now the podcasts are on my phone, so I can tune in on my work commute or when I'm hanging around the apartment.

Podcasts fill the other half of my intellectual desires. I want to stay informed with the news and I want to keep learning new things. Circa takes care of the news. Podcasts take care of the learning. Admittedly, I've yet to find podcasts that are more learning and less talk show -- Freakonomics and How Stuff Works have rave reviews but spent a higher fraction of the time chatting than I'd prefer.

However, the gold I've found is sermons. Many churches put out sermons via podcasts, and downloading them this way puts them in a format that's easier for me to keep around and access than downloading mp3s from websites. I highly recommend the podcast Radical Together by David Platt. (Android only. Find it on Google Play)

9) YouVersion. This is the Bible app that everyone uses for those times you forget your Bible, but it has a feature I never took advantage of before -- Bible reading plans.

In the first place, this isn't a technical item, but I think everyone should have some kind of Bible reading plan. I never really have. I'd read this and that when I had the time. Now I'm doing a chronological plan so I don't have to plan anything new for the next 340 days. I just keep following the plan. Wow! If you do your plan through YouVersion then 1) it's always on your phone and 2) you get affirming checkmarks all over the place. (Find it on Google Play)

10) Google Tasks. This is the little list-keeping window in Gmail that you can bring up by clicking Tasks in the dropdown menu in the upper left-hand corner. It's a simple, no-frills task list. It's not shareable like Out of Milk (see below) but the interface is cleaner. I was tethered to my computer until I found out that there was an app to connect the list from Gmail to your phone. Unfortunately, the free version has ads and the full version is $1, but that's not much if you need to stay on top of your tasks.

Using Google Tasks is another way I take control of my life. 750 Words helps me figure goals out and Google Tasks helps me keep them in sight. I break my tasks down into Future Tasks, Current Tasks and then tasks oriented around specific goals, like Medical School or Tax Season. Having my tasks in front of me makes it easier to perceive progress when I need to slog through a mess of emails or forms or activities. And if something comes up that I don't have time to deal with, I can throw it on the task list and forget about it for the moment. (Find it on Google Play)

11) LastPass. This doesn't do anything to dramatically improve my life, but it's a constant source of convenience and it took about 6 minutes to set up, so any benefit is gravy, really. It's another browser add-on, available for all major browsers. It saves your username and passwords and then automatically inputs them when you visit those websites. You access LastPass using a master password (which you need to remember).

"Okay, but why not just save my password in the browser?" It's a lot less secure. More hackable -- Chrome for instance isn't protected by a master password.

"Okay, but I just use 'steve1234' on all websites so I remember it." No! -- you should have different passwords for different websites.. though I'm speaking as someone who didn't follow this advice until a few months ago. LastPass generates randomized passwords and then remembers them for you, so you can have 16-character super-secure passwords for all the websites you use and you don't have to remember what they are. Nice. All you have to remember is the master password.

It doesn't take much effort to install LastPass and upgrade the level of security you have on your devices. And it's free!

12) Out Of Milk. This is probably the simplest out of my app suggestions. It's a little collaborative list-maker. It's free and you can sync between multiple accounts, so Jenna and I share several lists. Nothing life-changing here, but it makes it easier to keep track of shopping lists and to-dos that we're both involved in. (Find it on Google Play)


Hopefully one or more of these apps piqued your interest. Most of them are free. Most of them are super easy to get started with. I'm sure almost all of them could offer benefits to your life, however small.

If nothing else, I urge you to try 750 Words. If you've never had the experience of laying your thoughts out concretely for several days in a row, you have to try it. For me and a couple others I know that have given it a shot, it opens up a mental clarity that is hard to achieve elsewhere. It's not just the journaling, but it's the consistent journaling and self-probing. Go to, sign up for the free trial and just try a week of journaling 750 words a day.

I'm not getting paid by 750 Words or anything. I've just found the benefits of intentional self-awareness to be far greater than the $5/month cost. And I hope you will too.

Friday, April 19, 2013


I didn't write anything for a while because I didn't have time. Last quarter was the busiest I've ever been with pre-med commitments and hard classes, and any blog-updating aspirations took a backseat -- alongside 750 words and music.

Then when I hadn't written for a while, I felt like it had to be good because it had to have all the importance of 4 months instead of a couple weeks. On top of that, I sent out a few support letters and referenced this blog in the letters, which means that this blog now carries the weight of keeping people who are invested in God's work updated about how that work is playing out in my life.

Let's talk about support.

I know I'm definitely not alone in this, but support-raising is one of my biggest fears. There are probably a host of minor factors making me uncomfortable with it, but I'm aware of at least two main reasons:

1) I really want to be financially independent, and most of the time I can pretend like I am (and that I'm not living off of government grants). Support-raising highlights my inadequacy.

2) I don't stay in frequent contact with the people who I'm asking to support this trip, and my financial inability didn't come up in regular conversation. I specifically made contact with people who I only get to talk to a few times a year and the only reason for this contact was to ask them to give their money (that they've put time and effort into earning) to support my missions trip. I'm scared that they're going to think I'm needy and greedy, and that I only ever talk to them when I need something. I'm so self-centered -- so quick to forget that these supporters are giving to God, not to me.

These fears were paralyzing enough to drive me to forego support-raising for the trip I did last year. That trip looked different from the one this year because there was the opportunity to work during the summer, so I was sure I would make enough to cover the trip without a problem. But if other students on the project and some friends hadn't chipped in to cover me, I wouldn't have been able to pay for the trip.


This year the trip is different because it's a 4 week jaunt to a Middle Eastern country to talk to university students about Jesus. There won't be any chance to get a job before or during the trip and the airfare means a price hike from last year's trip. I couldn't come close to covering the trip on my own. Ugh.

To which end, I sent out a few support letters last Monday. And I've been knocked off my feet by how generous my friends and family are.

Honestly, I'm floored by how quickly people have responded and how generously they're giving. They're modeling selfless devotion to God's work in a way I can't even picture myself doing.

Thanks, everyone who already gave. Thanks, those of you who have already started praying that the trip would go well or who have written me encouraging notes. Your support (in prayers, money or encouraging words) is blowing me away and I couldn't be more grateful to have the family and friends that I do.

Thank you.

That was the main thing I wanted to say, but while I'm here I figure I might as well share some life updates.

1) The pre-med gig is still chugging along. I took the MCAT on April 4th and will get my score around May 5th or so. Assuming the score's high enough, I will be preparing my medical school application to submit in early June. If it isn't high enough, I'll begin investigating fast food chain managerial positions. But actually, at this point a low score would rock the boat so.. I will let you know how things go!

2) In light of my medical aspirations, my pre-medical adviser suggested that I start volunteering at a hospital and finding doctor shadowing opportunities to get at least a fraction of the experiences my pre-med competitors will be touting on their applications. I've been volunteering at a hospital that's a 20-minute bike ride away this quarter, and will have a couple doctor shadowing experiences under my belt by the end of the month. So far, so good. I've gotten to see some nakedness and some gross stuff and it's gone okay.

3) I'm only taking 3 classes instead of the usual 4 this quarter which means that my workload is substantially diminished. On top of that, one of my classes is an anatomy lab at the Field Museum which means that between relatively dry lectures we get to cut up sharks. The biology major is finally paying off.

4) I got to talk at Cru's large group meeting last night about how I'm all full of myself and proud of the things I can do, and how that doesn't matter to God at all because his gift of salvation is free. Then some people told me they liked my story and I felt proud of how well my talk went. Clear evidence that I'm far from a finished product.

5) I spent Spring Break in Florida with Cru talking about Jesus on the beach. It was similar to last year's trip but with more people and more fun, which is saying something because last year's trip was a blast.

6) Winter quarter was the worst, but I think I already said that. I didn't have time for my hobbies and I feel like I'm just now emerging from a cavern of stress and studying. I have time to journal and play guitar again and it feels really good.

7) My parents are coming back to America soon! Dad will be here in a few weeks, with mom and the bros following a few weeks later. Feels totally surreal already and there's still a lot of time left.

8) Okay, I think that's everything. Thanks for reading, if you read this. Now that I have 100X more free time I'm going to be blogging all the time (just kidding, volunteering and Cru commitments are leeching my excess hours). But I will fo real be blogging more than once every four months and I will blog about trivial things instead of money and stress and four month summaries of my life.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

When I Grow Up

I want to be a doctor when I grow up.

I didn’t used to think I wanted to be a doctor. I thought the opposite. It was all gore and obsession with success and constant stress. It never even crossed my mind, except on its way out. I wanted to do biological research because I did well on tests and thought I could be good at it.

Then I decided that I wanted my life to be about helping people in meaningful ways, spiritually and otherwise. And I didn’t want a degree and career track that weren’t related to this. Of course biological researchers can help people too, but if I was going to put in all the years of school I wanted them to play into my future aspirations more than just tangentially.

I decided that I wanted to live overseas, but I’m holding that with an open hand. Nonetheless, if that was in the plans then suddenly a new track made sense: Medical missions.

All of a sudden it went from “Oh, I’m one of the few biology majors not thinking about med school” to “Well, I’m keeping that open as an option but not stressing about it” to “Heck, I might as well take the MCAT just to see how it goes” to purchasing an 1100 page MCAT study guide and 400 flash cards and starting studying three months in advance.

The more I sit down and think about who I want to be in 15 years, the more I realize that I want to be involved in medicine. But it’s not that clean cut. There are a ton of factors besides ignorance that made me hesitate for so long and that still make me uneasy. Here are the big ones, not in order of importance:

1) The fight for medical school admission – the stress and competition and résumé-building and worry over GPA and quality of extracurriculars and MCAT scores.

2) The torture of medical school – long hours studying, hard tests, the persistent competition, lacking time to pursue other areas of life like hobbies or wife-getting.

3) The length of medical school – four years of school and three years of residency, piling up debt and fatigue the whole way. I probably wouldn’t be finished and debt-free until I was at least 30.

4) The patient interactions – having to listen to a pestering, ignorant patient begging for unnecessary attention when I’m at the end of a ten hour shift. I don’t know if I enjoy people enough to treat patients well when they don’t deserve to be treated well.

5) The gore – even though I definitely wouldn’t become an emergency room surgeon, there would be times when I would be looking at mutilated insides. I haven’t been exposed to much gore and while I don’t get nauseous from the sight/thought of gore, I don’t know if I have a strong enough constitution to deal with a ruined, dying person and pieces in the wrong places.

6) The nakedness – routinely seeing and touching naked people. I can’t begin to get comfortable with the idea of this. And while it sounds trite, this is a nagging fear.

And the weight of all of these factors makes me wonder if I wouldn’t be better suited doing research or construction and helping people in my small way. Maybe medicine is meant for people with more resolve and vigor.

But a few days ago I got to go to the hospital where my aunt works and I got to see what primary care looks like from the side of the medical professionals for the first time. There wasn’t any flashy gore or nudity to test my stomach, but it was a chance to see what being in medicine is about. And I loved it.

I won’t share any details because I’m scared of HIPAA and I don’t know its boundaries, but I loved the whole experience. I loved trying to understand what was wrong with hurting people and finding out how to fix their problems. I loved the phone calls and the teamwork and informed opinions working together. I loved hearing that contrary to what I read, no one was making decisions based on money. I loved medicine.

I don’t know if that emotion is realistic, or enough to surmount six huge arguments against med school. But something vigorous inside of me wants to help people how doctors help people. I want to help poor people and dying people and sick children in third world countries. I want to fix broken bodies and give hope.

This is so dramatic.

But on some level, I think dreams should be.

I want to be a doctor when I grow up.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why I Hate Facebook Likes

Things have gotten out of control with Facebook Likes lately.
Back in the day, Likes were a way to let someone know you read and appreciated their post or thought their picture was funny without having to write out a comment which would notify all other commenters and get the poster excited only to find that your comment was “LOL”. Brilliant.

It was a way to say “hey this was funny or cool or remarkable and I connected with it in some way.” And most importantly, it wasn’t that common. Posts would circulate that only got like 2 Likes but they were still pretty good posts. And people would post profile pictures that didn’t get any Likes at all. Funny, creative profile pictures, but no Likes. Likes were exciting. Likes were flirty.
If you don’t believe me, go look through any of your friends’ profile pictures and get back into 2011 or earlier. This will work unless you picked a really popular friend. Pick like an average friend. Even remarkable pictures have like two or three Likes. What the heck. Were we all just unlovable?
Now flash back to the end of 2012. Scroll through your newsfeed. If you find a post with no Likes, the poster is probably either old or making an inside joke that hasn’t been noticed by the inner circle yet.
Or the post is 6 seconds old. Boom. Now it’s got a Like.
Everyone gets Likes. Even the things that don’t really deserve Likes get Likes. And this inflation has carried right on over so that an average post with a bit of thought had better clear 8 Likes. And if you posted a Bible verse and got less than 10 Likes, you must have accidentally mis-transcribed some blasphemy.
And on the upper end, remarkable posts and pictures will clear 40 or 50 on a regular basis. 50 Likes. That’s unheard of. And the really amazing posts and pictures can shoot up past 100 Likes. We’ve all seen it. Ridiculous. That’s like a standing ovation in a crowded room full of everyone you like.
Okay and here’s the thing. This Like inflation is just a fact. It just happens. There were probably two main causes:
1) People learned that if you Like other things, people will Like your things.
2) It became friendly and not weird to Like posts by people you don’t know that well. Instant harvesting territory expansion.
But while this inflation is just a fact, the unfortunate problem is that humans love statistics and numbers. News, Sports, Shopping, Weather, Academics. Numbers are easy to obtain and use.
And here’s the bottom line: Numbers are easy to compare.
And that’s where friendly back-scratching Likes turn into monsters. Even people who aren’t that competitive get to see their Likes and everyone else’s Likes and they notice these things. Everyone notices Likes. They get an encouraging red number asserting their value on the top bar of their screen.
And no matter how quietly it comes in, everyone hears that little voice that goes, “Man, everyone liked that picture of yours.” Or, “Geez. That guy has way more popular statuses than you.”
And maybe for some people it doesn’t matter that much. They shrug off the comparison. But for competitive people like me, it can be immobilizing. Why didn’t people like that comment? That was funny.
I don’t think there will be a critical point where we get bored of Likes and they tail off. We might plateau, but it’s going to be at more Likes/post than 0.7.
And I think that’s what really gets me -- that before an average status and a dumb status both got between 0 and 3 Likes. But now the average one gets 13 and the dumb one gets 2. You know when your joke wasn’t funny.
I don’t want that information. But I think I just need a thicker skin.
I have more to say because I’m traveling and when I travel I feel vulnerable and dramatic and profound. But the other things I want to say are all about me and sometimes you just want to read a blog post about Facebook Likes. If this is you, stop here. Or three sentences ago.
I’m on the Megabus and it’s my first time. I’m on the top level in the front row which means that I can pretend that I’m driving and also if I stretch my arms up it feels like I can just about touch overpasses, a thrill I should exhaust now because I’m headed to the land of rural flatness, Nebraska.
It’s hard to say good-bye properly and it’s hard to realize how much I’ll miss people even just for two and a half weeks while we’re still together. Then I get on the Metra and listen to The City Harmonic and realize that I like my friends a lot while the strings sound more profound than they ever do on Spotify in my room when I’m procrastinating writing a paper.
I want to write about a bunch of my friends’ likable characteristics that I’ve never mentioned to them but I feel like I would miss more than I remember.
I want to write about girls and flirting and how sometimes I think I just live for positive attention and how I’m tired of acting how I would hate for other people to act.. but I don’t want to be that vulnerable.
I want to write about how much I want to be disciplined but how by the end of every quarter I always end up sleeping in too late and eating less healthy and wasting time on the internet but I’m in too positive of a mood right now to dredge that cycle up. I might come back to that.
This last quarter was hands down the best quarter of college I’ve had to date. I feel like I came into college with big expectations that were decidedly not met right at first and even as I settled more into place I was self-conscious and stressed and struggling to find my groove. By spring quarter of last year I feel like I broke even and was finally living the socially connected college life I had expected. This year blew those expectations out of the water.
I have more friends now than I’ve ever had in my life. Incredible, loving, hilarious people. I don’t know what to do with this wealth.
I started taking pictures this quarter. I told myself I would take 2 a day, even if that meant that I forgot all day and ended up taking 2 pictures of Danny sleeping before going to bed. It worked great. I took over a thousand pictures this quarter, almost 800 of which made it onto Facebook. That’s over 250 pics a month. That’s information density.
I took these pictures so I could remember things (you might recall my nostalgic post on memories) and I think it’s worked great. I’m going to remember this quarter better than any other period of my life, as long as Facebook doesn’t crash and my harddrive doesn’t get wiped.
And it’s become sort of routine now. At first people got camera shy when I would pop out the camera at dinners but now all I have to do is shout “Mems!” and the group braces themselves for hideous candids to be posted later that night. And since I tote my rugged, battered Sony point-n-shoot in my pocket everywhere I go, I’ve gotten used to popping it out at almost every social event.
I don’t remember to take 2 pictures every day, or at every event. Lately I’ve settled into a less frequent routine that probably won’t continue to yield 250 pictures a month, but it’s consistent. Definitely the most successful habit I’ve developed this quarter.
That’s enough about mems.
I’ve been less stressed this quarter. Sorry that I’m using the word “I” a lot in this post. Usually I try to tell stories, but this is my post-quarter, post-blog-post-drought processing.
I used to worry a lot about tests and assignments and making sure I had things done on time. I have a little less work now because my classes are getting harder but giving less homework. But mostly I’ve learned to work on this week’s assignments without worrying about the paper in three weeks. It used to hang over me like a palpable cloud. It’s not as strong anymore. I don’t know how this came about.
This mindset broke down a bit over finals week. I got pretty stressed about my two finals, which I didn’t study enough for. But I never study enough for tests. In retrospect I don’t know why I was so stressed. Note to future Nolan: cool your jets during finals.
In general, stress has been way lower than ever before and I don’t know why but I hope it stays.
That’s enough about stress.
This quarter has been pretty spiritually dry. And it’s weird because that’s in the midst of this being the most fun and least stressful and the most generally successful quarter I’ve had. Does that suggest that spiritual discipline and fun are mutually exclusive? I hope not.
I haven’t read my Bible much. I don’t have time for it, between homework and music and uploading pictures to Facebook. I haven’t spent much quality time with God.
I don’t expect every episode of my life to be spiritually exceptional. But this quarter could have been a lot better and it’s definitely my fault. I get hung up on Jesus saying things like, “Live righteously if you want to enter the Kingdom.” And then I let my confusion be an excuse to avoid using time on God that I could be using to mix beats or stalk friends on Facebook.
I don’t want that to be my life, but I don’t know what my motivations are for desiring change. Do I want to be spiritually better so that I can live consistently with my beliefs or so that I can tell people I am spiritually better?
Why do I do the things I do? Or want the things I want?
That’s profound.
I want to know God better, but my priorities are in the way.
I’ll end on that note.