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Archive for the category “Life”

Working like a gardener

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I work like a gardener… Things come slowly… Things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. I must graft. I must water… Ripening goes on in my mind. So I’m always working at a great many things at the same time. (Joan Miró)

I often feel overwhelmed, that I am trying to do too much, that it would be more satisfying and productive to choose and focus solely on one project until it is completed before moving on to the next. I should spend a weekend clearing and organising my wardrobes until they are in order, or sit down for a day and write my short story tapping away at the keyboard until it is fully formed, or read one novel from cover to cover instead of having three on the go simultaneously.

But I can’t – and that makes me feel defective.

If I were a gardener, I would not plant only one seed and nurture it until it flowers in resplendent glory, focus on its care to the exclusion of all others. If I did, the lawn would overgrow, the weeds would suffocate spring’s shoots, the shrubs would grow tall, straggly and misshapen. Everything would suffer, even the one plant receiving my complete attention, which might drown with overwatering or have its new roots disturbed by anxious hoeing.

There would be days when I could do nothing, when I was waiting for the seed to germinate, when I was powerless to speed the natural process, which must be allowed to take its steady course. On these days, do I stand over it, urging it with increasing frustration to grow more quickly, forcing it to defy nature’s course?

No, on these days I can turn my attention elsewhere: mow the lawn, clear the weeds, prune the shrubs. Or perhaps there would be a day when there is nothing to do but wait quietly and patiently, admiring the beauty of nature, listening to the birdsong, enjoying the warm sun and the soft breath of the breeze, while the seeds send out their tender shoots, and the blossom gives way to fruit, and the flowers bud on the cusp of bloom.

And so I will continue to juggle my projects, spending a couple of minutes a day sorting my wardrobe, write a paragraph or two of a short story interspersed with a few lines of thought for a personal essay, read The Great Gatsby during the day and Asleep at night.

I will work steadily and patiently, doing the right thing at the right time.

I will work like a gardener.

Five things I learnt during the final week of a mindfulness course

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I’ve now completed my mindfulness course with Monash University on FutureLearn. Here are five things I learnt during my final week.

One: The bad news is that stress has a negative impact on all aspects of our health and wellbeing. It wears down our system, reduces our immune response, hardens our arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes, reduces calcium in our bones, and not only ages our brain but also ages us biologically. The good news is that practising mindfulness can help us switch off our stress response, which most of the time is not triggered by actual stressors but by our mind, and reverse these negative effects.

Two: Creating mental space increases our creativity. Instead of banging your head against a brick wall trying to solve a problem, go for a walk to clear your mind. It’s during these quiet moments that the answers appear. I suppose it’s what is meant when we’re told to ‘sleep on it’.

Three: I have to create time for meditations and these don’t have to be long. I’ve found five minute meditations to be extremely beneficial, particularly when my mind feels overwhelmed. These pauses give me a chance to reset and I feel clearer and calmer afterwards.

Four: Mindfulness is more than meditating; it is a way of life, which involves paying attention, getting in touch with ourselves, focusing through uni-tasking, listening, and letting thoughts come and go rather than engaging with and being consumed by them.

Five: Mindfulness is not a destination; it is a lifelong journey.

My next steps on this journey are to take time during my day for short meditations and to start Julia Cameron’s six week programme, The Listening Path.

A book that changed my opinion

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A novel that not so much changed my opinion but truly brought home to me the day-to-day reality of a situation that we all know about but possibly rarely stop to consider its implications in depth is Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.

The novel follows Maud, an elderly lady who is becoming forgetful and relies on post-it notes to keep track, as she seeks to solve the mystery of her missing friend, Elizabeth.

We all know about the existence of dementia, and many of us have had first-hand experience of dealing with a family member who suffers from it. Let’s face it, it’s frustrating to reply constantly to the same question or to be forever reassuring someone as to the whereabouts of their keys, and we can easily lose our patience and show our irritation. This book gives an insight into what it is like to live on a daily basis with a failing memory and confused mind as we journey with Maud through her struggle to cope.

I said recently that reading fiction is shown to create greater feelings of empathy and this novel is a fine example of how this can be done.

This novel has made me a better person.

This is day 26 of the 30 day book challenge at (it’s from a few years ago!). I aim to respond to each prompt over the course of the next couple of months.

Minimal Packing

I don’t like dragging bags and suitcases around with me, especially when flying. The experience of getting to an airport, through an airport, out the other side, and to your final destination is bad enough without being laden with cumbersome baggage.

If I’m going away for fewer than two weeks, I will take hand luggage only. I generally fly with EasyJet, who only allow one bag or suitcase to be taken into the cabin so I can’t even take a suitcase and a handbag, unless the handbag fits into the suitcase.

On my last trip – a long weekend in Bologna – I was determined to pare down my luggage to the bare bones. In the past, I’ve been a “better take that just in case” kind of packer and it’s frustrated me that I bring back unworn clothes, so this time I planned exactly what I was going to wear each day and only packed those items. I didn’t even take shampoo because hotels always provide this, don’t they? Not this time, no! But I managed.

My criteria when packing was that everything had to go with everything, which meant I had to forsake a couple of items I would have liked to take, but guess what…I survived without them. I have a double compartment cabin-sized suitcase: clothes go in one side, footwear, books and travel journal materials, plus handbag, in the other. I had room to spare – just as well as my daughters weren’t quite as minimal with their packing as I was!

What did I learn?

Things that might seem essential can be lived without for a few days, planning what you’re going to wear in advance eliminates a bit of stress each day, and having fewer items with you is a truly liberating experience.

Roll on the next trip!


Enjoy the process

When we want to make improvement or alterations in our lives, or take up a new hobby or interest, we are often looking for a quick fix, overnight results, or expect to be able to do something more or less straightaway. Here I’m thinking of things such as losing weight, learning a language, or writing, for example.

However, we’re being unrealistic; these changes cannot happen overnight. Disappointment and disillusionment set in and we give up, having ‘failed’.

I’ve learnt that just by sticking with something over a long period of time, I will improve. The important thing here is not the improvement; if that’s my sole aim, I’m going to be quickly frustrated.  The important thing is that I enjoy the process, gain pleasure and satisfaction out of doing whatever it is I’m doing, and not focus only on the outcome. Let me give you a personal example.

When I began art journalling back in 2013, I knew absolutely nothing about it; I hadn’t even been aware that such a thing existed. I didn’t view myself as artistic; I simply enjoy creating things.  In the beginning, I cut words and images out of magazines and stuck them into a sketchbook, sometimes adding a quotation I found on Goodreads. I found this satisfying. Yes, I would have loved to create something more artistic and emulate the examples I found on Pinterest, but I had no idea how, so I carried on enjoying what I was able to do. Slowly, however, and almost without me realising, I added to my collection of materials and began experimenting, often with disappointing results, occasionally surprising myself by what I managed to achieve. When I compare my current art journals to those initial ones, the difference is immense: I’m much more knowledgeable and proficient (although of course still learning).

What interests me from this example is that my aim was never to become better; my aim was to enjoy the process and to have fun experimenting and creating regardless of the outcome. Improvement has been a by-product.

This has got me thinking: if we want to get better at something, we need to find away to enjoy the process and get pleasure out of this, rather than focusing on the end result. That way, we will get there over time and the journey will be a whole lot more satisfying and enjoyable.


How to form a habit

There was a time – not so long ago, I’m ashamed to admit – when I only drank water when it was hot. In summer, it was easy to reach for a glass of water, but in winter…no thanks.

That said, I did notice the benefit of drinking water. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly; I simply looked and felt fresher, so I had to make water drinking a habit – but how?

Initially I set myself the modest goal of one glass per day. I put a glass of water on my bedside cabinet when I went to bed and drank it as soon as I woke up. That way, I’d completed my goal before I’d even got out of bed, which was easy to accomplish and gave me a feeling of satisfaction and success. After a while, once I felt confident that this habit was firmly established, I increased my target to three glasses a day. I downloaded  Today, a habit-tracking app, and not wanting to break the chain, this too quickly became a habit – so I increased it to five. It was hard at first, requiring effort, but before long I was drinking five glasses of water with ease.

Then I had a wellbeing session at my local gym and to my dismay was told that five glasses wasn’t enough and was advised to increase this to eight. Now that did seem like a step too far for me, bearing in mind it hadn’t been that long ago that my water consumption depended on a temperature of at least 25 degrees. But I did it, and now every day, summer and winter, I’m drinking eight glasses of water (which includes herbal teas as they too count).

What did I learn about habit formation from my experience? To begin with, it seemed an overwhelming task. Going from zero to five glasses of water every day (let along eight, although thankfully I didn’t know that at the outset) seemed unrealistic and unachievable. However, by taking small steps, I got there, and am managing to maintain this with relative ease.

In the past, when I’ve wanted to make these kinds of changes, I’ve set myself an overambitious goal and attempted to take a huge step overnight. However, I haven’t been able to maintain such a drastic change and have given up, feeling a failure and blaming my lack of willpower.

However, by making small, steady, incremental changes, a new habit becomes much easier to form and maintain.


Digital Detox

Every Sunday I receive a notification informing me of how much ‘screen time’ I’ve spent during the past week. This generally horrifies me: all those five minutes here and half an hour there add up to what I believe is around the daily average of approximately two hours and forty-five minutes. To my mind, that’s a lot of time, most of which is mindless idling which adds no benefit to my day.

This past week, I’ve been doing a digital detox. I’ve only used my phone when necessary, with a clear sense of purpose, and I’ve avoided the urge to pick it up and browse FaceBook or Pinterest or Instagram. I was amazed at how often I automatically reach for my phone for no reason during the course of a day; it’s become a habit.

This week I broke the habit, and the result: I’ve been far more productive, putting my time to better use by completing an outstanding task or by being creative and doing some writing, or art, or reading. I’ve been to the gym more often and I even went for a cycle in the local park. I’ve been feeling so much more alive and present, and I’ve been sleeping better too.

Do I feel I’ve missed out at all? In all honesty, no I don’t.  It’s been a very positive experience, which I plan on continuing with.



A tip for saving money


A lot of our purchases are made on impulse and with the rise in online shopping, it’s never been easier: we don’t even have to put on our shoes and head to the shops.

One way to cut back on these spontaneous, unplanned spends is simple: add the item to your basket but don’t check out.  You’ll probably find that after a few days, you wonder why you ever had the desire to purchase it in the first place.  If this isn’t the case, then go ahead and buy it.  The delay will help you separate the things you truly want from those that were spur-of-the-moment ‘must have’ desires.

For example, I currently have 86 ‘saved for later’ items in my Amazon basket.  Assuming an average of £10 per item, that’s £860 saved, and this doesn’t include the ‘saved for later’ items that I decided I definitely didn’t ever want to buy and so permanently deleted.

Not only has this stopped me from wasting my money, it also makes me feel more in control of my spending decisions.

Have you tried this tactic and did it work for you?





As we’re approaching the end of January, it seems a fitting time to revisit our New Year’s resolutions, goals, intentions, whatever you want to call them.

By now the initial enthusiasm might have worn off; the ‘busyness’ of life tends to get in the way and we slip back into old habits.

Why not spend a bit of time this week reviewing your list and reminding yourself why you began the year with those intentions. They’re things that are important to you: perhaps for your health, or career, or relationships, or general well-being.  However, maybe something you felt was crucial to improving your life no longer seems quite as essential, or has been replaced by something more necessary. Perhaps your original goal was unrealistic and needs amending to something more achievable.

Review your list, make adjustments as you see fit, and continue building a better life for yourself.

January 1st is an arbitrary date; any day of the year is the right day to make a change.

Make that day today!

Dealing with obstacles

I generally set myself some ambitious goals for the year, and this year I’ve set a lot of goals, many of which people would deem to be over-ambitious.  In the past, I’ve found I start off well and then run out of steam; once I falter, I declare myself a failure and give up, or when I lose momentum, I find it hard to get going again.  Sometimes I even forget I set myself a goal until it gets to the end of the year and I work on my list for the forthcoming year.

However, I’ve been listening to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast and reading about improving your life, and consequently I’m far more self-aware and better prepared for the obstacles that get in my way and am taking steps to combat them.

Firstly, I’ve given a lot of thought to what I want my life to be like, what I want to be like, what I want to do.  This has informed my goals for the year: they are my goals, not goals I think I should have, which are often influenced by others.  This is making them more relevant, important and fun for me.

Secondly, I’ve written them down in a dedicated journal, divided into categories, with a new page for each goal.  I’m reviewing this journal almost every day to monitor and track my progress (and so I don’t forget about them – it’s easy in the busyness of everyday life to overlook the fact that we want to go to the Globe Theatre and carve out time to do so).

I’ve also ensured that the goals, whilst in some cases being rather ambitious (write first draft of my novel), are broken down into small, easily achievable steps, which helps to keep my momentum going.  For example, 200 words a day every day is far better than 3,000 words a day from 1st to 4th January and then run out of steam and give up (73,000 versus 12,000 words).

Finally, should I falter at any point, and I’m sure I will, I’m not going to view this as a failure and come to a crashing halt.  I will instead view it as a blip and start again.

I feel optimistic that this year, with these strategies in place, I will achieve my goals, but even if I don’t quite manage this, I will still have achieved more than I’ve ever done before.

What strategies do you have for achieving your goals?

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