Setting myself up to fail?

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A month or so ago, after reading my Creating Daily Rituals post, a friend asked if I feared I might be ‘setting myself up to fail by creating a list of daily goals?’  ‘Was I creating a situation where I would end up berating myself if I didn’t hit those targets?’

These were great questions and really got me thinking.  My initial response was, no, I didn’t think I felt pressurised by it and I had faith I’d just get back on the bike if I did fall. Little did I know this theory was about to be tested!

Two weeks later (and two weeks ago today) our little family of three set off for a much needed break to see friends in Norfolk.  I did yoga that morning (check) and I confidently wedged my yoga mat into the back of our rammed-packed-jammed car as we set off (check) (insert smug halo smiley face emoji here).

On our first morning I joyfully rolled out my mat and began…only to have to stop for two false-alarm loo trips (not mine) and the flow was gone – ha! no pun intended!! – so I called it a day on the yoga front and we headed off for a beautiful but bone-breakingly bitter jaunt to the seaside. By the next morning the Little Chap had become really unwell; horrid throat infection, swollen glands etc.  We knew he was truly suffering as our usually stoic boy just wanted to sleep and stay ‘home’, so he and I pretty much holed up for the remaining half of our break, and my yoga mat remained forlornly rolled up in the corner.

Our first morning back at ‘home-home’ I woke up feeling like I was now coming down with the Little Chap’s virus (par for the course in parent-land) but I managed to limp my way through Adriene’s ‘Yoga for when you are sick video (man, that girl covers all bases). Hooray I was back on the mat (check).  And then I became too sick to do ‘Yoga for when you are sick’ and took to my bed for the next 4 days.  I had excruciating sinusitis and there was no way I was lowering my head below shoulder level for fear of it exploding. Where is that tank of gas ‘n’ air when you really need it?

So between being away, and round the clock comforting of a sick child, and nursing my own poorly self*, I fell off my ‘bike of virtue’ on every level.  I stopped making entries in my Daily Greatness Journal, I stopped doing yoga, I stopped updating YNAB, (I did listen to quite a lot of meditations on Buddhify to ease my suffering so err…check) but essentially my ‘Daily Rituals’ list crumbled big time.  With this lack of action, my friend’s question ‘have I set myself up to fail’ rolled around in my mind.  And yet despite the evidence seemingly being to the contrary, my resounding answer was ‘No!’.

In the past, the answer would have been a self-flagellating ‘YES’!  Followed by a big dose of ‘I’m clearly not cut out to have a regular yoga practice / keep on top of my finances / keep a journal so I’m giving up the lot’.  But this time feels very different and I’ve been curious to understand why.

I think there are several factors, but for me the key element is around making ‘conscious choices’.  Just as I had previously made a conscious choice to implement various positive actions into my daily life, likewise I made a conscious choice to hit pause on all those good things as circumstances changed.  Less a case of falling off the bike, more a decision to park it up for a bit.

I made a conscious choice that the right thing to do was to watch crap on YouTubeKids with my poorly little chap at 7.30am when I would normally do my yoga / write my journal, and another choice was made to not make up for it later with some bedtime yoga / journal update as he needed me to go to bed with him as we were in a strange (but oh so lovely) house and he couldn’t settle without me close by.  And again, when the lurgy hit me full-force I made a conscious choice to cut myself some slack and rest up, choosing instead to binge-listen to the incredible S-Town podcast and watch ALL the new eps of Grace and Frankie because these things took my mind off the pain (these, and some strong pharmaceuticals). My friend G sent me a message asking if my sinusitis was ‘the burning kind like when you accidentally snort pool water up your nose, or the other kind that feels like knives being stabbed into all your face holes’ – for anyone interested it was the latter, and it was awful, even laughing at her text hurt.

So today is Friday; as of Tuesday late afternoon I tentatively started to feel a bit better, but the bike of virtue remained firmly locked up in the bike rack of failure conscious choice, until yesterday when I truly felt a good 90% better and I knew I was ready to clamber back on (I’m labouring this metaphor and the irony is I can’t actually ride a frickin’ bike in real life but let’s gloss over that).  I wrote my morning journal entry, followed by an early Operation Bloom Skype call (which is always recharging) and I committed that I would get back on the yoga mat that evening and ease myself back in with a gentle bedtime routine. Which brings me to today, the journal is back in full, twice-daily, flow, I was on the yoga mat by 7.30am this morning for a 20 minute sesh’ and I’ve made a date with YNAB this evening (oh Friday nights, how you’ve changed).  This would never have been me a year ago.

As I pay close attention to this falling off / getting back on process, I am sensing there is a critical tipping point (again, no pun intended) between the falling off bit and the getting back on bit, and if too much time passes where we remain down but without genuinely good reason it becomes harder to jump back on. Under the circumstances I felt totally at peace with my decision to park the bike, because I very much knew it was a temporary state of affairs, and as soon as I started to feel better my thoughts turned to me jumping back on. Amazingly there was no doubt I’d get going again, but even so, when the time came to resume action I noticed, running alongside my steely resolve (!), there was a low-level resistance, a physical apathy.  Had I chosen to ‘string out’ the effects of being ill and told myself (lied to myself) that I should wait until after the weekend, ya know to get fully, fully, fully better, and then get back to the Daily Rituals list I think it would have been a hundred times harder to get motivated, because the truth for me was I was ready on Thursday.  Really listening to myself and taking action right at that perfect sweet spot in my recovery where resolve was high and illness was bidding a hasty retreat has made getting back to it relatively easy (albeit I’m only on day 2 y’all but I’m celebrating the act of getting back on, always the hardest part for me).

It seems to me that over time there are natural ebbs and flows to our activity and motivation levels, sometimes we simply need to hit pause, to park the bike for a bit, but intuiting how to respond most usefully to this waxing and the waning leads us back to our dear old friend authenticity.  Namely us being authentic with ourselves.  To make a personal commitment to choose not to delude ourselves but to really tune in, notice when we really are too sick to do ‘all the things’ and give ourselves unreserved permission to press pause (and boy does that feel good), but in turn create a counter-balance by being honest about when we feel able to return to those good actions; acknowledging the reticence but refusing to let it have the louder voice.

It’s also fine to start off gently, ease ourselves back in to the saddle.  The crucial thing is to get back on, it needn’t be to do the London to Brighton first time out, it could just be a spin round the block in the sunshine.  As my lovely husband says, ‘it’s not how many times we fall off, it’s how many times we get back on again that counts’.

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*Vince and the Little Chap were very sweet at looking after me and keeping the ship running smoothly, I can’t fault them, they picked me flowers!

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Header Image: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_dasha11′>dasha11 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Simplify: Part I – KonMari

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Oh how I love this word.  It has been my ‘mantra’ for the last two years and whenever I say it to myself I can feel my heart rate drop to that of a contented sloth dangling from a shady tree.

Last year, one of the ways we brought simplification to our lives was by following the KonMari decluttering method.  It took us exactly a year to complete, a toddler is not the ideal co-pilot for such a mission, so we had to grab windows of time when we could.  We held every single item in our house and asked ourselves whether it sparked joy.  If it did, it stayed, and if it didn’t, it exited the building*.

I’m embarrassed to think about just HOW MUCH STUFF got carted away; many, many, many car loads.  Many car loads. So many car loads. And here’s the crazy thing…we’ve. not. missed. a. single. thing.  Oh tell a lie, I ditched a pack of wooden clothes pegs I’d stored for circa 15 years and never used.  The following week I decided I wanted to set up a gallery space for the Little Chap’s paintings and could’ve done with those pegs to hang his art up with.  THAT is the only thing I have missed. Truly. How weird is that? And what does it say about our attachment to ‘stuff’? In particular stuff we didn’t use, didn’t love and, it turns out, weren’t going to miss?

The first picture below is utterly shocking to me (and Vince, I’ve just shown him and his response was ‘what the fucking hell…?’) Knowing there was a room like that in our house, I now realise took a heavy psychological toll on us (for those that don’t know us, I promise the rest of the house looked nothing like that!).  I felt utterly overwhelmed by it prior to discovering KonMari; we were happytired with a fairly wakeful toddler and would chuck in the next load of outgrown baby stuff and lock the door.  Out of sight out of mind, right?  Wrong. It felt like an oppressive pulsating mass in the bowels of our house (I may be slightly over-egging things), but it was full of our crap, my late parent’s things including a mountain of their paperwork, a trazillion photographs and slides from three generations, plus the evidence that our tiny newborn son was growing up at the speed of light.  But the KM methodology gave us a framework that felt manageable to gradually tackle it a bit at time, and slowly the mists cleared the awful navy carpet emerged.

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Basement ‘Room of Doom’ November 2015
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Basement ‘Room of Bloom’ March 2017

The central aim of KonMari is to surround yourself only with ‘joy-sparking’ items, and looking at all our possessions in this way has fundamentally changed how we live.  No longer do we buy things saying ‘ah, this’ll do’.  What we buy / bring into our home has to spark joy for at least one of us, otherwise we don’t get it.  We’re also much more inclined to buy less and choose better quality.

“But what about loo brushes?”, I hear you cry, “how can a loo-brush spark joy?” Of course on first glance there is little obvious joy to be found in the humble loo-brush BUT there is joy to be had in a clean loo, courtesy of a well functioning loo brush, one where the brush doesn’t regularly unscrew and drop into the pan requiring deep-sea operations of retrieval. (I never imagined I’d have cause to write a paragraph with FIVE mentions of the word(s?) ‘loo-brush’ in it (Roget’s Thesaurus was of no help to me here, so loo-brush it was…SIX…gah).

KM (that’s KonMari Graduate lingo right there) has finely tuned our ‘joydars’ and it’s value has rippled out to other aspects of our lives beyond decluttering; deciding what we want to eat, how we want to spend our time, which relationships to prioritise when limited for time, what type of holiday we want, which direction to follow with creative projects. It’s given us a new lens through which we can identify the joy (or not) in how we’re living.

And most of all it has brought an intuitive simplicity to day-to-day life.  We have order; places for everything so things get put away without the tiresome mental effort of deciding where to ‘shove’ it. No more hunting for the top I need, I can see everything I own at a glance. And, no exaggeration, I get a little hit of joy every time I open a drawer and unfold a perfectly folded knicker…

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Perfectly folded knickers ^^^^

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If you have any questions or want to share your own ‘life hacks’ that bring simplicity to your life, please do leave a note in the comments – I’d love to hear about your go-to simplifications as I’m always on the look-out for the next good ‘un…

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*Caveat, as we didn’t / don’t have vast amounts of money stashed in offshore accounts (actually none) there were non-joy-sparking things we kept temporarily as they served a purpose.  Those things were earmarked (in a Wunderlist list), and as and when we found joy-sparking alternatives and budget allowed they’ve been replaced – a list like that makes for wonderfully mindful shopping.

Stepping forward

Stepping Forward

Over the last month or so the same ‘lesson’ keeps presenting itself to me, namely ‘good things come from stepping forward’ (G.T.C.F.S.F – hmm that acronym needs work).

For example, I’ve already mentioned the super-stylish, Canadian mama I met on Instagram who’s helping me kick my wardrobe into touch.  This purely came about as both of us were willing to ‘put ourselves out there’.  I fell in love with some images she’d posted of her capsule wardrobe so I made the effort to connect and left a gushing complimentary comment.  I then left a follow-up comment to tell her she’d inspired me to do another clear-out of my wardrobe and as a result of my ruthlessness I was almost rendered naked, the situation was dire, the services of the John Lewis personal shopper may be required. As she too is someone willing to put herself out there, she DM’d me and tentatively offered up her services, for a modest fee, to help style my wardrobe, having recently done the same for someone else.  I bit her hand off! And so, a really lovely, creative, connection has been made, and only because we both took the risk of stepping forward towards the other, extending our reach beyond our immediate comfort zones.

Other recent examples of where I’ve stepped forward and been rewarded, are growing in number:

  • There was this dress I’d pinned on Pinterest from the US that I became a little obsessed with, it was out of stock everywhere so I emailed two recent stockists and told them I was in love with the dress and asked if it was likely to be restocked.  I got helpful replies from both, but one of the them said whilst they weren’t going to re-stock (boo) she thought she might have one left in my size in the warehouse and would be happy to check (yay!).  Low and behold she was true to her word and it was in the post to me the next day.  I would have been ‘THAT DRESS’-less had I not made an extra push or written a less impassioned email. PS I love the dress, we’re getting married.
  • Then I got a great deal on the Little Chap’s new bed by asking the supplier if they would match a discount they had on a very similar package but in the colourway I wanted.  They went off to ask their powers-that-be and came back with the same great deal saving us £60 and giving us our ideal bed combo.
  • An Ebay supplier who sells pre cut / set sizes of brass sheet was happy to custom cut some sheet to my specifications when I explained what I wanted them for (making my bangles) and gave me a great price.
  • I fell in love with a pillowcase I saw in a Next display for the Little Chap, I searched the shop for the set but couldn’t find them, I might have given up but I asked a shop assistant who kindly went to great lengths to track it down and eventually order it (even though it wasn’t even showing on the website). (No hyperlink as it’s still not on their website, spooky, mystery, ghost bedding that it is).
  • We recently ebay’d some old photographic slide boxes of my grandfather’s and one got damaged before we posted it out.  I felt awful and contacted the buyer to let him know how sorry I was about the breakage and that I had gone ahead and posted it along with the other items he’d bid on but had refunded his bid and his postage.  He was so sweet about it and this lead to an unexpected, poignant exchange of emails. The buyer was a man in his 80’s, he didn’t have long to live, his ‘lovely wife was clearing out things from his old life and had just taken a car load to the charity shop that day’. He was taking pleasure from looking through his old slides collection from the 50’s and revisiting those memories; clearly bittersweet.  I truly believe because he and I were both open to connection, the few emails that we exchanged about life and change were meaningful on both sides.
  • And my latest endeavour involves me trying to get in contact with the originator of the Operation Bloom roses photograph, used as the header.  It’s an image I found several months ago and fell in love with.  As I felt the first flutterings of Operation Bloom (before this project even had its name) the image in my mind that accompanied that delicious feeling of being on the edge of something exciting was of roses in full bloom, opened wide, wide, wide to their fullest potential.  I found myself searching for images of roses and I came across this one; it leapt out at me as the perfect one to represent the image in my head.  I saved it as my desk top image and each time I looked at it, it made my heart lift. So when it came to starting this blog it was the only image I wanted to use. I hadn’t made a note of the original source so I had to do some super-sleuthing google image searching and eventually tracked down the photographer to Instagram.  I sent a message asking for her permission, and meanwhile took the risk of going ahead and using it, but I felt very uncomfortable not yet having her go-ahead.  Morally I knew I would have to change it if I wasn’t able to track her down within a month.  Almost three weeks passed and then I got a sweet message back from the very kind Sheila Peterson saying she’d be flattered.  I was over the moon.  I’m so, so happy to have the image I absolutely LOVE and have her blessing – such a relief.  Again, another lesson in putting myself out there and having the courage to ask, and risk rejection.

One last note about one of my earliest learnings to step forward… I was in my early 20’s sat face to face with my boss, a fairly formidable Scot (total pussycat underneath as it turned out) at my annual review where I was getting my first promotion at the film production company I worked for.  He favourably reviewed my work and told me what my salary increase was going to be.  I nodded and said thank you but as we continued talking I had this rising feeling of crushing disappointment at the figure, I felt I deserved more. Just as he was drawing our meeting to a close, I plucked up every ounce of courage I had, it was now or never, and I blurted out that I was a little disappointed with the increase, and gave him my reasons why I’d hoped for more.  To my amazement, his face broke into a beaming smile and he said the words I’ve never forgotten, “I’m SO pleased you spoke up, I wasn’t allowed to offer you more but was told if you asked I could”.  And lo, I got the salary I’d hoped for.  So at the ripe old age of 23 I learned ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’. And likewise, if you don’t step forward you miss all those opportunities for meaningful human connection or even getting that perfect dress, pillowcase, bangle sheet size!

Asking for our needs to be met can make us feel vulnerable, there’s a chance we’ll be rejected, told ‘no’.  But I truly believe life becomes all the richer for stepping outside our comfort-zones, stepping forward, taking relational risks, investing a little more of ourselves and seeing what happens in response.

I’d love to hear your examples of when you’ve put yourself out there, or what holds you back from asking for something or taking those emotional risks…

 

Authenticity, a slippery old fish.

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Tickling Trout – Frans Wesselman

“Authenticity, I think, is simply trying to find the kindest way to speak the whole truth.” Erin Loechner – Chasing Slow

I read this line a couple of nights ago and it leapt right off the page.  I am always on the hunt for just the right language to articulate the wildly wonderful search for authenticity I find myself on.  For the past few months I’ve been working with a treasured friend on ‘Operation Bloom’ and we’ve spent much of our time trying to distill into words our exhilarating, white knuckle ride experiences of tuning in to our authentic selves. Continue reading

J.F.D.I

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Stages of Change diagram courtesy of socialworktech.com

This morning a friend of mine who’d just read my ‘Creating Daily Rituals’ post messaged me to say I’d inspired her to take action. She’d already been thinking about changing her evening routine, had even written a plan but was yet to get going on it, whereas I was ‘doing the doing’.

As I replied to her message to reassure her that her self-awareness to even have written the plan was a big part of the battle, it got me thinking about why it can be tricky to make that transition from thought to action. Continue reading

Yoga Baby

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I’ve always been curious about yoga, had an inkling it might suit me but was also a little intimidated.  I imagined you had to take it extremely seriously and there was no fun to be had. But then last year I discovered Adriene Mishler’s You Tube channel and I fell head over heels in love.   She is just the right blend of ‘knows her shit’ and ‘down to earth goofy’.  At last I’d found my way in to the mystical (it isn’t) world of yoga and for the past 10 weeks I’ve done yoga every day.  I started by religiously following her inspirational ’31 Day Yoga Revolution’ in January and I’ve not looked back.

What has become apparent is that the areas of my life that are going well are as a result of me prioritising them. Continue reading

Creating Daily Rituals

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I’ve become increasingly interested in the benefits of automating and streamlining as much as possible of my day to day life. Aside from the obvious example of the ease of online grocery shopping, I’ve found that creating specific rituals in advance takes care of a good 90% of the motivation needed to start / complete a task in the moment. Continue reading