Author Archives: Paula

Not everything is your concern

holding-the-worldHave you ever thought about how much you “take on” mentally in any given day?

Our friend tells us about a difficult day they’re having or our child struggles with their homework and our immediate response is to take their problem on, think up a solution, offer an opinion, give advice.

When faced with a daily shower of depressing news headlines we internalise them, worrying and commenting on them with friends and online, feeling somehow responsible for them and how they play out.

When another person does something which annoys or offends us, we tuck it away inside, ranting about it, railing against it, brooding about it, trying to guess their motives, plotting how to stop it from happening again.  Getting infuriated when it does happen again (as, of course, it always does).

When we think we may have annoyed or offended others, we worry about it, beating ourselves up, endlessly questioning ourselves and our actions, wondering how we can stop that happening the next time.

Every day, we labour under the illusion that by railing, worrying, sharing and offering opinions we can shape events, manage other people’s lives, control the uncontrollable.  While trying to manage our anxiety about the many things outside of our control, we end up making ourselves and others more anxious.

And it’s ironic that we’re getting so overwhelmed and agitated that we aren’t even taking action on the things we care about.  So we share articles about terrible suffering, instead of donating to or volunteering for the charities working to alleviate it.  We moan about the government instead of voting or standing for Parliament.  We confuse worrying, opining and marching with long-term, positive, visionary action.  And in doing so we feel increasingly powerless.

It’s a peculiar kind of arrogance which leads us to think that we need to have a view on everything; that everything we do or think carries weight.  And a perverse logic that thinks we are going to make a difference when we only talk about the things that matter most to us.

So how do we stop concerning ourselves with All The Things and find the energy to work towards what we really care about?

Here are some things to consider.

In our dealings with other people

We are responsible for ourselves, our own lives, our actions and our responses.   I also think we have a responsibility not to deliberately harm or hurt others.

We are not responsible for others people’s lives, actions or responses to us.  We cannot control them, and nor should we try.  Worrying about them is a waste of time.  Interfering is arrogant and disrespectful.

Of course, there is a middle ground around being kind and respectful in our dealings with other people and being there for those who are vulnerable and in need.  What that looks like in practice is an individual choice.  But too few of us do this well because we are spreading ourselves so thin.

Other people’s problems

When someone (and that includes our children) tells us their problems, they are not asking for our help.  They are making conversation, thinking out loud, organising their thoughts.

The best thing we can do is stop and listen.  If we really can’t stop ourselves butting in, the next best thing we can do is empathise.   If we still can’t contain ourselves then we need to ask questions to help them clarify their thoughts.

We don’t need to take the problem on.  When we come up with suggestions, advice or an opinion We. Are. Not. Helping.  We are getting in the way.

When someone wants our help or advice, they will ask for it.  At that point, we can decide if we are able to help them or not.  Simple.

When something happens that you don’t like

Don’t resist it, rail against it, share it, deny it – it will only infect your mind like a virus.

Instead, first pay due attention.  Notice it and the feelings it provokes.

Then accept it.  It’s happened, it is what it is.

Then decide.  Are you are going to take it on or let it go?  Are you going to pick up the dirty laundry on the floor or leave it for the person who dropped it to pick up?  Are you going to run for Parliament or trust the people who are paid to be MPs to do their job?  Are you going to donate to or work for a particular charity or are you going to leave that work to those who are passionate about it while you get on with what you are called to do?

Then let it go.  The decision is made, move on.

There is great peace in realising that not everything has to be our business.   We don’t need to take everything on.   But when we do, we need to do it wholeheartedly.   That’s how we empower ourselves and others and can really make a difference.

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I wrote this piece primarily as a reminder to myself, but if you find something useful in these words, then please let me know in the comments.  Questions and contributions to the debate are also very welcome.

Distant goals or daily joys?

goal-photoFrom pretty much the moment we are born we learn that outcomes matter more than processes; that the destination counts for more than the journey; the ends justify the means.

As toddlers, we get the greatest praise for walking, not for trying to walk.  At school, we get most recognition for our test scores, not the effort we put in.  And once at work, we are expected to “perform”, meet our KPIs, hit our targets.  We celebrate marriages, not relationships, medals not sportsmanship.  In conversation we talk about the new car we got or the holiday we took (exciting!), not how long we saved for it (dull).

It’s everywhere and it matters.  Why?  Because most outcomes are not under our control.  They depend on our efforts, yes, but also on other people, on our environment, genetics, technology, dumb luck.

When we buy into the lie that we are what we achieve, we allow our self-esteem  and happiness to be ruled by forces outside of ourselves.  We are adrift, not anchored; anxious.  We spend too much time, energy and money trying to work out and follow the formula for “success”.  We can try too hard for approval, sacrificing our own needs in the process, and feeling crushed when we don’t get it.  We may even resort to cheating, dominating and manipulating others in a bid to control them and make ourselves feel safe.

Life is messy, uncertain, unpredictable.   We can let ourselves get sucked into the cyclone, spinning as we strive to achieve the things others value and approve of.

Or, we can find solid ground and anchor ourselves in what matters most to us: what lifts us, brings us joy and gives us a deep sense of fulfilment.

From that more secure, more energising place, we can aim higher, take more risks, build more positive relationships, help others better, follow our dreams.

Here are some ways this can, and does, work in practice.

Want to be successful in your work?  Notice what you are best at and love doing at work.  Then figure out how doing those things can get you to where you want to be.  When you are happy and fulfilled in your work you will naturally attract and build the customers and positive relationships you need to help you succeed.

Want to lose weight?  Stop dieting.  Stop stuffing average-tasting, unsatisfying food mindlessly into your mouth when you are bored or over-hungry or feel like you need comfort.  Instead, discover what food tastes amazing and feels satisfying to you.  Then make it and savour it.  Over time you can adapt it to make it healthier while keeping the taste you love.   But first, just learn to love food again.

Want a successful relationship?  Notice and pursue what you love and lights you up.  Dress in the way that makes you happy.  For any relationship to succeed, particularly after kids, you need to be with someone who knows you and loves you for the person you really are.

Want your child to succeed in life?  Don’t we all? But it’s not within your control.  So enjoy your own life and enjoy being with them.  Share their interests and help them get what they want.  Expand their horizons, help them experiment, but expect nothing.  Build them up and be their friend.  Then leave them alone to define success for themselves.

While you are busy playing, experimenting and enjoying, the stars may align so you get that promotion or meet your soulmate or your post goes viral or your child gets an “A”.  That’s just the icing on the cake.  Because you’re already living a happy and satisfying life.

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The above examples are simple, but not easy to do, particularly if you have got out of the habit of listening to and pleasing yourself.  Working with a coach can help you discover what brings you to life and how to pursue it.

If you’d like to dig deeper into outcomes versus processes, I’d recommend almost anything written by Alfie Kohn, my parenting hero.   His recent blog post inspired this one. 

I also love Big Magic by hugely successful author Elizabeth Gilbert – an inspiring and uplifting book for artists, which focuses on the creative process over the output.

10 questions you could ask yourself when you’re stuck

sam_0890

 

Crafting, collecting and curating good, simple questions which help clients move forward is a labour of love for me.  Here are some favourites that you can use for yourself – a gift from me to you.

 

 

What’s most important here?

What if I did know?

What’s the answer?

How could I find out?

How can I move forward?

What if I did?

What if I didn’t?

What would [the person who loves me best/me in five years time looking back to today] tell me to do?

What’s the worst that could happen?

What am I not admitting to myself?

Do you have any favourite questions for getting unstuck?  Please share!

Do you have to, really?

sam_0884What do you “have to” do today?

Chances are, the length of that list will determine how overwhelmed you are feeling right now.  And the more stressed you feel, the longer that list will seem.

Modern life can be crazy-making.  We can spend most of our days working to someone else’s agenda, whether it’s our employers or our kids.  And then, in our “free” time, we are bombarded by things that other people would like us to do – school requirements, charity fundraising, doorstep polls, online surveys, recycling (mostly things that other people have sent us that we didn’t ask for): a capacity crowd of other people’s agendas pressing forwards for our attention, forcing our own priorities to the back, using a combination of persistence and guilt to get what they want.

And if that wasn’t enough, we allow ourselves to be influenced by the media and advertising and set ourselves impossibly high standards for our lives, which we then feel we “have to” live up to.   Our kids must eat home cooked food and get good grades.  The house must be clean, tidy and stylishly decorated.   We must be thin, groomed and well dressed.   We need to drive a cool car.  And we need to work really hard so we can afford it.

While we are frantically crowdsurfing, helping others get what they want, we lose sight of what we want or need.  We don’t make time to do the things that nourish us.  Joy diminishes and resentment grows.  We start to hoard our time and resources.  When we do give, we make sure “they” feel bad for imposing on us and try to get out of our obligations as soon as we can.  We are grumpy with those we love and bring those around us down.

While trying to please everyone we help no-one, ourselves least of all.

But by letting go of the “have tos”, we make space to live in a way that lights us up and (coincidentally) lifts others.   We are joyful, energetic, replenished and have more to give.

As a reader of this blog it’s more than likely that you live in a safe place, in a democratic country and are wealthy beyond most people’s wildest dreams.   We are blessed with freedom and choices.   Let’s not waste those opportunities away creating resentment and guilt.  Let’s use them to lift ourselves and others in a way that benefits us all.

The next time you feel overwhelmed, first be thankful that you have choices.  And then make some.

So what do you “have to” do today?  And what if you didn’t?

How are you spending your time?

clockA few years ago, I realised a long-held ambition and taught myself to touch type.  It’s a pretty dull, repetitive process: practising one or two letters at a time for a day or two before moving onto new ones;  gradually learning where the keys are located and which fingers to use; inching forwards from single letters to two-letter words, then three-letter words and beyond.  Until one day, after probably a couple of months of daily practice, I didn’t have to think about it any more.  My fingers just typed the words I wanted to type.

I was reminded of that time recently, while watching my daughter learn to read: treading a similar path of plodding repetition and gradual, faltering progress.

Once we get good at something, we often forget how long it took us to get there and how much practice it took.   But deep down, we all know that real, lasting achievement takes regular practice and time.

How you spend your time matters.   The more time we spend doing something, the better we get at doing it.  Do you want to be getting better at the job you want to leave?  Or at beating yourself up for not being perfect?  Procrastinating?  Tolerating alcohol? Shopping?  Surfing social media?  Cleaning the kitchen floor?  Criticising or complaining?

Or are there things you’d rather be good at?  Being present?  Seeing the positives?  Appreciating what you have?  Eating well?  Being kind to yourself or others?  Meditating?  A particular kind of work, hobby or career?

What do you want to be good at?  And what are you going to stop doing so you can make that happen?

If you need more help with prioritising, look here.

Your everyday life: burden – or blessing?

In simple terms, our time is taken up by two kinds of activity – the important and the rest.  In this post, we looked at how you can decide which is which.

You can remove a great deal of pressure in your life simply by zoning in on what matters most to you and minimising everything else.

But there’s another source of stress that simple living and minimalist advocates tend to gloss over.  The everyday, often mudane, but still important, stuff of life.

We may minimise our possessions, but we still need to dust, do laundry and have the boiler serviced.  Bills have to be paid, we need to go to work and the food shopping has to happen somehow.

Maybe we don’t often read about these things because they don’t make for exciting reading.  Advertisers talk about them, of course: but only so that they can make them seem even more dull and stressful – and then sell us a holiday to get away from it all.

Too often we see the every day tasks of life as burdens.  We think of them as things we “must do” or that we “have to do”.   We resent their pull on our time.  We try not to do them, but they claw at us, burrowing away in our mind, making us feel guilty for not doing them.  Our to do lists can make us feel trapped, helpless, depressed.

We may even dream about leaving all our responsibilities for good, perhaps even walking out of our job or the family home, in a bid to shed these pressures.  At the very least, we are vulnerable to the lure of temporary (and often expensive) “escapes” – holidays, alcohol or drugs, shopping, or gadgets which promise to ease these terrible impositions on our lives, or at least make them more fun (pink washing up gloves anyone?).

Looked at this way, the very foundations and structures of the lives we lead become just another source of overwhelm and stress.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can approach our every day life differently and set ourselves free.

Instead of doing your routine tasks because you “have to” (a burden), you can choose to do them out of love and appreciation (a blessing).

Too contrived?  Unrealistic?  No, just a simple change in attitude. Let me give you some examples.

  • How would it feel if you decided you were going to clean your house because you were grateful to have one and you wanted to look after it?
  • What if you chose to cook a healthy meal or exercise because you are grateful for your health and want to keep it that way?
  • What if you chose to do a budget and keep accounts because you are grateful for the money you have and would like to have more?
  • What if you chose to make time to listen to your husband/wife/child because you loved them and wanted to make sure they knew it?
  • What if you chose to do your work because you were grateful to have a job which pays the bills and gives you the money to enjoy yourself and make others’ lives better?
  • What if you happily paid for your boiler to be repaired because you were so grateful to have hot water and wanted to keep on having it?

When you stop and think about it, you more than likely are grateful for your health, your money, your family and friends, a job, hot water and for somewhere to live – if you have them.  But when we have our burden glasses on, it’s easy to forget.

When we do things out of love and appreciation, we ask for nothing in return.  We don’t do it for what it might get us later.  We don’t get angry because our efforts are not appreciated; we are not keeping score.

We also know why we are doing what we are doing, and what we get out of it.  We remind ourselves (and model to our children) that we have much to be grateful for and that what we have is worth looking after.

All of these lead to greater energy and happiness and less stress.  And the work gets done just the same.

We may even discover through this process that we are spending time and money on things that we don’t love and aren’t grateful for – so we learn what we need to change or shed over time.

You may never love cleaning, but you can clean out of love.  And that can make all the difference.

What’s stuff got to do with it?

016Yearning for calm?  Then let’s talk about stuff.

When we dream about having a simpler, calmer, life, we don’t generally dream about being surrounded by stuff.

Desert islands, tick.  A yoga retreat in a minimalist hotel, lovely.  Living out of a camper van or a backpack while travelling the world, yep.  Tending a garden or doing art with your kids, hell yes.  Time for a nap?  Mmm…

A new scatter cushion?  Not so much.

Maybe that’s because we know deep down that stuff does not equal simple.

But the weird thing is, we often don’t notice that things complicate our lives.  We think first about the length of our commute, our working hours, perhaps issues with family or friends, our houses, or other time commitments.

But stuff?  The car, the dishwasher, the food processor, the steam cleaner, the little razor thingy that shaves the lint off your sweaters, the little metal balls that you swish around your mug to get the tea stains off (or is that one just me?).  Stuff is there to make our lives easier, isn’t it?

Well, ok, maybe some of it does.  But probably not as much as advertisers would have you believe.

The things you own will cost you.  Not just the price of buying them:

  • in time spent choosing them, dusting them, cleaning them, replacing batteries, repairing them;
  • in money for replacement parts or accessories, and for maybe photographing and insuring them, and storing them.  Even if you don’t pay for offsite storage, you have to pay for a home big enough to house all your stuff;
  • in energy, as you work to pay for them, or continually move them around to clean or get at other stuff.  And each time you look at them and think that you really ought to be cleaning/repairing them, but you just can’t be bothered right now…

There’s nothing simple about stuff.

Think about it.  How many things really make your life easier?  So much easier that it’s worth the time and energy paying for them, storing them, cleaning them, repairing them, maintaining them?

I turned my mind to this recently.  Here’s my list:

  • Services – gas, electricity, broadband, internet
  • Heating and hot water
  • Indoor plumbing and bath, shower, sink, toilet
  • Washing machine and tumble dryer
  • Washing line, pegs, laundry basket, clothes airer
  • Cooker, microwave oven, kettle, fridge and freezer
  • Some toiletries and medicines
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Car
  • Travel bag and purse
  • Door keys
  • Computer
  • Mobile phone
  • TV and DVD player (I know… but I have a small child)
  • Bed (and bedding)
  • Sofa and chairs
  • Kitchen table
  • Lights
  • Some cooking and eating utensils
  • Dish drainer
  • Rubbish bin
  • Some clothes and shoes
  • Pen and pad to write on

I haven’t included in the list all the things I would also need to make these things work (like washing powder) or to clean/repair them.  If you added in those things, and the things I just want to have because they make me happy, you’d have a pretty long list.

But it would still be a fraction of what is actually in my house.

What stuff makes your life simpler?  And what doesn’t?

If this has inspired you to start getting rid of your stuff, just google “minimalism”, or have a look at these blogs, for inspiration: 

Becoming Minimalist

Assortment

Be More with Less

Reading My Tea Leaves

What matters most?

Why are we so overwhelmed?  Why so busy, why always rushing, distracted?  Why do we never seem to have time for what we most want to do?  And can we do anything about it?

Recently, I’ve noticed that when I am at my most stressed, my mind is usually saying something like: “there isn’t enough time, I’ve only got [half an hour] and I still need to…”.  It’s generally coupled with an endless churning over of my to do list – all the things I’ve “got to get done” before [school pick-up, my next client, etc].

I then start trying to do two or more things at once, triggering a downward spiral of mistakes, forgetting things, self-recrimination, snippiness, more stress – and so it goes on.

In this state, I just try ever harder to get everything done – and generally start thinking of even more things I “have” to do.  It never occurs to me that I could just do less.

And yet the best thing I could do in that situation is to just stop.  Stop, take stock, work out really has to be done and what could wait, or even be dropped.

It’s obvious, isn’t it?  If you have too much to do, then do less.

Not just in the moment, but all the time.

Impossible?  No, just a question of priorities.

Here’s how.

1.Work out what has to be done.

By this, I mean really has to be done.  The bare minimum you need to do for health, hygiene, protection and whatever brings in the money for those things.  Cleaning your teeth, eating, cleaning the house now and then, doing the laundry, doing your paid work.  Whatever you simply can’t not do – yet.

This list should be pretty short.  Beware of confusing “must do’s” with “want to do’s” or, worse, “should do’s”.

Now work out when and how these things are going to get done and give them a timeslot, or, at least, a time of day when you will take care of them.

2. Work out what else matters.

This one is harder.   Now work out: 1) what matters most to you; 2) what matters most to those who matter to you (perhaps your family or your most important friends).  Both are important.

Here are some questions you could ask yourself, to give yourself some clues.  How would you spend 100% of your time if you could?  What would you save from your burning home?  When are you at your happiest?  What makes you feel most fulfilled? What do you need to do to nourish yourself so you can be at your best?

When you are at the end of your life, what will you be glad you made time to do?  What will seem like a waste of time?

Remember, this is what is important for you and those whose wellbeing you care about.  Don’t get confused with any other person’s agenda.  If you’re not sure of the difference, take a look at this.

Now find time for these things.  Be realistic.

If there isn’t enough time in your schedule for what you must do and what is important, with time left over for emergencies and unplanned fun, something has to give.

Something has to drop off your list, for now.  Or maybe you need to spend less time on something, or find someone else to do it.  Or perhaps find a more efficient way to do it.

That’s it.  There is no number 3.  Anything else is not your concern right now.

When new things come your way, your list will remind you whether they are things you want to take on or not.  And your schedule will tell you whether you have time for them, or can make the time.

There is always time for what’s important….as long as you know what important is.

When you run out of steam, try this

Brick wallSo there you are, happily ploughing on towards achieving your goals.  You’re working your way through your to do list, getting closer and closer to what you want.  You’re motoring.

But then, after a few days, weeks or months, you start to run out of steam.   Working towards your goal doesn’t seem exciting any more.  You’re not feeling it.

Now what?

If you’re anything like me, this is usually the time you look for other, more exciting goals.  You want to get back to the honeymoon stage and fall in love with a goal again.   You think you’re on the wrong track and it’s time to change course.

Well, maybe.  Or maybe you just need to fall in love with your first love all over again.

It’s time to look up from the to do list and think big.

Pull out your original resolution or goal and look at it again.   Now imagine yourself living your life after having reached your goal.  Remember, step into your shoes, see your life through your own eyes.  (If you find this difficult, it might help to look up, change your position in the room, or even go somewhere else, to help free up your thoughts).

In your “new” life, where are you?  What are you doing differently?  What’s changed?

Most importantly, how are you feeling?  Do you feel excited and energised, or inspired?

If yes, you’re on the right track. Write down what it was about your new life that excited and energised you, to re-inspire you the next time you flag.

Or you can try finding a shortcut way to get back to that feeling quickly:

  • Some people press their thumb and forefinger together when they are feeling most energised, then they simply repeat that whenever they want to access that feeling again.
  • Or you could take a powerful “photograph” of your new life in your mind and just recall it as needed.
  • If you love words, try coming up with one word to sum up how you felt and write it down somewhere you’ll see it every day.

If you didn’t feel excited or inspired, why not?  What wasn’t working for you?  What would make it work better?  Does it mean you have to revise your goal?

Piecing together the mosaic of our ideal life requires us both to pay attention to the tiny pieces and also to stand back and check whether the big picture is shaping up how we want.

Good luck!  And do contact me if you’d like any more help with designing or reaching your goals.

When progress is slow, try this

In the last few posts, we looked at how to re-work your new year’s resolutions to make sure they fit you and move you forwards.

Now we’re going to look at how you keep going when the going gets tough.  Because, let’s face it, it generally does.

If you’ve got the “right” goal, but you still can’t keep going, you may need to go smaller, or go bigger.  Over the next couple of posts we’ll look at both.

Going smaller

This is useful if you feel you’re just not moving forwards.  Maybe your goal feels overwhelming, or maybe you don’t know what to do next, going round and round in your head without actually doing anything (believe me, I know what that’s like…).

Try this.

Look at your goal.  What’s the next step you need to take?  Can you go smaller and smaller with that until it feels easy to do?

Sticking with the “losing weight” example we’ve been using, you could ask yourself: “What’s the next step I need to take?” and the answer might be: “Find an exercise class and do it once per week”.

That might be enough, but if you find yourself struggling to get started, go smaller.  Ask yourself “How?”, and keep asking until you can’t go any smaller:

“Find an exercise class and go once per week”  How?

“Ask my friends”  How?

“Send out an email to [friends]”.

or:

“Find an exercise class and go once per week”  How?

“Look into classes at the exercise studio down the road”  How?

Call them”.

At some point, you will break your goals down so small that there are no longer any reasons not to act.  You’ll pick up the phone, send the email.  It’s done.  You’re on your way.

The next time you get stuck, you can do this again.

To some of you, this will come naturally and you might be wondering why you need a process for it at all.  The answer is that you probably don’t.  But you may find the next post useful…