Inspiration Tips & Guides

Sewon’s Guide to Feeling Good!

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su yani

I always thought that all my insecurities would disappear as I left my teenage years. Who would have thought the familiar little monster sitting on my left shoulder would emerge from now and then?

So here is a list of things that remind me to see the bright side, and motivate me to keep trucking along.
It’s mostly a reminder to myself, but I hope that it would be helpful to somebody that comes across it.

1. Make something. If you enjoy baking, try to add something extra to your favorite recipe. My quick beer bread recipe never fails me, and it’d be extra special baked with some chopped up jalopeños and sharp cheddar cheese. If you’d rather do something else, doodle or do a simple collage in your notebook.

2. Share it. It could be as simple as inviting someone over to eat a slice of homemade pie (a la mode), or putting up a bedroom disco mix online.

3. Go outside. Take a walk around your neighborhood. Bring a notebook or your camera, because you never know what you’ll find. Or if you’re up for a bit more challenge, pull out your sneakers from the closet, and go for a light run. Murakami even wrote a book about it.

4. Make you a priority. First thing in the morning: leave your computer off, stretch, take a deep breath, and drink a cup of water. If you’re a fellow coffee-head, get that pot brewing before you hop in the shower.

5. Write a letter. Snail mail is worth the wait, but an e-mail also works. Writing to a friend always helps me organize my thoughts, no matter how confused I may be feeling. Don’t be hesitant to ask your friend how she/he is doing, as well!

6. Put on a new outfit. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go buy something, because you might have clothes hiding in your closet waiting to be rediscovered. But it’s also fun to go window shopping for inspiration, and come home with something new.

7. Eat that frog. My dad gave me a book by that title when I was just a pre-teen, but the lesson stayed with me. Put away your long to-do list, and spend that time doing that one thing you’ve been putting off (or feel like putting off). Once you finish that, you’ll feel so much more ready to tackle everything else.

8. Be inspired. Compile your sources of inspiration, whether it’s a list of websites and blogs on your google reader, or a binder full of magazine and book clippings you’ve collected.

9. Get a good night sleep. It doesn’t hurt to “sleep on it” if there’s anything hovering over your head. If it can wait until tomorrow, don’t send a hasty e-mail or click around the maze of the internet world.

10. Plan a trip. It could be a day of exploring a new neighborhood in your town (searching for that hidden dessert place), or a quick trip to a nearby city. Or it could be a holiday somewhere far away. When I was feeling cold and overworked in Shanghai, I took a trip to Thailand. Escape is not the final answer, but the new surroundings can help put things into perspective.

su yani

11) Leave a thoughtful comment. It’s a pleasant surprise to open up an e-mail from a blogger, or read a meaningful comment that takes me a bit longer to respond.

12) Get a new hairdo. It could be a small change–getting your roots touched up, getting your bangs trimmed, trying out a new up-do, or putting on a fun wig. Or you could go for a new hair color or get it all chopped off!

13) Make a list. It could be as practical as a grocery list (i.e. animal crackers, dark chocolate, button mushrooms, and whole-wheat english muffins), or a list of things you’d love to do this year (i.e. go jungle trekking and learn a new language). Don’t be afraid to put some easy things on that list, too.

14) Make that dream a reality. Sometimes we don’t translate our dreams into achievable goals. For example, I wanted to learn a new language (Chinese), but it was so daunting I didn’t know how to begin. My more realistic goal earlier this year, was to be able to have a 30-minute conversation in Chinese. Now that I am able to do that, my current goal is to be able to comfortably and fluently read a Chinese restaurant menu.

15) Keep going! We all get discouraged sometimes, or hit a patch and stop feeling motivated. And this is what this list is about, because sometimes I even forget to follow my own good advice!

Here’s a wise quote by Ira Glass, storyteller and host of This American Life:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

P.S. If you have any tips of your own, please don’t hesitate to share them with me!

*The beautiful illustrations are by Su Yani, a Kunming-based artist of Lahu ethnic group.


  • Reply
    September 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I love this list! I gotta say, when I’m feeling down I usually drive to Target and wander around the aisles. It sounds super lame, but it’s mostly to relax my brain by not having to focus on anything, which is when I have the best ideas (also in the shower). I’ve realized that it’s so easy for me to think myself into a bad mood, that it’s good to practice thinking myself out of one, too.

    • Reply
      September 13, 2011 at 1:21 am

      I think thoughts go on these tangents that can be positive, as well as negative. Sometimes I dwell on the negatives, even if the issue isn’t such a big deal. Ah, Target is one of those unexpected places I associate with home. Here it can be an adventure to pick up a DVD and a decent plain white t-shirt that fits well. Target has ’em all AND a tub of ice cream you can take home!

  • Reply
    September 12, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    This is great and I really needed it right now too (recently had a sure fire door slam in my face). Wonderful post! :] I’ve recently found that sitting on the beach when the waves are quite choppy is really meditative too.

    • Reply
      September 13, 2011 at 1:42 am

      I love this Japanese proverb: “Fall seven times, stand up eight .” A door will open soon, it may just be the perfect one! I’m not too close to the sea now, but a walk around the nearby lake always puts me in a contemplative mood.

  • Reply
    Chris R.
    September 12, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Oh Sewon, this is the best list! Hearing that friends go through down times too is really comforting, especially when we can help each other find ways out of them. I’ve been having my down times recently, especially with looking ahead to fall and cold. One thing that picks me back up into a good mood is going to see a movie by myself. A movie theater lets you fall away into the story, and if it’s a good movie, you leave feeling moved and taken out of yourself. Yesterday I was feeling especially bummed, so I went to this free screening of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” and just laughing with other people, and sitting beside other people, and experiencing this great story with other people set me right.

    • Reply
      September 13, 2011 at 1:54 am

      I think everyone goes through these moments, but we often feel like we have to keep them to ourselves. My mood changes a lot with the seasons, too. That was definitely one of the reasons I decided to move somewhere warmer. A movie treat for one sounds like such a good idea. I can’t wait to see you in New York, Chris!

  • Reply
    September 12, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    This list is very helpful. I agree with getting nice comments but I feel like I am so boring, I am always changing blogs to at least have something to do. It’s like therapy for me. xD I think I am going to bookmark this.

    You gave me an idea for my future entry for my blog. Thank you for that. You’re simply awesome.

    • Reply
      September 13, 2011 at 1:59 am

      I enjoy reading your blog(s), and I think you stay consistent even with your blog changes. But I know what you mean about fresh new beginnings. And it might even be a good idea to have an elusive online presence…sometimes I feel like deleting all my online accounts just to keep it simple. But I secretly think the Internet gods keep track of all our activities and store them in a giant file! xx

      • Reply
        September 14, 2011 at 1:48 am

        Thank you for even bothering to read my blog(s). I appreciate it.

  • Reply
    September 12, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    I love this list, what a good ideal to compile lots of feel-good activities. I enjoy making things when I’m in a rut. Whether it’s attempting a dress making project or making a bannoffee pie, it revives your creativity and imagination. Charity shopping is always a good’un too! xx

    • Reply
      September 13, 2011 at 2:01 am

      I think making the list itself was a feel-good activity for me! Ohh, I miss sewing projects and thrift-store rummaging. xx

  • Reply
    September 12, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Hi Sewon beautiful list. Remember this also when one door closes another will always open. Thanks for the inspiration!!

    • Reply
      September 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      Thank you, Kelly. xx

  • Reply
    September 13, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Great list! This inspired me to do some drawing in my sketchbook. I will post them as soon as I get my new printer/scanner hooked up! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Reply
      September 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm

      I can’t wait to see your drawings! P.S. Any new poems lately?

  • Reply
    September 13, 2011 at 2:10 am

    Thanks for creating and sharing this list, it made me wanna go home from my holiday, and start doing some creative work, for real. And as always, when i’m in need of inspiration, it always works hanging around on your blog for a while!

    • Reply
      September 14, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      Ohh I’m so jealous of your Northern Thailand adventures, Anniken! But I agree it’s hard to produce tangible creative things when you’re out and about.

  • Reply
    September 13, 2011 at 4:24 am

    I love this list! It is completely what I needed to read right now, and I really appreciate it. I love the art on here too!

    • Reply
      September 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm

      Isn’t Su Yani great? I wish I could I could find more information about her, but she doesn’t even seem to have an e-mail address anywhere!

  • Reply
    September 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    aha you’re lovely 😀

    • Reply
      September 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm


  • Reply
    September 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Dear Sewon, thank you for this lovely post and fantastic list. I needed a little pick me up today! I am a newcomer to your blog, but already I know that I am hooked! Also, thank you for sharing the beautiful illustrations! Eye candy on a sunny day. I noticed you like to exchange snail mail? Let me know if you would be interested in an exchange. I hope you are having a good day. Now I need to go make my own bedroom disco mix. 🙂

    • Reply
      September 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm

      Ohh I’m so excited about your exchange idea. I’ll get in touch with you. Also, let me know if you ever make that bedroom disco mix!

  • Reply
    September 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Wow, just reading this makes me hopeful and inspired. Thank you so much for this. 🙂

    • Reply
      September 16, 2011 at 2:45 am

      Thank you for stopping by!

  • Reply
    September 13, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Can you give me some tips on learning Chinese? I am an American moving to Hong Kong to teach and do design/web work for the next two years and I want to learn Chinese (Cantonese- I assume you speak Mandarin, though). I’d like to learn some Mandarin, too. Reading and speaking! Any advice?

    Thanks for this post; your blog is awesome.

    • Reply
      September 16, 2011 at 2:49 am

      Ohh that’s really awesome! I LOVE Hong Kong, so much that I’ve been there twice this year already (once last year). I always make it an excuse to stop by. I tried to come up with a reply here, but it’s getting too long. I’ll shoot you an e-mail with some book recommendations for studying characters and other tips!

  • Reply
    September 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    realy good list.
    i would add to that list a last thing, that my boyfriend taught me :
    – Some days, you’ll feel like shit, embrace it.
    don’t try to push yourself desperately, don’t drown yourself in guilt, you don’t HAVE to be creative or effective EVERYDAY !
    take “a day off” in your head, and just live ! release the preasure from yourself, and let other people surprise you that day. yes, what about them ? are they good everyday ? are they successful everyday ? creative everyday ? i don’t think so. you neither. so give yourself a break ! 🙂

    i didn’t think that way before, and used think i should be creative everyday, and to feel so bad about feeling bad. so much that i would make myself feel even worse !
    now i feel much more balanced. with creative, and non creative days. 🙂

    • Reply
      September 16, 2011 at 2:54 am

      Ah, such a solid advice for the over-achieving creatives! I think today’s a day I want to step away from my studio and do something totally different instead! 🙂

  • Reply
    Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys
    September 13, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    This is a timely post for me (lots of doors slamming in faces around here at the moment)! And I love the artwork, especially the third lady with the pine trees and the one with the animals.

    I’m never sure if going for a walk works for me or not… sometimes I just get more neurotic walking by myself. If all else fails, going to sleep generally helps…

    And wow, I’m impressed that you can have a 30 minute conversation in Chinese! It always seems sooo difficult compared with the European languages…

    • Reply
      September 16, 2011 at 2:59 am

      I was really excited about the artwork, too. I would really like more information about the illustrator, but I think I have to do a search in Chinese..
      I agree, I think walking aimlessly in a nasty mood can lead to just a trap. But Zeolite made a really good point in her reply, too, that we can also learn to think ourselves into positive thoughts instead. Ohh it’s easier said than done, eh?

      It took me a long way to get to this point, because I was generally really shy about speaking it, too. xx

  • Reply
    September 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I’m SO happy to run across your blog and this particular entry as well. I love these little ideas and tuck them away for rainy days. 🙂

    • Reply
      September 16, 2011 at 3:02 am

      Aw, thanks Jenny. 🙂

  • Reply
    September 18, 2011 at 8:56 am

    How I love these illustrations.


  • Reply
    November 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    i’ve also found that when i feel kinda down, fixing my eyebrows up makes me feel a little bit better~

  • Reply
    January 9, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Hi Sewon!
    I just found your blog a few hours ago and I’ve been reading it since 🙂
    Reading all your posts, about all the travelling you’ve been doing, it really makes me feel happy.
    Right now I’m still a student, so I can’t always be where I want to be, and I worry about where I will be once this (school) is all over, but reading your blog has really given me hope for the future. Thank you 🙂

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