Tag: habits

Are you simply talking yourself into feeling busy and stressed?

Are you simply talking yourself into feeling busy and stressed?

Have you ever realized partway through a TV programme that you have no idea what’s going on because you’ve been distracted by your phone? It happened to me earlier today. This morning the lure of social media apps on my phone meant that I lost track of the British TV game show I was watching (a guilty pleasure that I’ve inherited from my mum). The effect was inconsequential, to say the least.

But what about when technology distracts us from engaging in the important aspects of our lives?

Phones, TVs, computers, tablets: they all provide us with constant sources of distraction. This ubiquitous distraction seems to be an ever-increasing characteristic of modern life. Sure, technology makes life easier, more convenient, and so on. There’s no denying that it has its place.

However, the benefits of technology rapidly wane when we are distracted from being present and mindfully engaging with what should be our priorities in life. And no, I’m not talking about game shows.

Consciously developing and nurturing relationships that, in turn, nurture us is an essential underpinning of happiness. At least, that’s what I believe. Unfortunately, all too often we are too distracted to give our relationships the focus that they warrant. More often than not this can be traced back to the modern lifestyle: not only technology in all its forms, but the all too common habit we have of repeatedly telling everyone (including ourselves) how busy we are. How stressful life is. That we simply don’t have time. That we have too many things to do. And yet, I’m sure we’d be appalled if we realized just how much time we devote to ‘screen time’ on a weekly, or even daily, basis.

This is precious time that is essentially wasted. It’s time that we could – and arguably should – be spending in more mindful pursuits. It’s time that would allow us to be properly present in our interactions with others: our spouses, children, family, friends, and colleagues.

It seems to me that we choose to be distracted, albeit on a subconscious level. I’m not saying that stress is not a real concern, or that we aren’t busy. I just think that we tend to talk ourselves into adopting the mindset of a stressed busybody. No matter how much we have to get done, no matter how much pressure we experience, the truth of the matter is that relationships need to be a priority. Spending time being mindfully present in our interactions with others will enhance our relationships and, ultimately, our happiness and sense of fulfilment.

And isn’t that what life should be about – feeling happy and fulfilled whilst enjoying meaningful connections with others?

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The truth about being kind to yourself

The truth about being kind to yourself

Being kind to yourself is hardly a new idea. The idea of loving-kindness is a central concept in mindfulness. Many of the latest trends in psychology (both genuine theories and woo-woo pop fads) also look at this idea of being kind to yourself.

A few months ago I had a chat with a close friend about just this topic. It came about because we spontaneously met for a cup of coffee.

[Side-note: this friend has uncanny timing. She called me up for said cuppa moments after I received discouraging news. Then, as I started writing the draft for this post, she got in contact again. Gotta be a sign?! Anyway, back to my point…]

We met at a new artisan cafe where they have a baker’s table that offers the most delectable teatime treats. Warning: smugness approaching… Our order did not feature any of these said delights, even though I have a sweet tooth to rival the best of ’em. She too was on a campaign to start eating healthily. It felt like an accomplishment – and for me, it was – to walk out of there without having dived into a sugary moment of deliciousness.

Our conscious effort to spurn the baker’s table got us talking. When we talk about being kind to ourselves it often involves something unhealthy – taking a rest from gym, ordering that slice of cake, enjoying just one more GnT in the evening, and so on. But really, when you stop to think about it, that’s being pretty unkind to yourself. Not only are you doing something that is physically unhealthy, but you are undermining your efforts to achieve your goals, to stay motivated, to stay on track, and to enjoy the results of your efforts.

I think that being kind to yourself is really about motivating yourself to stick to your goals, rather than allowing yourself the ‘treat’ of having a break from them. It just sets up the mindset that a reward consists of cheating on your goals, no matter what they are. If you want to boost your motivation, feelings of accomplishment, etc, then your reward should be something that is in line with your goals – something that will enable you to reap the results of your efforts to create a fulfilling life.

It’s all rather too easy to sit down and type this out. Tomorrow I’m going back to the same cafe… and I can already feel my motivation waning. After all, lemon meringue pie is my personal weakness. So I might find myself at this time tomorrow having to eat a slice of humble pie. Oh dear…

I’d love to know – what is your take on the idea of being kind to yourself?

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It’s time to ‘fess up

It’s time to ‘fess up

I have a confession. I’m becoming one of those people. The people who make you sigh, grimace, and roll your eyes. I’ve been sucked into the world of leading an organic and natural lifestyle. If you know what ACV is without referring to Google, then you’re one of us. And there’s no way out!

Coconut oil is a fad that might actually be worth all the fuss…

Just to be clear: this does not mean that I’m becoming some sort of woo-woo hippie who doesn’t adhere to modern hygiene. I shower daily and wash my hair regularly (more on ‘no poo’ later).

It all started innocently enough. Well, as innocent as it can be with Pinterest. As far as I can tell, only women suffer from this addiction.

Pinterest addiction

Beware: I have heard that men can adopt the tough love delete-your-app approach. But I think this only applies if you have a DIY Project board. Something about the words ‘but it shows you how on Pinterest – it’s so quick and easy’ is akin to an evil curse.

In our household the wording is more along the lines of ‘but I found it on Pinterest and it’s natural and doesn’t have chemicals’

This latest compulsive sage started when I happened across a few posts about natural alternatives to chemical detergents. I thought it was worth trying out. They sucked me in! It was the gateway drug of all things natural and organic. I read a few articles about the ingredients in ‘conventional’ detergents and toiletries and then there was no going back. (What’s worse, I’m not only guilty of addiction, I’m also guilty of dealing – leading to others’ Pinterest addictions.)

And then it snowballed: from detergents, to all sorts of products. In this way, Pinterest has an unfair advantage over those of us with a compulsive streak. Pinterest led me to Thank Your Body. Google led me to Faithful to Nature – and they courier the stuff to you. It’s all too easy and available. One kitchen cupboard is now dedicated to my stash.

Not that I’m a die-hard organic-or-nothing gal. I mean seriously, could they not have come up with a better term for ‘no poo’? It sounds like a constipated toddler rather than an alternative to chemical shampoo. Terms aside, I still believe in the aim of all things natural.

My aim from the beginning has been to eliminate as many chemical toxins from our home as possible. And I feel good about that. But it got me thinking about the broader meaning of toxicity. Make sure you read my next post about emotional toxicity and how it’s everywhere and needs to be eradicated (just like those carcinogenic germs)…

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your take on going the organic and natural route?

Pink elephants, lemon meringue pie, and eliminating toxicity

Pink elephants, lemon meringue pie, and eliminating toxicity

I have to admit that I read a lot of articles of the LifeHacker variety. If you’re like me, you’ll have this this lovely warm Aha! moment. And then dish up another serving of dessert as you watch yet another episode of Bones, and somehow forget the beauty of that insight.

On another note, I’m a self-confessed lemon meringue pie snob. And glutton. And addict. And obsessive. And compulsive.

Over and over again we’re told the same stuff:

  • eat right
  • exercise right
  • sleep right

But we also need to think right.

And I’m not just talking about having the right mindset, or being optimistic. Judging from what people say and write, I think that we’re guilty of a lot more negativity that we realise. I believe that negative thoughts and comments are truly toxic to our wellbeing.

toxic thoughts

It’s just so easy to fall into the trap. I think we’re all too quick to judge, to criticise, to belittle, to gossip. Oh of course we all agree that these things are awful, but yet these kind of comments seem to creep into conversations all the time. And I’m no exception.

Taking it a step further, I think that even negative things said in jest, in teasing, are just as toxic. If you’re think I’m being oversensitive, then that’s okay. I think you’ll just be proving my point. Because it’s okay to be sensitive. I’d rather have a capacity for empathy and be sensitive than be that woman who sends bitch slap messages.

negative messages

I think that even when we say negative things in a joking manner, that negativity is still transferred somehow. I’ll use an example that is random but is nonetheless one of my personal favourites…

Whatever you do, do NOT think of a pink elephant.

I’m hazarding a guess that you now have an image of a rosy pachyderm in your mind? It’s kinda cute, hey? Awwww. Okay, back to my point…

Even though the instruction was not to think of something, that idea or image was still presented to your consciousness. I think that negative things said in a joking or teasing fashion are just the same. Long after the humorous tone has faded, the message remains.

So here’s to being mindful of what we are thinking, saying and writing. To eliminating the negative – and being committed to doing so.

do not think of a pink elephant

You’ll have to read my next post to find out my embarrassing confession when it comes to eliminating the toxicity in my life.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the extent of negativity and trying to eliminate it?

The real truth about creating new habits

The real truth about creating new habits

I initially thought that the title of this post would be ‘Create 7 Habits in 7 Days’. Clearly I was feeling somewhat overambitious that day. Let’s just say that I put the ‘C’ in OCD.

One night when I was plagued with insomnia, I was reading through various blogs. (Just so you know, it’s a great habit to read blogs. Nothing like a bit of shameless self marketing thrown in here and there…) Anyway, the point is that I came across a post that was all about using a checklist to develop new habits.

new habits

At first I thought it sounded a little twee. But I never can resist a list. Or an opportunity to use colourful pens. Or an excuse to start a journal of sorts.

Now I must mention here that the post did argue the logic and merits of focusing on developing one habit at a time. I decided that I would work on seven. Simultaneously. Like I said, I put the ‘C’ in OCD. So my checklist looks something like:

  1. Wake up on time
  2. Go to gym
  3. Use Pomodori (learn about the Pomodoro System here)
  4. Meditate
  5. Plan meals for next week (More than a serious rut, my cooking is in a bottomless crater.)
  6. Buy groceries accordingly.
  7. Do some crafts on Friday.

(In hindsight I see I forgot: 8. Get a damn life!)

So out came my once-forgotten journal and my stash of pens. I selected seven different colour inks for no reason other than I thought it looked pretty. (Now who’s being twee?!) I created a weekly checklist where I could keep track of how efficient I was being in adopting these new habits.

My idea of heaven…

At first I thought that, like so many simple ideas, this works. It’s ridiculous how much I love ticking off items on a list. Now I may not be Catholic, but I did experience some guilt when items were not ticked off for the day.

And then life happened.

It’s so easy to plan something, like a list of things you want to incorporate into your daily or weekly routine. But I find that we often plan in a vacuum. We forget that things happen. Errands need to be run. Interruptions occur. You get distracted. You get tired. You discover a concussed baby monkey in your garden (true story). A cat moves into your home. The cat takes over your life for the first week. You have to hire a carpenter to install a cat-flap. You need to take your cat to the vet. You get the picture.

But I do think that using lists and checklists has its merits, especially for the conscientious types. (That’s me. Oh the shame!) If nothing else, you start developing systems, and I always think that systems deserve more focus that goals. Because with the right systems in place, you will achieve your goals as part of the process.

And what is life, if not a long-term process during which we’re trying to achieve fulfilment? Be mindful of the systems you create in your life, because they will ultimately determine your happiness. And happiness should always be the ultimate life goal.

I’d love to hear about your successes. How have you managed to adopt new habits?

The best time to adopt a better lifestyle

The best time to adopt a better lifestyle

I have this theory that the timers on cardio machines were developed in Hell. They operate slowly in order to extend your torture and agony. There is no way that twenty minutes on a treadmill is the same as twenty minutes in real time. It’s some sort of Hellish cosmic joke where we’re all victims of this never-ending hoax. And then, to add insult to injury, we keep on returning to gym.

Sometimes I get the better of the hoax and avoid the gym. But then I get sucked in again. And the agony is always worse once you return after a break.

You know that feeling when you are sweating it out and you need to distract yourself from what you are enduring? I was on the rowing machine at gym, looking out the large glass windows at the trees on the surrounding hills. The beautiful colour of the changing colours of Autumnal leaves captured my attention.

There was one tree that really caught my eye. The changing colours were incredible. Perhaps it stood out so predominantly because the forest behind it was still green. Even in Nature, things grow and develop at different times.

So it was okay that I was only on the rowing machine in May, my first real attempt to kick-start what should have been New Year’s resolutions. If trees can adapt to the seasons at different rates, so can we.

I had been beating myself up (not literally – that would be too excessive even for me) about the fact that it had taken several months for me to get my A into G. I realised that ‘should’ often involves undue criticism. We worry about what we should be doing, what we should look like, what we should be earning, and when we should achieve all this.

But that just focuses on the negative and fosters criticism of ourselves and others. It’s not about a specific date. It doesn’t matter when you start. So what if I only got back on track with a healthy lifestyle in May? The point is that I have. Who cares when I will get to the level of fitness that I once reached? The point is that I will at some point. Hell, I might even surpass it.

healthy lifestyle

So when is the best time to adopt a better lifestyle? It’s not about when. It’s not even really about how. It’s about developing a habit organically because you enjoy the process. And that is what my next post is all about: the truth about developing new habits.

When did you do something later than you ‘should’ have, only to realise the irrelevance of the timing and your self-criticism?

How tomatoes encouraged me to meditate

How tomatoes encouraged me to meditate

I love tomatoes. Weird perhaps, but true. But I never thought that tomatoes would show me the path to meditation.

I was first introduced to meditation a long time ago. And for those of you who think meditation is some sort of woo-woo practice (or worse), this occurred in a religious context. A Christian context, if you must know. However, it wasn’t something that I pursued (either the meditation or religion). Although I’ve always thought meditation to be a good habit, the true healing power was only really made clear to me when I started incorporating it into my life as part of mindfulness.

Like many things, I got out of the habit. You know how it goes: life gets busy and all these things fall by the wayside. Which is a pity. It’s also counterproductive because it’s when we get increasingly busy that things such as mindfulness and meditation are that much more crucial. Despite several concerted attempts to practice regularly, I just didn’t develop the habit. That’s where the tomatoes come in.

I was recently reading an article that mentioned the Pomodoro Technique in passing. Upon embarking on the inevitable Google search I discovered that this is not something new. Even though I’m rather late in getting the Pomodoro memo I decided to give it a try. Not because I struggle to procrastinate, but because I tend to focus so much when writing that I neglect to take breaks. Although this might sound like a thinly veiled attempt to sound smug, this pattern is just as destructive as procrastination, if not more so.pomodoro technique

And then, just like anything else in life, I discovered that there are several Pomodoro apps. Because who doesn’t need a desktop tomato kitchen timer? It even has all the sound effects of a traditional timer.

My 5 minute Pomodoro breaks typically involve green Rooibos tea. My daily consumption of the stuff is quite impressive. After four Pomodori I hit the twenty minute break. What to do? And then it hit me: meditate. It’s amazing what a twenty minute mindful meditation can do. I feel much calmer, more focused. And happier.

tomighty pomodoro app

Weird as it may sound, and bizarre it definitely is, as long as I use my desktop tomato kitchen timer, I find the time to include meditation as part of my daily routine. And I’m much the better for it. So you see, I have been right all along to love tomatoes!

What has been your experience of an unexpected source of motivation?

Find Your Life’s True Direction

Find Your Life’s True Direction

In the words of the rather eccentric modern version of Sherlock Holmes as featured in Elementary“I abhor the dull routine of existence.” It’s an extreme statement, no doubt. And yes, the character at the time was seeking some form of occupation to distract him from the all-consuming drug habit of his recent past. But that does not negate the valuable meaning behind his words.

Too many of us are guilty of repeating our dull routines without really giving any thought to our true purpose and direction in life. We live in a world where a person is considered lucky if she finds her job to be enjoyable. When you consider just how much time you devote to your career, that’s a pretty dim state of affairs. Life is too short to be spending hours doing something that is not fulfilling.

Whether it’s your career or your personal life, you deserve to live a life that’s enjoyable and enriching. You should be able to relish the feeling of following your true direction in life. You should be able to construct a life for yourself that allows you to grow as a person and develop in the true holistic sense of the word.

Life should not be dull. Mondays should not be awful monsters lurking in the background on Sunday evenings. Talent should not be wasted. Make use of your talent. You know what truly feeds your soul. Focus on that, and you will find your true path in life. If you want to feel empowered and motivated in your life, then you need to start focusing on what truly matters to you.

Getting out of the dull routine of your existence does not mean trying to find the next adrenaline rush. Or anything else that you employ to distract yourself from the truth of your life as it is now. Face the brutal truth of your life, and make the changes that will feed your soul and warm your heart. It is time that we all start leading the lives that we should be living if we are to give our own lives meaning and substance.

Practice Makes Perfect? I’m Not There Yet.

The things that we need to practice on a daily basis to be mindful are the same things that we need to do in times of emotional difficulty. Therefore, it’s important to practice mindfulness daily until it becomes a habit and thus our automatic response to emotionally trying times. It is in the daily practices and habits of our lives that we develop constructive coping mechanisms that will see us through challenges and trying circumstances.

However, this is so much easier said than done. Our coping methods have been ingrained in us since early childhood and it can be challenging in the extreme to override these powerful habitual responses. It is particularly difficult when trying to cope with something that places a strain on our emotions – it is as these times that our habits of old have a strong pull and newer approaches tend to fall by the wayside.

Learning and practising mindfulness, like everything else, is a process and requires patience. You will probably have to learn the same difficult lesson several times before you have really gained a habitual mindful response in times of difficulty. But the journey and the attempts are worth it. Although it may seem nebulous at first, mindfulness is incredibly powerful.

Weave Your Parachute Every Day

Weave Your Parachute Every Day

A pearl of wisdom from Jon Kabat-Zinn: Weave your parachute every day, rather than leave it to the last minute.

At first glance this is great advice for a paratrooper. Or a pilot. Or a skydiver. But obviously this quote is not meant to be taken literally. Unless of course you do have one of the afore-mentioned jobs: then it is an excellent idea to take this advice literally.

I think that what Kabat-Zinn is trying to teach us is an important aspect of mindfulness. Whatever we need to do to be happy, calm, fulfilled (for some of us: sane), we need to do it every day.

Too often in life we leave things to reach some sort of crisis before we evaluate what’s happening in our lives and work out what we need to do to lead the lives we want to lead. What we really should be doing is practising this on a daily basis and experiencing as much fulfilment as we can as we go about our everyday lives. When life overwhelms us, as is does and will, we need to have put in place on a daily basis the practises that will carry us through trying circumstances.

At any rate, this is my interpretation of Kabat-Zinn’s words. If we weave our parachute every day then we are ready to take action as soon as we spy the first wisps of smoke or other signs that things are not going as we planned. If you leave it to the last minute, you’ll be panicky and more than likely tangling up the cords of your parachute as you hyperventilate in rhythm with your throbbing heartbeat.

It sounds like common sense. However, like much that is labelled as such, it’s all too frequently ignored… until the engines start whining and you realise that you should have been better prepared. Any of us can be caught unawares, that’s not a choice, but we do have the choice as to whether to be prepared for it or not. And just like a literal parachute, you need to ensure that you have prepared it yourself. Each of us it ultimately responsible for coping with our own life.