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The 7 Day Focus Experiment: Day-by-Day Revelations and Progress

When I started this experiment, it wasn’t for any other reason than to focus on my work and eliminate distractions. I didn’t intend on writing a follow up blog but I’ve had some interesting insights so far (I’m starting this draft on day 3) and will document the remaining days here until completion.

I think some of my radical ideas come from Tim Ferris. For anyone who has read his book, The 4 Hour Workweek, you understand what I mean. Less than halfway into the book I was unsubscribing from every newsletter, setting up autoresponders and thinking of new ways to be more effective with my time (like setting up phone calls rather than in-person meetings when it makes more sense). A couple of the questions from the book run through my mind often, particularly:

  • Am I being productive or just active?
  • Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?
  • If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?

The challenge for me has been, now that I have this awareness and I notice what I’m doing, how do I stop doing it? I’m not always the most disciplined person, so at times, I have to take drastic measures to test my strength, push myself and see what I’m capable of. Then, after an experiment like this, the goal is to strike a balance between the habits I had before and the new habits I’ve developed.

Work was something that just wasn’t getting enough attention since I got back to the U.S. and I kept thinking, this must be part of the readjustment process, but I knew that something drastic had to happen for me to get back into a habit of productivity. And so… the 7 day experiment was born:

  • Turn my cell phone off completely
  • No phone calls unless it relates to projects
  • No Facebook

One thing to be noted is that I live with 2 roommates so this was not an exercise in becoming a recluse or removing myself from human relationships, just giving myself the opportunity to focus without my own methods of distraction… The desire to share something, the desire to reach out, the desire to make plans…

Day 1 (Friday) - Channeling Creative Genius

At first I had to stop and think about the “turning my phone off” thing… I love Pandora, what about Google Maps and my weather app?? Maybe I could put it in Do Not Disturb mode or Airplane mode or ?? I knew some distracting alerts or messages would make their way through, so I decided if I was going to do this thing, I was going to turn the phone off and put it away… not even carry it in my purse.

So I did it. I literally put my phone in a box under my nightstand.

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7-day-focus-experiment

The 7 Day Focus Experiment

It all started with a broken washing machine. After weeks of waiting for it to be repaired and laundry piling up from my recent travels, I had one of two choices; go shopping or go to the laundromat. Because I strongly dislike the idea of “wasting time” on things like washing clothes, I wasn’t very happy with the situation but decided to haul my overstuffed bags to the only Coin Laundry I could find in North County.

I hastily rolled in the cart and filled the washers just to get it over with then headed next door to get myself some frozen yogurt. On the walk over, a woman and I nearly crashed into each other on our mission to score some fro yo. It was at that moment that I realized how ridiculous it was that I was rushing around… I quickly readjusted my perspective and decided to surrender to the situation so I could enjoy the rest of my afternoon. When I got back with my super-delicious treat, I was the only one in the whole place.

A peaceful feeling came over me as I acknowledged that I only have one thing to do right now and I really can’t do much else. I checked my email and facebook from my phone but with but with no sense of urgency. It was then that I had an even deeper revelation which lead this experiment.

laundromat

I’ve always said that we only feel discontentment when we want to be somewhere else or doing something else. When we are fully present and accepting of where we are in any given moment, we have a much deeper sense of happiness and peace. So, in this seemingly random moment, doing something I thought I didn’t want to be doing, I found complete contentment.

This realization then lead me to question a few things… I’ve been back in the U.S. for 2 months and have struggled quite a bit to find a work/life balance that makes any sense and an increasing level of anxiety about it. After being away from friends and family for so long, I felt like I just couldn’t get enough, so if I wasn’t with friends, I was texting, calling, emailing, facebooking… and on and on. I kept thinking to myself, I’ve really got to buckle down and get some work done, but there would just be one more to-do or one more person to follow up with. And so, I still have projects I filmed 5 months ago that need to be edited, lists of blogs I want to write, upcoming projects I need to plan out and client work that needs to be completed.

And here’s the thing, I LOVE my work…

…so why have I been putting it off so much? If I feel so distracted, who is really to blame for that? Myself of course.

If I am responsible for creating the distractions, I am also responsible for eliminating them. And when I reference my friends and family as distractions, it’s only that I love them so much I am allowing myself to be consumed by the relationships and not making progress on my goals… which isn’t serving anyone.

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the human earth project

Help Support an Important Project to Bring Awareness to Human Trafficking

A passionate filmmaker and friend is on a very similar path as myself; he gave up the comforts of home and the stability of a steady income to pour his heart into film projects that matter. He is currently working on a full length documentary called: The Human, Earth Project and has already funded most of the project through his savings but needs an extra push to see the project through.

Ben Randall launched an indiegogo campaign a few days ago to crowdsource the remaining funds needed to complete the film project. Once you hear the story, I’m sure you will agree, this is a cause worth supporting… even if it’s only a few dollars. Learn more: The Human, Earth Project Crowdfunding Page

A little background on the concept:

Although humanity has come a long way, there is still an unbelievable amount of slavery that exists today. An estimated 2 to 4 million humans are smuggled and traded across foreign borders as slaves, sex workers or brides every year.

That’s why The Human, Earth Project exists, to bring awareness to a cause that is hardly acknowledged, known or discussed.

What is human trafficking?

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2013 epicness list

2013 Epicness List: A How-To Guide

At the beginning of each new year, we create a list of resolutions for what we want to create and who we want to become (most of us anyway). This is a great way to check in, reflect on our lives and refocus our energy. It’s something I do every year, but whether we realize it or not, we tend to focus on the negative aspects of our lives; what we haven’t yet done, who we haven’t yet become.

All the amazing things we’ve accomplished and created certainly deserve some recognition as well. And not just a quick pat on the back but a real appreciation, something we can reflect on for years to come.

So this year, I’ve decided to document all my wins with a 2013 Epicness List, an inventory of all the things I did right, all the things I accomplished and all the experiences I had that were epic.

epic photos 2013

This concept evolved from a chapter I read in Jack Canfield’s “The Success Principles“, chapter 26 “Acknowledge Your Positive Past” where he recommends keeping a Victory Log, a written record of your successes. He explains:

By recalling and writing down your successes each day, you log them into your long term memory, which enhances your self-esteem and builds self-confidence.

The purpose of this journal is to give you the right dose of encouragement and become your own cheerleader in life, especially before a challenging or nerve racking situation, ie: a big board meeting, a new client pitch or anything that might have you questioning your ability to succeed.

While I always loved this idea, I never did it. It’s just not that practical to have a journal with you at all times or keep a running list of every amazing thing that happens. So, I decided to modify it and make it an annual practice; something that is logged in a web-based system that I can access anytime I want and can reflect on year after year.

The process.

As with any exercise, a guideline of some sort is helpful so I put this together for anyone who wants to start this as an annual practice.

Because we need different kinds of encouragement and reflection at different times in our lives, I would recommend breaking up your list into categories. Here are some suggestions:

Professional/Business: What have you achieved this year in terms of your professional goals? What new habits have you implemented in your life that will help boost your career or professional life? Have you made a change in your career goals? Even making a new decision is worth acknowledging (since this is how all change manifests).

Relationships: Think about the time you’ve committed to relationships that matter to you. Can you recall a few times you went out of your way to help others (friends, family or strangers)? Maybe think about a time when you really listened or gave a piece of advice that you know made a difference in someone’s life. This is a place to list anything that reinforces your commitment to healthy relationships and communication with others.

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going within for answers

Going Within: How to Change the Thoughts That Make Us Suffer

The interesting thing about life is that no matter where you go, what you are doing or who you are with, you are still perceiving everything through your own unique filter, for better or for worse.

For this reason, the deepest and most important work we can do is to truly understand ourselves. To dig down and question why we feel the way we do, perceive the way we do and judge the way we do. Then to decide; is this the way I want to feel, judge, perceive? Are these thoughts coming from my highest self or were these learned? If I was taught these things, how do I feel about them now?

So much of what we think and how we react has to do with the thoughts and influence of others.

Awareness is the first step.

I remember a section from one of my favorite audiobooks, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue by Neale Donald Walsch, where he says:

“Go first to your Highest Thought about yourself. Imagine the you that you would be if you lived that thought every day. Imagine what you would think, do, and say, and how you would respond to what others do and say.”

Once you have this vision and are committed to living it, he explains:

“It will require tremendous mental and physical effort. It will entail constant, moment-to-moment monitoring of your every thought, word and deed. It will involve continued choice-making… consciously. This whole process is a massive move to consciousness.”

While this may sound difficult and monotonous, what could be more important than using our energy to become who we want to be?

We can create all manner of distractions and feel so “busy” that we don’t have time for this but most of it is self-created, a form of avoidance. We owe it to ourselves to take quiet moments and reflect on where we are internally.

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monkey forest bali indonesia

A Trip Through Monkey Forest: Bali, Indonesia

Just steps away from the busy restaurants and yoga studios of Ubud, Bali lies a hidden sanctuary where over 600 monkeys roam free. There are no gates or fences around the perimeter of the massive forest, they choose to live here and it’s easy to see why. With colossal trees reaching hundreds of feet into the sky, it is a natural playground for these primates. And with tourists pouring in to get a glimpse of the uncaged monkeys, the food supply is abundant.

People warned us that they may snatch food, take your jewelry or even bite, but we figured as long as we were cautious, we would be fine. With our cameras in hand, David and I set out to document these amazing animals. The only time they snapped at us was when we were in close proximity to their babies, understandably. Most humans would react in the same way… luckily, they backed off when we did.

angelina sereno monkey forest bali

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Thailand

Journey Through a Sacred Temple in Thailand

Situated approximately 10 miles above the bustling city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, the temple of Wat Phra That on the mountain of Doi Suthep offers the serenity of nature combined with intricate architecture and thousands of gleaming golden buddha statues. It is believed to have been built in 1383 and expanded over time. Today, it is one of the most popular destinations in Chiang Mai.

My girlfriend Melissa Johnson, who is on a very similar life path, recently met up with me in Thailand. Her and I decide to take a day to explore one of the ancient temples to capture it’s beauty and practice meditation. After some research, we decide on Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It was the allure of the golden Chedi and the distance from the city lights that sold us.

We navigate the unique transportation system, realizing tuk tuk’s can’t make it up the mountain, and find a private open-air minibus that takes us up the curvy road to the temple. Once we arrive, we approach the grand multi-headed dragon archway and the famous staircase, with 309 steps to the top.

Prayer Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Visitors are asked to remove their shoes, cover themselves appropriately and, get this, keep their heads lower than the buddhas and the monks. We crouch around like the hobbit, sometimes crawling on our hands and knees to get a glimpse of the different rooms and ceremonies… we couldn’t help but laugh. Each shrine is filled with more buddhas than the last. We just sat in awe at the diversity and sheer volume of buddha statues, unlike anything we’d ever seen.

Locals and visitors from around the world visit the temple with elaborate gift baskets as offerings to the monks. Unexpected items, such as toothpaste, vitamins and colored pencils fill the baskets as well as the expected fresh fruit, sweets and cash.

After capturing the various corners of the temple and activities on film, we look for a place to meditate. We find ourselves in a room with the Abbot who offers us a blessing in Thai while sprinkling holy water over our heads. Afterwards a white string is tied around our wrists with a prayer for good health, peaceful mind and happy life.

Monk Doi Suthep Temple Chiang Mai Thailand

We make our way to another holy shrine just in time to witness the nightly ceremony. Several long, slow strikes of the gong send deep vibrations throughout the temple and the prayer session begins. We find a comfortable spot in the back of the room, listening to the harmonious chants, while we absorb the palpable energy from thousands of years of worship. We close our eyes and take the journey within.

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Traveling Abroad: Learning to adjust your perspective when nothing goes according to plan

After 103 hours in transit, in a Xanax-sleep induced state, I am awoken by the torrential downpour on the ferry rooftop. David and I look at each other, half asleep, and realize we are the only ones left on the deck. The mats and pillows we were sleeping on are drenched as well as our backpacks, each containing close to $10k in camera gear and equipment.

The skies were clear when we took refuge under the small overhang but we knew we were taking our chances. Even so, this was the best option we could find after our bribe to sleep in the staff quarters was denied and every other corridor of the boat was close to 100 degrees, filled with smoke or covered with sleeping bodies.

Third World Travel Ferry

It was 3:00am when the lightning storm started up. The heavy rain and wind rocked the boat from side to side as we made our way through the open ocean. We grab everything as quickly as possible and head downstairs. We still had about 7 hours before we were to arrive back in Sumatra so we found a couple of empty patches of floor space, laid down our wet mats and went back to sleep.

Being unconscious was the best way to deal with the number of uncomfortable variables we were facing.

Third World Travel Ferry

Ferry Boat Travel Third World

Sleeping Ferry Boat Travel

Rewind to five days prior.

We set out on a journey from Bali to Siberut, a small Indonesian island off the coast of Sumatra, to document the story of a young Mentawai tribe member returning home after being adopted out years prior. The invitation came from the owners of the resort/spiritual oasis we stumbled upon in Lovina Beach. This incredibly loving couple adopted the little girl since they could offer a more comfortable life and access to better education.

As soon as we received the invitation, the documentary started playing in my mind. I was hoping to get some answers to the deepest questions I had… What can the diversity of her experience teach us? What can a culture that is so rooted in the ways of the past show me, and others around the world, about our own humanity and the concept of “progress”?

Mentawai Tribe Member

My boyfriend David Hatfield, a documentary photographer, was even more excited as this has been a dream of his for years; to travel the world and document the awe-inspiring diversity of the human experience. We knew this was no accident, the project we had been looking for was delivered right to us.

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Uprooted: What it actually feels like to give up everything in the pursuit of freedom

by Angelina Sereno

The plan was set. I was to pack everything I own neatly into a storage unit while I travel the world to work on video projects for a year. Then a conversation I had with a client/friend who lives overseas changed everything. “One piece of advice” he tells me, “get rid of everything.” While it sounded like insanity to me at that moment, I was all ears.

He continued “I wasted money on a storage unit for years only to come back and eventually sell everything. Most of it meant nothing to me anymore. Now I’m free to travel wherever I like and am no longer tied to a home base. It was the best decision I ever made.” We continued to discuss the pros and cons for over an hour, then I went to sleep. The conversation took place right before bed so my brain was working through the equation all night.

“Maybe he’s right? Should I really get rid of all my furniture and earthly belongings? It sounds so liberating… and scary!!” The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I’ve struggled with the concept of materialism and overconsumption most of my life, understanding the debilitating effects it has on our planet and psyche. I thought to myself “Maybe this is the perfect opportunity for me to see what it really feels like to live with less.”  Continue Reading

2 Questions that can change your life

1. If money were no object, what would you do with your life?

(See video above) This question will help you identify your true passion and stop lying to yourself. If you are one of the lucky ones that can answer this question with clarity, you owe it to yourself and the world to find a way.

We live in an abundant universe. There are always ways to make money (especially with technology), sometimes you just have to get a little creative.

2. At the end of your life, what do you want to review?

The book Life After Life by Raymond Moody explains the process of death (through more than 100 case studies of people who died and came back to life) and explains the journey of the soul upon exit. You are given the opportunity to review the moments of your life with these basic questions in mind:

  • When in my life could I have been more loving?
  • Have I grown/acquired knowledge?

As a result of asking myself these questions, I realized I wasn’t happy with my life as I was living it. Rather than pretend everything was ok, I asked myself: What would it take for me to be happy with my life, now and at the end?

I had the answers but didn’t want to listen.

I realized that I no longer wanted to run my web design company, manage my staff or my corporate client base. I thought to myself, if I could do anything with my life and money were no object… I would travel the world, create meaningful film projects to inspire others and volunteer my time in service of humanity.

Although the vision was clear, the path was not. After all, we were in year 7 and the business was thriving… in fact, May 2013 was our biggest producing month ever. I saw no positive way out…

What happened next was divine intervention.

As soon as I had the clarity, two specific events happened that allowed me to let go of everything I had built and rebuild my company from the ground up. Although they seemed tragic for a few days and the shut down took about 2 months, I am now free to live out my dreams.

I’d love to hear your feedback and stories. Please share in the comments below!

by Angelina Sereno