2017… a fuller, emptier life…?

2017 held some important lessons for me and I am proud of what I have achieved (more self-love and praise being one!). The year started with night-sweats, heart palpitations, nausea, butterflies in my stomach, and a general struggle to get through each day. I was unwell and determined to do what I needed to do to get better. “I am an anxious person” was not to be my mantra for 2017 but instead, “I am suffering with anxiety and can get better.” My church supported me in finding a counsellor who was excellent and gave me the space to explore the sources of my anxiety and certain life experiences that I hadn’t processed fully. She also equipped me with the tools I needed to notice negative thought-patterns and introduce more self-care. I set aside 2017 as a year for my emotional and mental health that would have a lasting impact. In my post from January 2017  I set out the following objectives:

FOR ME, THIS YEAR IS A YEAR FOR SELF-REFLECTION.

FOR PRAYER AND MEDITATION.

FOR DOING LESS, STRIVING LESS.

FOR FACING UP TO MY PROBLEMS AND THE CAUSES OF THEM THAT RUN DEEP.

FOR DISCERNING THE HABITUAL THOUGHT-PATTERNS THAT STEAL JOY AND PERPETUATE FEAR.

FOR INVESTING IN IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTING IN MEANINGFUL AND PERSONAL WAYS.

FOR EMBRACING AND FINDING PURPOSE IN MY MAIN JOB IN THIS SEASON, AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ROLES I WILL EVER HAVE; THAT OF A MOTHER.

All summed up by this phrase, which is my main objective for 2017:

To live a fuller, emptier life.

cslewis day by day

It is powerful to look back at that list and see the impact it has had. In bullet form, here is what I did this year:

  • Had five months of counselling
  • Rested more
  • Prioritised self-soothing rather than achievement
  • Reflected on negative thought-patterns and practised dealing with them
  • Utilised mindfulness techniques
  • Learnt about my personality type
  • Quit facebook and instagram
  • Read my bible more
  • Practised gratitude
  • Tried to end each day listing some good things I did (I forgot this a lot)
  • Walked my dog for exercise

During the final third of 2017, this was all put to the test when we moved to London Borough of Bromley in August. The pace of life has picked up considerably, plus the fact that moving is one of life’s greatest stressors. Despite the stress and busyness of juggling a job and motherhood, the loneliness, less support, and despite my husband getting appendicitis and needing emergency surgery (!), I can honestly say that it has been a positive time and much easier than anticipated. I am still learning lessons about how to prioritise rest when working from home and the need for strict boundaries but I think these lessons are being learned quicker as I notice the impact earlier than previously and have a greater sense of the importance of rest for not just my physical health but mental as well.

Moving has highlighted the truth of the Brené Brown quote I used in the January 2017 blog post. You can’t hot-wire connection and it seemed all the more obvious to me that social media gave the appearance of connection and could easily make me complacent about trying to make friends (real-life ones). Knowing I needed someone to connect with, I put myself out there and asked a lady at church if I could meet up with her for coffee. By this point the only thing stopping me from deleting facebook was this here blog. I wanted people to still connect with it, to see the posts pop up in their newsfeed. After all, Facebook was my biggest source of views. But then I was challenged by thinking that if I’d rather live without it than perhaps I shouldn’t want others to consume it for my benefit either. So bye-bye facebook and instagram came off my phone too. I’ve been meaning to acknowledge this for a while now and say please subscribe to my blog to keep up with my posts. I love connecting with my readers and hope you will comment on my posts.

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So, 2018? What now?

Stay tuned…

To all my readers and subscribers – I hope you had a good holiday season and…

Best wishes for 2018!

“You-are-never-too-old-to-set-a-new-goal-or-dream-a-new-dream.”-C.S.-Lewis

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how you can re-frame those boring tasks that you resent as gifts of empty space

As I lie in bed next to my daughter, I am pondering my recent writer’s block.

I don’t have anything worth saying. I overthink it. I don’t have enough time for it. Why did I ever think I should do this? I have zero imagination.

Etcetera, etcetera.

I am reminded of Anne Lamott’s description of the mental diatribe she has to quieten every time she sits down to write.

…You try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be cancelled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. ‘Bird By Bird’, p 6-7

It is pitch black and I am trying not to fall asleep. I think I am succeeding when my daughter’s voice permeates the darkness;

“Can you turn your snoring quiet?”

I HAVE A COLD! I’m not even asleep!

Anyway, I lie there and I begin to reflect on the many times I have been forced into a moment of empty space by parenting and simply running a household. Countless times I have lain beside one of them, I have breastfed on oh, several million occasions, hung out washing 26,000 times (I don’t iron by the way), I have cooked so many meals, spent many hours cleaning a bathroom that seems to be covered in fluff and skid marks half an hour later.

I have read many children’s stories. Has anyone else noticed it is possible to read a children’s book and have a lucid and fruitful train of thought going on at the same time? Especially if it’s a book you’ve read many times and it rhymes (I recommend Duck in a Truck and Room on the Broom for some good thinking time). 

In a TED talk titled How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas, Manoush Zomorodi says that when we are bored our brains make new connections and solve problems.

So going from one app to another on my phone all day long is depleting my brain of the energy it needs to create. I have written about phone use before and its detriment is no news to many of us. But this revelation about boring tasks means I can appreciate the household jobs I resent because I can’t possibly hold my phone whilst cleaning the kitchen floor. Dusting is now a gift. Cleaning the oven; a delight!

Ok, now I’ve gone too far. But when doing those things, I can definitely think. And not only that, I can rest my brain. For so long I have persuaded myself that these tasks are a good use of my time and that doing six things at once on my laptop and phone is simply getting stuff done. Yet why do I feel so tired and ineffective sometimes? Why do I sit down to write and feel like my brain has nothing left to give?

BoredAndBrilliant_WeGotBored

Zomorodi set up a challenge called Bored and Brilliant, which encouraged the participants to cut down their phone use. An app on their phones told them how much time they were spending on their phone per day. Here’s what she says about some of the results:

Researchers at USC have found — they’re studying teenagers who are on social media while they’re talking to their friends or they’re doing homework, and two years down the road, they are less creative and imaginative about their own personal futures and about solving societal problems, like violence in their neighbourhoods. And we really need this next generation to be able to focus on some big problems: climate change, economic disparity, massive cultural differences. No wonder CEOs in an IBM survey identified creativity as the number one leadership competency.

This has challenged me to think about how I teach my kids to self-regulate when it comes to technology. Because digital media platforms will all be working to get as much of their attention as possible. Just like they’re working for mine. Now and in the future, my best method for teaching them this is to model it. To not have my phone with me at all times. To not run to it as soon as it pings. To read actual books. To sit and think.

Instead of doing a writing goal throughout November, I decided I would aim for more boredom. I would pick up my phone less, perhaps turn it off for an evening, and read or write and allow empty space for my mind to re-energise and wander. I will let you know how it goes.

I am feeling optimistic because as I lay next to my daughter, I had the idea for this post…

PS. I’m no longer on Facebook, so if you know of anyone who reads my blog via that platform please let them know to subscribe on my homepage and get posts straight to their inbox. 

scarcity culture and finding a sense of worthiness

The beauty of having moved to a new town and only having one friend, is that when I take my kids to soft play I am completely and utterly alone without the distraction of pleasant, refreshing conversation and may as well do more reading. Yay.

So I have cracked on with reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. It’s taking me a while, not because I’m not enjoying it but because it’s not a story. You may have noticed that I like narratives. It’s part of being human I reckon.

Anyway, she writes about a cultural phenomenon called ‘scarcity’ that currently pervades western culture. It can be epitomised by the phrase:

“Not enough.”

It’s potent when you ponder your own scarcity perspective. Here are my ‘not enough’s’ throughout an average day…

I wake up at 4am, sandwiched between my two children.

I’ve not enough room

I’ve not had enough sleep

-I’ve not enough patience

-I’ve not enough energy to be creative with breakfast (weetabix it is)

-I’ve not enough time

-I’m not thin enough to wear that

-I’m not kind enough

-I’m not conscientious enough

-I’m not tidy enough

-I don’t pray enough

-I’m not confident enough

-I don’t like cooking enough

-I don’t have enough company

-I don’t have enough alone time

-I don’t have enough energy to make the most of my alone time

-I don’t have enough integrity (I ate ice cream)

Go to bed (already knowing I won’t have had enough sleep tomorrow because I’m going to bed too late).

Start over.

I feel pretty melancholy after writing that! Man, I give myself and my life a bad rep. I’m my own joy-thief.

“The greatest casualties of a scarcity culture are our willingness to own our vulnerabilities and our ability to engage with the world from a place of worthiness.” p. 29

How do you gain a sense of worthiness? Well, whether you believe in a divine being that has put worthiness into your DNA simply because He created you, or not, it still requires an application of faith. You have to believe in something or hope for something that you cannot see.

Life doesn’t present us with a context in which we can easily look in the mirror and say to our reflection, “I am worthy”.

The problem with a scarcity culture is that our own shame wants us to bring others down to our level of unworthiness. We perpetuate unworthiness as easily as we spread the common cold.

Then we blame. When we can find our own sense of worthiness, we can more easily help others find theirs. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we perpetuated worthiness?

worthy quote