Gliding

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Vince and I like to GLIDE.  We plan ahead and we don’t like to live life by the skin of our teeth; for some that’s exciting, for us it’s stressful.

One of the things we’ve identified that helps with the glide is to automate as much of our lives as possible.  This creates a structure around certain areas which in turn facilitates flexibility in others.

For us gliding is about figuring out which actions bring us closer to a sense of peace and ease, and which take us further away.

Some of the positive actions we’ve integrated into our days are:

Positive Actions: ‘Fully Integrated’ (these are actions we’ve been doing for a year+):

Positive Actions: ‘Work in Progress’ (these are things that don’t yet feel fully integrated but are well on the way):

Positive Actions: Next on the list:

  • Diarise a block of time each week for taking care of admin, ‘to-do’ list items, chores (approx 3hrs).

To back track a little, I noticed a big dip in my energy and motivation levels towards the end of March this year following a relay race of family colds.  For a good 2-3 months after that I continued to feel sluggish and let some of my established positive actions slide.  It didn’t feel good.  I needed to take responsibility for my energy levels and not just self-medicate with sugar and mindless trawls through Facebook.  As a result I’ve been taking the Ayurvedic supplement ‘Ashwagandha‘ which certainly helped reignite my spark.  The effects are super subtle but I noticed a welcome brightness and clarity of thought much later into the evening than I had without it.  After a few weeks of taking the tablets, alongside daily yoga I admitted to my reluctant self that I needed to introduce some cardio <insert fountainous crying emoji here>.

You see, I’ve always told the story that ‘I have a poor relationship with exercise because I never really saw my (naturally slim) parents exercise and I was terrible at sport’, but when I thought about it I was actually able to identify several pockets of time in my post-school life where I have had a good relationship with exercise. I needed to ‘flip the script’ and start telling a different story.  I’ve since joined our local gym and have committed to an hour three times a week. My energy levels have continued to increase along with my productivity, and motivation to ‘get shit done’.

One of the prompts in my Daily Greatness Journal is ‘What is going well and why?’ Consistently the ‘why’ is: ‘X is going well because I’ve made it a priority and I’ve psychologically committed to doing it’.  It really does come down to that.

I’ve mentioned here before that a great trick for me is to schedule these positive actions into my diary ahead of time, so for example I have decided I will go to the gym Monday, Thursday and Saturday mornings first thing.  By making this decision in advance I’ve helped remove that internal negotiation each morning of, ‘shall I go to the gym today?  I’m feeling a bit tired, I could go tomorrow and then I’ll work REALLY, EXTRA, WONDER WOMAN-LY hard because of course I’ll feel less tired tomorrow…’  Without that pre-commitment I’d be extremely susceptible to talking myself out of it, kicking that can down the road.  Instead I’ve identified those slots in my week, and consider them set in stone.  The night before I also write it in my schedule for the next day to further commit.  When I wake up it feels like a done deal, I just get up and go with no shilly-shallying. It really seems to be working for me.

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One thing I’m trying to square is just how long it takes to fit in all the good practices into my day.  Much of it means time away from the Little Chap.  1hr of exercise + 20 minutes meditation + 5 minutes diary writing + 10 minutes YNAB update + 20 minutes on laundry – that’s around 2hrs a day.  For a while I was feeling like I must ‘get through’ those tasks so I can get on with my day but slowly I’m realising those things are my day, that they deserve the time required and that actually the positive effect will benefit the Little Chap.  I have more physical energy for play, meditation is making us calmer and more patient, I’m demonstrating the life skill of setting positive goals and tracking them in a journal, he’ll grow up knowing how to manage his finances, and in the meantime we won’t be overly stressed about money, he’ll see the benefit of keeping on top of things like laundry to avoid that clothes mountain overwhelm.  Of course some of these things can also be done when he’s in bed!  A major revelation to me was looking at how long I could spend on Facebook, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.  I’m sure across the whole day it could easily have been an hour.  That’s THIRTY HOURS A MONTH!  What could you achieve if you had THIRTY HOURS A MONTH to play with? Our introduction of a daily meditation practice was a no-brainer swap.  Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to prioritise new things and invest in the glide.

When we consider implementing a positive action we usually have to accept an initial sense of loss.  If we want to lose weight we will mourn those times of over-indulging , if we want to fit in exercise we may have to forfeit that delicious extra time in bed, sorting out our finances may mean we have to forego holidays, new clothes, meals out.

Of course ALLL the positive actions don’t magically weave a protective bubble around us and things do go wrong from time to time.  Just recently our car, fridge freezer, a wall of shelves and our loo all broke in the same week.  In the past we’d have felt like the Universe was against us but because we have our YNAB budget we had already, month by month, set aside money in several emergency funds to cover these things.  Of course we’d rather not have had to spend all that money but as it had already been given that specific job it really didn’t sting that much to get repairs and replacements sorted.

Before we make a mental commitment to introduce positive changes, all we can picture is that no-man’s land of restriction but without the benefits those positive actions will ultimately give us.  That looks like a sucky place to be, zero fun.  Emotionally we can be extremely resistant to taking up residence there even if we know it’s only for a while; this is where I’ve found it helpful to ‘fake it ’til I make it’, over-ride emotion by getting practical and make a concrete plan, put things in diaries, walk confidently past our whining doubtful selves clinging on to the takeaway menu like it was a jackpot lottery ticket.

Make deals with yourself on the really tough days:  don’t even think about getting on the treadmill, just focus on getting into your gym kit. Once you’re in your gym kit you might as well drive to the gym.  Once you’re at the gym you might as well do a few belligerent minutes on the treadmill. Before you know it you’ve done your hour and the virtue just drips off you (yesiree that’s glowy virtue I’m wiping off the machines after I’ve used them).  Keep showing up to the task, find your inner grit, accept you’re not gonna love it at first but trust that eventually you will (well you’ll love the after-effects at the very least).

Before you know it you’ll no longer be faking it,  you’ll feel that glide and then YOU’RE OFF…

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Header pic: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_anagram1′>anagram1 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Clock pic: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_james63′>james63 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

No Man’s Land pic: courtesy of: http://tomtunguz.com/

The On-going Magic of Tidying Up

A fellow KonMari-er requested I turn a recent Facebook post into a proper blog post so here it is Maria..!

A couple of days ago I walked into the craft room and found this:

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Instead of feeling a little shocked to find the bookalanche, I was more disturbed by the volume of stuff that had been spewed forth.

This time last year we completed a year-long KonMari (KM) de-clutter of the whole house so I didn’t think clutter was too much of an issue here at Chez Murphy but it appears I was wrong.  It’s amazing how seeing ones possessions from a different angle (in this case in an unceremonious heap on the floor) can jump-start a fresh engagement with your things. Stuff on shelves has a tendency to become invisible after a while but when it shifts physical position you can see it again (this is why Marie Kondo invites us to gather all items belonging to the same category into a pile; changing location shakes them up a bit). And thus I saw the contents of my shelves with fresh eyes. ALLLLL of it.

This unexpected event prompted a revisit of my books ‘category’ and I let go of quite a stack that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to discard before.

All my old diaries written from age nine and into my mid-twenties had been on the top shelf (the one that seemingly tipped the balance!) and even though I have very mixed feelings about them – so much angsty content and FAR too much detail –  I’m not ready to get rid of them, not yet anyway.  Not least because they could contain more lucrative ideas like this beaut from 1996 which could lead to untold riches:

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One thing I realised is I don’t want them on view, and whilst looking online for some sort of vintage trunk to stash them in, I suddenly remembered my dad’s old boarding school tuck box which I’d had restored earlier in the year. This is part of the KM magic; when you need a solution, the perfect one often presents itself from what you already have, and just to add to the magic, the box is the perfect size to house them all snugly together AND it’s lockable!  The shame will be contained.

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In amongst the strewn items I also found three VHS tapes that’d escaped the KM cull, titled: ‘Village Show 1983’, ‘Village Show 1984’ and ‘Family’.  They’d obviously made it through Round #1 of KM but what struck me upon seeing them again was how dormant and pointless they were in their current state.  I don’t have a VHS player, hell we don’t even have a TV, so today I’ve packaged them up ready to be converted to DVD.  It’s not that expensive and then at least they can be viewed.  I remember at the time feeling I ‘should’ keep them as there are lots of people still living in and around our village who were either in the shows or who helped organise them and I’m pretty sure my dad was the only person who recorded them.  I felt a responsibility not to just toss the tapes as they have irreplaceable content and other people might be interested in them, but without converting them and sharing the footage with ‘local folk’, the tapes had a bit of a negative psychological weight to them just sitting on the shelf, unwatched.

I also came across several strips of black and white negatives from photo’s I’d taken at art college over 10 years ago.  It was just from an experimental roll and I never got round to processing any of the images as soon after taking them my lovely mum died and, well processing negatives was taken to a whole new level. I know why I kept them…partly it felt like an incomplete project but mostly it’s because there is one negative, unintentionally double-exposed,  where one half of the frame is of a tree and the other is the last photo taken of my mum before she died, plaster-of-paris’d arm held aloft.  The same realisation hit me…there was little point in holding on to them without ever processing them.  So to that end I’ve also parcelled them up ready to be scanned.

I already feel lighter for having tackled these dormant items, hopefully breathing some new life into them.

This is why I am an exuberant advocate for the KonMari method, the process continues to provide endless opportunity for insights, it’ll be a life long relationship for us.  It’s been a revelation to me to be conscious and mindful of what we own and what we bring into our home;  to carefully choose those items and to revisit and review from time to time.  And I can’t think of a much better yard stick than to ask ‘does it spark joy’?

 

 

Educating with Freedom

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Last month many of our friends found out which primary schools their 4 year olds had got in to. We, in theory, will be doing all that next year.  I was struck by tales of mums in tears because their child did (or didn’t) get in to their first choice of school.  There is so much anxiety around education and schooling in this country and I worry about how that transfers onto our children, the last thing we want is for their place of learning to become associated with anxiety.  I also worry that the school system is so rigid and test based that parents feel disempowered to take the lead in their own child’s education.

From way before we even became parents we’ve long admired the Finnish model of education with the ethos being to wait until the child is 7 before introducing formal education i.e. numeracy and literacy. In the early years the focus is on play-lead learning and developing social skills such as caring for others, empathy and self-care.  It’s also worth noting Finland has some of the best education outcomes in the world.

As the UK is not set up for a delayed start we would either need to ‘home educate’ or find the funds for something along the lines of Steiner so his early learning is play- / creativity-based and child lead. Every fibre in my body feels we start formally educating children far too early.  I also feel culturally there is a rush for our children to hit every milestone as soon as possible, when there is much to be said for letting their childhoods and achievements unfold at a natural pace, lead by them and facilitated by us.

In terms of our approach to parenting our instinct has been to sit back, and let the Little Chap take his time in discovering his capabilities and the world around him. For our family this has worked very well.  For example he stopped wearing nappies a couple of months after he turned 3.  Some of his male peers were considerably earlier than that.  But what I can say is that we never had any tears, there were no battles, and pretty much nothing in the way of ‘accidents’ because we gave him the time and space to do it when he was ready, there was no ‘training’ involved.  We had no need to rush that transition.  It’s been totally stress free, and actually a real pleasure to tune in to his pace and watch him succeed in his own right.  And I want to offer him that same approach to his early years of education.

There seems to be a huge shift between how our infants learn and how our pre-schoolers and beyond learn.  We didn’t sit down and formally teach our chap to roll over, to reach out for toys, to crawl, walk, say his first word. These things happened naturally through us playing together, him watching us, through his own biological imperative, through him testing things out in his own time, through us gently encouraging and facilitating.  None of his progress has happened as a result of us sitting down and making a lesson out of it. It was his own curiosity / frustration which lead him to try to roll over (and fail) and try again until he figured it out.  And then suddenly this style of learning stops and learning through play becomes ‘learning to the test’ and little fidgety children are expected to stay seated, to focus on one topic; and just as they are in the flow, the topic changes and they’re expected to switch gear and with it their focus.

Currently Little Chap is in the very common phase of asking a million questions every day; How is the sky made? (ask your father). When I’m bigger can I fly my helicopter up to heaven and bring Granny Anne down? (if only!), How is poo made?  Do foxes eat poo? Does anything eat poo? (I googled that one, it’s a surprisingly large list).

A recent non-poo-based question was ‘how are volcanos made?’.  I’m not even sure how he got to hear about volcanos but it prompted him and I to sit down and watch some videos on volcanos.  Vince went out and bought a book on volcanoes and a volcano making kit which they made together. In that one project they got to learn about mould making (by using plaster of Paris to create the volcano), they did some painting to make it look realistic and then some chemistry in the form of mixing store cupboard ingredients to make the erupting lava.  The Little Chap also asked his Uncle Grant to tell him about the time he was filming at a Volcano and they sat together and looked at the pictures of that trip as the stories unfolded.

None of these activities felt like ‘education’ to any of us, they were fun, we all learned stuff and we had the time to follow these activities through until he was ready to shift focus.  But the point is he expressed an interest, he chose the topic and therefore he was totally engaged.  This is what I want for his early education.  I want him to be able to immerse himself in a subject, an experiment, the creation of a piece of art until he’s done.  I want him to freely follow an ever unfolding thread of learning.  I want him to learn to learn for the love of it and not because he’ll be in trouble with the teacher if he doesn’t.

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I know there are benefits to going to school and for some children it’s a place where they thrive but it’s not for everyone.  One of the most common things I hear when I tell people we’re thinking of home educating is ‘but what about socialising him, won’t he miss out?’  Well yes and no.  He will miss out on seeing the same people every day and forming friendships (and potentially enemies) on that basis but home educating doesn’t mean staying at home all day.  We would meet up with other children (of all ages) being educated outside of school.  He will have playdates once school is finished for the day with his friends who do go to school. He will hang out with his beloved cousins and the whole host of adults he encounters in his life.  He’s currently not in school or even pre-school and yet already he’s one of the most social three year olds I know.  He instigates conversation with his peers and adults alike.  I don’t think his socialisation will be a problem.

For the sake of super easy access to 25-30 other children his age on a daily basis I’m not prepared to accept unquestioningly the structure and ethos of school.  Why are primary school aged children getting homework when research shows there is little benefit and a very real risk of negative psychological effects?  The school day is long enough, I believe they should be playing, or doing recreational activities they love, spending time with their families.  And yet I regularly hear parents talk about the nightmares they have getting their child to do their homework, how there were tears, tantrums, bedtime anxiety over homework not completed, how the parent spent the evening finishing the homework etc.  As the young people say: WTF?? The more empowered amongst my friends send the homework back to the school, unfinished, with a note to say they are not putting their child through that level of stress aged SIX, and I applaud them for this.  Why are we doing this to our little children?  If primary aged children want to continue working at home then happy days, let them do it with joy in their hearts, but at this tender age, and where there is resistance and anxiety, we run the risk of turning our children off learning completely if they feel forced.  There is plenty of time for them to develop self-discipline around study when they are mature enough to understand the benefit.

And why are we testing them so young?  It is absolutely not for their benefit.  Teachers are saying they don’t want to be doing it, it’s box ticking, it’s for the stats, not for the healthy development of our children.  These tests aren’t measuring a child’s self confidence, self-esteem, creativity, wellbeing, love of learning, ability to engage in a topic of their choice, life skills, social skills, vocational skills, empathy, dexterity, and these are some of the vital skills we need for a healthy, happy adult life.

Not all children are destined to be academic so what about them?  Where do they get their educational and personal validation from if all the tests are about academic ability and demonstrating you can commit a bunch of facts to memory?  We each have our own set of valuable talents and abilities, and when we emerge from the school system (for many of us) that is where we begin to learn who we are and how to be who we are with confidence (I’m still learning), how to figure out where we belong, what we are good at outside of whether or not we know how to do quadratic equations.  It’s a worry.

School never suited me, I did well enough academically but even in primary school I used to look at the cars driving past the school and long for the freedom of those drivers…I was eight!  It’s therefore little surprise that I’ve spent most of my working life as a freelancer or self-employed.  I find institutions stifling.  I never wanted to be a sausage in a sausage factory. The current school model is based on the early days of British industrialisation when children were being primed for life in a factory.  That is just not the future our children are facing.  With the rapid growth of Artificial Intelligence taking over the human workforce we are going to need to get creative career-wise.  And therefore we need to be teaching our children how to be adaptable, free-thinking, self-directed, entrepreneurial individuals with a life long love of learning.  This way they will stand a chance of finding their place within a fast changing world.  I simply don’t feel confident our school system is going to do this as well as we can, for our specific child, particularly in the earlier years.  As a side note, some years ago I came across an exciting alternative to mainstream secondary school (unfortunately as is always the case the fees are ££££) but the style of learning they offer would have suited me to the ground.  I’m certain I would have flourished there and I would love the same for our Little Chap.  I highly recommend a watch of their video.

We will certainly visit our local schools, we’ve by no means made up our mind (although having written this post my gut tells me I may have!) but I will remain open to what our local schools can offer.  Taking the unconventional route feels both liberating and daunting, taking the conventional route feels societally simpler but at right angles to our values and how we choose to live our lives.  We’re a way off needing to make a decision, thankfully, but these things creep up and I want us to glide into this decision feeling well informed, and not rush it because a deadline is snapping at our heels.  So watch this space, I will post an update once we are clearer about the path ahead.

Hey friend,

I am aware this may be an emotive subject for some, and this post is not designed to be a critique of your own choices around education, we are all striving to do the best we can for our own children.  I’m still trying to figure this stuff out and I’m choosing to do it here because if I’m honest I have been fearful of negative reactions and people telling me we’re going to fuck our child up or turn him into a weirdo so I needed to walk through that fire and put my thoughts out there.  Fear can be a crippling voice in one’s head, but my gut tells me we’ve got a lovely boy so we’ve done a good enough job so far, and there’s nothing to say we can’t continue to do so.  I’m inclined to listen to my gut over fear.  I can see pros and cons about both routes and I would love you to share your thoughts and experiences, whatever your choices have been.

Header image courtesy of: www.homeschoolersanonymous.org

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.