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10 questions you could ask yourself when you’re stuck

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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…

How to make resolutions you’ll keep – part 3

Here’s a great process for checking if your resolutions (or goals) are the right ones for you.  If you don’t know why that matters read part one in this series here and part two here.

First:  Start at the end

Ignore your goals for a minute.  Start with “I want to be happier”.   Just brainstorm and write down all the things you think would make you happier.

If you enjoy dreaming and imagining, try imagining your ideal life and write down what makes it ideal for you.  Or you could try remembering all the times you felt really happy – what was happening?  What made you happy then?

Now ask yourself: “which of these things will make me happiest?”.  That’s the one to start with.  Turn it into a loose goal, beginning with “I want to…..”.  Don’t worry at this stage whether it looks achievable or not.  That part comes next.

Second: Ask why

So now you’ve got a loosely-framed goal, which you think will lead you to being happier.  Let’s see if that’s true for you.

It’s time to make your assumptions explicit and then test them.

Start with your goal and just keep asking “Why?” or “So what?” until you get to the answer “I’ll be happier”.  Be brutally honest – no-one else ever has to know.  Write your answers down.

Now go back and really look at your reasons again.  Are they really true for you?  And which ones?   Is the sequence logical – does one reason really lead to the next?  Does the chain really add up to you being happier?

Let’s look at an example of how this might work.

Let’s suppose you’ve chosen the goal “I want to lose weight”.  Why?

“so my clothes will fit better” so what?

“so I’ll look better” so what?

“so I’ll feel better about myself” so what?

“so I’ll be happier”.

Now question your assumptions.  Is it really about your clothes fitting better or you looking better?  If so, you could instead buy better fitting clothes, or change your hair.  Then you might realise that you don’t in fact have the money to get your hair done and buy new clothes – so you may need to focus first on increasing your income.

Or is it really about feeling better about yourself?  In which case, you may not need to lose weight to achieve what you want, but work with a counsellor to help you love or accept yourself more.  So your goal isn’t actually about losing weight, it’s about accepting yourself more.  If you work on that, you may well find that the reason you are overweight will disappear too.

Can you see how this process might lead you to radically different goals from where you started?

The aim is to keep challenging and working on your assumptions until all the steps between the goal  and “I’ll be happier” make total sense to you and feel right.

Once you’ve done this (or perhaps if you get stuck on this bit and need a new way of looking at it):

Third: “live it”

You don’t have to go and make your goal happen straight away, particularly if it involves a big change.

You can “live” your goal from the comfort of your own home.  Sit or stand still and step into the shoes of yourself living as if you had achieved your goal.  Try it virtually on for size.  It’s suprisingly effective and can start to bring up all sorts of new ideas and questions, to help you refine your goal.

Here’s how.  Make sure you step into yourself living your “new” life.  You need to be looking through your eyes, feeling the feelings.  Too many of us fall into the trap of watching a “movie” of our new life; watching ourselves living it.  Then we start to get confused again between our own plans and what we watch on tv.

You could also really live out your goal in small ways.  Rent in the countryside for a few months and see how “the dream” is in reality.  Lose a few pounds and see if you are indeed happier.

Then use all that new information to refine your goals and go through the process again.

Sounds like a lot of hard work?  Yes, but it can be inspiring and energising too – and way less time-consuming, exhausting and confidence-sapping than trying and failing at the wrong resolutions.

Any questions?  Email me and I’ll do my best to answer.

How to make resolutions you’ll keep – part 2

035Read the intro to this series here.

If you’ve made a goal or resolution for yourself over and over again, but never made it happen, ask yourself this:

Is your goal actually about what you want?

You may well be thinking that I’ve gone mad at this point: Of course it’s what I want, you think, I chose it didn’t I? I wrote it down?  Who else would it be for?

Bear with me here.

Let’s look at a goal you might choose – maybe you want to change career or job, move to the country, lose weight, earn more money.  Or you can choose a goal you have already set for yourself.

More than likely, you’ve chosen this goal because you think it will make you happier.  You may or may not have realised this when you chose it.  (And if you react negatively to that suggestion, you might want to think about why that is – but that’s a whole other topic…)

So let’s start from the other end.  You want to be happier.  You think that if you change career/move to the country/lose weight/earn more money/other goal you will be happier.  So you make a goal to change career/move to the country, etc…

It’s the bit in the middle – the link between being happy and your goal – where things can get a bit blurry.  Buried in that middle space can be a whole load of assumptions, often unconscious, unexamined, unquestioned – and often absorbed from others.

Will losing weight make you happier – really?  Weight Watchers would have you believe it.  Look at all those thin ladies in the adverts, twirling around in front of their mirrors.  They look happy don’t they?

Will changing your job make you happier?  Totaljobs implies it will, and my friend John says he’s never been happier since he handed in his notice.

Will moving to the country  or emigrating really make you happier?  All those property and lifestyle programmes and your mate’s travel photos on Instagram make it look that way don’t they?

But TV, advertisers, your friends.  They are not you.  They have their own agendas, and your happiness isn’t one of them.

Now do you see how your goal might not be about what you want at all?

So how do you check if your goal really is going to make you happier – before you waste valuable time and effort pursuing, and failing at, the wrong goal?

Over the next couple of posts, I’m going to take you through a way to do just that.